This is going to a long, somewhat circuitous post, but if you hang in to the end, it will wind around to open education.

A thought occurred to me yesterday: If kids who did well on tests like me would have had a vocational ed track option in school when I grew up, I could have saved a lot of people a considerable amount of time, money, and aggravation.

What do I mean by that? Well, when I went to school, I was a “high achiever.” (I wasn’t particularly smart, but I did very well on tests.) That marked me for a certain college and career track, which I dutifully followed for the next 40 years or so, pursuing the American dream of success.

Growing up, I always enjoyed woodworking and other manual arts type projects with my dad. I also took a few shop classes that I really liked. But never did I consider that kind of work as anything but a hobby. In the worldview that I’d been brought around to accepting, successful people run companies; they don’t work as carpenters or farmers.

I went along with that line of thinking for many years, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, until one day I decided it really wasn’t what I wanted to keep doing. Now I spend a fair amount of my time doing construction, growing food, and pursuing other activities that fall outside of white collar work. A very good day for me now is one during which I spend little time at my desk. (I do still have a desk, and I do still do “office work.” It’s somewhat of a financial necessity, though I’m still working on that puzzle.)

I love my now very changed life, but I can’t help wondering how life might be different if I’d seriously considered these options at a younger age.

I have a friend whose very intelligent and successful young son recently left college to WWOOF on an organic farm. I have another friend who is doing work overseas on rural land reform issues. Others I know are deeply engaged in social justice work in the field.

Setting out on these courses as a young person opens up a world of possible lives that don’t involve working at a desk in corporate America. Ruling these types of choices out leads to different choices.

What does this have to do with “open”?

Well, in my expanded view of what “open” means, I think it has a lot to do with personal agency and choice. It has to do with less “compulsory” or even strong pushes in one direction or another.

Who are we to indoctrinate kids with what success means? Maybe we should focus more on what my friend monika calls “that thing that we can’t not do.”

A new take on “open”
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2 thoughts on “A new take on “open”

  • November 2, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Your post is reflective of the conversations we have been having in our district and with the leaders of some advanced manufacuting companies in our area. The persistence of the mindset that “hands-on” or what were thought of as trade-based occupations are for the less-able or non-academic students is probably the biggest challenge – from the educators to the parents (and even kids). The ideas of choice and agency – and being purposeful about how we can develop those in children from their beginning experiences in our schools and have them develop throughout their education – are things we have been having many conversations about. One exciting, new conversation we are having as a result of curriculum revision is the development of a “maker” type course in the middle school – combining our tech ed, FCS, and Computer Ed courses. Although this conversation right now is limited ( to one very progressive, forward-thinking teacher and me) – I am hopeful that something will come from it because it ties in perfectly with some of the other work being done with the Advanced Manufacturers and our local Chamber of Commerce. I will have to share your post; I need more ‘evidence’ that Bright, capable, ‘academic-type’ people can find success, achievement, and satisfaction through many avenues and that our job in schools is to provide the time and opportunity for kids to explore and develop their interests and talents! In spite of the many, many challenges we are facing in education right now, this work fills me with hope and a sense that there is still good work to be done.

  • November 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Sue. I do think that the “maker movement” can be fuel for this pursuit. Here are some resources on the value of making for STEM and other career readiness:

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