"I don't want to go to college, Dad. I want to go to trade school."
Although my son (age 9) is still many years away from coming to me with an announcement like this, I've been thinking about what I might say—and how I might feel. It's one thing to talk about training programs, skills standards, apprenticeships, and trade schools, but it's another thing when it's your own child you are considering as a candidate. And I'll be honest: I have mixed feelings about the prospect that my son might forego that four-year college degree.
Of course, there's a good chance that this decision, if and when it comes, might not be a surprise. A natural aptitude for learning a skill usually shows up before then. When a kid is good at working with his hands, making things, or taking things apart and putting them back together, it's often apparent at an early age. It could be his life's calling getting the answer it deserves.
But even if it seems right and natural for David to take a direction so different from my own, it will be a little disturbing, at least it seems so at this moment.
I'm afraid David will miss out on getting an education.
There are many definitions of the word education, but the one that means the most to me defines it as that which makes life more enjoyable in the mind. Education enriches experience with knowledge and imagination. It gives thought to feelings. The higher the education, the fuller the life that is lived. Wisdom follows.
To make men and women wise is the traditional aim of colleges, especially the liberal arts variety. (That colleges may do this poorly is another matter.)
Would my son's education (in this sense) stop if he started a skills training program? Perhaps he would be on another, but just as certain, path to wisdom. The skills he learns and the knowledge he acquires could be the keys to doing what he wants to do, to becoming what he wants to become. Let's say he does become a journeyman machininst or tool and die maker. Every workpiece he touches would be an expression of David being David. It's how he might tell the world who and what he is. It might be how he comes to know those things himself. And self-knowledge is wisdom too.
I don't want to go to college, Dad. I want to go to trade school.
"College isn't for everybody, Dave. You have to know what's right for you. And if it's right for you, it's right by me. I'm with you 100 percent."