I got my hair colored for the first time today. I always said I would go Ina May Gaskin gray, but alas, I couldn’t do it. There I sat, head full of tin foil, reasoning with myself that I was still a good feminist. Lucky for me, my thoughts were interrupted by the realization that the young woman painting my hair with goop was doing something quite remarkable.  Chemical reactions were happening on my head.

My mind jumped to thinking about vocational education.  I have discussed it before with my hair stylist.  She had shared with me that she was not a great student, and BOCES was what allowed her to get through. She left school every day to go to BOCES to learn the skills that she was now employing in her professional career. As I watched her in the mirror, I noticed all that she was actually doing, and it hit me that the current model of vocational education is so very flawed.

We should not be sending students out to learn a trade, once they have been deemed “not college-ready.” We should be highlighting the academic strengths that they have within the realm of their chosen trade.  Strengthen strengths. Build where the foundation is strong.

While she sees herself as a skilled hair stylist, but former weak student, I see her as an expert in her diverse field. She is an artist who is also a chemist, a business woman, an advertiser, and an expert in personal communications. Imagine the opportunity to have these creative, driven, highly knowledgeable young people included in the fabric of the traditional high school. Imagine their confidence and motivation when they are able to see the connections between their trade and their core classes. Instead of English class to prepare for the CC Regents, imagine “English for Entrepreneurs” and “The Language of the Contract”. We need to explore the idea of not only bringing CTE back to local high schools, but to bring it back into a non-college preparatory academic space as well, which is, quite frankly, where it belonged all along.

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