By Rep. Larry Lockman
Why is Maine’s K-12 education establishment so hostile to giving students more and better opportunities to learn a trade?
This entrenched opposition to the industrial arts — “shop class” — is hard to understand, given the obvious benefits of having more career options for Maine students. Learning a trade that’s in high demand may be the key to enabling many of these kids to stay in Maine and start families. Perhaps even single-earner households, allowing one parent to devote full time to raising children.
Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear dire warnings about Maine’s looming demographic winter. So why wouldn’t we want to encourage industrial arts instruction in junior high and high school, knowing that these courses are the ticket to great careers for the next generation of Mainers?
Sadly, the teachers’ union bosses and the education establishment have a very different view. Consumed by academic elitism, they harbor a palpable contempt for the trades. That’s why you see so much pressure on high school students to pursue four-year bachelor’s degrees — and all the debt and indoctrination that goes with those programs.
In June of this year, during the waning days of the legislative session, we witnessed an exhibition of just how much influence union bosses exert at the State House. They flexed their political muscle to make sure the failing K-12 monopoly continues to shortchange our kids and grandkids.
I’ll confess that I was unaware of just how high the barriers are that keep qualified blue-color professionals out of the classroom. It turns out that if the principal of your public high school wants to hire a successful entrepreneur from your community to teach industrial arts part time, good luck with that.
Under current law, your local electrical contractor — or caterer or florist or automotive technician or furniture maker — needs to have a four-year bachelor’s degree majoring in “education” before he or she can set foot in the classroom. It doesn’t matter that the prospective teacher has proven him or herself in the real world beyond high school. What matters to the teachers’ union bosses is a prospective instructor’s ability to endure countless hours of classroom instruction on the latest fads in teaching methodology.
My friend and colleague, GOP Rep. Nate Wadsworth of Hiram, sponsored a bill to address this legalistic absurdity. “An Act to Create an Additional Pathway to Certify Industrial Arts Teachers to Foster Career and Technical Subjects in Maine Schools” (LD 1369) was a bipartisan bill with more Democrat co-sponsors than Republican co-sponsors. It would have reduced the required four years of college-level teacher training to two years.
Hardly a radical proposal.
It came up for a vote in the House on June 6, and passed by a comfortable 76-65 margin. Then the Senate passed the bill by a 26-9 margin.
That’s when the union bosses began twisting arms. Some legislators’ arms came right out of their sockets.
When LD 1369 came back before the House for final enactment on June 11, the “no” votes prevailed 73-69. All of the flipped votes were Democrats who succumbed to the bullying of the union bosses.
Enactment of this bill would have been a baby step toward making Maine education great again. As it is, the government-run K-12 education monopoly is failing, despite the infusion of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year. With spending increases year after year — while K-12 enrollment continues to decline — how is it possible that half of Maine high school graduates who apply for admission to community colleges need to take remedial courses?
Imagine that. With a high school diploma in hand, they aren’t prepared for entry-level courses at your local community college. These students and their parents have been cheated big time. Kids who want to learn a trade are handicapped by the system before they even get to the local voc-ed college.
This is unacceptable.
We owe it to our kids and grandkids to make sure they have viable career options. If they want to learn a trade rather than pursue an expensive four-year college degree, let’s encourage that option instead of throwing up roadblocks.
That will require legislators with backbones, willing to push back against the academic elitists and Augusta’s entrenched education bureaucracy.
Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Bradley) is serving his fourth term in the Maine House of Representatives. He is co-founder and president of the conservative nonprofit Maine First Project. He may be reached at [email protected]