When the "knowledge economy" was the buzz phrase of the day, the vision was that all Americans would make a living using our brains while people in other countries would fulfill the brawn-based roles. I bought into the vision. I sent my son to private schools beginning in preschool. His high school was an all-male, catholic, college prep, leadership academy. Small classrooms, big expectations. I was setting him up for success.
Or was I?
There was no discussion about whether he wanted to go to college. It was simply an expectation. Therefore, my son entered college right out of High School. Within six months he dropped out. He carved out a living doing what he did; teaching music, working retail jobs and enjoying life. He was living in California, surfing every day and living quite a healthy lifestyle. He was tucking away a few bucks; not for retirement but to fund a three-month trip to Europe. With surfboard and guitar in hand, he moved to Portugal where he rented an apartment for three months that he used as his home-base to travel back and forth to Spain and France.
When he returned from the Algarve coast, he re-enrolled in college. This stint was shorter than the last. Back to teaching music and working in a surf shop. He knew that's not what he wanted to do his entire life, but he had no idea what he did want to do so the days passed by. A latent longing for a motorcycle resurfaced and without a parent to say "no, you can't have one," he bought himself a Harley.
A new interest, and a possible new career, was sparked.
Looking back at the hype about the "knowledge economy" led me to think that was a pretty stupid way to believe. What were we going to do? Call Mexico when we needed a plumber? Or Bangladesh when we needed an electrician? Where was the next generation of mechanics going to come from if everyone pursued a Bachelors Degree and most were encouraged to also get their Masters Degree?
Wanting to know more about how motorcycles are built, my son checked into a technical college. He started by exploring the coursework for small engine mechanic classes. That led to a deeper dive into a career as a motorcycle mechanic, the market demand and the average income. While at the technical college, the counselor suggested my son also check into the welding certification. And it was that that captured my son's curiosity.
While students with Business Degrees are working to pay off six-figure college loans, my son paid cash for his coursework, completed his certification in two years and stepped into a six-figure annual income right after completing his technical college.
Because of our push to send all kids to college, we lost sight of our community need for the specialized expertise of tradesmen. Perhaps we need to reintroduce "shop" and "home ec" in our High Schools.
After all, college isn't for everyone.