Singing Cathy’s Song

Bill Neinast

Let’s all join Cathy’s choir.  In her column last week, Cathy Ganske lamented the fact that this country still clings to the belief that every child is or should be college bound. She noted the parents’ and media arguments that there is little chance of financial success without a college degree.  She then cited examples of very comfortable living from blue collar careers, particularly when those careers are not started with the tremendous debt load of some college graduates.

I heartedly agree and would add one more disquieting fact.  There are a number of reports that graduates of the American public school system have to earn college degrees to rise to the same education level of high school graduates in other countries.

Education is an area in which the U.S. is clearly not a world leader.  Blame this on the mantra that everyone is college material and teaching to the tests mandated by federal and state bureaucrats to prepare all students for college instead of teaching for living.

As the country is not leading, why not become a good follower?  Other countries have had success with a dual system.  Under these systems, school systems divide at various points.  Those who wish to follow an academic career through universities attend schools designed to prepare them for that path.  Those who want to join the best labor force available attend schools set on that agenda. 

There are several personal experiences that show the results of the dual educational systems available in Europe.

My family included several toddlers that required strollers during my first tour in Germany.  This was before the days when little ones are strapped into their strollers.  Back then, they were kept in place by metal bars or other contraptions.

One of those metal contraptions broke while we were in Heidelberg.  I took the stroller to a one bay automobile repair shop across the street from our housing area.  The sole owner/operator was Herr Haeferle.  I asked him if he could fix the broken piece.  He said, “Oh no.  I can’t fix it, but I’ll make you a new one.”  He replicated the broken piece and it served us well until the kids were running on their own.

We were assigned to Heidelberg again on our second tour in Germany.  One Sunday we had our large Plymouth station wagon loaded with our four children plus several neighbor kids.  The back was piled with sleds as we were headed for some sledding on the nearby snow covered hills.

Before we got to those hills, a soldier in a U.S. Army sedan rammed the front of the station wagon.  Fortunately, no one was injured, but the vehicle was inoperable.  It had to be towed to a salvage yard.

The next day, an insurance adjuster determined the damage to be a total loss because of a bent frame and paid me the book value of the car.   When I went to the salvage yard to retrieve personal items, I found the owner/operator of the large salvage and repair facility to be Herr Haeferle, whom I had met previously.

I asked Haeferle if he would like to buy the wreck.  He asked why I wanted to sell.  I replied that it was inoperable because of a bent frame.  His response was, “I can straighten the frame with no problem, but it would not matter if we could not straighten it because all of the damage is in front of the front wheels.”  He then put that big old land cruiser back into first class shape for less than the insurance payment and we put another 100,000 miles on the vehicle.

Later in that tour, I was transferred to V Corps in Frankfurt.  While there, the Corps Surgeon took his family to Vienna, Austria, in their Pontiac.  While in Vienna, the car’s water pump broke.  He was told that GM had a parts warehouse in Frankfurt for their American made cars.

The Surgeon took a train back to Frankfurt and returned to Vienna with a new pump.  Unfortunately, the pump was for a different make or model and would not fit his car.  The master mechanic there said, “It has been a while since I’ve done this, but I will just make a pump for you.”  He took an assistant back into the shop and made a pump that fit and worked perfectly.

He was still driving that Pontiac with the home made pump when we left Germany for the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

So here’s the perspective.

When this economy gets back on its feet, there will be a growing need for accomplished crafts men and women.  Workmen with the abilities of Haeferle and the mechanic in Vienna will have no trouble finding good paying jobs.

Will the graduates of a system that prepares students in the sonnets of Shakespeare and to score well on tests developed to judge the ability and effectiveness of teachers and administrators be able to meet those needs?  I doubt it.

We had all better start singing Cathy’s song.


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