Stratifying the Student Body
A supporter of school choice must accept that schools will experiment with, and families will opt for, educational strategies that he or she doesn’t like. I’ve never been a fan of Fame-style schools specializing in music, for example, and for the same reasons, I’ve reservations about Laborers school in Cranston, which Julia Steiny described in her Sunday column:
At Laborers, Cranston academic teachers and instructors who are journeyman laborers themselves jointly craft an academic program geared to the construction trade. For example, math involves everything from learning financial literacy to calculating the volume of concrete needed for a job. The skills are the same as those taught in traditional schools, but applied to the world of construction. …
Shortly after the school opened, it was clear that some of the students were more interested in finding an alternative school than they were in construction work. So the school developed a second strand of learning, called The World of Work (WOW), which [cofounder Armand] Sabitoni considers consistent with the union’s mission.
Having had my own feet in several dramatically different social pools, so to speak, as an artist-type, an academic-type, a white-collar cubicle dweller, and now a carpenter, I’m uncomfortable with the social implications of stratification at such an early age. Surely, for example, all children would benefit from practical lessons in math — both for current learning and for a minimum of familiarity when one day they encounter tasks outside of their professions. Before I began in construction, about five years ago, I was utterly clueless when it came to repairs around the house, let alone do-it-yourself modifications.
Extracting the labor segment of the student body will decrease the incentive for general-ed schools to cover material relevant to them. From another perspective, while practical lessons might help a particular student pick up academic concepts, the career from which those lessons are drawn isn’t necessarily a fit for him or her.
More significantly, though, there’s a benefit to having all social types and career tracks interacting within a generation through high school. This is true, first, because cultural coherence and social empathy are a prerequisite to a healthy democracy. A second consideration is that very young students shouldn’t find themselves on fated tracks. A creative, dynamic society increases the likelihood that its members will come to fresh conclusions, combining previously disconnected ideas for new purposes, and cradle-to-grave career tracks do the opposite.