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Career Education - Introduction

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That career education-purely as a concept without definition, budget, or program to explain, motivate, or implement it-could attract such widespread interest and commitment since its advocacy in early 1971 by Assistant Secretary for Education Sidney P. Marland, Jr., is remarkable. Purchasing a commitment by way of major outflows of federal funds, if and only if guidelines are followed, is the common route to "education reform." New funds were intended as the carrot to attract allegiance to the career education concept. Yet failure of these funds to appear, though it understandably has slowed the advance, has not stopped the spread of the idea. Applications are few and rudimentary around the country, but are growing in all levels of the education system... elementary, secondary, and post-secondary.

As with every new major educational concept, one of the battle cries of its proponents is that career education must begin in the elementary school. Experienced elementary educators who have lived through other educational "revolutions" are sure to be skeptical. They have experienced too many other "reforms," coming to suspect that the reason educators say that action must begin in the elementary school is to provide those above this level with some excuse when the reforms fail. In view of the relatively great number of years expected to elapse for most students between the elementary school and their entry into occupational society, this suspicion is almost certain to exist in the case of career education.

Further suspicion is sure to be aroused when persons, ignorant of elementary education, urge elementary educators to provide young students with their first awareness of the world of work. (After all, good elementary school teachers have been doing this for years!) Few major changes in elementary education are called for if this is all that career education asks of the elementary school.

However, both of these suspicions of career education are unfounded. There are basic and serious reasons for saying that if it is to attain its goals, career education must begin in the elementary school. There are equally serious reasons for asking for major directional changes in elementary education to be made in the name of career education. This chapter defends these two contentions, identifying the combination of societal and educational forces leading to the current career education emphasis and defining and discussing the basic nature of career education as an educational concept. It outlines briefly the major kinds of problems that career education faces as it struggles for meaningful integration into the total pattern of American education. Subsequent chapters carry the burden of describing "how to do it" in the elementary school.

Sources of The Career Education Movement

Education and work, two of our most basic historical values, are both in trouble in the United States. Education suffers largely because it has given insufficient attention to the role of work in the lifestyle and values of the individual; work suffers because educators and philosophers have failed in adapting traditional work values to the needs of a new and more complex age. Elementary educators, more than those involved in any other phase of the formal education process, are responsible for inculcating basic values and fundamental skills.

It is not surprising therefore to find that as career education has progressed from an advocacy to a movement, its most rapid advancement has been achieved at the elementary school level. In no other stage of the education system is the teacher and administrator more concerned with the whole of the child's development and preparation. Elsewhere, education is fragmented into subject matter areas. Only in elementary school is the student approached as whole and unique.

Good elementary educators have always provided their students with some awareness of the world of work. Others have added innovations as the concern for career education has risen. More are willing but do not know how. Why is career education needed ... what is it... how can it be applied in the elementary school? These are vital questions for every classroom teacher, administrator, and parent concerned for the lifelong welfare of young human beings.

Social and Economic Impetus for Career Education

The case for career education must be made in the larger society. It is basically a societal crisis, not educational, that has created the call for career education. Society has never urged educational reform because non-educators became concerned for the welfare of the schools. Rather, all major educational reforms have grown from broader societal concerns that have led people to turn to the education community as part of the needed solution. The last major example of this phenomenon was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which grew out of the concerns of the war on poverty. Prior to that, the National Defense Education Act of 1958 emerged from concern with the Soviet ability to orbit a missile in space before the United States had attained that capability. It is no different in the case of career education. A variety of economic and social problems gave labor market manifestations, leading to demands for more effective preparation for working life.

Much of the societal concern motivating demands for career education is based, rightly or wrongly, on the assumption that the American society-and particularly its youth-is less work-oriented than in past generations. The most commonly quoted statistic is the doubling of numbers of public assistance recipients to fourteen million in only five years. Higher unemployment and lower labor force participation for youth are other symptoms often noted. Less attention is given to the millions who work full time/full year at grubby jobs which do not pay enough to raise them and their families out of poverty.

Disappointment with labor market performance is not limited to the poor and unemployed. Many with reasonably well-paid jobs find them less than satisfactory.  A few young people and some older ones reject the working society and pursue other life-styles. Absenteeism in industry has risen in most industrial countries, and workers, particularly younger ones, dramatize their unrest with strikes over working conditions. Increasing specialization, once the sine qua non of mass production and industrialization, is giving way to job enrichment in some forward-looking companies here and abroad. While the American employment system continues to demonstrate the highest man-hour productivity in the world, the average annual rate of increase in that productivity is greater in several other nations.

Whether that continually rising productivity which sparked American industrial might and prosperity can continue its traditional pace is an issue of concern to economists, businessmen, and public policy makers at the highest levels. The transfer of labor and other resources from traditionally low-productivity agriculture to higher productivity manufacturing and transportation was a key factor in past productivity growth, as was increasing capitalization of agriculture. Improved health and education of workers and better management were important contributors, but a traditional American drive to succeed and excel in material ways provided motivational force. Transition from a goods-producing to a service-and information-producing economy cannot offer the same almost automatic productivity growth. With education and health services widespread, there are less productivity gains available from mere quantitative additions. The threat of environmental pollution adds the question of whether more and more and bigger and bigger are in fact better and better.

If motivation for economic success and occupational advancement also falters, can productivity growth-the only significant source of improvement in per capita national income-possibly keep living standards on an upward trend? Will even the continuance of the traditional upward trend of productivity be sufficient to meet the nation's domestic and international commitments; and if not, how can that rate of increase be accelerated?

This is not to suggest that failures of the education system can be blamed for these conditions. Nor do we suggest that those who suffer from unemployment and poverty are less committed to work as the preferred source of income than others. We merely note that advocates of education have promised to alleviate such problems. Policy makers and taxpayers have thought that they were buying solutions to these and other problems through the tremendous increases in the resources allocated to American education during the last generation, and both groups have been disappointed that the problems have not responded to the promised delivery.

All of the symptoms discussed above should be adequate evidence that all is not well in the American world of work. Viewing public education as a contributor to preparation for work opens no happier vistas.
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