The Vocational Technical High School

Russ Steele

George Rebane has a post on a Vocational High School at Ruminations.  I tried to post this comment on RR and it kept getting lost in the Typepad jungle, so I though I would try it in WordPress and see what happend.

I am with George. The skills that I learned in shop class have followed me through out my career.  I still have the first wood bowl I made in wood shop.  I do not have any of my metal shop products, but when Ellen wanted a large wheel clothesline like one my mother had which was crafted from the front forks of a bicycle, I was able to weld one up for her. Our first camper was a home built in a naked Dodge van, using the wood working skills I learned in shop class. When it came time to develop some house plans for our current house, I relied on the drafting skills I learned in high school shop, and improved my first year of college engineering. It was my most successful class.  Our contractor was totally blown away by my handcrafted house plans, all approved by the County.  I will have to admit that some of my handyman skill were also learned in 4H, especially the electrical skills.

Right now there is a huge need for graduates that can operate numeric controlled machines and machinist that can produce high tolerance products.  I wonder if one of our local manufacturing companies have enough slack that they could provide some hands on experience for VoTech Students.

Charles Litton Sr attended Lick-Willmerding technical high school in San Francisco.

The Technical Arts program is a place where the head, heart, and hands converge, providing opportunities to tackle real world design challenges. Remaining faithful to its century-old history as an innovative institution in the technical arts, Lick offers a unique collection of shop classes. This is an important part of the school’s mission of developing in young people those “qualities of the head, heart, and hands” which will serve them well in college and in life. Lick students learn to work conceptually and physically, moving from theory to practice in order to bring the designs of the mind into the physical world. Technical Arts Department objectives include cross-disciplinary and collaborative learning, skills for engineering, effective problem solving, creative expression, competency in the language of craft and design, and personal empowerment through self-confidence and self-esteem. All advanced courses (e.g., Fabrications 2, Glass 2) can be taken multiple times for credit with the permission of the instructor and when space in the course is available. To enroll in an advanced course, you must have successfully completed the first level course. The school requires all students to take a minimum of four semesters in the Technical Arts. Besides taking Design and Technology (DT1) in the ninth grade, students must choose two other semester-long classes that meet in the shops: Electronics, Fabrications, Glass, Jewelry/Metal Art, or Woodworking.

Litton had this to say about his experiences in a letter to the Head Master in 1954.

[When] “I look back, it is easy to see that the head/hand program a Lick-Willmerding, contributed a great deal more to my life’s work than did the subsequent university education.” Litton graduated from Stanford as an engineer.


About Russ Steele
Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

34 Responses to The Vocational Technical High School

  1. D. King says:

    I have found that, after you paste your post, if you put the cursor at the end of the post and hit the “Enter / Return” key (for a new line), then hit post, it will be accepted.

  2. D. King says:

    Hey Russ, is your blog clock set to a different time zone?

  3. Bob W says:

    I am sorry to break this to you Russ. Starting out as a trainee in a machine shop producing parts is not the kind of job our young people consider attractive. You really should be able to add and subtract multiply and divide even though we have calculators. Reading prints, following instructions precisely and standing in front of a machine takes patience. The shop floor is not as clean as an office and you can’t surf the net very much when you are loading and unloading parts. You can’t really be efficient programming parts of you haven’t spent time making chips first. You need to were an apron and clothes that you don’t expect to keep clean. And oh those work shoes! Tennies won’t cut it they get packed with chips and soaked with cutting fluid. And of course there is the noise from the machines. All this for minimum wage to start. Ain’t gona happen.

    Need to get much hungrier first.

  4. Russ says:

    Bob W.

    I do not disagree The Sierra College machine shop training program was cancelled because the high schools were not generating any candidates, interested or trained in math and print reading. One of my first jobs was a backhoe operator, dirty body jarring work, but it was one of my most satisfying jobs, I could look back and see what I had accomplished each day.

    I once ask a very learned man, who was a machinist why he did what he did, when his education would indicate he could be designer or an architect. His answer? It was the joy of turning our a part of higher tolerance than anyone else in the shop, or his customers expected. It was the pride of accomplishment. They do not teach that in school anymore, everyone is a winner.

    It is interesting, the when Litton started his business, every Friday afternoon the machine shop had to be cleaned, until there was not a single speck of dust or drop of oil on the machines and you could eat off the floor, according to an oral history recorded by one of his engineers. When they came to work on Monday, it was the cleanest place on the planet. The elimination of contamination was the secret ingredient in Litton products.

  5. steve enos says:


    We really need and could benefit from a vocational technical high school and community college too!

  6. Bob W says:

    Steve, another example of literal think. Intent produces nothing. You can’t make them attend a vocation program. Especially when they see other young people camping out, getting free food, getting high and demanding more without putting out any effort.

    Thing is, they don’t even have the capacity to know what they are missing by not accomplishing anything. Sad, really sad. And you liberals are to blame! Shame on you!

  7. What happened to high schoolers being able to work a couple of hours after school wasn’t it ROP or something like that? I worked in a local grocery store and I have some great memories and made some lifelong friends.

  8. Dave Cranfield says:

    Yep, I worked after school at San Carlos (CA) airport. 2 hours after school, all day Saturday and full time summers. Started out washing windshields and fueling aircraft. Which soon led to changing tires, doing minor repairs and ended up overhauling engines, fabric/sheet metal repairs and major airframe work.

    All this lead to an FAA A&P license and an engineering career in the airline, then aerospace industry.

  9. stevefrisch says:

    What curriculum would modern vocational education focus on? I am assuming some basic STEM studies, but are there specific rising specialized skills people have in mind? Is leadership and entrepreneurial studies a potential vocational training area as well? How about basic financial and business management literacy?

    What would you include in the curriculum?

  10. Russ says:

    Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, several years ago wrote a column about the higher education bubble, much like the housing bubble, and it’s eventual bust. Education was becoming an over priced good, propped up by cheap government-subsidized credit, luring borrowers and lenders in to a potentially disastrous mess. Well the mess is here and Reynolds has an assessment in a Washington Examiner Column.

    Subsequent events have proved me right as students have begun to think twice about indebtedness and schools have begun to face pressure over tuition. For higher education, costs have skyrocketed even as the value of their product has been declining, and people are starting to notice.

    Just last week, the New York Times, normally a big fan of higher education, ran an article on “The Dwindling Power of a College Degree.” In our grandparents’ day, a college diploma nearly guaranteed a decent job.

    Now, not so much: “One of the greatest changes is that a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence. Until the early 1970s, less than 11 percent of the adult population graduated from college, and most of them could get a decent job. Today nearly a third have college degrees, and a higher percentage of them graduated from non-elite schools. A bachelor’s degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability.”

    This is a simple case of inflation: When you artificially pump up the supply of something (whether it’s currency or diplomas), the value drops. The reason why a bachelor’s degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability is that the government decided that as many people as possible should have bachelor’s degrees.

    Read more at the Washington Examiner:

    Now it time for a market correction. The growing demand is NOT for college graduates with fuzzy degrees, but for people with technical degrees and for skilled technicians. The demand now if for skilled people that make things, but skilled workers need skills and our schools are not producing the needed product. Now the question is how do we change direction?

  11. stevefrisch says:

    One of the things that was a major topic of discussion while I was in China in October was the Chinese academic testing system. In China, like most of Europe, the testing done when you are in your final year at secondary school determines not just what university you can go to, but what your course of study will be.

    During my multi-day visit to Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management

    many of the students were crediting this system, and the gradually increasing campaign against legacy admissions, for the rapid rise of Chinese technical and industrial skills; and for the increasing competitiveness of China vis a vis American universities. To be clear, many Tsinghua students also spend several semesters of study in the US, and find the experience critical in teaching innovation skills, which they find lacking in a more controlled educational system.

    I am wondering though, if such a system could be implemented in the US? or should it be? I strongly believe that the ultimate in educational choice is allowing students to determine what they will study, not having government determine ones course of study. So if we agree on that principle, how do we encourage more students in the US to focus on skills that will increase our national competitiveness instead of what some are describing as “fuzzy” majors?

  12. Bob W says:

    Steve F, Reading your comments and the way you express yourself I am forced to say that you give me the impression you are bleeding intellectual elitism. I doubt seriously that you are anywhere near as intelligent as you attempt to make yourself seem.

    I also doubt that it is possible, but let me see if I might help you out here a little.

    True “entrepreneurial” character is not something one gets from “studies”. It is a component of one’s soul and is facilitated by personal experience.

    “Innovation” is not a skill in itself. It is a byproduct of ambition and occurs when one is cognizant of the satisfaction of accomplishment. Success at “innovation” is facilitated by the “skills” one has developed through education and personal experience.

    I would recommend you get a little more hands on RERSULT BASED physical experience to better understand these concepts.

  13. D. King says:

    Steve F said:

    “To be clear, many Tsinghua students also spend several semesters of study in the US, and find the experience critical in teaching innovation skills, which they find lacking in a more controlled educational system.

    I am wondering though, if such a system could be implemented in the US?”

    Well, if they are sending students here, where would we send students for “innovation skills”?

    “…how do we encourage more students in the US to focus on skills that will increase our national competitiveness instead of what some are describing as “fuzzy” majors?”

    Dump the “fuzzy” majors! I suspect this will not happen for agenda driven reasons.

  14. stevefrisch says:

    Bob W., I guess it was too much to ask to think that we could have a civil discussion about the value of vocational education, a topic that we all seem to agree on without it immediately descending into the pit of insulting personal behavior.

  15. stevefrisch says:

    D. KIng–perhaps I should have made myself clearer; by starting the next paragraph with ” I am wondering if such a system could be implemented in the US”, I meant the testing systems similar to the English Public School model, where students course of study was set.

    The Chinese students would be the first to say that innovation is not taught, it is a product of culture, education, experience, and sweat equity. What their experience in the US gives them is exposure to the people who are serial entrepreneurs, a skill set they believe is in short supply in their nation.

  16. Bob W says:

    Steve, honestly I can see where you felt personally attacked. I am sorry in a way but I have to admit that the “way” would not lend you any satisfaction.

    I was planning on going into more detail but on second thought since I am sure you will continue to be offended and because of my empathy, I will abstain.

    Oh, and thank you for not making a big deal out of my typo. I am a tradesman, not an intellect.

  17. D. King says:


    We had good patent system here which protected innovators and allowed them to benefit from their hard work. As I am sure you are aware, China has and continues to pilfer and insist that companies turnover patent rights after a time. Until this REALLY changes, I can’t see people going through the ass pain (and it is ass pain!). So, fundamental political change is needed IMHO.

    To encourage innovation, they might start off by creating a strong patent office (no corruption) and enforce innovator’s rights to benefit from their work. The more they muck it up with excessive inventor regulations the less successful it will be. In other words, don’t try and direct innovation, let it go.

  18. Greg Goodknight says:

    Frisch feels personally attacked when his weak and poorly thought out pronouncements are found lacking. In the case of Chinese education, one might read Liping Ma’s book contrasting the ‘profound understanding of fundamental mathematics’ among Chinese elementary school teachers (like the teachers here a century+ ago, mostly the cream of high school students) vs the teachers in the US with masters degrees who often displayed poor knowledge of the mathematics underlying even elementary level arithmetic.

    This is a brand new edition, I hope to be digging into it sometime soon.

    On the face of it, Chinese technical and industrial skills have been driven by the first world shipping most all their high tech manufacturing jobs to China, a byproduct of an exchange rate that insured rapid growth. Is it real and sustainable, or is it a bubble?

  19. I recall about twenty years ago a 60 minutes show on Japanese style of education and how the pressure on the students caused some to commit suicide. When Japan changed their system their country became a tech backwater very quickly. It is terrible when the young kill themselves of course, but the whole country was changed to accommodate less than stellar performance.

  20. Bob W says:

    Careful Todd. These days if you want the absolute highest quality most advanced high-tech machinery, instrumentation, optics or electronics you MUST go to Japan.

  21. SO they stole our stuff eh?

  22. steve enos says:

    So Japan is a “tech backwater” per Todd… sure hope that was a joke, becaise it is so far from the truth.

  23. Bob W says:

    Actually Todd they copied our “stuff” in the 50s and 60s until they were forced to tighten up their quality before they lost their sales. When they realized that they had a quality problem they went after it like nobody ever did and their domination of high-tech is the result. The difference here between Japan and China is that we are responsible for their current government structure. I am not sure that China will turn out the same. A lot depends on how much we capitulate to China.

  24. My point was Japan has been a stagnant economy for twenty years. We all know they make great cameras. Since America was the defense force for them since WW2 they were able to direct their efforts to non military spending. They had “jobs for life” and all that socialist kind of stuff. As a homogeneous people they don’t have the stress of different peoples and their problems.

  25. stevefrisch says:

    Well guys, I just started out asking a couple of simple questions. I didn’t “feel attacked” nor did I say anything that implied “feel attacked”. But I note even an honest question here is fertile ground for Todd and Greg to try to pick a fight. I would be willing to bet that in the last 18 months I am the only one here who has actually overseen any actual technical training of workers to enter the workforce (I may be wrong about George and Russ). In the last 18 months SBC has overseen the training or retraining of more than 30 people to enter the building trades with new technical skills. Which merely sets me up to be attacked yet again by the paragons of negativity who sit in their armchairs and throw grenades.

  26. You have a complex SteveF. How did that happen? We simply don’t believe you when you claim things because you are usually fibbing. Forgive us for our doubt but you never answer any questions about things we ask so you will just have to do better. Still waiting to see who paid for your trip to China and that 2010 tax return on politicking on Prop 23. So you see, you did your best to screw thousands of businesses and employees out of a job and then come here to toot your horn on retraining those you put out of work. We have you figured out.

  27. stevefrisch says:

    So much for asking an actual serious question and getting feedback without insults from you bozo’s.

  28. Your questions? How about our questions?

  29. D. King says:

    Hey Frisch, why didn’t you ask this guy? He was right there at Tsinghua University.

  30. Russ says:

    Joel Kotkin writing at the City Journal —Wanted: Blue-Collar Workers
    Who will power America’s new industrial revolution?

    The natural-gas boom is generating demand for skilled labor across the Midwest.

    To many, America’s industrial heartland may look like a place mired in the economic past—a place that, outcompeted by manufacturing countries around the world, has too little work to offer its residents. But things look very different to Karen Wright, the CEO of Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Wright’s biggest problem isn’t a lack of work; it’s a lack of skilled workers. “We have a very skilled workforce, but they are getting older,” says Wright, who employs 1,200 people at three Ohio factories. “I don’t know where we are going to find replacements.”

    That may sound odd, given that the region has suffered from unemployment for a generation and is just emerging from the worst recession in decades. Yet across the heartland, even in high-unemployment areas, one hears the same concern: a shortage of skilled workers capable of running increasingly sophisticated, globally competitive factories. That shortage is surely a problem for manufacturers like Wright. But it also represents an opportunity, should Americans be wise enough to embrace it, to reduce the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate.

  31. D. King says:

    I can’t get my hand out of my pocket.

    “I don’t know where we are going to find replacements.”

    Train them Mr. Wright!

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