Vocational education trains students for jobs in specific industries such as automotive, electrical and fitness. By contrast, a liberal arts education seeks to build general knowledge and critical thinking skills by exposing students to a variety of disciplines. Vocational education plays an important role in the United States since 65 to 70 percent of American jobs do not require four-year degrees, according to Reference for Business.com. A well trained vocational workforce also keeps America competitive globally, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The history of vocational education was shaped by major events in American history such as colonial times, post Civil War labor needs, the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of new trades and types of workers in the 1960s and enhancement of previous legislation to meet the labor needs of the 21st century.
Roots in Colonial Times
Experts say that formal learning, including vocational trades, had its roots as part of a law intended to help citizens resist temptation from Satan by ensuring a basic education.
A law passed in 1642 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony set the stage for government sponsored education by requiring parents and apprentice masters to provide a suitable education for children, according to Amy Matzat, author of Massachusetts Education Laws of 1642 and 1647.
Vocational education took hold in colonial America with the apprenticeship system, according to Linkroll.com. Youths would work with a master for a specific amount of time, and it was common for the apprenticeship contract to include education in reading and writing, according to the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies.
African American Influence
After the Civil War, African Americans, such as Booker T. Washington, shaped vocational education in America, according to Linkroll.com. The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, created by the American Missionary Association and Freedman's Bureau, prepared African Americans living in the South to fill jobs requiring skilled trades, according to College View.com.
Washington, who attended the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, believed that the best way for freed slaves to gain equality was by gaining money, wealth and respect by working hard in technical trades, according to the website. He went on to lead the Tuskegee Institute which was designed to prepare African Americans with a vocational education, according to College View.com
Smith-Hughes Act of 1917
Experts cite the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 as pivotal point in vocational education history because it brought education and training for specific trades to public schools, according to Shannon Patterson, author of an article explaining the Smith-Hughes Act. An unintended consequence of the law was the separation of vocational education from traditional colleges and universities, according to Patterson.
Prior to the legislation, the nation's public school system had come under fire for failing to prepare students to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution, according to William G. Camp, author of an article titled Smith, Hughes, Page and Prosser.
The 1963 Vocational Education Act built upon the 1917 legislation and committed the federal government to the support of trade specific education, according to Linkroll.com. The bill also increased access to vocational training for those with disabilities, according to the website.
The bill expanded the definition of vocational education to include emerging trades, such as health professions, and sought to reduce sex based discrimination and stereotyping in vocational education, according to a vocational education time line prepared by the Kamiah School District.
Amendments to the legislation approved in 1968 were designed to make more improvements to vocational training as well as improve educational opportunities for the disabled, according to Linkroll.com.
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Education Amendments of 1998 were crafted to respond to the needs of the 21st century workforce by reworking, reforming and enhancing previous federal programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
One key provision is the requirement for a better balance between academic and trade preparation for vocational students, according to the National Center for Research in Vocational Education. The legislation also expanded the definition of vocational education to prepare students for positions beyond entry level and created stronger accountability measures for educators, according to the National Center for Research in Vocational Education.
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