Otis College of Art and Design conducted a research and found that nearly 1 million direct and indirect jobs in Los Angeles and Orange counties. More than $3.8 billion in state tax revenues generated. Nearly $100 billion in sales/receipts in Los Angeles County. With Los Angeles being one of the largest business sectors in the region, there is ample job opportunities for our youth to potentially gain. In addition with the new Renaissance of Los Angeles, the city and community are investing in new museums, development projects and grants that will only increase the job market in this field. As cultural and institutional gatekeepers, we have a great responsibility for our youth to create opportunities for students to enter into this new creative economy. One avenue I wish to push forth is integrating technical media arts studies into traditional trade schools. This approach will lend itself multiple levels of impact from engaging unmotivated and creative young minds, equipping students with mentors, and increasing greater access to high level skill and vocabulary acquisition for our youth.
Critics of “trade schools” in high school pathways have emphasized its contribution to the tracking system. Vocational schools have played a major role in providing students with an opportunity to gain certification during their time in school. The program bridges the gap for the youth where they gains access to the workforce. However, the argument stands and in many ways justifies that such programs creates discriminatory practices where teachers and school leaders profile students who are not performing highly in their academics into these programs. This creates a concern for our youth of color who are over-represented in skill gaps and may be wrongfully tracked into vocational careers that are not within their passions and guided into middle wage careers early in their development. However, in this essay, I want to advocate that our schools in the hood would benefit from art vocational schools. Art is a way for our communities to express our personal and collective narratives. Schools should not only give space for young people to create beautiful work, but to work towards a certification, degree or internship that prepares them for a future in their passion.
The Case For “Art Trade School”
Trade School proses dangers to our youth because it perpetuates a historical pipeline within America that restricts marginalized communities to a labor force that requires much physical work and low wages. People of color and immigrants make up jobs that have minimal social mobility and oftentimes have to be unionized because of unfair treatment. These careers mostly require general certifications, for example, construction, nursing assistants, electrician--what we know as blue collar jobs. Edweek (2015) posted a blog that criticized trade schools because it pipelines students too early on into pathways that are more work orientated than academic. Marc Tucker writes in the article that these vocational paths are “second chance systems” for students who are labeled as delinquents and disengaged. He defends the case that the “second chance system” processes students as numbers and it far from offering our youth another way, By the time they are in high school, if they have not yet dropped out—and many of these kids do, because they cannot read—they have been sorted into bins labeled selective college, college, vocational-technical and general.” (Tucker)
I find this case relevant and mirrors the language and values of my theoretical mentor Paulo Freire, who first coined the education system as a “banking system” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Friere 1968). From working in charters to publics, I have witnessed first hand the efficient-based process of operation and sorting in our schools. There are management decisions that do foster true learning and creativity, but the system itself is historically rooted and racist, segregationist systems. The system is constantly redefining implementation strategies, accountability measures, representation in administration, and progressive initiatives, that create more of a culture of personalization--thus, breeding to education that transforms our students to be passionate about themselves. I do not believe in the system, I believe in the people, such as myself, who are within the system. Not everyone is forefront, armed with consciousness, but there are a few of us. And the few of us who are standing here, are gatekeepers to access and quality.
My argument against Tucker, and perhaps my friend Friere may see my reasoning in this, is that vocational art school is much different than programs that open career opportunities to certification work. By having an “Arts Trade School,” we use existing systems within our schools to expand opportunity. This is much more of an effectively and timely strategy than re-inventing the wheel and creative more programming that many schools and districts have minimal capacity to create oversight and accountability. KCET (2015) published an article that referenced William Yu, an economist with the Anderson Forecast at UCLA, “…arts education, which is an investment in our future creative workforce, will become a crucial element in our education system. A resilient economic growth and prosperity in the 21st century will depend on our arts education." Thus, schools need multiple programs for creative learning and building technical skills. The concept of an Art Trade school through a CTE route would serve three primary purposes: (1) increase access to creative opportunities and internships for students at Title 1; (2) access to mentorship and high technical skill building and (3) engage at-risk students who identify with subcultures of hiphop and other arts scene. College would not be ruled out of the conversation; however, this program could build student portfolios to apply to schools with strong arts/media and technology programs, as well as become strong candidates for competitive internships in major companies.
1. Increase access to creative opportunities and internships for students at Title 1—CTE and LA County
In 2002, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission established Arts for All began an initiative to bring the arts back to 81 school districts in the county. Currently, Arts for All is established in 59 of the 81 districts giving district leadership support to hold commitment to arts access for all students in all schools. To support this work, incorporating arts in Career and Technical Education programs, it only expands access. Furthermore, the high technical skill building will prepare students to become more competitive candidates for youth internships as well as college.
2. Access to mentorship and high technical skill building
Through a vocational route, students can gain access to mentors through their teachers. Mentorship in the arts is necessary because of the apprenticeship experience. Students build a relationship with their instructor that further expands their understanding of how to use the technology to create and express. They acquire the vocabulary used in that area of content, including more specific terms and skills within the varying programs that are used for different mediums. Furthermore, instructors can act as career mentors. The uniqueness of the creative industry can be challenging to navigate; there is an entrepreneurship spirit of finding agencies to represent you as an artists or making way for yourself to become a successful freelancer. Through a vocational training route, students can have begin to build their vision.
3. Engage at-risk students who identify with subcultures of hiphop and other arts scene.
Often times, CTE programs are used to engage students directly into the workforce and provides a goal for students who are less academically driven. An arts vocational route would still encourage a college degree, but set students up to apply to art school or internships as they enter into college. This would highly benefit the handful of our students who rather write raps than write an essay. These students would be required to still write that essay, but given time during school hours to explore their passions and find purpose in education.