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Vocational Training for Blacks Debated

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Atlanta--Despite a longstanding philosophical disagreement among black educators about the value of vocational-education programs, and their view that racial discrimination prevails in such programs, many now argue that black students should be encouraged to enter the programs as a solution to growing unemployment in their age group.

According to vocational educators meeting here last week, black students are not taking advantage of vocational-education programs as they should because such programs are viewed negatively in the schools and by the students' parents.

Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Black Americans in Vocational Education (naabave) discussed these and other "crucial issues" adversely affecting black students' involvement in vocational training during the annual convention of the 55,000-member American Vocational Association.

In a series of roundtable discussions, naabave members expressed concern over both the low numbers of blacks showing
interest in skills training and their own inability as educators to steer those who do pursue vocational training into higher-paying jobs.

There are approximately 13 million secondary and postsecondary students enrolled in a sequence of vocational courses for specific occupations. Blacks represent 2.16 million, or 16.5 percent of that total group, according to 1978-79 figures compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

A more recent study of national vocational programs, conducted by the National Institute of Education (nie), found that women as well are usually enrolled "predominantly in low-wage" training programs, such as secretarial and clerical courses. The study noted that "patterns by race and ethnicity were less pronounced," but it reported that in some states there are greater percentages of black students enrolled in occupational training programs for lower-paying health, consumer and office occupations.

The nie study found that in Colorado and Florida, for example, blacks were "much less likely to be trained for high-wage" technical and trade occupations and more likely to be trained for "low-wage" jobs than non-Hispanic white students at the secondary level.

But, according to the nie, black students in California were "more heavily enrolled" in secondary vocational programs for high-paying jobs than were non-Hispanic whites.

Norris Hogan, a high-school principal in Atlanta, said blacks have been "brainwashed" by the historical controversy over whether vocational-technical training or liberal-arts training is best for black students. As a result, he said, there are not enough black students or administrators in vocational training.

The long debate, explained Samuel H. Jimmerson, assistant director for instruction at the Atlanta Area Technical School, predates the Civil War. In the 1850's, he said, vocational training for blacks was endorsed by the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass as the means of becoming "valuable to society." It was later challenged by one of the founders of the naacp, W.E.B. DuBois, an educator and sociologist who argued in favor of liberal-arts training for blacks as the best means of removing employment barriers.

But his position was criticized by the educator Booker T. Washington, who had taken up Douglass's views on the value of vocational training.

Since then, according to Mr. Jimmerson, education of black students has been "tilted in the direction of academic professional training with a subtle disregard for vocational technical training...."

"The reason for this disregard is past and current discrimination practices of this society, coupled with the denial of union membership and job placement opportunities," Mr. Jimmerson said.

Clyde W. Hall, president of Savannah State College and professor of engineering technology, said blacks are not taking advantage of increased employment opportunities; but, citing labor statistics that showed higher unemployment rates for blacks than for whites, he also blamed such disproportionate unemployment figures on racism.

Mr. Hall pointed to such "internal forces" as the "absence of positive attitudes toward self and society," the lack of a "positive work ethic," and a value system held by some black youths that "does not promote prosperity and self-reliance."

While naabave members emphasized that not all black students should enroll in vocational programs, they indicated that those who do enroll should be provided with vocational guidance.

Warner L. Dickerson, Tennessee's assistant commissioner for vocational-technical education, said that although vocational guidance was mandated by the Congress, the legislators never provided enough money to address career counseling for vocational-technical occupations. He said the states have had to rely on academic counselors who "steer students toward college."

(A bill that would strengthen vocational counseling programs in schools was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month by Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, and William F. Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania. It would set aside 6 percent of all federal funds targeted for state vocational-education programs to be used for "vocational guidance.")

Mr. Dickerson said that the problem black students face is not just poor vocational counseling. "Until we overcome racism, we'll never solve the problem" of underrepresentation of black students and professionals in vocational education.

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