College Alternatives, Part 1: Skilled Trades

Skilled trades /industrial arts poster from WWII era. Public domain from LOC.govAfter the last two posts on financial aid, there were a few private comments about how hard it can be for a student to qualify for some types of aid. Honestly, it is easier now than it has ever been. There are all sorts of programs, initiatives, and projects, all designed to get more people into college.

This is not necessarily a good thing. Not every student is called to a profession that requires college. Not every student is ready for college right out of high school. Not every student is able to benefit from higher education. College can be a wonderful learning experience for an engaged, motivated student, but for some, it’s just an expensive party venue with a long-lasting bill.

If you have students who maintain they don’t need college, don’t want it, or don’t understand the purpose and meaning of education, it is probably not the right time to go to college. It is better to wait until they are ready than to rush off right after high school and incur debt for an education they won’t appreciate. They can go to work, start a business, work on the family farm, or do something else. If they eventually need college, it will be there.

College Alternative #1: Skilled trades

The first college alternative is the skilled trades, including  machinist, mechanic, builder, welder, electrician, pipe fitter, plumber, electronics or machine maintenance personnel. The traditional list could doubtless be expanded to include healthcare technologists and assistants, cabinet makers, arborists, midwives, and many others. My husband and I encouraged our sons to cultivate both a head skill and a hand skill, not just to have backup career options, but for wholeness of spirit. Although each has a bent toward one type of skill or another, having experience in both has been a personal and professional plus for each of them.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
Although college has been increasingly pushed as an option for everyone, Matthew Crawford in Shop Class as Soulcraft writes of anecdotal evidence that suggests “one of the fastest-growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and return to get a marketable trade skill” (p. 12; emphasis mine). Subtitled “An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” Shop Class as Soulcraft examines the purpose, meaning, and value of productive labor through the lens of Crawford’s transition from think-tank PhD to motorcycle mechanic. He makes a compelling case for the trades, noting that he has “often found manual work more engaging intellectually” than wrestling with the abstract.

The trades experience chronic labor shortages, which are only getting worse as experienced workers retire. According to an article in Fortune, “companies that make tangible products are struggling to find candidates for about 237,000 job openings. To put that figure in perspective, it’s 89,000 more than the entire U.S. economy created in September.” Those openings need to be filled, and a 2013 article in Forbes analyzes where the greatest needs will be in the coming years. If you’re willing to consider a career based on demand, the Forbes article offers solid statistics to consider.

Wages for the skilled trades have been compared to wages for middle managers, but figures vary, depending on experience and where you live. Forbes suggest that the “median wage . . . is $20.25 an hour, and even the bottom 10 percent earn $13.14 an hour.” Training for the skilled trades can come through vocational training programs, trade schools, community colleges, or apprenticeships.

Although the skilled trades don’t always earn the respect they should, they are an excellent option. There’s even an extra bit of job security for some of the trades– when was the last time you heard of a plumbing job being outsourced to China?

Resources for information on the trades

Next time, I’ll write about College Alternative #2: Entrepreneurship. Watch for it here!

Note: As always, Amazon links are affiliate links. 

 

5 Reasons Entrepreneurship Should Be Part of Every Education

Everyone should learn basic business skills.

One of the best parts of speaking at many homeschool conferences across the country is getting acquainted with the issues that are top-of-the-mind for homeschoolers in different areas. This year, there seemed to be an interesting shift in focus. People were still stopping by to talk about Excellence in Literature, teaching writing, and creating transcripts, but there was also a new urgency of interest in things that could save or make money, such as getting a jump start on college or starting a microbusiness.

The past few years have been an economic challenge for most single-income families, but many have risen to the challenge and are doing constructive things to counteract decreased income. Over and over I heard inspiring stories of parents or teens who are moonlighting or running a microbusiness in their spare time. At the AFHE conference in Arizona, I enjoyed seeing an entire row of Young Entrepreneur exhibits, manned by remarkably professional-sounding young people who had not only learned how to create something useful, but also how to present themselves and market their product.

I believe that entrepreneurship should be part of every education. Creating a small business does more than just provide a bit of extra money– it provides learning opportunities that nothing else can. Here are five reasons it’s important to learn the kind of attitudes, skills, and habits that characterize successful entrepreneurs.

Mindset: Andrew Pudewa coined the term freedomship, and although it’s not found in any dictionary (yet), it encompasses some of the most compelling reasons for learning and teaching business skills. We live in a society that teaches passivity, rather than active exploration and initiative. Conformity, along with its Siamese twin mediocrity is one of the primary lessons taught by schools, government, the media, and the workplace.

For most people, it’s not easy to be different. Homeschoolers have an advantage, though, as we’ve already chosen an alternative approach to education and bypassed the all-too-human compulsion to be like everyone else. It’s already too late. Entrepreneurial training takes this a step farther by teaching students how to act with freedom, integrity, and purpose in their work life.

Flexibility and Preparedness: Our nation was built on a foundation of courage and independence, but modern influences continue to erode personal responsibility and initiative. Entrepreneurial education provides a way for anyone of any age or financial condition to be better prepared to independently generate personal income. Business transitions are a fact of life. Factories close or automate, corporations merge and shift focus. It’s critical to be prepared to observe trends and be ready and able to move into another field or to supplement income with a microbusiness.

Basic business training helps workers understand coming changes and take appropriate action. For example, if you work for an automobile or furniture assembly line and begin to hear rumors that the factory will soon close, that’s the time to start planning an exit. It’s not only stressful, but also financially suicidal to wait until the formal announcement is made and all your co-workers are also looking for options. If you understand how to start and run a microbusiness, you can quickly begin moonlighting in a venture of your own, and have a head start when the axe falls.

Learning: Creating a business of any kind, a full-scale brick-and-mortar business or a tiny internet-based microbusiness, provides a lot more front line learning than any theory-based business class. Teens who choose run a business rather than flip burgers for the summer learn not only the service or product they are selling, but they also learn about business structures, bookkeeping, customer service, marketing, creative problem solving, real-world communication, and much more. Real bookkeeping for a small business is a lot more memorable than exercises from a consumer math textbook. Best of all, the skills and knowledge gained can be applied to many other parts of life.

High-School Transcript: A small business is a great addition to a high-school transcript. Whether a teen is bound for college, trade school, the military, or is planning to build his or her business into a full-time career, entrepreneurship demonstrates initiative, hard work, creativity, perseverance, and other valuable skills and character traits. It’s likely that you’ll be able to grant credit for many of the business functions (bookkeeping, salesmanship, web design basics, etc.) your student learns as her or she builds a business.

Fun: Finally, entrepreneurship is just plain fun. It empowers individuals– moms, dads, teens, pre-teens– to create something of value and share it with others in a profitable way. A young person who starts a microbusiness gains a lot more than spending money. He or she gains confidence, valuable experience, and a host of new skills that can be used for life.

“The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. Remember, the greatest failure is to not try. Once you find something you love to do, be the best at doing it.”
~Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies

Microbusiness for Teens: A Curriculum by Carol Topp, CPA

Microbusiness for Teens: A Curriculum by Carol Topp, CPA

Of Daffodils and Diesels, Revisited

It's time to learn what's under the hood.This classic essay by an unknown author has been around since I began homeschooling, and I often recommend it to parents of children who just don’t fit the college-bound mold. As it becomes more and more common to try to shove every student into a college, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this essay and think about the consequences of expecting every young person to walk the same path.

As much as I value the beauty found in literature, art, and music and enjoy studying it, I realize that the world would be a wee bit lopsided if everyone were just like me. We need machinists and mechanics, soldiers and sailors, builders and bricklayers as much as we need authors, artists, and scholars. Each plays a much-needed role in society, and we do a disservice to young people when we imply that only one type of gift is valuable.

No matter what society tries to convey, a worker who diligently and ethically practices a trade can earn an excellent living, and if they have an entrepreneurial bent, can also provide an excellent living for many others. Despite the fact that the wages of many white-collar workers hover at a level similar to the trades, I know that many parents look at the wage-earning potential of blue-collar jobs (something you can research in the Occupational Outlook Handbook), and fear that their child will be unable to support a family, especially on a single income, but honestly– it happens all the time. Many homeschool families are even able to create multiple streams of income that help to supplement the primary wage.

Consider also that in times of disaster such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the most immediate need is for people with practical skills– cleaning, digging, repairing, healing, building. The economists, philosophers, and academics will eventually be needed, but at first, it’s all about practical ministry. There is honor and value in work well done, whether it’s work done with mind, heart, or hands.

Finally, and very significantly, there is also joy and success when a student is allowed to work out his or her gifting. Just read the essay below, and absorb it. It’s a vivid picture of a competent young man with strong, mature role models who is deeply interested in relevant things. He has mastered many of the skills he will need to use his gifts, and he’s eager to learn more from people who share his interest and talent for practical knowledge. I think he’d join Winston Churchill in declaring, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

Of Daffodils and Diesels

truck-with-farm-workersI’m not very good in school. This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I’m bigger than most of the other kids. The kids like me all right, even though I don’t say much in class, and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school. I don’t know why the teachers don’t like me. They never have. It seems like they don’t think you know anything unless you can name the book it comes out of.

I read a lot at home—things like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and the Sears catalog—but I don’t just sit down and read them through like they make us do in school. I use them when I want to find something out, like a batting average or when Mom buys something secondhand and wants to know if she’s getting a good price.

In school, though, we’ve got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can’t memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Some of them were easy, like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been 30 altogether and I never did get them straight. I’m not too sorry, though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice presidents. ;-)

I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn’t interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors. I guess I just can’t remember the names in history. Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three and he says I can drive one when I’m 16. I know the horsepower and gear ratios of 26 American trucks and want to operate a diesel. Those diesels are really something.

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein

I started to tell my teacher about them in science class last week when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she said she didn’t see what a diesel engine has to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just shut up. The kids seemed interested, though. I took four of them around to my uncle’s garage after school and we watched his mechanic tear down a big diesel engine. He really knew his stuff.

I’m not very good in geography, either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying the imports and exports of Turkey all week, but I couldn’t tell you what they are. Maybe the reason is that I missed school for a couple of days when my uncle took me downstate to pick up some livestock. He told me where we were headed and I had to figure out the best way to get there and back. He just drove and turned where I told him. It was over 500 miles round trip and I’m figuring now what his oil cost and the wear and tear on the truck—he calls it depreciation—so we’ll know how much we made. When we got back I wrote up all the bills and sent letters to the farmers about what their pigs and cattle brought at the stockyard. My aunt said I only made 3 mistakes in 17 letters, all commas. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on “What a daffodil thinks of spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.

I don’t do very well in arithmetic, either. Seems I just can’t keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this: If a 57 foot telephone pole falls across a highway so that 17 and 3/4 feet extend from one side and 14 and 16/17 feet extend from the other, how wide is the highway? That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the size of a highway. I didn’t even try to answer it because it didn’t say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not. [Logic]

truck-with-logs

Even in shop class I don’t get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and a bookend this semester and mine were sloppy. I just couldn’t get interested. Mom doesn’t use a broom anymore withher new vacuum cleaner, and all of our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the family room. Anyway, I wanted to make a tailgate for my uncle’s trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I’d have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn’t see why, but I kept quiet and made a tie tack even though my dad doesn’t wear ties. I made the tailgate after school in my uncle’s garage, and he said I saved him $20. [Relevance, meaningless rules]

Government class is hard for me, too. I’ve been staying after school trying to learn the Articles of Confederation for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn’t be a good citizen unless we did. I really tried because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school, though, because a bunch of us guys from Southend have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor’s Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym out of the old pipe, and the guys put me in charge of things. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.

Dad says I can quit school when I’m 16. I’m sort of anxious to because there are a lot of things I want to learn.

***

Remember, ” . . . the body is not made up of one part but of many . . .

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

If they were all one part, where would the body be?

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (From I Corinthians 12)

Microbusiness Stories and a New Article on the Website

I’ve posted a new article in the Home Business section of the Everyday Education website. It’s Franchises: What They Are and What You Need to Know, and it’s an overview of what you need to think about before you make a decision on whether franchising is right for you.

As most of you know, I am a big advocate of entrepreneurship, including microbusiness and home business. Teens who can start a microbusiness based on their interests can earn high school credits for what they learn, and they’ll also learn valuable life and business lessons as well. (Transcripts Made Easy will tell you how to track what they do and properly assign credit for it.) Imagine going approaching colleges or businesses with several years of entrepreneurial experience on your transcript and resume. It can be pretty impressive!

I’ve been an entrepreneur since the days when I dragged my little red wagon through the neighborhood selling the avocados from our back yard tree. You might think that wouldn’t be a very lucrative way to spend time, but during those years (I realize that I date myself when I tell you it was the late 1960′s), I averaged about $100 a year which I banked and used to pay for my wedding. I eventually outgrew the little red wagon, but it was fun while it lasted.

My next venture was in middle school when macrame’ bracelets were all the rage. I custom made them with my client’s name beaded in, and they sold like hotcakes for as long as that fad lasted. I profited from that venture because I knew it would come to an end, so I didn’t stock letter beads ahead of time, but bought them on an as-needed basis.

In high school, I used calligraphy skills to letter certificates, invitations, and anything else that was wanted. This was the most profitable venture yet, and I worked as a calligrapher and taught calligraphy for many years, until I started earning more money through writing and editing.

The key to all these ventures was that my parents allowed me to make decisions at a time when the stakes were relatively low, so I learned from each experience without getting into financial trouble. If you want to make the most of your teenager’s high school years, encourage them to consider a microbusiness!

***


Carnival of Homeschooling
I was honored to have last week’s post on The Perfect Cure for Boredom featured in the first section of this week’s huge and wonderful Carnival of Homeschooling. Be sure to check out all the posts (this may be the biggest Carnival ever)!

Don’t forget about the Convention Season Specials! They end at the close of July 12, 2009, so be sure to get them.

If you plan to be at the Northern Virginia Home Education Conference (NoVA) on 7/10-11/09, please visit at me at Booth #203!

Carnival of Homeschooling- The Spring Fever Edition

tulips

tulips

Is anyone else ready for spring? The daffodils are up, forsythia is glowing at the edges of the woods, and from my cozy spot by the woodstove, the bright sunlight offers the illusion of warmth. It’s quickly dispelled by the damp chill when I open the windows, but the boisterous bird song renews faith that spring is on its way.With spring almost here, I thought we all might enjoy a lovely floral journey for the March 31, 2009 edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Our writers have submitted some excellent posts, so gather ’round and enjoy the Carnival!

We’ll begin with a bit of late breaking news: Better parenting leads to more competent children hosted at “Why HomeschoolHenry Cate reports that studies confirm that loving and firm parents have more competent children. Really? Read more

High School: A Four-Year Plan for Homeschoolers

I thought you might enjoy seeing my four-year plan for homeschooling through high school. It’s included in Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler’s Guide to High School Paperwork, which is, of course, my favorite resource for keeping high school records;-).

This is an academically-oriented plan, with an emphasis on looking forward and preparing for life after high school. Even if your student isn’t planning to go to college, it can’t hurt to have the basics in place, just in case his or her plans change, as they did in our family.

One of our boys is in an HVAC apprenticeship, and didn’t plan to go to college at all and wasn’t so sure he needed all the academic stuff. However, after he graduated from high school, he started considering entrepreneurship for the future. He ended up earning a Business Management certificate, and is currently studying for his Associate’s degree in Business. Having the academic basics in place made it easy for him to make a quick post-high-school decision to start taking classes, and having a solid transcript ready to go made the whole process easy for me.

Freshman year

• 6 courses, 1 unit of each core subject (English, Mathematics, History, Science, Foreign Language, Arts/Physical Education/Electives)
• Read for pleasure as much as possible.
• Learn Greek and Latin roots for vocabulary.
• Establish solid study habits.
• Practice note taking skills.
• Begin developing test-taking skills (PSAT skill book can be useful).
• Think about personal aptitudes and read up on career options.

Sophomore year

• Same class balance as freshman year.
• Continue or develop extracurricular activities that fit interests.
• Schedule PSAT for the fall of junior year.
• Begin researching college, trade school, or apprenticeship options.
• Request info.
• Use test-prep books to get ready for the SAT or ACT.
• Take CLEPs whenever ready.
• Begin classes at a community college, if desired.

Junior year

• Six classes*
• Take the PSAT in the fall (optional, but there are benefits, such as qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship).
• Focus on time-management & study skills.
• Narrow down college and/or career options.
• Spring: Take SAT/ACT and visit colleges or alternatives.
• May/June: Apply to two or more colleges, tech schools, or apprenticeship programs.

Senior year

• Six classes*
• Scholarship search/essays/applications.
• Take SAT Subject Exams, AP, CLEP exams.
• Retake SAT I or ACT if desired.
• Continue good study habits and extracurricular activities.

*Hands-on learning, college classes, entrepreneurship, or apprenticeship activities can fulfil some of the class requirements, so don’t feel that you have to have six traditional, text-book-based classes. Mix and match as needed!

Good planning and recordkeeping will help you and your student reach your goals (it’s hard to reach what you haven’t set, so goal-setting is a key part of the planning process). Take time to plan, then have monthly meetings with your student to determine whether you’re on track to succeed. If you work as a team, homechooling through high school can be a tremendous blessing!

*****

(If you’re have difficulty getting your life organized enough to feel as though you’re making progress, you may find Cindy Rushton’s Organized Moms Super Set– a complete program for organizing every facet of your life. It includes audio resources, inspirational and instructional books, reproducible planning pages, and much more. It’s comprehensive and encouraging enough to help the most organizationally-challenged mom do more in less time than she ever thought possible. What a blessing!)

*****

Got more month than money? Want to make the most of your money? Want to build a legacy for your children to follow? We have some secrets that just might help.

Persuasive Writing: Teach It With Models

When I teach students how to write an essay, I often recommend that they look at the Opinion or Editorial pages of their local newspaper for samples of well-constructed persuasive arguments. I especially recommend that they look for two articles on the same topic that present opposing viewpoints.

I came across two such articles in the Sunday edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and since the topic is interesting and timely, I’d like to suggest that you take a look at them. The question that each article addresses is “Degree or Not Degree?”.

The first article, by scholar Charles Murray, author of Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality, and co-author of the controversial The Bell Curve, suggests that “For Most People, College Wastes Time and Money.” He outlines a reasoned argument for his thesis, and suggests “a better way.”

The second article, by Daniel J. La Vista, executive director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, suggests that “America Faces a Shortage of College Graduates.” He refers to Murray’s new book, and posits an opposing viewpoint, citing the need to stay parallel with “other nations in the global economy.”

You’ll notice that in each of these articles the writers’ thesis is clearly stated in the headline. There’s absolutely no question as to which side of the debate each article supports. Although the tone of the headline could be seen as dogmatic or controversial, the tone of both essays is moderate and reasoned, designed to persuade.

I suggest that you print out both articles, and study them with your teen students, or even on your own. Note how each author introduces the topic, organizes the flow of information, and supports his thesis. Mark up the print-outs, noting skillful transitions, vivid examples, and interesting word choices. You may even want to copy a few paragraphs to internalize the flow of text.

Benjamin Franklin learned to write by studying, copying, and re-writing in his own words, articles from The Spectator. His autobiography bears witness to the level of expertise he gained, the method has lost none of its ability to produce excellence. I think you’ll enjoy it!

As for the subject of the articles, “Degree, or Not Degree,” do you find your opinion changed in any way by reading these essays? The topic is far more than a clever wordplay– it’s a choice that many of us have made, or will make at some time. I’d love to hear your opinions, and your reactions to the article! You may leave them in the comment section at the end of the post.

I may as well confess that my reaction was to make a trip to Amazon.com for a copy of Real Education. Murray’s arguments seem very compatible with homeschooling, and I’d like to read more. I’m less convinced that keeping up with the Jones’s (or the Taiwanese) is a good reason for getting a degree, so Mr. LaVista has a bit farther to go before I’m persuaded.

*****

An interesting link: I came across Digital History, an interesting history site from the University of Houston. It offers many interesting resources, including an interactive timeline, primary source documents, and multimedia exhibits. It may be just the thing you need to capture the interest of a student who thinks that history is boring (can you imagine?).

*****

Announcements

Beat-the-Clock Essay Workshop: This much-anticipated workshop will take place Saturday, September 6, from 10-2:30 at First Mennonite Church at 601 E. Parham Road, Richmond, VA. It’s sponsored by the Richmond Regional Home Educators, and you will find complete information at the rrhe.org forum (for members), or at my website, www.EssayWorkshop.com (the date needs to be updated on the site, but the rest of the information is all there). Contact the coordinator by e-mail at Kathleen Lansing at gmail dot com. (remove the spaces and use appropriate symbols, of course!) to ask questions or register.

SAT*-Prep Workshop: If you’d like to catch the “Conquer the Test! Tips, Techniques, and Strategies for Getting the SAT Score You Need” workshop in person, I’ll be doing one in Chester, Virginia on Friday, September 12. You may contact coordinator Darleen Rudnick at 748-0984 or via e-mail at darleen2 at yahoo dot com. If you can’t make the workshop, or you’d just like to have it handy to listen to more than once, you can purchase the recorded workshop with 60+ page worktext at www.SAT-Workshop.com (and it’s at a special introductory price until 9/15/08, or until the first printing runs out, whichever comes first– I just got the quotes for the second printing– OUCH!!).

Apprenticeships and Skilled Trades Offer an Alternative to College

I often talk about college or entrepreneurial options for homeschool students because that is where most of my personal interest and experience lies. However, there are many other wonderful options to consider, including skilled work in hands-on fields such as construction, plumbing, manufacturing, and so on (often referred to as the trades).

I’m reminded of these opportunities now, as my third son, a kinesthetic learner who has always wanted to work in HVAC (heating and air conditioning), has just been accepted into a three-year paid apprenticeship in his chosen field. He found the opportunity in the classified ads of our local paper, but you can search online for similar programs. The application process was similar to a job application process, as he’s going to be working full-time while taking classes, so that at the end of the program, he will be a journeyman.

Remember tech school? Most high schools used to offer shop class, woodworking, machine shop, and other training for interesting blue-collar jobs. Now, with the current emphasis on college, many students aren’t even made aware of the opportunities that are available without a four-year degree. A skilled tradesman (tradesperson? whatever!) can often earn a yearly salary and benefits comparable to that of a college graduate. Read more