Steadfast in School — In Praise of Vocational Education

Weld class, found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/photodudes/3089466695/

We Lutherans speak a lot about vocation. In a nutshell, these are the various callings the Lord gives to each of His children to serve Him by serving one’s neighbor: one person might be at the same time a son, brother, father, citizen, and worker. When the church instructs young people in how a Christian is to live, we don’t tell him to become a monk and disengage from society, but instead we praise those roles in life where the neighbor is served to the glory of God. But in the secular realm, vocation has gotten a rather bad reputation.

Most high schools used to have a vocatonal education program that would teach students skills necessary to begin working in a trade or craft. These might include carpentry, welding, auto repair, or drafting. Unfortunately, many school districts have done away with these programs in order to save money. However, the identification of these programs to be among the first to be cut reveals much of the stigma that has unfairly been given to vocational education and those who work in these trades.

Unfortunately, there have been teachers have used manual labor jobs to threaten students who are not performing to expectations. Even when it goes unspoken, the prevailing attitude agrees. “If you don’t learn calculus, you’ll be working in a garage on greasy engines all your life!” Such elitism is poisonous to a healthy economy, demeaning to those whose vocation is to repair engines, and neglects the fact that the teacher’s car is probably only running because a mechanic keeps it that way.

As unhelpful as that is, more damaging still is that such an attitude denies that mechanics — and welders, farmers, plumbers, electricians, machinists, carpenters, construction workers, etc. — are a gift from God. It’s actually pretty easy to see how God uses them to serve the neighbor. I, as a pastor, use public roads all the time to visit parishioners in the hospital or call on new member prospects. But I don’t have the first clue how to build a road or repair one if it’s needed. Without well-maintained roads my job becomes far more difficult, and so does everyone else’s job. So God has seen fit to provide His people with workers to construct and maintain our roads, and for that gift we praise Him.

Those high school students who are weighing their options for education after graduating are often given the impression that to decide not to attend a four-year college or university is to choose a second-class vocation. But there is nothing second-class about working with your hands in a trade or craft. Not only is it honorable work, but many of these jobs pay enough to provide well for a family and are actually in demand right now. In fact, many employers in the manufacturing and engineering sector are having a difficult time finding workers with the skills they need — and in large part it is due to the mindset that looks down upon skilled jobs.

Mike Rowe, creator and host of the TV show Dirty Jobs, has begun a website called MikeRoweWorks.com that provides information on the decline of the perception of blue collar jobs, and gives resources for those who are interested in these vocations. Even John Ratzenberger (yes, that John Ratzenberger) has weighed in to encourage more people to seek education and training in skilled labor.

As Christians, we can do much to speak in praise of vocational education and skilled labor. First, we can thank God that He has given us such people, who serve us in ways we don’t often realize. Second, we can thank those who work in these trades when they do serve us, since most of their work goes unappreciated. And lastly, we can encourage young people who are looking to enter these fields that working with one’s hands (and, as Ratzenberger points out, with one’s heart) is just as honorable and God-pleasing as any other vocation, and provides a great opportunity to use both mind and body to serve our neighbor.

 

 

Associate Editor’s Note:  Pastor Daniel Hinton joins the BJS writers with this first contribution.  Pastor Hinton is associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for ten years, and has three daughters (Elizabeth, Anastasia, and Isabella). He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Much of his ministry at Trinity involves the instruction of the 117 students at Trinity Lutheran School, which has been open since 1892 and now uses a classical model of instruction.  Pr. Hinton is in my circuit and makes many valuable contributions to it (which is quite a feat given the caliber of our circuit).  He will be writing on situations around “Steadfast in School” and “Steadfast among Others”.

About Pastor Daniel Hinton

Pastor Hinton is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Lubbock, Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for seventeen years, and has five daughters and one son. He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. He enjoys old books, teaching the faithful, and things that are beautiful.

Comments

Steadfast in School — In Praise of Vocational Education — 11 Comments

  1. Bravo! Those pushing for universal college “education” are promoting educational inflation. Lots of 4-year (and post!) grads are doing rather low-level jobs these days. What we actually need is to ensure that K-12 provides an actual education, and that, as this article says, we elevate technical school and related careers where they belong. Everybody having to be an MBA is not at all healthy.

  2. What is also interesting is that pastors actually have quite a bit of education, but they usually don’t make too much. Many faithful Lutherans, both white-collar and blue-collar, support the preaching of the Gospel with their financial support.

  3. “In fact, many employers in the manufacturing and engineering sector are having a difficult time finding workers with the skills they need — and in large part it is due to the mindset that looks down upon skilled jobs.”

    At least for High School vocational programs part of the problem is political. Administrators are so desperate to avoid charges of “unfair” vocational tracking they have set up a system of meritocracy based on GPA for these programs. Many students with interest who would actually work in the industry but who are not high achievers by the standard of GPA are not able to gain admission to these programs. The available slots are filled with high GPA students who are likely bound for four year college programs and will only work a short time if at all in those vocations for which they are trained.

    Employers having a hard time finding qualified workers should probably institute some form of apprentice training of their own rather than relying on a political system that has a different agenda.

  4. I’m a public school grad, but all my cousins went to Lutheran schools.
    Do Lutheran High Schools, have or require credits in “shop” classes?

  5. I don’t see anything wrong with skilled manual labor jobs; more often than not they provide a very decent source of income. However, my children attend a university in order to become educated. If my son (who now studies calculus) decides to become a plumber after he graduates then I wish him all the best. However, he does so with a 21st century world view that includes a university level understanding of science, mathematics, literature, history, philosophy, language, etc. I particularly appreciate how a university education teaches freedom by example, through the experience of free research, free thinking and expression.

  6. Who says a farmer can’t also know history and great literature?

    I definitely agree with the idea of vocational training too.

  7. @Niemand Wichtig #9
    That’s a great insight. It’s actually much of the drive behind classical education, as I understand. The whole idea of the liberal arts (liberal meaning “free,” not the same thing as progressive politics) is that education ought to form one as a whole (free) person, rather than the modern idea that education is to make cogs in an economic machine. So farmers ought to know philosophy and history, in order that they can be good citizens and think for themselves. Farmers — just like anyone else — ask questions about the nature of life, death, and what comes after death, so they ought to be grounded in the disciplines that require them to ask and answer these kinds of questions.

  8. I can point to a row of people down the road in rural Iron County Missouri, a PhD math schoolteacher who prefers to manage her medium acreage and leave time for bow hunting deer and various pursuits, a graduate from Rolla School of Mines – previous life was an engineer, but now builds solar arrays and systems world wide; another School of Mines graduate who operates a motel in Eminence, MO and lives in his suspendered overalls. Each and every one of these folks were educated for “head work” but live their lives with their hands and a bit of their heads. Same with my husband, math and physics – works in a high tech letter shop.

    My oldest son, before he was out of his crib, used a fingernail file he found (it was metal) and snuck it into his crib. When I came to get him up from his “nap” he had unscrewed all the screws in the crib and he was standing there with three side rails swinging in the wind. He has gone on to use those skills and works all over the country in specialized jobs at powerplants and refineries.

    I know things have changed over the years with how we view those “blue collar” jobs, but there is a certain satisfaction from looking at a finished product and being able to smile. Me, I can’t look at the statistics or control charts or trends and say “I’m finished” other than no more analyzing for now. When I plant a garden, repair a broken item, trouble shoot some wiring, I can look at what I did and feel the accomplishment.

    I think it’s rather sad when I see people make fun of or ridicule the on the surface worker class of society. They are some of the most interesting, thoughtful and compassionate people you will ever meet. Business people think they can just write a check and make it better. The common folks will give you the shirt off their backs. Love one another seems to be more ingrained in those who don’t have much in excess material wealth.

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