Bob Thomas: Multiple types of education needed

“Education” seems to be the hue and cry of many people and groups when it comes to our economic problems. Recently there was a meeting at the Gold Dust West Casino of several Carson City manufacturing leaders, who generally agreed that an impediment to recruiting new companies is our poorly educated work force.

But doesn’t “education” mean different things to different people? Surely our intellectual community feels that all education today is substandard when it comes to satisfying perennial students who believe in education only for education’s sake, as opposed to career preparation. To me that’s a self-serving luxury, but to them it’s orgasmic to learn just for the sake of learning.

On the other hand, to manufacturers and businesspeople, education should involve teaching K-12 kids the basics necessary to read, write and speak coherently, to compute at least on a level of arithmetic including multiplication tables and perhaps trigonometry.

“Education” means something quite different to aspiring medical doctors, dentists, engineers and the like. To these people, education is a barrier to be overcome before the objective of certification can be met. It also means the opportunity to gain as much specific knowledge as possible in one’s future profession.

Let’s take a look at today’s public-schooling establishment and see how it could be restructured to fulfill the needs of the lost group that desperately needs to benefit from public education. The first thing we must understand is that college education is big business immersed in sustaining and materially rewarding itself. Perhaps more than half the kids in college don’t belong there.

Parents have been sold a bill of goods that their offspring cannot succeed without a college degree — the magic union card. That’s true of the professions. But for others, college is a status symbol. High school counselors have been promoting this propaganda, all-out, for at least 50 years. The truth is, there are tens of thousands of non-college, highly skilled jobs in the workplace going begging because our kids aren’t trained for them, and those jobs pay better than many jobs for the college-educated.

We must overcome turf protection — that is, anything that high schools can become capable of teaching, they should teach. And we need two kinds of high schools: 1) academic for college prep, and 2) manual arts for job prep, including core academic courses.

You academic purists must expand your thinking to equally include educating for career considerations at all levels. I believe we’ve gone too far in trying to instill social reform and so-called justice in young minds. And we’re placing way too much emphasis on sexuality and equal rights.

When I was in high school in Long Beach, Calif., we had three academic high schools and one Manual Arts High School. All were about the same size. Manual Arts had 1,500 kids. Poly, Wilson and Jordan high schools were typical. Manual Arts specialized in auto mechanics, aircraft mechanics, carpentry, machine shop, wood shop plus heavy equipment maintenance courses. Also included were English, shop, math and history.

Today, in manual arts high schools we could be teaching all of the above plus adding tool and die design, NC machine programming and operation, pre-nursing and more.

What are the chances? Not good. Colleges hooked on student loans will do everything to counter efforts to create manual arts high schools.

Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who later served on the Carson City School Board, the state welfare board and the airport authority and as a state Assemblyman. His website is


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