The current concern with the demeaning and dehumanizing nature of some jobs is justified, but such jobs represent a limited and declining margin of the job world. It is the repetitive assembly-line job which is most easily "automated." The trends, with more and more workers producing services and more and more machines producing good products, are in the direction of humanizing, not dehumanizing work and workers. As more and more of the work that people do demand specific job skills requiring educational preparation, the movement is toward a relatively greater degree of autonomy and thus of humanness because the degree of direction the worker can exert in the performance of his job duties is decreasing. The trends point to an emphasis on making work more meaningful and more satisfying to the individual worker. A career education emphasis can make positive contributions toward helping workers themselves speed up this process.
The fact that the rapidity of occupational change will force many people to make numerous occupational choices during their lifetimes is related to how people implement their work values, but not to the degree to which they hold and cherish such values for themselves. True, our occupational society is changing at a rapid rate requiring greater adaptability on the part of all individuals. Nevertheless, at any point in time, the occupational society does have a structure, and new entrants must view it as it exists. If our schools would worry more about helping students take the next step after they leave school and avoid a posture that vinced. The new emphasis means a greater strain on his personal resources and the administrative adjustments of reorientation and reform.
Teacher education institutions will likely be the most reluctant. University faculties die more often than they change, but a buyers' market for elementary teachers should bypass those who do not conform to consumer requirements. Educational associations will react from the vested interests of their particular membership. The career education advocate must pursue support with whatever strategy and leverage is at hand.
No one should suggest that career education will be without cost, even in the elementary school, though assurance of increased cost effectiveness can be given. The retraining of teachers and the preparation of new materials will all require expenditures. Teachers cannot teach what they do not know, and thus will need compensation for summers and other nonteaching time spent, familiarizing themselves with the work world outside the school, and preparing curriculum materials. Industry may require some compensation for the costs of its cooperation. However, once career education is in place, there should be only two characteristics which should lead to higher costs than present practices. One is the possibility of employer compensation for interference with production. The other and more certain one is the necessity of greater individualization of instruction, already needed but now more readily ignored.
On the other hand, many potential costs will be offset by the free services available from parents, employers, public agencies, labor organizations, and retired and cooperating workers. Getting out of the classroom should not be much more expensive than remaining in it, and most of those who visit the classroom will provide voluntary service. The outlook is for substantial initial costs followed by slightly higher operating costs, which will be offset by a significantly improved product.
But what evidence is there that career education will make a difference? Society seems convinced that it has paid for a junkyard of educational reforms which appear to have made little added contribution. Despite this logic, all advocates should admit the limited history of the evidences for career education, particularly in the elementary school. All that can be promised is careful evaluation of an effort which at least has more measurable objectives. Final evaluation of career education can follow only after a generation has experienced it and tried the careers which follow it, through an educational and working lifetime. Interim tests can he found in the promise that career education can enhance the learning of academic subjects. That is a testable claim with short-time horizons and adaptable to control group comparisons. Preliminary applications of this test are already available with favorable results. Many more tests should follow; not only of whether, but for whom and under what conditions can career relevance aid academic learning.
The objective knowledge of occupations and labor market realities gained by children are testable, as are their attitudes toward occupations and work. How this knowledge and attitude affect subsequent careers is again a generation-long assessment.
After students have left the formal school, dropout, placement, job retention, and job progress rates are all measurable and comparable to control groups. Such evaluations should be designed and built into career education methodology to produce the needed authentication or the deserved rejection, whatever the case may be, as early as possible. The career education program in the elementary schools, however, will need to be measured in terms of increased degree of student success in further career education, in advanced academic education, and in increased student satisfaction. Meanwhile, the logic and the dissatisfaction with current methods and results should be sufficient justification for widespread implementation and trial.
At present, career education appears to have no concerted opponents, though there are those who resist change, those who fear that career education will be used to discriminate against minorities, and those who fear reallocation of resources in which they have vested interests. The greatest resistance is likely to come from those simply made cynical by past failures of vaunted reform with high price tags.
The pressing need is for initiatives to move ahead into a largely unresisting vacuum. Whoever will take the initiative can share the credit for the progress. Legislators can reshape laws which pose obstacles to career education. School boards can reallocate resources and redirect policy. School administrators have the power to inaugurate new programs and develop and initiate new techniques. Teachers have the ultimate power to do their own thing, at least to some degree, in the classroom. Employers and labor organizations can offer assistance, and parents and taxpayers can demand change. In other words, there is no general strategy we can prescribe. Each individual or community must start from its present position, and using the authority and persuasion at hand, proceed to where it wants to go.
The ultimate goal and reward are not only a reduction in the social distance between the top and the bottom of our occupational hierarchy, it is the enormous potential of a generation who are experienced in planning and who are resourceful and have self-control. For the elementary school, the vision may be more concrete.
Because of lower birth rates, elementary school enrollments will fall by two million by 1980, freeing finances, teachers, and faculties. Consequently, the added costs may not be noticeable. Teachers may need special skills to protect them in their jobs. Space and time may be available-given simultaneous trends of earlier retirement, increased leisure, and interest in adult education-for generations to learn together. The elementary school teacher, rather than serving as a baby-sitter for 35 children, may become the orchestrator of community resources and learning environments. Children may learn to value work later on in life, but will recognize the joys of service now.
One reward is readily apparent in those schools and among those elementary school teachers who have already endorsed and implemented career education: an increased enthusiasm for the role of teacher-"I never knew that teaching could be such fun" ... "It gets us out of the assembly-line education concept of the first grade as preparation for the second grade and gives us specific objectives related to life rather than more school." These archetypal comments-capped by the ultimate in commitment: "If our experimental grant is not renewed next year, we will go on pursuing career education with our own resources" and "We've never had such support from the community. They wouldn't let us stop if we wanted to"-are heard on every front. One implication may be more autonomy for the teacher, in a profession increasingly constrained by many of the aspects of an assembly line. If the objective of career education-to make work possible, meaningful, and satisfying to each individual-is good for the kids, why should it not be equally good for the teachers?
Though much of the foregoing is yet in the "maybe" stage, we can be sure of several things:
- Education is increasingly in disrepute and must be refurbished with more demonstrable performance.
- Dissatisfaction is present in the world of work. Although it is disquieting for us to hear and see this dissatisfaction, we must recognize that it indeed exists and that somewhere, someone must help to restore the work ethic to dignity.
- Career education may be the only available approach to a simultaneous solution to these two social challenges. So why not use it?