Congresswoman Virginia Foxx Thinks We Should Abandon The Term "Vocational Training." I Disagree.

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tags: education, politics, history

David Barber teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin and is the author of A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why it Failed.

Last week, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx condemned some un-named folks as “classist” for placing the “stigma” of inferiority on those who opt for a vocational or technical education.  Indeed, to even place the adjective “vocational” in front of the term “education” implies such inferiority, Ms. Foxx asserts. But the Congresswoman misses the real import of education and misses, therefore, the distinction between education and training.  


Unfortunately, Ms. Foxx is not alone in missing this distinction. In its true meaning education must be about introducing young people to a knowledge of themselves and a knowledge of the relation that they have to society, the world, and the universe in which they live. We are all historical creations.  We inherit our attitudes, beliefs, and values from the world around us.  It may well be, for example, that the United States is the greatest country in the world, or that Christianity is the one true and only religion, or that the limits capitalism places on democratic control are divinely or naturally ordained.  But young people born and raised in this country will believe this not because they have chosen such beliefs, but simply because the whole of the world around them tells them this is so.  Only by deeply studying the real history of this country, only by understanding evolution and the history and the immensity of the universe, only by delving into literature and psychology, can young people begin to comprehend who they are as human beings in this country today.  And only by sampling the wealth of human knowledge in all its varied fields can young people freely decide to pursue one path or another in making their life and making their living.  


Of course, every state legislature in this country, in underfunding public education, and pushing the agenda Ms. Foxx pushes here – let’s call training for a career the same thing as an education – effectively seeks to deny young people knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live. In so doing, they dis-empower our youth and simply make “education” into a means of churning out compliant men and women who will work for fifty or sixty years, and then die. 


No, this country desperately needs educated young people. Those of us who insist that our students get a real education are not the “classists” condemned by Ms. Foxx. No, the real “classists” are those who would condemn our youth to the perpetual role of servants in a world ruled by wealth.

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