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Vocational Training in the Public Schools
BY CHARLES A. KING, EASTERN HIGH SCHOOL, BAY CITY,
SHUND HERE is abundant evidence of a growing sentiment that the curriculum of the grade schools should include some form of vocational training. The attention which the subject is receiving, and the attempts that are being made by educators and manufacturers to create a source of supply of skilled workmen, indicate that the conditions which create the above sentiment are realized, and that progress is being made toward the solution of some of the problems involved, but it seems that one of the greatest factors in the development of skilled workmen is not receiving the attention which its importance justifies.
The mental and physical limitations of children under fifteen years of age effectively restricts the possibilities of trade instruction, but instead, furnishes an opportunity for a preparatory training which will add more to the efficiency of the future workman than would actual trade instruction during the same years. The absence of the qualities which this preparatory training should develop can not be fully compensated at any future stage of life.
In the study of these limitations, and the devising of methods by which the opportunity they furnish may be turned to the best advantage, will be found the most important problems to be considered in the development of a system of vocational training in the grades, not in the preparation of a series of problems or models, which will contain certain principles of some special trade.
Woodworking in its various branches is generally the only subject taught in the grades which would be considered as directly related to the important mechanical trades. If the vocational good accomplished by such work consisted only of the facility acquired in the processes taught, it seems that the students destined for trades which work in other materials than wood, or for any pro
fession in which hand skill is necessary, do not receive the training which will best prepare them for their work, therefore destroying the democracy of the public school. Then why has it become an established fact that boys who have had manual training make better progress in any line of work requiring hand skill, than other boys who have had only the ordinary scholastic education?
Let us suppose that a boy who has passed through the manual training, or woodwork of the grades, enters a cabinet shop with the intention of learning the trade. The work of furniture making which he performed in the school, would, in a factory, be performed only by a workman of experience, whom it was known could perform it well, economically, and every time, with the least possible oversight from the foreman; a large part of this work would be done by machinery, instruction in the use of which, is not practicable in the grade schools.
This would be a decidedly different proposition than working under school conditions, where the student is continuously under the eye of the teacher, and time, which is of the utmost importance in a shop, is not considered in connection with the results obtained. He will find that the facility in performing a few simple processes, and the knowledge he may have gained in his two years of manual training, will be acquired in a few weeks by another boy who has never had any preliminary training, yet the former boy will generally make more rapid progress throughout his work.
He will probably be surprised to discover that his advancement is not based upon his knowledge of a few facts and processes, but upon his general adaptability to his work. In fact, he may work a long time in the shop with no opportunity to apply the problems which he worked out in his manual training classes. A comparison of the quality of the work done in manual training classes with that necessary to meet commercial requirements, and of the economy of the work made in the school and the shop, if the former had been paid for at a fair rate, will explain why this is so.
Considering the above, we must realize two things; first, that there are other reasons for the rapid progress of the manual training student than appear in the models he may have made;
second, that there is somewhere in the curriculum, a dividing line between the special trade processes necessary to construct the models which are the visible results of a course in tool work, and that part of the work which develops the physical and mental qualities, which gives the average manual training student his superior mechanical adaptability.
Hence it seems a reasonable conclusion that the most practical benefit to be derived from vocational training in the grades, will be found in developing those qualities which will be valuable to every one who engages in any form of hand work. While manual training has demonstrated that these qualities may be developed, these results have been an incident, and not the object of the work. During thirty years of daily contact with workmen, students, or both, the writer has observed of the mass, that about 25% have good, or first class, 50% have fair or average, and about 25%, poor or ordinary mechanical abilities. If the mass of workmen could have been classified, and their progress carefully observed from their entrance to the completion of their apprenticeship, and to their permanent rank as workmen, or their development as students, we would find that in a general way, the difference in the mechanical adaptability of individuals at the beginning of their work, will be maintained. The boy of awkward, slovenly habits, with little or no mechanical insight or instinct, will usually develop into a workman of the same qualifications, while the boy with good natural mechanical abilities, and who is neat in his personal habits, will make a first class work
Thus we see that the dearth of first class workmen is not due entirely to the lack of training facilities, but largely to the fact that the available supply of raw material from which good workmen may be evolved, is not sufficient to meet modern demands. Therefore, there are thousands of workmen who do not develop beyond mediocrity because they lack the fundamental qualities which allow them to attain the position which might be theirs if their natural mechanical abilities, however small, had been fostered in their childhood.
Judging from what has been accomplished by manual training, there is no doubt that much can be done toward remedying this condition and it seems the province and privilege of the grade schools to perform this important service, as the problems can be
most effectively treated during the years spent in the lower grades, for the reason that this is the most impressionable period in life and the opportunity passes with the years, never to return.
The brain of the first class workman must possess the ability to conceive form, the eye must be able to recognize the slightest deviation from that form, and the muscles which guide the hand in its endeavors to shape the object to meet the approval of the brain and eye, must be controlled automatically by the nerves connecting them with the brain. It is the difference in the degree of co-ordination or of the automatic control of either, or all of the three above factors of skill that makes the ordinary, the average and the first class workman. This co-ordination we will designate as "basic skill" that it may be readily understood as separate from the special skill necessary to the practice of any trade.
The work intended to develop basic skill may be taught both boys and girls, as the mental and physical results should in every respect, be equal to those attained by the present manual training methods; in fact many of these methods have been proven to be highly efficient in the development of basic skill. The future occupations of grade school students are not an important consideration, as basic skill is equally adaptable to all walks in life in which hand skill is an important factor.
The forms of manual training at present taught in the lower grades, which may be adapted to the development of basic skill, are those which require a constant and moderate degree of concentration of the brain, eye and hand, without the assistance of any tool or appliance which performs any part of the work automatically, or compels the accuracy which should result only from the co-ordination of the three factors of skill. Those forms of manual training are suitable which will allow of the utmost simplicity of equipment and design, the greatest freedom from fine and fussy details, and which will not require a degree of concentration or hand skill beyond the ability of the average child of the grade school age.
The most important vocational ideal for students of grade school ages, is that each student shall acquire the greatest possible degree of the ability necessary to conceive, recognize and execute true form. This ability is limited in the poor and aver
age mechanics, and possessed to a high degree by the first class workman.
It is granted without dispute that the finished work of a class following these methods will not be as geometrically accurate as if mechanical aids were used, but the results will be entirely the work of students, and not largely the work of tools which compel accuracy. This preliminary training will prepare the student to make rapid progress when he begins to use the tools in the seventh grade, as his brain, eye and hand will have become skilled in performing their functions in the production of form.
The degree of basic skill possessed by the workman beyond that with which he was naturally endowed, is the result of his early environment, or acquired in connection with his daily work after he has passed the age during which his mind and body was most impressionable, and he will never attain as high a place in his trade as if his special training had been given a good foundation before he was twelve years of age.
The most important definite accomplishment which the future artisan may acquire from the usual manual training of the grades, is the ability to read and understand simple working drawings; the result of manual training which will be the greatest factor in his progress in his trade, is the basic skill which he has incidentally acquired, not the knowledge of the few processes he may have performed in the course of his tool work. Thus, to emphasize a previous statement, the most important ideal of vocational training in the grade schools should be the development of basic skill; instead of being only an incident, it should be the object of all of the hand work of the grades.
The work of the lower grades should lead to that of the seventh and eighth grades, which should consist of the fundamentals of wood and iron working, and mechanical drawing, after which the average student who is obliged to go to work as soon as he leaves the grades, would have a fair prospect of attaining as desirable a place in his trade as the boy who has a high natural endowment of mechanical skill without the grade school vocational training, and it is this latter class that has always supplied the first class workmen.
A system of vocational training in the public schools should include special trade instruction in the high school, or in an insti