It is the persistent need for general education that complicates the issue. Economic demand may justify child labor, but educational theory does not. A theory of education which finds no place for vocational education is antiquated and meager; but a theory which considers only the requirements of work is meager and inhuman. No training for special skill in a trade is conceivable in the elementary school: manual training, gardening, sewing, cooking, and agriculture have a place in childhood because children cannot learn by books alone, but need a training of body, hand, and eye, of purpose, loyalty, and leadership which these subjects can provide. This need does not disappear with adolescence, but generalized manual training—constructive work on objects without economic value, the making of childish gimcracks, of joints which join nothing, or of seams which sew no garment—ceases early to have even an educational value. The purely educational worth of any form of manual training comes gradually to depend on the economic value of the ends for which the pupil works. Manual training as a part of the general curriculum of a high-school pupil must be practical training in some form of manual skill of actual value in the working world. Even a pupil who intends to go to college may well take one or two courses of handwork in the secondary school, for the broadening of his experience and outlook and the specific training he may thus secure: a course in the elements of many occupations would be better still. But this is not vocational education. True vocational education aims at efficiency in a special field of work—it trains printers, stenographers, dressmakers, carpenters, mechanicians, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, journalists, engineers. It brings into play the purpose to earn a living by what one learns—which President Eliot has called the “life-career motive.” It narrows, not unjustifiably, but inevitably. The difficulty is to educate for citizenship, for the duties of parenthood and social living, for leisure, and for the interpretation of life—in spite of the need for early specialization, when that need is present.

That need does not arise altogether from differences in wealth. After adolescence many pupils lack incentive for an education that has no direct reference to a career. But the demand for vocational training is so overlaid and entangled with economic pressure that selection of candidates for vocational schooling on the ground of individual aptitude and free choice is visionary. While our social system permits comparative poverty to constrain the vast majority of young men and women to go to work at the earliest possible age, we must face the necessity of early specialization in training, whatever their capacity or need for further general culture. Education can only emphasize the value of liberal studies and strive to include in every curriculum as many as possible, and in profitable form. It can also resist the tendency to specialize too soon.

All Directories