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To the Editor:

Had Wellford W. Wilms begun his pleas for dismantling public vocational education with his last paragraph, he would have found few to quarrel with. Had he done so, however, he would also have negated his thesis that vocational education does not belong in our public schools.

"... [B]reaking schooling out of stultifying classrooms and letting students learn from experiences in the larger society. Insisting that all students share a common curriculum that is rooted in experience ...'' is precisely the ethos of reform in American education of which vocational education is a specific and excellent example.

Why then does Mr. Wilms advocate banishing vocational-education programs from the public schools? Two misapprehensions lead to his advocacy.

First, in spite of his final wave of hand to Deweyean progressivism, he has defined vocational education so narrowly as to create a straw man. I work daily among active teachers and administrators who are described as "vocational.'' Not one such person teaches or acts as though specific skills were the sole definition of vocational education. In fact, it is unlikely that Mr. Wilms, who labors in the graduate school of education at the University of California at Los Angeles, a "vocational school'' by his definition, would accept this as an adequate description of the major function of his teaching.

Second, the distinction between education and training, which he resurrects, almost certainly has more to do with America's historical inability to resolve egalitarian and elitist strains in our culture than with any true dichotomy. Vocational educators prefer the straightforward definitions in Harris' and Hodges' A Dictionary of Reading: "education ... the changes in a person caused by teaching and learning rather than maturation'' and "training ... all the instructional procedures and circumstances used to produce learning.'' Seen from this standpoint, the terms are actually mutually supportive.

Almost 15 years ago, Ralph Wenrich of the University of Michigan, the dean of vocational educators in that state, spoke on the subject of students, work, and education for work--what he called "career education.'' Even in that time, he rejected the simplistic view that vocational education is simply the acquisition of specific job skills, and citing John Dewey's educational ideas as his base, he said, "Above all, I want to make the point that work and life are closely interwoven and cannot be separated; therefore, work and education should be combined. Career education is the means whereby children, youths, and adults can be helped to realize their full potential through work.''

This concept of vocational education as an inseparable part of a total liberal education, is more viable today than at any time in our history.

Ted Cavin
Director Vocational Education
West Bloomfield Schools
West Bloomfield, Mich.

Vol. 06, Issue 28

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