“You’re not qualified”

One of my favorite Monty Python skits is found in their last movie, The Meaning of Life. In it, two of the cast members are doctors in a delivery room. They’ve brought in every expensive piece of equipment in the hospital (including the machine that goes “ping!”) in case the hospital administrator stops by, yet they forgot the expectant mother. When they realize it, they have her brought in and go about their business. After a short time, she asks “What do I do?,” to which one of them replies, “Nothing, dear: You’re not qualified!”

That scene came to mind earlier today when I was talking with a veteran CTE administrator, who was talking about one of the flaws of the education system, and it makes me wonder what we can do about it.

Our educators and administrators are considered to be professionals, and rightly so: The education they’ve received, and the skills they have developed through years of work, put them in that category. However, just like the doctors in the Python skit, in many cases that professional status makes it easy to think of the others who have a vested interest in the education system, including parents first and foremost but also employers and community members, as being not qualified to participate in the process. “Just leave your kids here, let us do our jobs. We’ll tell you if we need you, now see yourselves out.”

But of course, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Parents have primary responsibility for their children, and have a right to play an integral role in the education process. And our community members, employers in particular, are immensely affected by the quality of our efforts. And let’s not forget that all those stakeholders are paying for all of it as well!

I have seen lots and lots of exceptions to this mindset, and it inspires me every time. I think about a CTE program leader in Minnesota who doesn’t consider herself to be in charge of her program. She instead believes that it’s the community’s program, and she’s just a temporary steward. I have seen CTE leaders involved in the launch of a new facility bring in the business community as true partners, working together to develop and revise the facility plans so that they truly mirror the way industry works both now and in the future. And there are many, many more examples of that same kind of program stewardship and collaboration out there.

I understand that we should respect our educators and administrators as professionals, with experience and specialized knowledge that should inform the education process. But I can also understand how that professional status may make it tempting to reject or limit input and material support from those less qualified, even if they have a critical stake in what we do. I suppose all I can ask is that we think of ourselves as stewards of the community’s schools and their CTE programs in particular, and try to bring them in as true partners in the process. Though they may not have our expertise, their participation will undoubtedly improve outcomes for students and make our schools the best they can be.


Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.