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Career Education Defined

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In one sense, career education already has qualified as a bona fide educational concept; i.e., it has many proponents from a wide variety of disciplines within education. It also has a growing number of skeptics and critics, partly because each of the so-called "leaders" in career education seems to have his own unique definition that he claims is the "real" one.

In late fall 1971, a number of individuals in career education met at a national invitational conference conducted by the Center for Occupational Education, North Carolina State University. Each participant was asked to submit, in an anonymous fashion, his or her own definition of "career education." The following examples of definitions submitted at that conference illustrate the diversity of points of view that currently exist:
  1. "Career education can be defined as that part of the total school curriculum which provides the student with the knowledge, exploratory experiences, and skills required for successful job entry, job adjustment, and job advancement. It can also be defined as an organized K-12 [kindergarten through twelfth grade] program to provide every student with an understanding of and preparation for the world of work."

  2. "Career education may be described or defined as a comprehensive educational program which gives attention to preparing all people for satisfying and productive work in our society."

  3. "Career education is that part of the total education process which focuses on the successful adaptation of the individual to the world of work."

  4. "Career education is the systematic development of the natural powers of a person over his entire lifetime for his life's work. It involves body, mind, and spirit and is commenced in the home where the child's will and intellect are nurtured through love and example by his parents and family members."

  5. "Career education encompasses all education in that it is that part of a learning experience that assists one to discover, define, and refine his talents and use them in pursuit of a career."

  6. "The purpose of career education should be to help people develop human resource competence along with a holistic understanding of the world of work or wage-employment system; i.e., the socioeconomic institution of working for pay in modern industrial society-to become competent as workers and comprehending as men and women."
These few examples serve to illustrate that the definers of career education differ sharply among themselves with respect to such basic variables as: (1) the extent to which it is a K-12 or a K-adult program, or whether it extends from early childhood to retirement, (2) the extent to which its primary purpose is leading toward work or toward a totally fulfilled life, (3) the extent to which it is all of education or only a part of education, and (4) the extent to which it is an educational program or an entire community program.

The U.S. Office of Education (USOE) has chosen so far to avoid any official definition of career education. Instead, USOE policy has consistently stated that career education will in the long run be defined in a grass-roots debate that hopefully will take place throughout the nation. The definitions quoted above illustrate that this debate is now well under way and that there is wide latitude present for differences in opinion.

The nearest that USOE policy statements have come to a definition of career education are found in two places. The first is an article written by USOE Commissioner Sidney P. Marland, Jr., that appeared in the November 1971 issue of American Education, in which he said:

What the term "career education" means to me is basically a point of view, a concept-a concept that says three things: First, that career education will be part of the curriculum for all students, not just some. Second, that it will continue throughout a youngster's stay in school, from the first grade through senior high and beyond, if he so elects. And third, that every student leaving school will possess the skills necessary to give him a start to making a livelihood for himself and his family, even if he leaves before completing high school.

The second is a May 1971 draft of a document from the Bureau of Adult, Vocational, and Technical Education of USOE titled "Career Education: A Model for Implementation" in which the following definition appears: "Career Education is a comprehensive educational program focused on careers, which begins in Grade 1 or earlier and continues through the adult years."

For our purposes here, it is important to recognize that both of these semiofficial USOE definitions stress the concept that career education must begin in elementary school. This point is deserving of special emphasis.

Without an official definition of career education, anyone has a right to his own, and ours is the following, taken from Kenneth B. Hoyt's definition of Career Education: What It Is and How to Do It:

Career education is... the total effort of public education and the community aimed at helping all individuals to become familiar with the values of a work-oriented society, to integrate these values into their personal value systems, and to implement these values into their lives in such a way that work becomes possible, meaningful, and satisfying to each individual.

The objectives which mark the way to achievement of the goal of career education, stated in their most simple and direct form, are to help all individuals (a) have reasons to want to work, (b) acquire the skills required for useful work, (c) know how to obtain work opportunities, and (d) enter the world of work as a successful and productive contributor. Career education can be understood only if this set of goals and objectives is kept clearly in mind.

Among the concepts within the realm of this definition, the following are of fundamental significance:
  1. The term "public education" means education available to the public and from which the public may choose. Thus career education is not limited to the K-12 public school system. Rather, it encompasses the public schools, but is extended beyond the twelfth grade to include all of post-secondary education, including community colleges, post-high school occupational education institutions (both public and private), degree-granting colleges and universities, and all adult education.

  2. Career education involves the joint effort of public education and the community. It is not something that schools can do by themselves. The school of hard knocks, as represented in the broader community, is joining with the school of hard books, as represented by the formal education system, to become the total learning environment of career education.

  3. Career education is for all individuals-the very young child and the adults of the community, the intellectually able and the mentally handicapped, males and females, those who will attend college and those who will not, the economically affluent and the economically disadvantaged, and those from rural and those from urban settings.

  4. Career education seeks to help individuals become familiar with the wide variety of work values now present in this society and to choose some set of work values that will be personally meaningful to each individual. It seeks to impose no single standard form of work values on any individual. While it clearly seeks to help each individual adopt some form of work values, it does not aim to coerce him into doing so.

  5. Career education is vitally concerned with helping individuals implement their own personal work values. To do this demands that in addition to wanting to work, individuals must also acquire the skills necessary to work, and having done this, must then find work that is both meaningful and satisfying to them. Thus jobs, in a generic sense, are not career education's goal. Rather, work as productive activity that holds personal meaning and satisfaction for the individual is the ultimate goal of career education.

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