C.O. Montgomery: Industrial ed is alive and well


I am an educator by trade. My first formal education came via Indianapolis Public Schools. Elementary school was K-8. We were taught a lot about English, mathematics, science, art, music, shop and basically how to interact sociably with others.

While I enjoyed all of those classes, I must admit shop was my favorite. You see, my father was a tradesman. He was a printer. To my knowledge, Dad never finished high school. But somewhere along the line, he learned a trade. Social interaction was important.

My education then moved on to Emmerich Manual Training High School. While at Manual, I basically studied English, mathematics, art, science, psychology, industrial education and how to interact sociably with others. I furthered my education at Ball State University. I eventually obtained a master’s degree from Indiana University, with additional course work from Ivy Tech and the University of Indianapolis.

In today’s world, we need to practice “social distance.” Given the technology of today (WhatsApp, Facebook, Zoom) we have limitless possibilities. However, the core fundamentals remain the same.

What does this have to do with industrial education? It speaks volumes. If it had not been for Public School 18 and my interest in shop, I doubt I would have become an educator. Our founding fathers’ view on education was quite simple. It was to teach our young people to become good citizens. And be productive in society. It was to instill within them such values as moral responsibility, good character and honesty.

What is industrial education? In the vernacular, we today would simply call it vocational education. I have accumulated volumes of textbooks on this subject. The transformation from manual arts, to industrial education, to industrial arts, to vocational education is a fascinating study in concepts.

In my office is a 2-foot trophy that I am very proud of. The trophy was awarded to Manual High School for placing second in the 1962 Plymouth Trouble Shooting Contest. It bears both my name and that of my partner, Jerry Gordon. It is important because my career choice, in 1962, was to become an automotive mechanic. Later, through the guidance of Victor “Mac” McDowell, my auto shop teacher, I decided to become an educator. For you see, when I was receiving the early part of my formal education, a phenomenon happened. It was dubbed “the Sputnik era,” so-called for the Soviet Union’s satellite.

The date was Oct. 4, 1957. This is an important date in the history of education in America. Suddenly, the United States found itself in a race for outer space. American academia deemed it necessary in their minds that the populace needed a college degree to be successful and compete in a “global market.” Unfortunately, this was about the time that vocational education took a back seat pedagogy-wise. The thinking was that everyone needed at least a four-year degree to succeed.

Let us ramp this up to the 21st century.

Hancock County, our state and our nation need qualified tradesmen and technicians. Gov. Eric Holcomb, President Donald Trump and many state legislators have begun to see the need for people “in the trades.”

I submit that all one needs to do is look in the classified ads of any newspaper. Look and see how many jobs are going unfilled. Why is this now a phenomenon? I submit because in 1957 our academicians felt that in order to be successful one needed a college degree. That was not true in 1957, nor is it true in 2020. I do believe America is turning the corner via vocational education today.

I mentioned my dad; he did not have the advantage that I was afforded. Dad basically had no formal education. But he applied himself and learned a trade. I and my siblings never starved. We always had clothes on our back and food on the table. So, please consider your future, because in today’s post COVID-19 world, one needs to plan wisely. If your educational choice is vocational education, or a college degree, just plan and do it. I am a firm believer that America will be a stronger nation.

C.O. Montgomery of New Palestine is a former teacher, former Sugar Creek Township trustee and former co-director of the Hancock County Character Council. He is now on the board of Love INC. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield reporter.com.