Bob Thomas: Society benefits when everyone is well-trained

Last week I discussed what the word “education” means to various individuals and groups. Now I am attempting to carry it one step further and examine how our educational priorities need to be reordered to meet the real challenges of an under-skilled society that knows how to do little, if anything, useful — professions excepted.

For 50 years we’ve slowly and carelessly created a glut of unskilled labor. How did this happen? Insidiously and with enthusiasm on the part of those worshipping at the altar of higher education, the establishment has successfully “liberalized” thinking away from traditional job values, peddling higher education as a commodity. Students who are not going to college, or those who tried and failed, are cast adrift to fend for themselves, a few being salvaged by community colleges.

So what did the losers do? Dropped out in many cases or slid by with a certificate of attendance. All of them couldn’t take auto shop or wood shop or carpentry even had they wanted to. There is little or nothing challenging or interesting in today’s high schools for this very large group. The sad fact is that academia wants nothing to do with non-college-bound students. Educators think employers will pick up the losers and train them to do something useful, and that’s the way it was until the 1980s. But back then, those kids weren’t losers. They could read, write and compute.

Once again, let’s take a brief look at what education means to different people. At the high school age, education is rarely viewed as an exciting pastime or opportunity to gain knowledge just for knowledge’s sake. To aspiring professionals, it is a barrier to be overcome on the road to certification to practice one’s profession, and to do that, they must learn the required minimums about their professions and perhaps much more.

To aspiring physical scientists, high school and college educations are merely the door-openers to the fantastic world of unlimited unknowns, to learn from and leapfrog one another in the quest for new discoveries. Early education to this group is merely a stepping stone to the day when they will write books and originate experiments rather than read about them.

Of course, there is always a small cadre of students who find learning exciting. They have broad areas of interest and are great candidates for being our future teachers. But I believe our best teachers and professors are both natural lovers of knowledge, and people persons. These are in contrast to perennial students who soak up knowledge like blotters, whose high IQs are out of action because they create nothing of value, nor are they dedicated to teaching.

So let’s take a serious look at employers to see what they need from public education. We must understand that if the lower grades have failed to teach basics, high school will not be able to make up those deficiencies. Without reading, writing, speaking and arithmetic skills at acceptable levels, these students are of zero value to employers.

I went to great length last week to expose public education’s failure to offer manual-arts courses. Community colleges are overkill for basic manual-arts courses. These courses call for independent manual-arts high schools, as have been successfully used in Europe for generations. I have identified at least 26 manual-arts courses, all of which can lead to skilled employment out of high school.

Employers need skilled manual-arts high school graduates now. Employers pay enormous property taxes, either directly or through landlords, most of which goes for public education. Why are college-bound kids the main object of all those tax dollars? Isn’t it time Nevada’s employers get their tax dollar’s worth from public schools? Once again, let’s get off this college kick and educate everybody. Manual-arts high schools could solve most of Nevada’s unemployment problem with a ready-made skilled work force.

Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who later served on the Carson City School Board, the state welfare board and the airport authority and as a state Assemblyman. His website is


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