Prairie Tayles: Rural Schools Perfect Fit For Training Skilled Labor

Dec 29, 2017

Everyday my newsfeed runs articles supporting rural communities. I also subscribe to Mike Rowe’s of Dirty Jobs fame posts where he reveals America’s need for skilled, hardworking employees. Mike explains such occupations pay well and require less education debt than do four-year degrees. For the good of individuals and the nation, he advocates interested Americans master a trade to earn a competitive salary.

Many of my former pupils chose this route and tell me they make far more money than I did as a teacher. As one lucky enough to earn a living doing what I loved, I celebrate such accounts. One of my first students, who ironically isn’t that much younger than I, shares frequently that he loves his auto body career and how it enables him to provide well for his family. It’s not all gravy. He mentions ongoing expenses for equipment updates and physical wear and tear. Despite these challenges, his skilled training didn’t leave him deeply in debt and afforded a lucrative paycheck for fulfilling work.

I could tell more success stories, but space is limited. Instead, consider how long it takes to get a plumber, electrician, HVAC tech, carpenter, or carpet layer to provide non-emergency services. I waited a year for floor covering. I’ve waited weeks to hear a plumber’s knock at my door or get my car tuned-up. These folks are busy. They could work 24 hours a day and still have customers waiting.

So many of our students grow up on farms and ranches or in towns where residents value and model a strong work ethic. What changes we can make in local school systems to better prepare more young people for skilled trades?

A Japanese practice is worth considering and adapting. Their schools teach an appreciation for labor by rotating all students through jobs in the kitchen and cafeteria. Students learn about serving as well as cleaning after others. Youngsters assigned to janitorial duties practice facility maintenance. I imagine country school attendees recall performing such duties during their school years. It’s beneficial to understand how systems work and what it takes to maintain them.

As students, parents, and school officials consider possible curricular changes, I hope they focus on fundamentals that translate into critical thinking skills. Every worker/voter/citizen needs to analyze data well. Everyone should read expertly enough to question text. Math skills require more than drill. One of the best math and physics teachers in western Kansas also utilized his skills to roof houses and build upscale homes.

Humans require experimentation to discover interests and talents. Many young people don’t explore them until they graduate. Can educational systems jump start these investigations as early as grade school? Can kids practice critical academics with a hammer, surveying tool, or water purity sensor in hand?

Santa Fe Indian School might say yes. Instructors teach native students to perform scientific and mathematical calculations as participants survey bound arise and assess water quality. They use writing skills to produce professional reports and media releases.  

Fortunately, rural schools are natural sites for practical education. Low student numbers guarantee involving every youngster in activities from growing and preserving food to publishing documents to performing maintenance tasks on facilities and vehicles to using CAD to design untold possibilities. Many districts have construction programs that produce tiny homes to full-size residences.

The challenge requires systems to teach fundamental as well as trade specific skills. Individuals need a springboard to further academics or to occupational training. Schooling shouldn’t limit possibilities; it should expand them.

While big cities create magnet schools to provide such offerings to select students, rural communities can educate every child in such a way that honors knowledge, interests, work, and promises little towns have skilled laborers to make their world operate.