In the latest installment of our ongoing series "American Futures," Atlanic national correspondent Jim Fallows recounts his trip to the southeastern tip of Georgia, where he explored a part of the education system that is oft overlooked - vocational school.
"Most discussion of education is either at the high end, where of course our universities are still dominant and we worry if that will continue, or the low end where we have understandable worries about basic literacy for a lot of students. But the part of education that prepares people for actual jobs, including those that are hardest to outsource and are not just low-wage entry level jobs, that's something we seem to act as if only the Germans or the Icelanders or the Japanese will pay attention to that."
Camden County High School houses 2,800 kids, and while that size student body makes a heck of a good football team, it also produces a greater number of kids who won't go on to college. Fallows says the school has organized itself into a series of academies whose main purpose is to train those kids for good jobs.
"One of the academies is for government service and public service and things like that. There's a big law enforcement emphasis there. There's a man named Rich Gamble who worked for a long time as an NCIS investigator at a nearby naval base, and he trains the kids to do mock forensic and criminal work. His students wear these white lab coats and they go through the school and they stage some sort of mock crime. Then the rest of the students take plaster casts of the footprints and they take statements from witnesses and they prepare court documents, and the idea is to prepare people for this kind of skill in public or private work."
Of course, Fallows says, having 600 well-educated graduates presents Camden County with a unique problem, but it's not a bad one to have.
"In lots of places you will have jobs, but they don't seem to have enough well-trained people to fill them. In Camden County, Georgia, their pride is generating students who are prepared for lots of jobs in medical care or in public service or whatever with not enough jobs in the region. They feel as one teacher told me that they're supplying all of Florida and of course other parts of the country. The hope is that they're equipping their students to do things other than be caught in the low-end minimum wage trap. And in the longer run they're hoping this will equip them to develop some industry there to employ their own people."