A few years ago, my oldest son – at the time, a freshly-minted teenager – came to me and said he was interested in learning about guns. Like most kids, he was (and is) a video game maven: He could dominate in any kind of first-person shooter game, fluent in any kind of weapon they could program into his virtual hands. But in the real world, he had never even held a gun, much less fired one. And, truth be told, neither had I.
As a result, we booked a few hours at a local range with an instructor to teach us about firearm safety and let us try a few different guns on for size. My son ended up not liking it very much, but I’m glad he had the experience. As I told a friend, if he’s ever at a friend’s house and someone pulls out a gun to show around, I want him to know firsthand what they can do, and not think of them as the fun gadgets he would otherwise only experience in video games.
However, while he didn’t like it much, I had a blast! I thought about that experience quite a bit over the next couple of years, and the last time my partner Hans came down to Charlotte, we went to that same range for another lesson. I walked away from that experience with a determination to take it up as a new hobby, and later purchased a gun and took some additional instruction. I’m becoming something of a “range rat,” trying to get out to shoot on a regular basis just for the pure fun of it. (Fortunately ranges and gun shops are considered essential businesses here in NC!)
What does this have to do with CTE? Everything! That first class I took with my son is exactly the kind of firsthand, experiential learning we all know to be so important in the lives of our students. We can talk all day long about jobs and industries, but if all a student gets is conversation in the classroom, they won’t really have any idea at all what it’s like out there. Only by giving them firsthand experience, whether that comes in the form of lab work, hands-on projects, or employer-led work-based learning activities, can they understand what we’re trying to teach them about.
But it’s more than that. While the conversation in CTE tends to focus almost entirely on occupational exploration and preparation, it’s just as important to think about life exploration and preparation. Not every student in your carpentry class is going to pursue carpentry as a profession, but the exposure those students receive will give them knowledge they’ll need in their personal lives (home repairs, etc.), and some will discover a passion for it that will turn into a lifelong hobby. To that end, my younger son is enrolled in two week-long summer camps at a local culinary college – he may or may not end up as a professional chef, but I know the experiences he has there will fuel his passion for baking and cooking, and that passion will carry on throughout his life.
So by all means, keep doing whatever you can to provide students with hands-on experiences to help them prepare for future employment – just realize that you may also be creating the seed for needed life skills and personal passions in the process!
Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.