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Vocational Schooling Vs Profession Training: The Poor Vs The Elite

While at Cabrillo College, in Aptos, Ca., I began to understand class privilege as it relates to access to education. It is my firm belief that vocational and community colleges and Associate Degrees were created first and foremost as a way for white men with property, to keep universities and professions insulated for themselves, while making the underclasses believe they were getting “equal opportunity education� and an equal opportunity within the job market. Neither of those myths are true. Vocational training is not equal to a professional degree in any way, shape, or form. An Associates Degree (A.A. or A.S.) is **nothing** like a B.A./B.S., M.A./M.S, of Dr./PhD degree. And that is why you do not see the rich or upper, insulated classes slumming it in community college. You will have no chance of meeting the Kennedy or Bush clan at a community college! Even idiots like Dan Quayle never stepped foot in a community college. Their social castes shot them straight into universities.
Vocational Schooling Versus Profession Training: The Poor Versus The Elite
By Kirsten Anderberg

It is my firm belief that vocational and community colleges and Associate Degrees were created first and foremost as a way for white men with property, to keep universities and professions insulated for themselves, while making the underclasses believe they were getting “equal opportunity education� and an equal opportunity within the job market. Neither of those myths are true. Vocational training is not equal to a professional degree in any way, shape, or form. An Associates Degree (A.A. or A.S.) is **nothing** like a B.A./B.S., M.A./M.S, of Dr./PhD degree. And that is why you do not see the rich or upper, insulated classes slumming it in community college. You will have no chance of meeting the Kennedy or Bush clan at a community college! Even idiots like Dan Quayle never stepped foot in a community college. Their social castes shot them straight into universities.

This is about money, not brains. Studies consistently show that if you receive vocational training, you will need to be retrained at least 3 times this lifetime as job markets shift and technology changes. In contrast, if you become a doctor, lawyer, architect or engineer, you remain that profession for life usually. There is a glaringly obvious reason why the business community is willing to fund the underclasses’ attendance at vocational schools for associates degrees, yet refuse to fund individuals attending universities, trying to procure professional degrees, in a similar fashion. And that reason is because most community college degrees relate to service sector jobs, “associate� positions. Where you work for someone else to take the profits. The business community needs **WORKERS,** it does not need business **OWNERS** or **PROFESSIONALS.** Business owners are competition, they will not pay to train their own competition. They will pay to train workers for their businesses though, under the guise of an equal opp education, and to receive tax breaks for this supposed community service.

I finally figured this out when I was in my early 20’s. I had gone to a private college prep high school, and all my friends were talking about college after graduation. All of my school work had been geared towards high academics, strong math and English skills, we were required to take college entrance courses, the education was vigorous and I am eternally grateful now, that I received such a strong foundation so early on. So when I was violently kicked out of my parents’ house in January 1977, in my senior year in high school, at age 16, I went from being on a track to a university, into a new track, vocational school. As soon as I became a homeless teen, working minimum wage jobs to survive, my high school expelled me. My old high school STILL has the policy that any student not living with guardians must be expelled. So due to my parents’ crimes, I was not allowed to graduate high school.

As I tried desperately to get on my feet and off the street, I was offered financial aid for vocational training, but no one would help me go to a university or 4 year college as was my presumed social tract before falling into poverty. In high school, I had a lead in every musical, I played violin in orchestra, I was on student council, I had skipped two grades (the 3rd and the 8th), I was in accelerated classes, I was known as a gifted student who had a troubled home life. After being kicked out of my home and family, and also out of high school, my only choice was literally to go to vocational school. And I noted the stark shift in social class, and it has intrigued me ever since. So, as a homeless teen, I enrolled at the North Valley Occupational Center, in San Fernando, Ca., while working full time as a nurses aide in convalescent homes for $1.25 hour. And what training did I receive? PBX Operator training! Do you have any idea how USELESS a PBX Operator certification is right now? I spent an entire summer training to be a PBX switchboard operator, right when they were phasing that industry out! Within one year, there were no PBX jobs to be found. So I went back, and retrained as a medical receptionist, thinking that was some type of upgrade from nurses aide. I was unable to land a job as a medical receptionist, and remained in poverty as a nurses aide for the next 10 years.

At age 17, I tried to attend college again. My high school sweetheart had gone on to college, and I ended up living with him while he went to a state university on scholarships. I found out that I had no chance of attending Cal Poly as he did, but I did have an opportunity to go to the local community college, Cuesta College. At this point, I did not know what the difference between Cal Poly and Cuesta **was,** but I could see clearly that most of my high school friends were not in community college or associates programs but were in 4 year universities. While I was learning PBX operator crap, they were reading great literature, studying political analysis, and were hobnobbing with famous lecturers and authors. I was in job training. They were getting an education, that was clear. I would enjoy my boyfriend coming home and telling me all about what they studied in his sociology class that day, and was not really that enthused about the “education� I was receiving…disappointed, I quit community college.

I attempted to attend college again at age 20. At that point, I realized community colleges were my only option and I could not understand how one made the leap from vocational school/community college to a university education and no one would tell me either. I asked repeatedly. I tried to take educational classes when I returned to community college, thinking they would help land me in a university somehow. I took and passed astronomy and trigonometry, but the counselors refused to tell me how I got from the community college to a university, they were adamant that due to my poverty, I had to choose a vocation, get an A.A./A.S. degree and get to work. I had no time for a university degree, they said. Confused, again, I dropped out after 2 semesters. A year later, I became involved with a man who felt I was very intelligent and he wanted to know why I had no college education. He was from the upper classes and he began to undo the bad voodoo the others had done over the last few years, and started building my self-esteem incrementally. He would grab my calves as I walked by at 180 pounds and say, “If I could carve in marble, I would make a statue of your body.� He drove me to the local community college, as that was all I could attend at that point, and gave me cash and encouraged me to enroll in whatever classes I wanted. All of the classes were full at that point, except things like nurses’ aide training, and I was already a nurses’ aide! He asked what else I would like to do. I said I could maybe start swimming again and be a lifeguard. He started driving me to a pool every morning before he went to his job, where I swam a mile every day, and then he began to drive me 100 miles to the nearest lifeguard certification classes, every week, for several months. I was a fat grrl, who was poor, and I was all of a sudden treated as gorgeous, athletic, intelligent, and worth investing in. He began to take me mountaineering every weekend, and I began to heal. I began to get strength to fight again. I began to want to figure out college again. But my music career was taking off also.

Shortly thereafter, I went on tour as a performer, and came home pregnant from another performer. I ended up pregnant with no family, no spouse, no money, no housing, no education…it was not good. I landed on welfare. My self-esteem plummeted again. I began to think I needed to just find a man to serve who had money and that would be it. (This thinking is MUCH more common than we want to admit in a Patriarchy). I realized I was either slave waging it for business, or I could slave it for a man, one man. Then I thought, “How is it that men have money and I do not? What would I have to do to BECOME the men who I would serve to support me? How did dad go from a poor family to having money as an engineer? How can I become the Prince Charming I am wanting to rescue me?� Looking hard at these questions for weeks, it hit me. Dad got out of poverty via his Masters degree in Engineering from a state university. He got his education from the GI Bill due to his Navy service, as his family was dirt poor. (He is male which also helped, as he was able to ditch his three children (one made while in the Navy) on the women without stigma or cost. And women were not accepted to engineering programs when he went to school. Even today, in the Univ. of Washington (UW) Engineering Dept, the walls are lined with 98% male pictures, and when I went to that dept. to visit my boyfriend, men asked me repeatedly if I was lost! The walls of the medical, law, and engineering schools at UW are lined with pictures of white men who predominated the programs for a century and still do.)

Most men and women I knew who were not struggling in poverty had college educations. I am not saying all people with college educations were/are not poor. I am saying that the people I met who were not poor, all had college educations. Then it hit me again, that education is something groups have had to FIGHT FOR. There were huge social fights to get women, racial minorities, and lower class members into universities. “Now, WHY would society try to keep women, racial minorities and the poor out of higher education?� I pondered. Then I realized that literacy had been kept from the masses, for only the elite, as a means of control and power, historically. I began to see access to education as a means of control and power. I began to realize there was a pattern and a logic to this double-tiered college system. There was a logic in keeping women, minorities, the poor, AWAY from a 4 year college education equal to that the white men with property were getting.

I got a flier in the mail with my welfare check, at age 26, with a 2 year old, as a high school dropout, that said the Job Partnership Training Act (JTPA) would train welfare recipients in any job they wanted! I headed straight down to the office to tell them I wanted to be an attorney! When I got to the JTPA office, they handed me a list of jobs they would train me in. They were all low-wage, low-status, service sector jobs. The list was missing PBX operator, but it had nurses’ aide, cashier, maid, “early childhood education� aka babysitter, all jobs that had lead me into poverty in the first place! I said I did not want anymore crap jobs and I wanted training for jobs that were out of the low-paid service sector. They offered to train me for 6 months, 40 hours a week, to be a nurses aide, when I had already been a nurses aide for 10 years. The only position on the whole sheet I could agree to was printer. So, I signed up to become an apprentice to a printer. My first day of training, I was told to report to a Kinko’s. When I got there, they were training me to be a cashier, not a printer!

I quit, went back to JTPA and demanded training in a career that would get me out of poverty. The JTPA worker was confused and called in a lead worker. The lead worker asked me if I was “manic,� and I had no idea what that even meant but I got that she was trying to imply I was crazy. I demanded to speak to her supervisor. I told him that I was sick of this low-income tract funneling, I was sick of poverty and I wanted training to become an attorney NOW. He laughed and said that was like asking JTPA to train me to be a “professional football player.� Irate at this point, I started into a rant about the low-income population being funneled into low-income job training and how I would go down screaming at the top of my lungs! Another supervisor was brought in to “deal� with my anger. She was a follower of Rajnesh and was in all red. She took me aside and unlocked the whole mess for me. She said that the business sector paid for the JTPA training. And the business sector needed workers, not business owners, not professionals. She explained this was really just training for service jobs, it was not about a college education! It all came clear and I quit trying to work with JTPA from then on. Instead, I told my friends what was happening. A college educated friend who knew me as a crafter from fairs I performed at as a musician, literally GAVE me her children’s hat business, so that I could sew cotton hats to fund my own education, and she went on to a masters in physics program at UCDavis.

Working her hat business, I enrolled at Cabrillo Community College in Santa Cruz, Ca. and made appointments with my assigned academic counselor Lynn Harlan. I told her I needed to know how to get from community college to a university, and the first few meetings she tried to funnel me into an associates degree program that dead-ended at Cabrillo. I insisted I did not give a damn about an A.A. degree and wanted ONLY to do the prep work required to transfer to a university there. I asked the transfer requirements to UCBerkeley, UCSanta Cruz and UCLA. She lectured me on how I could not afford those colleges, so she was only going to tell me how I could transfer to San Francisco State University as that was within my means. I told her I could get scholarships and to just tell me the damned requirements for those other schools. She refused and said I was wasting her time. I made an appointment to see the president of the college over this. When Lynn came to that meeting, which was also attended by Rudy Ortega, an Equal Opportunity Program advisor, she began to berate me right there in front of the president! Lynn was taken from her academic advising duties that involved direct access to students and put into an administrative job after this incident. Rudy Ortega became my academic counselor. A kind, intelligent man from farm worker roots, he took my dreams seriously and we worked together getting the requirements for university transfer down. He even went one step further, he took my law school dreams seriously and took the opportunity to not only explain the system for transfer to a university, but he also taught me part of the application process to law schools, so that I had a running start at figuring out that tract, when they tried to block it due to my income at the university level!

Due to Rudy’s fabulous counseling, I was able to transfer into a university and finish my B.A., receiving a 4.0 on my senior thesis, “From Welfare to Law School.� In that thesis, I documented every step of my path from no high school diploma to community college transfers to the university to applying for law school on fee waivers, scholarships and hard work…so that others could do the same. I used my excelling at a university as proof that I was being funneled into vocation previously and argued that was a disservice to meritocracy and was grotesquely un-utilitarian. I got into law school by explaining I was tired of fighting with welfare workers over my monthly food stamp benefits and was ready to spend that time instead fighting with the courts to change food stamp laws altogether.

I kept a vow to Rudy in my heart, to help the poor via my education. After all of this, I began to offer financial aid parties every January. The financial aid director at the UW actually mailed me packets of the Financial Aid Forms (FAF’s) for this event yearly. I bought stamps and had friends over, we filled out the applications together. I gave them stamps, and we all mailed the FAF’s together that day. I told them when their FAF’s were processed, to call me again, and I would explain how to go to college with the financial aid from there. I have a long list of folks who credit me with facilitating their college education at this point. They used to call me the “school evangelist.� I feel obliged to help people of all ages and races, who are lower income, who cannot unravel the whole educational system past the associate degrees, just like I could not. I encourage every low-income student I help to aim for a profession, not a vocation. And I have turned down privileged frat boys who have requested help getting into law school from me. They have enough help already. It is time the vocational schools and associate degree programs were filled with the rich and middle classes, and it is time for the poor to inundate the universities and grad/professional schools! Do it as revenge, if nothing else!

If you need help getting from no education to a university, and are poor, you can contact me for free help at kirstena (at) I have offered free college entrance workshops to the WorkFirst departments in Seattle and Eugene, and they have declined my offers repeatedly. Welfare programs’ WorkFirst Programs (just like JTPA was) are **ALL** about funneling the poor into service sector voc training and away from independence via university educations. I understand this article will cause a huge backlash regarding its class analysis. I know I will get beaten up online for admitting my life choices, which were not always the best, and for my honesty in this article. But I stand firm in my belief that vocational training does not benefit the poor, it benefits business. And that there is an educational tract funneling the poor into voc tech and associates “degrees� but those degrees are not really considered college degrees by anyone outside of the institutions granting them and the business sector acknowledging them. A university education gives you more than one-dimensional technical training. And that is why the rich and the middle classes are trying to keep it for themselves. The rich will even pay the way for the poor in community and voc tech colleges to keep them OUT of their universities and professional schools! Do not go for it. Demand a profession, not job training, if you are poor. It is called Equal Opportunity.

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Great Article!

Kirsten, your article raises so many good points.

I have always been suspicious of private vocational schools, and of the narrow, privately-determined courses that community colleges are now starting to offer (e.g. Microsoft and Cisco "certification" courses). On the other hand, community colleges do offer some excellent opportunities.

I think it is up to us to create a society where "vocational" and "technical" skills are deemed just as important as "academic" skills. I think it is also up to us to create a society where one's abilities are more important than the name of the school one attended.

There is room for apprenticeship programs, community college programs, and university programs in California's educational landscape.

Re: Vocational Schooling Vs Profession Training: The Poor Vs The Elite

You have illustared a brutaly colorful bio. I also think that your experince with your parents and the contrasting partners that you have had in you life have helped shaped you into the relentles person that you are today.
I was also in a dead end situation with a labor job here and a lube tech job there that caused me to wake up a bit later in life. I woke up from my youthful mindless meandering to the regimented acedimic life of Cabrillo College. Because of that choice I found myself heading to the Lone Star state on a athletic scholarship, then eventualy graduating from West Texas A&M with a B.S. in general studies. Ironicly I am now looking to go back to law school to get my J.D.

Re: Vocational Schooling Vs Profession Training: The Poor Vs The Elite

Here's a good example:

"One of the Center's ( Northern California Biotechnology Center (NCBC) )primary functions is to streamline coordination between biotechnology firms and community colleges. This includes arranging for student and faculty internships and program development."

Some of their functions:

Facilitating the use of industry experts as adjunct faculty

Arranging one-day, hands-on workshops on state-of-the-art lab techniques

Establishing student internships

Developing community forums to educate neighborhood groups about biotechnology research and production

The Center invites CEOs, human resource directors, and educators to propose special projects that help solve educational problems for the Biotechnology Industry.

There is no cost to use the Center's services.

Re: Vocational Schooling Vs Profession Training: The Poor Vs The Elite

Right, community colleges which provide necessary vocation training in a great many fields AND provide 2 years of your 4 year college education at dirt cheap prices are really there to keep you down...

Do you even know how much a community college costs in other states?!! People in California have a fantastic service available to them - especially if they are poor!

You personally had a bad experiance due to a myriad of factors - don't dream up some scheme of the elite keeping the impovrished down when the fact is it's impossible to get such a good education for such a good price anywhere in the world.

Re: Vocational Schooling Vs Profession Training: The Poor Vs The Elite

"Engineers" need to constantly re-skill themselves as well to avoid being obsolesced every few years. Lawyers, doctors, and business managers don't, because laws and human biology and behavior don't change very much very fast. But there's not space in the economy for everybody to be a lawyer or a business manager. The Army only wants one officer for every 10 enlisted people, and one might suspect occupational class ratios are similar in the various civilian economic sectors.

(The ways and reasons the AMA keeps the supply of doctors artificially scarce is a whole other subject, suitable for hundreds of articles in itself.)

For better or worse, "vocational training" points The People to where The Jobs are. Studying great literature and political theory doesn't get anybody a ruling class job. Having pre-existing nepotistic connections in the ruling class gets you the kinds of ruling-class jobs you can get with an "educational" background in literature and political theory.

Re: Vocational Schooling Vs Profession Training: The Poor Vs The Elite

What an incredible whine. Vocational education is far better than the liberal arts education found at a 4 year college if you have any practical goals. True, engineering grads at 4 year schools may be in good shape, but it is no guarantee. I think Cabrillo and De Anza are great at what they do. I got my first programming job from a teacher at Foothill College.


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