The Larger Educational Bearing of Vocational Guidance
(An address delivered at the Third National Conference on Vocational Guidance, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1913)
The school is an institution fashioned as other institutions. It has its roots in the past. It has held its own in the midst of contentions and against hostile forces by being what it is. It has been conscious of its value for society because of its past and has found its courage and self-respect in its accomplishments. Especially the public schools of a democracy such as ours have had need of a strong hold upon its traditions. Our democracy has been suspicious of the standards of learning and a literary art that belong to an upper class, and of the standard of an efficiency that arose out of a bureaucratic government.
Our school system has had its own practical traditions; and where it has added to its earlier meager curriculum, the addition has been frequently without any controlling principle. We have bee very proud of our American common public school, but we have never been quite clear what our schools have done for us, nor from just what standpoint we should criticize them. They have been the bulwark of our liberties, but we have been very generally unwilling that they should undertake more than the drill in the three R's. When we have overloaded their curricula, and the cry has arisen against the "fads and frills," there has been no definite conception of what they should do by which we can test the demands of rival educational theories.
To a large extent the educational policy of most of our large cities has represented a fluctuating compromise between forces that
(44) have been by no means all educational forces. This situation is common to our popular education and to our popular government. We know that they are precious institutions, but we treat them with a great deal of good humored ridicule. They are the palladia of our liberties, but concretely we have not wished to have to take them too seriously. The school-teacher and the politician have been standing subjects for the wit of humorous papers.
But a change has come about in our attitude toward our governmental institutions. It is a great deal clearer to us what these institutions should and can do. We may not be any clearer as to the fundamental theories of government, but the community now knows that popular government is itself our most precious treasure and it is becoming aware that this precious institution can be called upon to do certain specific things.
Industrial education and vocational guidance mark the points at which our public schools are making such contact with actual life that the community may intelligently criticize the schools and control them in something like the same sense that it may control the management of technical departments of our governing bodies.
Fruitful contact implies primarily that the community shall be able to pass in certain respects intelligent criticism upon the school, criticism which the school authorities will themselves seek and of which they will be able to make profitable use. This implies further that the school life reaches back into the home and the community of which the home is a part and out into the occupations which the children enter when they leave the school. Lack of such intelligence and such connection between the school and the life of the community is evidenced in a type of criticism with which we are familiar. These criticisms gather mainly about the lack of drill in the three R's. Spelling, number work, and English, we are told, are slovenly; the graduates of neither the grades nor the high school can write a fairly respectable letter; the commonest words are misspelled; the English is atrocious; the ability to cast up a simple column of figures is lamentably absent; and yet the children are so possessed with a sense of their own competence that they can not be corrected or taught in the offices where they are employed. The cry arises at once that the curriculum is stuffed
(45) with comparatively useless subjects while the weightier matters of essential importance for vocations are neglected.
The school authorities are compelled to bear the onslaught of this irresponsible criticism. Their critics hark back to the good old years when the simpler courses of study and the sturdier discipline of the rod brought forth the results so lacking in our degenerate days. They continue to criticize, though actual proof from the tests of the schools of our grandfathers clearly indicates that the children came out of these more Spartan institutions less well-equipped even in the three R's than are the graduates of our own grades. These attacks upon the schools are recurrent. Each year when the employer of boys and girls loses control of the irritation caused by youthful incompetence he is apt to pour out his wrath on the institutions from whose hands he receives his employees.
Unfortunately the relation between the school and the occupation has been so slight that the comment and criticism called out by the child's failure to fit into the machinery of the office, the shop, or the factory has little value beyond the registration of friction and the need of adjustment. It is not illuminating comment and criticism. The teacher naturally resents the implications that the child's entire education should consist in drills in spelling, penmanship, and figuring, flanked by stenography, typewriting, and cataloguing. If the child's employer is to have and express an opinion upon the child's school training, that opinion must be more enlightened and more improved by interest in the child's entire welfare. The teachers, failing to find such all-round judgment in members of the community who employ the graduates of our public schools, naturally come to regard themselves as the only competent judges of what the school training should be.
Fortunately this gap between the community and the school has been bridged at a number of points. The schools have undertaken a certain amount of vocational training, and upon strictly vocational training the comment and criticism of those representing these specific vocations is felt to be pertinent. It has been even in some degree sought by the school itself. Out of this interplay have arisen various departments of vocational training, such as technical high schools and commercial high schools. In touch with
(46) these schools the business and technical men have formed advisory boards for consultation with the teaching and administrative forces of the school, both as to curriculum and as to the actual conduct of the training itself, and the teacher, on the other hand, has on occasion followed the child in his first entrance into work, at times guarding the child's interests and himself getting concrete material for the subject matter of the schoolroom work. The commercial high schools in Boston and in Cleveland and the technical schools in a number of our cities are illustrations of institution in which the occupational training already present in the school has not only been improved by this technical outside interest and cooperation, but in which the vocational training has become more educative and cultural than it was when it lacked this outside stimulus to efficiency.
The inference from this is that what we have lacked in the community's complaints against school training has been a larger and more fruitful contact between the school training and the social situation for which the child is trained.
No one will assume that such instances as these solve all the many problems of education which, old and rising in novel forms, face the teachers and administrators of our great public-school systems. A very large number of our school children are not and cannot be oriented toward such specific occupations that their training can be made frankly vocational, and we would be turning our backs upon the best educational traditions if we should separate those who graduate from the grades or the high schools into shops and offices from those who will continue their scholastic training or who have no specific vocations before them. A democratic education must hold together the boys and girls of the whole community; it must give them the common education that all should receive, so diversifying its work that the needs of each group may be met within the institution who care and generous ideals shall permeate the specialized courses, while the more academic schooling may be vivified by the vocational motive that gives needed impulse to a study which may be otherwise unmeaning or even deadening.
Vocational training came into the American school system somewhat tardily, but it has at last passed the door. It is true that it still remains a question whether in the immediate future it will be
(47) frankly recognized as an integral part of our public-school work under a single direction, or whether, under a separate direction, it is to be kept outside the organized system of public education.
However this question may be answered in the immediate future, I cannot believe that eventually it will be possible to keep separate two sides of the training of children which in material and method supplement each other — as theory and practice, as material and interpretation, as technique and application.
There is a further powerful argument against the separation of vocational training from academic training in the public school, and that is that vocational training has made the contact with the community conditions under which this education is to be used and has thus brought itself into a normal situation within which it must be checked and tested by its results. It is just this contact which our public-school training for life has hitherto lacked. In so far as vocational training and public schooling can become a part of the same educational process, just so far will the benefits of this close functional relation between the children's training and the life of the community pass over to all parts of the preparation of our children for life. I know of no answer that can be made to this argument except one which must maintain that vocational training may not be educational, and that the more academic subjects of the school curriculum have no organic place in the curriculum of vocational training — contentions which the best vocational training in this country and in Europe abundantly disproves.
It is to the other phase of this contact of the school with the community to which I wish to direct especial attention, the answering phase of vocational guidance. I hope, however, it has been sufficiently emphasized that vocational training and vocational guidance are normally linked together. Through these two doors the community gains admittance to the school.
Perhaps the most striking evidence that the community through vocational guidance is able to cooperate healthfully with the school and exercise a legitimate criticism in the process is found in the fact that the school more or less unwittingly has been itself a vocational guide, has been determining what occupations many of the children who leave the school shall enter, and the further fact that this
(48) unwitting guidance and direction, just because it has been largely unintentional, has been in no small degree unfortunate for the children. In so far as the school has fitted its pupils to enter one occupation rather then another, just so far it is guiding them to this vocation.
If the school had in the past as deliberately trained the children in the mechanical arts, had centered its study of history as diligently around the growth of industry, had studied the industries in the community as earnestly as it has trained them in the arts of the office and the counter, as it has organized its study of history about literature and politics, as it has studied the careers of its successful politicians, warriors, and literary men, it would unquestionably have been guiding them toward the mechanical occupations. But the school has uncritically accepted the general attitude of the community that each child should take advantage of the unequaled opportunities that America has offered of getting up in the world; and the uncritical assumption back of this attitude has been that the upward path lay from the labor of the hands and led toward the labor of the wits, and that these were trained by the uses of language and mental arithmetic. Success has generally meant achievement in business, in politics, or in one of the professions; and the schools, apart from the generalities found in its reading books or heard from its rostra concerning the nobility of labor and the beauties of the simple life, have unconsciously adjusted themselves to those callings in which lay the opportunities for the successful man. The training in these branches has not been extensive, but it used to be the boast of our American society that the grounding of the three R's gained in the common school was all that was needed for the energetic man; that he had much better get the rest of his vocational training in business or politics than in the school; while the professional man must gain his technique in professional training schools.
While the curricula of both the elementary and the secondary schools have been immensely enriched, especially in those subjects which are termed cultural, the trend of the training has continued to be toward business, politics, or further preparation for college or professional study. It has followed very naturally from this
(19) that the children find themselves directed toward office work and that when training is offered in mechanical arts side by side with the technique of office work the training for the white-collar jobs is the more attractive. The schools growing up in the traditions of the American community have been guiding the children toward a certain type of vocation.
We have referred to positive guidance. There is a negative guidance, which is the more serious, because it arises from a lack of vocational training or direction. In the schools of the country at large between 40 and 50 percent of the children in the elementary schools are eliminated before they have finished the grades — that is, before they have acquired a common-school education. It is the judgement of those who have studied these children that they are not able to retain even the meager acquirements of the lower grades. They are less capable readers and writers of English and less capable figurers in the years after they have left school than they were in the school itself. They constitute an inconsiderable fraction of those who attend the night schools. They have not the minimum of education which our common-school system, with the compulsory attendance regulations, contemplates. They are not fitted for any but the unskilled vocations; and our community, in leaving the schools with their predominantly academic curricula, their direction toward only one type of vocation, and the inadequate laws governing school attendance, is much more effectively guiding these unfortunate graduates of the fourth, fifth and sixth grades toward the unskilled occupations than any system of vocational training could guide its graduates into the skilled trades.
It is impossible for the community to avoid the task of guidance. If it is not undertaken consciously and with adequate forethought, the schools, from the very nature of school training, its adaptation or lack of adaptation to the occupations of the community, its success or failure, will determine in large degree what doors shall be open or closed to those who leave school. The aptitudes and ambitions gained in school and from the surrounding neighborhoods shape the children's possible careers.
This guidance must be incomplete even when the school system frankly recognizes its duty toward vocational training. It is through
(50) the door of the vocational guidance and training that the school enters into immediate concrete contact with the homes and neighborhoods from which the children come, as well as with the industries into which they enter, and the meaning for the school of this contact is not exhausted when it undertakes various types of training in the industrial and household arts. The destination of the particular child cannot be left to his own immature judgment or whim; nor is the teacher alone a competent judge; nor can the decision be safely left to the parents alone — in whose hands it might seem to be most safely left.
The experience in vocational guidance in England and in this country is conclusive upon this point. The parent, the social worker who so frequently must help parents to interpret their social situation, the teacher, and someone who understands the labor market for children and the character of the occupations, especially what they have to offer the employees in the future, must get together if the best possible chance is to be offered the child. This is especially true if the child leaves school with but little training and faces a market for only unskilled labor. To find that opening which carries with it some training in school, some future beyond the minimum wage, which avoids the blind alleys and the many pitfalls that child labor so abundantly provides, to find this opening for the immature child who goes out to work for the community under the least satisfactory conditions, is surely the common duty of the school and the community. And it is an individual task that has a new character with each child. It cannot be undertaken or carried out in a wholesale manner. No child should leave school to go to work without the benefit of all the guidance which those who have reared and taught and are about to employ him can give. The meagerness of the training which we can give the majority of our children emphasizes this duty. It is further emphasized by the value for society of the human material with which we are dealing.
But in our interest in the particular child we must not overlook the immense value which such interest should have for the school itself. It is the process by which the institution of the school passes from its fixed dogmatic stage into that of a working institution that has come to consciousness and can test its methods
(51) and presuppositions by its results. For in this task of guiding the individual child into his occupation, the school faces its own accomplishment tested by the most important value which society possesses, its future citizen. The standpoint for the judgment of the school and all its work is inevitably given in the conscientious attempt to guide the particular child into the best occupation he can find in view of his training and background.
It is upon this phase of vocational guidance that I wish to insist — its value for the school. Its importance for the individual child is too evident to need argument or rhetoric. The obligation of the community that employs the child; that too often exploits him; that turns him loose upon the streets at the age of fourteen and refuses him any employment with a future until he is sixteen; that invests great sums in an education which half the time it does not carry to the point of adequate return either to the child or to the community — the obligation of this community to reach out its hand to the child and guide him to the most favorable opening is also evident enough; the only difficulty is to find the corporate bodies of the community upon whom this obligation can be fastened. To a very large extent this sense of responsibility has come home only to the social worker whose interest in the child and his family has made his individual case real and pressing. Even the employer has come to realize in some cases the value of vocational guidance to the business that employs the child. The teachers who inevitably feel a genuine interest in their pupils will, if they are able, extend this interest to these most crucial moments in the child's career — when he seeks his first job. Beyond this human interest there is the import to the school of this first test of the child's training. The test, of course, is that of the whole educational process and it affords ground to criticize the age at which the child comes to school, the whole training given in the school, the age of leaving the school, the forms of occupation these factors prescribe for the child, and the care of the child after he has left the schoolhouse up to the time of the completion of his training for this occupation.
It is not too much to say that our schools are still in one respect medieval. They assume more or less consciously that they are
(52) called upon to indoctrinate their pupils, and that the doctrine which they have to instill — whether it be that of language, number, history, literature, or elementary science — is guaranteed as subject matter for instruction by its own truth, by its traditional position in the school curriculum, and finally by its relation to the rest of the ideas, points of view, artistic products, historical monuments, which together make up what we call our culture. These tests of subject matter in instruction may be fairly called internal and do not carry the judgment of the pedagogue out of the schoolhouse. The subject matter is determined, then, in a real sense by authority, and it follows that when the results of the training are disappointing, the pedagogue feels that he is secure within his institution and can calmly pass the charge of inefficient training on to other social agents and conditions. No one will question the legitimacy of these tests if they are recognized as organic parts of the larger test of the working of the child's school training when brought up against its use in practice
The medieval character of the school is shown in the separation of the institution, which has the doctrines of education intrusted to it, from the other training processes in which the intellectual content is at a minimum and the practical facility is at a maximum. In the real sense the doctrine which the school inculcates should be continually tried out in the social experience of the child — there should be a play back and forth between formal training and the child's actual conduct. Until this is brought about the school will continue to be in some degree medieval and scholastic; but every fresh contact with the situation of the child who has been imbibing the doctrine and now must make use of his training in his social world outside is of immense value in enabling use to bring the child's training as a whole a little nearer the normal education of the citizen to be. No small part of this criticism must fall upon the industries which are willing to exploit children, in some sense enticed from the school by the promise of a paltry wage, and upon the inadequate training regulations of the governments of our school districts.
After all, the school is the self-conscious expression of the community in child training; it is the rational, intentional institution;
(53) and however essential the activity of outside agencies are in direction and training of children, the school should be the central and organizing agency. It can, however, become such a central and organizing agency only as it abandons its medieval position of giving a body of doctrines and techniques which find their justification in themselves rather than in their value in conduct, at home, in the neighborhood, and in the vocations.
Such a testing of the doctrine and technique of school training is not to be taken in any narrow sense. In the first place, it is the final good of the child rather than his immediate wage that must be considered; in the second place, we all realize that many of the values that accrue to the child from the school training are intangible and can be stated with difficulty, if at all, in terms of his success in a trade or an office. What I am pleading for is the recognition that it is in relation to his vocation that all the child has acquired should be regarded, even if some of the acquirements are intangible and cannot be weighed in the coarser scales of wage and advancement. In a word, it must be through the child's vocation that he can get to the positions in which these very intangible results of schooling will have their season of flowering and fruiting. Unless a child can get into life he cannot have it, no matter how well he may be prepared to appreciate much that is fine therein. The school may not concentrate its efforts upon values to be realized later unless it sees doors open through which the child can reach the uplands of life. It is the whole life of the child that the school must envisage, but it must conceive of it as growing out of the child's first beginnings in the world after he leaves school. Unless the school helps the child effectively into the larger fields, it is in vain that it has given him their chart.
Now it is at least consonant with the traditions of American schooling to assume that culture and training from a whole, and that the higher values grow out of the immediate necessities; to assume that in the immediate experience of the child there are found the opportunities for development of what the school has to inculcate. It is not only possible, but pedagogically correct, to give a child the history of his country from the standpoint of the industries into which he must enter; to follow the line of the
(54) child's vocational interest in organizing his course of study, with the full recognition that such a vocation has its essential relations to all that the child has to learn. Even from the point of view of the subject matter of the curriculum, the school can profit by making its standpoint vocational guidance, the guidance of the child becoming the guiding principle of the curriculum. The illustration has been taken largely from the case of the children who go direct from an incomplete elementary schooling into the shop, factory or office; but it must be remembered that the same principle holds, whatsoever the vocation of the child may be, and it is even true that the child may well profit in his elementary and perhaps secondary training if he looks toward some vocation whose outline he can discern better than the profession which he may later follow. Trade training when adequately given is sound education even for those who will not be tradesmen.
But it is the still broader outlook that I would insist upon for the school. Not only should the school conceive of its subject matter and method from the standpoint of the success and failure of the children when they leave school; it should be humanized and socialized more completely by keeping the human fortunes of its children perpetually before it, and by continually questioning its own material and method when its graduates stumble and fall before the obstacles that confront them when they leave the schoolhouse. It should be so organically related to the other agencies that regard the success and failure of children — the home, the social workers, the employment agencies, the employers and their various plants, the higher schools into which some of its pupils will pass, and the whole community into which as citizens it will sent its students — that the contacts which vocational guidance brings with it will be largely sought and intelligently used for purposes of criticism and interpretation.
To sum up, vocational guidance means testing the whole training given the child, both within and without the school. It is the point of contact with the outer world from which to criticize both this training and the occupations into which society admits the children whom it has partly educated. The healthful relation of the school to the community, and especially to the other agencies
(55) that train our children, depends upon the school making the standpoint of vocational guidance a dominant one in its whole organization.
In accepting this standpoint the school will abandon the medieval position and will come into full human relationship with homes, neighborhoods, occupations and all the agencies that are bound up with the development of the rising generation. In accepting the challenge of formulating the education of the child on terms of the uses to which he will put it, the school should abandon nothing of the higher values of which it conceives itself to be the carrier, but should recognize its task to be the statement of these values in terms of the child's own experience.
In vocational guidance the school finds its supreme task as the conscious educational institution of a democracy.
In endeavoring to formulate the larger meaning of vocational guidance for the school, I seem to have gone away from the immediate concrete and often meager undertaking of the vocational guidance with which we are familiar; but acquaintance with intensive studies of the schooling and occupations of children in a poverty-stricken industrial section of Chicago has convinced me that the task of following up the boys and girls who, with incomplete schooling, search after wretched jobs, brings out with terrible force the necessity of regarding and judging our whole process of child training from the standpoint of the vocations into which we are unconsciously driving them. The children are worth so much more than the occupations to which we dedicate many of them, and, after all, the school is the one institution which can express this value of the children in terms of the preparation it gives them for life; hence it can speak with authority to society as to the occupations into which the children may enter. It is at this meeting point of training and occupation that the school can criticize its own achievements and at the same time the life into which the children are to enter. It seems to me of supreme importance both to the children's training and to their vocations that both should be formulated in terms of vocational guidance.