It's dinner time at your house, and you, your spouse and your high-school-age daughter are busy shoveling calories into your hungry bodies. You turn to your daughter and ask, half in jest:
"Well, dead, what did you learn in school today?"
Her answer, you assume, is half in jest, too:
"We worked on hinges. You know, putting a door back up when it comes loose from the hinges."
If there's anything that unnerves you, it's somebody who can't go along with a gag. So your next question is:
"What did you do after that?"
Quick as a flash, she responds:
"After hinges, we worked on washing machine hoses. You know, changing the hot and cold water hoses, with washers and everything so they wouldn't leak. Tomorrow we're going to re-putty windows, and then . . ."
Now you're beginning to get into the swing of things. This girl of yours really knows how to milk a scene for all it's worth. Your next question:
"When are they going to teach you how to fix the car?"
Well, she says, "It's strange that you should ask -- because just next week there's going to be a session on gapping spark plugs, and then . . ."
By any yardstick this is not your everyday chatter at the dinner table, and it may never happen at your house or anybody's else's. But it should be happening, and it would be, says Beverly Neuer Feldman, "if I had my own school, I'd teach vocational skills that are essential to self-maintenance, right along with English, mathematics and history."
The reason, Feldman says, is that people "have to be self-sufficient. It's going to come to that. Otherwise, people won't be able to afford to live . . . unless they learn how to do basic things for themselves. Education has to prepare people to survive."
And the only way many of us will be able to survive in this era of $75-an-hour plumbing and $250 auto-repair bills is to be able to do for ourselves many things we have, in the past, paid others to do for us, Feldman says.
Who is Beverly Neuer Feldman, and just what kind of education is she advocating?
Well, she's the same Feldman who, two years ago, said in an interview that the worst thing about education was that it didn't prepare enough people for the nitty-gritty of daily living. Too many people, she said, still flit off to college to study philosophy, art and history, and later find themselves starving and wondering why nobody ever told them that what makes good cocktail party conversation doesn't pay the rent or put food in the cupboard.
Feldman, who has a doctoral degree in education, is an associate professor of human development and education at Los Angeles Valley College and the University of California at Los Angeles. She is head of her own company, Career Tech Associates, and the author of "Jobs and Careers: Serving Children and Youth," published in 1978 and now in its third printing, and "Working From Home," to be published in March.
Two years ago, when she rubbed against the grain by calling for practical, no-frills education, Feldman was branded a renegade, she said, by "elitist" teachers who thought vocational was "a dirty word." But, oh, how the climate has changed since then, and now, she says, even some "prestigious schools have changed programs around so that they at least have the appearance of vocationalism."