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The Education Snob's Dilemma: College For All or Vocational Education?

So-called education snobs don't always see four-year colleges as better. They just don't want their kids tracked into inferior programs.

I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to education. Remember when former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum branded President Obama a snob for wanting everyone in America to go to college? Well, I constantly build schools in the air resembling ivy covered college campuses fashioned after antiquity's trivium and quadrivium. I unabashedly want to produce a society of roaming philosophers, nerdy techies and coffee shop professors. I'm definitely the guy Santorum rankles over.

Likewise, very few statements offend more than, "College isn't for everyone." Those other phrases that rattle me would include "Some people are simply good with their hands" and "The military is a good option." It's not that these statements are false as much as they are typically codewords for black and brown children aren't smart enough for college. The same sentiment can be heard in romantic renderings of the "glory days" of trade schools or apprenticeship programs.

Urban education's decline is partially due our engrained distrust in the capacities of children of certain hues and geographies. Consequently, we (individuals and institutions) assume who belongs in college. A recent Brookings study found that the "vast majority of high achieving students who are low-income do not apply to any selective college or university." The lack of representation in the Ivy League is another sign of our engrained beliefs of who belongs. The story of the black male student who selected the historically black college, Florida A&M over Harvard is another case.

Being an education snob does not mean preferring an Ivy over an HBCU. Being an education snob has more to do with wanting to see all selective colleges create welcoming climates to increase the representation of ethnic minorities. But, being an education snob also means thwarting institutions and educational programs that middle class families don't appreciate like community colleges and auto shop.

However, when pre- and elementary schools are deemed "college prep," one must question the notion of college as the only viable option. Tracking of any sort especially at young ages isn't necessarily good because we may miss developing children's natural gifts. One could easily argue that the ultimate goal of a public educational system is not to send everyone to college or to rigidly produce widget makers for industry. The goal should be to enhance individuals' proclivities trusting that our collective innate skills will lead to a productive society.

The reality is that intelligence is much more diverse than what we develop in school and college. In addition, troubled educational systems have left many students unprepared for a four-year liberal arts curriculum. We need a more diverse pallet of schools to meet the diverse needs of learners.

It pains me to say, but we need more high schools and community colleges that are career based and experiential. Learners also need university faculty to step down from their ivory towers and meet students where they are academically. Unfortunately, society needs more schools that are designed to help those recently released from a secured facility. Our urban centers needs more music conservatories and culinary art schools. New Orleans' Cafe Reconcile, which is featured in the video above, is an excellent example of a training program that's meeting the needs of socially and economically challenged young people. These schools should not be considered only for folks not interested in learning. Quite the contrary—the curricula should be quite rigorous.

I'm an education snob not because I see four-year colleges as better. I just don't want a lesser product for my children. If we can create schools that would compel Rick Santorum to enroll his kids, then I would be more likely to send mine there. Then again…

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Dr. Andre Perry is the Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education. The Institute assesses the success of post-Katrina education reforms and also creates enrichment opportunities for students in the metro area.

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