OXFORD — Vocational education is one thing on which you can get all the Mississippi gubernatorial candidates to agree.
They’re for it.
A recent Associated Press article said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is proposing the state spend $100 million to try to improve job skills, with the largest expense, $75 million, going to community colleges for workforce training.
The same article reported that his opponents in the Republican primary, Bill Waller Jr. and Robert Foster, both recently said the state needs to ensure some students are prepared for work after graduating from high school.
Attorney General Jim Hood, the best known candidate in the Democratic primary, has also noted that people with vocational skills can earn good money.
Pay someone to repair your air conditioner or refrigerator, and you probably agree that folks with certain skills are well paid. Same thing if you require a plumber or an electrician. Sometimes the waiting time is longer to see a skilled home repair person than a physician.
It’s hard to argue against training willing workers job skills that will enable them to earn good wages, and I certainly won’t try.
But it’s worth pointing out that vocational training isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
We even had it back in my day at Petal High School — vocational agriculture for the boys and home economics for the girls.
That was, of course, in an era when it was not politically incorrect to assume that some jobs were gender specific, suggesting that the girls should learn how to sew and cook and the boys become familiar with farm chores like dehorning cattle and neutering male pigs and calves.
Vocational agriculture was an elective; not everyone was required to take it. But it was a popular course, especially for those of us who enjoyed getting out of the classroom and going on field trips with our teacher, D.W. Corban.
Mr. Corban frequently was called upon by farmers in the school district to perform one or more of the operations described above, and he would take along a few of the stronger boys to assist — primarily to hold the animal down while he performed the procedure.
We thus were afforded an educational experience some of former Coach Jackie Sherrill’s football players at Mississippi State didn’t get until they were college students in 1992.
That’s when Sherrill had a bull turned into a steer on the practice field before a game with Texas whose mascot is a Longhorn steer. Sherrill called it an educational as well as motivational experience. “The whole story came when I asked our players what a steer was and none of them knew what a steer was,” the coach was quoted by the AP at the time. Turned out the State players, fully aware of what it takes to be a steer, beat the Longhorns a few days later.
Making steers wasn’t all we learned in vocational agriculture. There was a shop attached to the classroom where other skills were taught, as well as classroom work about plants and what it takes to grow them.
Not many of us became farmers, but some did. What we learned could be put to some use in other vocations or professions. In my case, a general knowledge of agriculture and farm terms came in handy as a journalist in Mississippi.
I suspect, too, that many of those home ec girls, now aged grandmothers, put their training to practical use.
It is true, as proponents of more vocational training point out, that not every person needs a four-year college degree to earn a good living and enjoy a fulfilling life.
But vocational training — as important as it is — should not be used to cover up inadequacies in a basic education from early childhood through the secondary level.
In my opinion, getting children off on a basic track of learning how to read, write and do simple arithmetic is the most important part of the educational experience.
That should begin with yet more emphasis on early childhood learning, especially those whose parents themselves are educationally deprived.
And the core curriculum in high school, whether it’s for college-bound students or not, should include adequate amounts of core academic subjects, including history and civics. Being a good citizen is as important as learning a job skill.
Dunagin, who lives in Oxford, is a retired longtime Mississippi newspaperman.