Fadulu: Why will we end up putting poor kids of color into those job-training programs?
Carnevale: When the American economy began to change [in the late 20th century], the first thing that happened was the youth’s labor market collapsed. We all went to Europe to see apprenticeship because the minute you start seeing unemployment, the Europeans always look good. Everybody's happy; people like apprenticeships. It gets them good jobs, family stability.
We all came back and said, “Okay, we're going to have an [apprenticeship] program.” [Bill Clinton] promised apprenticeship in the campaign for his first term. By the time we got elected … employers and labor unions came to us and said, “You can do whatever you want but don't call it ‘apprenticeship.’” We don't want the government fooling around with ‘apprenticeship.’”
So we took off the word “apprenticeship” and it became something called School to Work, which we passed and funded at $500 million. The public wanted nothing to do with it because if I go to any middle-class school in America, any high school, and say, “You know, Johnny and Mary, they're not doing so good in this academic thing that's going to send them to college. We're going to put them on another track,” [their parents] probably aren't gonna like that.
It just so happens that in America, the kids that weren't making it to college were black, brown, and low income and working class, and women, too. The American system has always been brutally efficient. We invest the next dollar available on education to the highest achiever. Eventually, this results in the great sorting between high school and college where we continue to invest in the college population, which is always the students in whom we’ve already made the biggest public investments in grade school and high school.
Those advantaged kids go to college, graduate, get good jobs, marry each other, move into neighborhoods with good schools and with neighbors who look just like them, and the cycle continues. The minority and low-income students get the least investments from families and schools, and they don’t go to college because they’re either not prepared or they can’t afford it. They then to go work in low-wage jobs, marry people who look like them, and move into neighborhoods with the weakest public schools, and the cycle continues.
So this is the reason we stopped vocational education in America. In America, and I can tell you this, if you're a politician and you stand in front of a crowd and say, “We're gonna have vocational training in high school,” every parent in that room is gonna be saying, “I'll be damned if you're going to put my kid in that because my kid's going to college.”
Fadulu: Why didn’t people want the word “apprenticeship” used in the name of the program?
Carnevale: In those days, business people associated the word “apprenticeship” with unions. Well, American employers don't like unions. Neither do Americans. The unions also didn't want the word “apprenticeship” because they didn't want the government to have any control over apprenticeship.