While trying to take one step in the right direction, the state of California is taking ten steps back down the educational ladder. Assembly Bill 1330, currently in the legislature, would allow California high school students to substitute one year of vocational education for the current graduation requirement of one year of fine arts or foreign language. The Golden State needs to heed the first line of the Hippocratic oath- first do no harm- because it seems that every attempt made at educational reform only serves to mangle programs and policies that are already working just fine.
I can understand and support the need to resurrect vocational education- it should have never been abolished. But, like all else in educational policy, instead of restructuring, redesigning and updating, it was just eliminated altogether. Vocational education is a necessary component of a comprehensive high school education. It provides skills training, career preparation and if it is well designed it can serve to enhance math and language skills. Like the arts, it is a creative and experiential modality for kids that is sorely missing in today’s educational programs. Technology has been used as a poor substitute for too many years providing only visual learning modalities not kinesthetic ones.
The California state college and university system requires a year of fine arts or foreign language for admission. Under AB 1330, students planning to attend a California institution of higher learning would still need to fulfill the fine arts/ language requirement but students who are not planning to attend college would be allowed to graduate with at least one year of a vocational class on their transcripts. The design of the bill preempts the possibility of students being able to incorporate both fine arts and vocational classes should they want to do that. Vocational education and arts education are uniquely separate, not interchangeable. They serve different needs and both are essential to the creative education of today’s students. Perhaps California’s legislators should learn how to fix their own policies and procedures before attempting anything that even resembles education reform.