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Education for National Defense: Education for Vocational Efficiency

by Hamden L. Forkner - 1941

The addresses in this issue of THE RECORD by Professors Briggs, Bryson, Forkner, Brownell, and Strayer were presented at Teachers College during American Education Week, around the theme Education for National Defense. As a first step in the program "to help education promote the unity of our people by clarifying the meaning of democracy and by developing a greater and more intelligent support of it," members of the Teachers College Faculty prepared a Manifesto on "Democracy and Education in the Current Crisis." The addresses included here represent a further step in this program by offering specific suggestions for putting into effect a number of the principles which were expressed in the Manifesto.

Education for vocational efficiency is one of the fundamental opportunities which every free nation must provide for its people if it hopes to maintain individual freedom. Without individual freedom we can never have national freedom. Without national freedom there can be no other course except dictatorship, oppression, and domination of all the people—the end of the American way. Therefore, our first line of defense against tyranny and dictatorship is adherence to the principle that every individual shall have not only the right but the opportunity to participate in the social, the political, and the economic society of which each free person is a part. To thwart any one of these opportunities is to pave the way for the domination of individuals to the will of political, economic, and militaristic dictators, which will result in oppression and the end of freedom. The American way, rightly interpreted, gives every individual the preparation and the opportunity to participate actively at his level of competency in the social, economic, and political life of the community, state, and nation; it affords every individual an opportunity to choose a field of work for which he is prepared and from which he will derive satisfaction because he has the respect of his fellows, because it makes it possible for him to establish and maintain a home, and because he feels he is contributing to the American way.


To fail to provide an educational system which prepares the individual to participate intelligently in the life of his community and of the nation is to take the first step away from the path of freedom.

Providing an educational system, however, is not the responsibility of the professional educator alone, any more than the maintenance of a healthy and a physically fit nation is the sole responsibility of the professional physician. Education must be a cooperative effort. Every social and economic institution in the nation must participate in it; the educator becomes the consultant, the director, the leader in showing what needs to be done, how it should be done, and in finding better and more effective ways of making the educational process adaptable to every person regardless of the kinds of abilities which he possesses.

This cooperative action must be more than passive participation. In times past we have had too much education which went on only within the four walls of the school and which was entirely unrelated to what went on outside of those four walls. We have had too many educators (and by that I mean professors of education as well as classroom teachers of boys and girls) who conceive of education as a process by which the child learns what has gone on, what is going on, and what is likely to go on without seeing how he will fit into the social and economic framework of his community or the community to which he is likely to migrate. In other words, education has tended to be aloof from the real problems which confront the great majority of those who go from our schools into the working world. Most educators have been too far removed from the work life, the social life, and the political life of the people whom they teach.

We are not going to build for democracy so long as we have teaching and administrative staffs in our schools who are ignorant of the problem of the young person who must make a living when he leaves school. And by "ignorant" I mean that many not only do not know what it is to work, but also prevent the child in school from coming up against the serious problem of having to carry a job to its completion. As a result of this attitude, we find the pampered pets of unplanned education coming from the "child-centered school" with a self-centered attitude, unable in most cases, and unwilling in many cases, to understand that labor must earn its hire; that a day's pay calls for a day's work; that you can't go through life doing the thing you want to do all the time, and that very often the thing you want to do costs money, and to get money it may be necessary to do some things you don't want to do. And at the other extreme we have boys and girls being "poured" through the curriculums of the traditional school without ever a thought of how their educational tasks are related to their work or adult life. Either of these extremes prevents a realistic and common-sense approach to the problem. These young people in our schools today and those who will be in them tomorrow have a right to expect more of education.

It is the rightful heritage of all boys and girls in a democratic society to have an opportunity to fit themselves to become independent of family or governmental aid. It is the right of those who support the schools to expect this of the schools. But when one looks at the general education movement which is sweeping this country and sees evidence of the narrow conception of that term in the minds of some of the leaders in the movement, one is led to believe that we are going to have a difficult time justifying the schools to the parents of the youth and to the youth themselves who get out of our schools without anything which they can market in the way of a job-getting skill.

No one would minimize the importance of general education and its attempt to educate for living; but what shall it profit a man to gain the whole fund of general knowledge, to know how to use his leisure, and to be socially competent if he has nothing specific to which he can turn for aid in making a living in order that he may enjoy the fruits of such knowledge?


Whenever one raises the issue of vocational education and its place in the secondary curriculum, he is immediately confronted with a mind set on the part of most general educators. It seems virtually impossible for most educators to think of vocational education as a part of the total process of education. Vocational education to many is a special kind of education which goes on in a sealed compartment entirely separate from general education. These same persons hold the point of view that when a pupil begins his vocational preparation, all other types of education must cease—that general education and vocational education cannot possibly go on at the same time and as a part of the total process. One has only to go into the schools of this country and to talk with the boys and girls to find that the reason they give for being in school is that they hope to be able to use the education which they are receiving to help them get a job. The fact that large numbers of them leave school before completing the high school program is evidence that they feel the school is failing to give them job-preparation.

As we learn more about motives which impel young people to go to school and to remain in school, we shall see the importance of building our general education around preparation for work rather than the present practice of isolating general education from the interests of the student. In other words, the problem is one of a sound psychological approach to learning, that is, through a realization of the importance of utilizing the interests of the student as the starting point, or as the framework in which other educational goals may be set. For example, is it not psychologically sound to prepare young people for leisure-time activities if such preparation can be planned in terms of their vocational interests and aspirations? Is it not psychologically sound to educate for democratic community participation in terms of the land of people with whom he will work when he enters his professional or other occupational pursuits? Is it not more intelligent to educate for healthful living and physical fitness in terms of his probable vocation? Can we not make our education for home and family life more meaningful by discussing ways of improving and promoting more satisfactory home and family conditions in terms of the income which will be provided from the job for which the student is preparing? As it has been substantiated through surveys that the vocational motive is the most compelling motive of most young people who are in school, is it not logical to build general education around this motive?

No one would contend that we should not extend the general education of all vocational groups to include a much wider horizon of interests and appreciations, to develop a maximum of social competence, of civic responsibility, and an awareness of the problems of democracy. If general education and vocational education are carried along together, it seems logical to assume that we shall make a much greater contribution to the life of the individual student than to attempt to isolate general education from vocational education. If this plan of education is followed, we are not likely to have such large numbers of young people being graduated from our high schools and colleges without any preparation for work and not even knowing what they want to do. A plan of this kind would build toward the education of the whole individual with an increasing emphasis upon specialization as he nears the period of employment, but at no rime in his period of training would the general education phases be omitted or neglected.


And that brings us to the question of who should receive vocational preparation. The answer is simple—everyone! There can be no other answer. For, if we do not prepare the present and future generations to do the work of the world, someone is going to have to support them in their idleness and in institutions for the frustrated which are now overflowing with boys and girls who were in our schools just yesterday. And I use the term "frustrated" advisedly, for one has only to look at the record of our correctional institutions to see that of all the youth in those institutions today, only a very small percentage have any occupational competence in any field.

To assume that no preparation is needed for entrance upon an occupation is to display a lack of understanding of what vocational preparation really is. There are many who confuse vocational preparation with vocational training. The former has to do with the whole field of prevocational experiences, with the relationship of the worker to society, with the ability to carry a job through to its conclusion, with the willingness to work, with the development of habits of work, with general education; while training has to do with some specific skill.

For most professions, vocational training will be postponed until the completion of a four-year college program. For the semi-professional and technical fields it will mean that the specific training is likely to be given during the college period. For the skilled and semi-skilled worker it will be best to give the training during a period immediately following the high school. For the lower levels of semi-skilled workers, part of the high school period should be devoted to the training. In other words, the placement of the vocational program depends upon the occupation to be followed and the level of competence which the individual can attain. To assume that we can set a year or a grade when such training is to begin is to assume that everyone is going to be molded into the same occupational pattern. But the important thing is that no one be prevented from receiving vocational preparation and training prior to the end of his formal school experience and, if possible, immediately preceding his entry upon an occupation.

Thus we have some cases of the more mature type of boy or girl who definitely plans to leave school as soon as he or she reaches legal school-leaving age, and another group who from economic necessity must become wage earners before completing a four-year high school course. For these two groups the school must make provision for some kind of terminal education which will fit them for the lower-level jobs, while still not neglecting their general education.


The extent to which the school shall provide for this training and preparation depends almost entirely upon the kind of community the school serves, and what opportunities the community provides in the way of public education beyond the traditional high school period. If, for example, a large number of the young women of a particular school will end their formal education with the high school, then it becomes essential that the school prepare these young women to enter upon the job of maintaining a home efficiently and economically, and, in addition, prepare them to enter upon an occupation, since conditions might arise which would require them to seek employment. If the community affords a training program for its young people extending beyond the high school, then there is every reason to believe that the most effective training can be given in a post-high school period. This is especially true of those who are preparing to enter upon technical, skilled, and semi-skilled occupations, which would permit a broader background of educational and social experience during the regular high school period.

There is no one prescription regarding where vocational training should be given. In some cases the school can do the whole job provided its teaching staff works in close cooperation with advisory groups from business, industry, and labor. In other cases, business and industry can do most of the job. In most cases, however, vocational training can best be given when there is a cooperative plan between the school and the employer, with labor as the general adviser. This cooperative effort is more than a mere incidental cooperation. It must be a planned, coordinated program of preparatory instruction and training in the school along with a period of internship on a real job in which the work experience is directly related to the preparatory training and the school instruction.

There are two types of educational programs operating in this way in our schools at the present time. One is the traditional apprentice-training program where the student is formally apprenticed to a trade for a specified period of time, usually from one to four years, with the understanding that a certain stated time each week or month shall be given over to school instruction. The period of apprenticeship is fixed by agreement as is also the scale of pay.

Another type of training is that of the so-called cooperative training program which is similar to the apprenticeship program, with the exception that no formal agreement is entered into and the period of work experience is usually less than a year's duration. The student-worker usually spends approximately half of his time on a job and the other half at work, either on a half-day basis for each or a week in and a week out basis. These types of training programs are effective from the point of view of furnishing up-to-date training on up-to-date equipment, thus minimizing the cost to the educational system of keeping such equipment available and renewed as changes occur. At the same time this kind of program gives business and industry a trained personnel for replacement and additions to its staffs.


Whenever we talk about preparing youth for jobs, someone always comes along with the remark that most of the jobs available to youth do not require specific training, that such skills as are necessary can be learned on the job, and that it is impossible for the school to give training in the more than 18,000 occupations. Such arguments are based on the false assumptions that every youth can readily learn certain operations and, further, that the school cannot give a work experience in large occupational classifications which make it easier to adjust to an actual work experience on the job. Both these assumptions fail to take into account the fact that preparing youth for jobs is more than preparing them to perform some specific operation on some specific machine. To prepare youth for jobs is to make them vocationally competent in the broad sense of that term.

Vocational competency means more than knowing how to do a specific job for which there is a market. It applies equally to all wage-earning activities, whether professional, semi-professional, skilled, or semi-skilled. It applies as well to the young women whose work activities will be largely concerned with maintaining a home.

Vocational competency means also that the worker, regardless of the level of his activities, shall be fully aware of the functions and purposes of all of those institutions with which he will come in contact. The doctor, the lawyer, the teacher will be aware of the place of professional organizations which relate to his profession in order that he may evaluate them intelligently and participate in them effectively. The industrial worker will know about labor organizations and their relation to his job. If the schools had done their job of education in an efficient manner, labor would not have had its recent and present dark record of dictators and self-seekers who have thrust themselves upon some of the labor organizations as their leaders. Nor would labor and management be blind to the fact that their interests are so closely related that neither group can succeed without the other, and that cooperative action is the basis for progress of both groups.

Vocational competency means also that the worker is trained, not only to know how to work, but also to make the best use of his income. He will be trained in the ability to make wise selections of consumer goods and of the services to the consumer which are performed by such quasi-public institutions as banks, insurance companies, and health agencies. Furthermore, he will not only be a competent consumer of the goods and services of business and industry but he will also be a competent consumer of the services of the political machinery required to operate the city, state, and nation, and be able to participate intelligently in the operation of that machine for the benefit of all.

Vocational competency means being able to go into the markets of labor and sell a service for which business or industry is willing to pay. Whether that service be in the field of medicine, law, teaching, government, business, industry, or agriculture, the requirement is still the same insofar as having employable qualities and marketable skills is concerned.

Vocational competency means knowing how to work. Youth have to be taught how to work and to take pride in their work and to get enjoyment from having done a good job. These things do not come about through natural instinct, nor is it likely that they are inherited. They come about through successful accomplishment of worth-while work activities which have a meaning to them in terms of their vocational interests.


Much of the confusion regarding education for vocational efficiency and occupational competency lies in the fact that too often the child to be educated is a secondary consideration. For example, most of the secondary schools throughout the country today are staffed and equipped to take care of the college preparatory student when, according to the American Youth Commission, only one out of five high school students today goes on to college.1 Any attempt to make those schools fit the other four-fifths of the students is going to be met with tremendous opposition. It has been found, for example, that where a school system has a vocational program paralleling an academic program, there is serious competition for students in order to maintain and build up enrollment in each type of school. In these instances the real needs of the student are subordinated to vested interests of teachers and administrators. In such instances students find it almost impossible to move from one land of program to another within the system. As decreased birth rate causes high school population to grow smaller, this competition for students will be keener than ever, and only careful planning on the part of those responsible for local programs of education will result in a satisfactory education for all youth.

The magnitude of the problem can be seen when it is realized that there are nearly 4,000,000 young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four out of work and out of school today, and that most of them have had no definite job training or experience. In addition to this group there are approximately 1,750,000 young people who finish or leave school each year and start job hunting. The American Youth Commission's surveys have shown that less than one student in four has had any practical help in finding out what work fits him best or in adequate education for work, let alone any organized aid in finding a job.2 Thus, the problem becomes clear-cut and defined provided we accept the assumption that one of the functions of the secondary school is that of preparing young people to do the things they will be called upon to do when they leave school.

The problem is not simple, nor can it be argued that if all of the youth who are looking for jobs today were prepared to fit into an occupation they would be absorbed into the occupations; but it is perfectly clear that if the school does not do its part in preparing them for work, it will come in for a large share of justifiable criticism which will make it difficult to expand other important educational services.

It is necessary to view the problem of providing adequate vocational preparation not only in terms of our present educational pattern but also from the point of view of all levels of education which can cooperate in vocational preparation of youth.

For example, it is unwise to believe that even a partial picture of vocational opportunities can be given in the four-year high school period. The elementary education of each child should include studies of occupations in terms of what people do. Further concentration in areas of specific occupational classifications should be considered in the junior high school and on into the senior high school. This will serve the purpose of helping the individual to find his sphere of interest and to plan for a period of specific training. Today business and industry are demanding mature workers who have had training immediately before the period of employment. It is thus desirable that each community shall provide for this type of specialized education by establishing post-high school classes. These training programs will consist, in some cases, of short unit courses of a few weeks in length for the repetitive types of jobs. Other courses of from one to two years in length will be necessary to prepare for the skilled and semi-professional levels of occupational competency.

A number of communities, such as Oakland, California, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Houston, Texas, to name but a few, have recognized this need as a responsibility of public education and have set up the technical institute types of programs. In almost every case the institutes are being called upon by business and industry to furnish young men and women for positions as fast as such schools can prepare them.

These free institutes, operating on the same basis as other secondary schools, are at last filling a long-felt need for this large group of young people who have completed their general education but are in the waiting period before employment.

These public school institutions are doing for young people what governmental institutions, such as the NYA and the CCC, have stepped in to do where communities have not been alert and responsive to youth problems. It can be predicted with certainty that if a local community or state does not exercise its initiative, its ingenuity, and its resources to provide education for work, one of two things will happen. Either youth will rally around the banner of any subversive element which happens along and promises a way out of their dilemma, or central governmental agencies will have to step in to do the job—and rightly so—for the American way is one which provides a maximum of opportunity for all its citizens.

A warning must be issued, however. Even though it is desirable from the educational, social, and economic point of view to postpone the period of specialization to a period beyond the high school, the high school cannot neglect to provide that training if the community does not provide post-high school education. Nor can we put all youth into the same mold and limit the technical training for all of them until a post-high school period, as many will not be able to continue to live at the expense of the family until this period of training is over.


The sudden demand for trained workers in the defense industries and those related to defense has made it apparent that the schools have much to do to gear themselves to this new demand. Attention has been called to the fact that local resources are not sufficient in many cases to meet the additional costs of such programs. The Federal Government has taken this into account, however, and for the year ending September 1, 1940, approximately $30,000,000 in federal funds have been made available for vocational education in the various states. Part of these funds were allotted to the states with the provision that the state supply equal amounts. A large allotment was provided, however, free of such requirement, and it is likely that additional amounts will be made available when and if the public schools demonstrate that they have a plan and a program which will result in a trained body of workers for industry. This impetus supplied by the Federal Government toward establishment of education for work programs will have an important bearing on future educational programs of this country. Undoubtedly the next great movement in education in America will be toward the establishment of regional technical and business institutes which will receive young people as they finish their general education and train them for semi-skilled, skilled, semi-professional, and technical work in industry, business, and agriculture.

It will not be possible for every community to support such institutes and it will, therefore, be necessary for districts to combine their resources to do the job. It may also be necessary to provide work opportunities for young people in order that they may be wholly or partially self-supporting while attending such institutes.

For the most part, business and industry are willing to cooperate with the school to provide training on the job with pay as a part of this technical and business institute type of education. Such a program of cooperative education will provide for living costs away from home and at the same time make it possible for the school to train for specific jobs.


There are those who hold the point of view that a school must train only for life in the community in which the student lives. Such a point of view does not take into consideration the fact that youth in very large numbers migrate from rural to urban communities and need to be prepared to live and work in those communities. If we are to limit technical education to youth in metropolitan areas, rural youth would be deprived of an opportunity to become technicians or semi-professional workers. The regional school in rural areas will prepare these young migrants to be assimilated into the communities to which they migrate, and thus lessen the burden on relief and other governmental agencies.

These regional schools of the institute type are on the way. A few states have begun to work on the plan as evidenced by terminal courses in free public junior colleges. The NYA work project camps have given further impetus to the idea. As school people see the encroachment of the federal agencies upon the field of education and as they see parallel programs of education being set up in communities which formerly held aloof from the real problems of the non-academic youth, more attention is being given to the total function of education in terms of all youth.

Among the chief problems of these regional institutes, however, is the recruiting of a teaching personnel which has a broad concept of what education for work ought to be. Professional educators in cooperation with business and industry must make certain that some of the defects of the present vocational programs do not become entrenched in the new schools. For example, one may be certified to teach in the high schools of most states in the fields of the trades and industry if he has had a formal education equivalent to graduation from the eighth grade, or at most the junior high school, provided in addition to that minimum of formal education the teacher has had a background of work experience in the trade he is to teach. If we are to assume that education beyond the junior high school contributes to the social and economic intelligence of people, if it contributes to a better understanding of how to use leisure time, to a better understanding of labor and industrial relations, to a more healthful way of living—if it contributes to the all-round culture of the individual—it would seem that teaching requirements of those trade teachers should be much more extensive than they are at the present time. Certainly in the technical institutes the requirement should be equivalent to the junior engineering type of education plus trade experience.

When every community has aggressively attacked the problem of preparing young people for the work of the world to the extent that every person feels his responsibility for doing his part of that work, we shall have gone a long way toward overcoming the threats to the American way. When every individual feels he has a job to do and is prepared to do that job, and an opportunity to work is given him, whether it be in public or private enterprise, we shall have built a rampart to strengthen the American way and the democratic way which will need no interior guard.

When an opportunity to obtain an education for work along with education for living has been provided for every youth and adult, public education can then no longer be accused of catering only to the economically or scholastically able groups. When every person has been given an opportunity to experience this kind of education, we shall no longer have to acknowledge that we have the educationally neglected in the midst of plenty.

It is the educationally neglected youth who will rally around the banner of those who seek to lead us away from the American way of life. It is the educationally neglected who will be subject to the pressures of self-seekers in the cause of labor. It is the educationally neglected who will fall prey to political chicanery, to corrupt political practices and corrupt labor leadership.

If education is to have a part in helping to achieve a desirable way of life for all, it must meet the needs of every individual, regardless of his interests, abilities, and aspirations. To fail in any one of these respects is to fail some of our citizens, and to fail some of our citizens is to leave part of the job undone. And with the internal and external threats to democracy which confront us on every side we cannot afford to leave any part of the job undone. But the job will remain undone so long as there persists in public education an intellectual snobbishness toward those who must do the work of the world, as evidenced by our failure thus far to educate for all levels of occupational life and by our failure to develop respect for all levels of occupational life. Snobbishness is a threat to democracy; and we must realize that threats to democracy have become more than mere threats. If we are to be successful in our efforts to maintain our democratic way of life, we can no longer take the position that it will be maintained without concerted and directed effort on the part of our schools to educate for the democratic way of life by providing opportunity for all.

In our eagerness to safeguard our land from physical invasion by those who would overthrow our system of government and our economic system, we are likely to overlook the fact that we must also make possible the achievement of the hopes and ambitions of our citizenry through sound educational practices.

It is essential that we set up land and air defense which will successfully discourage and prevent encroachment upon our soil. No one who wishes to preserve America for those who believe in America objects to such a plan. But we must not neglect also to take into account the fact that that is only one of the defenses we need, and that we must be equally liberal with our money for cooperative efforts to provide for the equally important but less tangible defenses which education can provide.

Of one thing we can be certain—today's costs of defense and war preparation will be paid for tomorrow by lower standards of living, by having less for education, less for improving social conditions, and less for those cultural phases of life which mark the progress of a civilized people. And if the past is any criterion of the future, education will be the first to feel the curtailment of funds as tax bills for armaments begin to come in. Only those phases of education which can be justified as contributing to our way of life are likely to survive if we go into an extended period of military economy. Our duty is to do a justifiable job toward educating for democracy and the American way by being realistic toward our responsibilities.

A democracy establishes the rights and duties of its citizens—the American way provides opportunities. Education is our big opportunity.

1 American Youth Commission Bulletin, p. 4, October, 1940.

2 Bell, Howard M. Matching Youth and Jobs. American Council on Education, Washington, D. C., 1940.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 42 Number 4, 1941, p. 301-315
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 8922, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 9:18:42 PM

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