Technology Education: A Contemporary Perspective: While the Authors Agree with Much in the June 2007 Article by James Howlett and Brad Huff, They Want to Emphasize That "Industrial Arts" Has Been Largely Replaced by "Technology Education," a Much Broader Curriculum Aimed at All Students in All Grades

Article excerpt

THE puzzling title of the subject line on the e-mail read, "Is This Progress?" Attached was an electronic copy of a recent Kappan article titled "Industrial Arts/Technology: What Are We Doing?" (June 2007). For many years now, those of us within the technology education profession have argued that we need to stop talking to ourselves and start taking our message both to the broader community of educators and to the public at large. As recently as mid-June of 2007, the leadership of the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) had discussed the possibility of approaching the Kappan about publishing an article on contemporary technology education. So it was with both surprise and excitement that we found the article by James Howlett and Brad Huff attached to our e-mail.

After reading the article, the subject line of the e-mail made sense. Howlett and Huff made two excellent points. The first is the strong relationship between basic skills in math and reading and such technical skills as machining, drafting, and working with electricity or electronics. The second is the notion that the public school curriculum is fast being turned into a two-subject curriculum courtesy of No Child Left Behind. Beyond those key points, though, the article portrayed an overly vocational vision of technology education that left us--and the rest of the leadership of our profession--feeling that a grand opportunity to explain the valuable role that technology education can play as part of the general public school curriculum had been wasted.


To better understand our disappointment with what Howlett and Huff presented under the label of "industrial arts/technology," it would be helpful to provide some historical and philosophical perspective on the differences between vocational education, industrial arts, and technology education.

To the layperson, the terms vocational education and technology education seem closely related, perhaps even synonymous. However, a closer examination of typical definitions shows that they are very different. For example, the legislature in Washington State provided the following definition of vocational education:

  The term "vocational education" means a planned series of learning
  experiences, the specific objective of which is to prepare individuals
  for gainful employment as semi-skilled or skilled workers or
  technicians or sub-professionals in recognized occupations and in new
  and emerging occupations. (1)

In contrast, the Standards for Technological Literacy defined technology education as "a study of technology, which provides an opportunity for students to learn about the processes and knowledge related to technology that are needed to solve problems and extend human capabilities." (2) This same document also advocated that all students in K-12 can become technologically literate and should be given the opportunity to do so. It provided an intellectual framework, spanning the K-12 system, for the study of the human-made world (i.e., technology) that included medical, agricultural, and related biotechnologies, as well as energy and power, information and communication, transportation, manufacturing, and construction technologies.

From these vantage points, it becomes clear that vocational education focuses on trade preparation, whereas technology education is broader in terms of content (the study of major technological sectors in the human-made world) and its intended audience (all students at all grade levels).

Arguably, the relationship between industrial arts and technology education is more complex. Industrial arts was the predecessor to technology education. The term industrial arts first appeared in the literature in 1904, when Charles Richards, editor of Manual Training Magazine, proposed it. His suggestion for the name was part of an editorial intended to redirect the educational focus of manual training. …


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