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Joe Henderson: Vo-Ed supporters plan to make their case to Trump in Tampa

Last week, at venerable Tampa Bay Tech High School in Tampa, a friend of mine counted 27 maintenance trucks from the Hillsborough County School District on site.

Worker bees were painting, fixing, trimming, mowing, mopping, sweeping and, dear Lord please, making sure all the electrical systems were working the way they should. Can’t have the air conditioning going out while President Donald Trump is visiting, now can we?

The president is due to visit TBT this afternoon as part of his quick hop and rally in Tampa. The presence of the maintenance armada seemed appropriate because Trump’s drop-in will highlight increasing awareness in Florida that vocational education is something to be embraced, not looked down on in the way some educators have.

Republicans, particularly Adam Putnam, have been highlighting that issue on the campaign trail and I think it’s a winner for them.

The crazed “math and science, math and science” culture that took over public education in the last couple of decades, overlooked a couple of key facts.

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A: Not every job that pays a good wage requires a knowledge of higher-level math.

B: Leaders have suddenly realized we need people who know how to fix things, assemble things, weld things, and keep things running. That’s particularly true in the Hillsborough School District, where the air conditioners keep breaking down, and the state keeps cutting budgets.

Perhaps a course in the creative use of baling wire and tape would be something to consider.

The Tampa Bay Times reported current and former students are holding a demonstration to coincide with Trump’s visit to urge support for vocational education. That’s a good thing.

The whole idea of coming out of high school is to gain some preparation for the adult world. If that world includes the use of calculus, statistics and/or higher-level science, great. Top colleges are still going to require proficiency in those areas, and that’s fine.

But it’s OK to say that not everyone is going to college. It’s expensive, and while the experience can be great, there are a lot of ways to find fulfilling work at a livable wage.

I admit some to some prejudice in this area. It took every ounce of sweat, plus an instructor who scored on a generous curve, to get through basic college algebra. If you put hard numbers in front of me, I can figure out almost anything. But take a few of those numbers out and substitute X or Y and I’m dead meat.

Florida lawmakers have been conflicted on this issue for a long time, dating to when Jeb Bush was Governor and pushed for rigorous academic standards, and soon there were through new high school graduation requirements that included Algebra II, Chemistry and Physics.

Those requirements were dropped in 2013.

Maybe not surprisingly, the state’s graduation rate has steadily improved.

Education is not one size fits all.

People are wired differently.

They process things differently.

It’s time educators and lawmakers accept that, and adapt accordingly.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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