Purpose of Vocational Education and Its Oppressive Nature: Inequality in Education as Japanese Woman (A Reflection of Oppressive Outside World).
Education is often viewed as the panacea to social marginalization; it is a tool members of society can use to obtain better wages, acquire social recognition and become socially mobile. Unfortunately, education can also be a tool used for subjugation. It is a tool that aids in continuing the support of ongoing oppression and the systemic continuance of marginalization. This problem, often thought the fault of individuals, is the fault of social and cultural influences (Mullaly, 2007). Also at fault are structural factors that invite communities to continue class patterns where persons who are already on top to remain there, while those on the bottom seek a systemic pattern where they can only continue what they do to survive (Mullaly, 2007).
When oppression exists, teachers seek similar outcomes as students when they provide an education that perpetuates suppression. Thus, common denominators exist between teachers and students, the primary driving force behind education. Education is often viewed as a means to an end, or a solution to a higher standard of living. Ultimately however, education is nothing more than an end in itself; rather than a utilitarian tool which may allow all people's to benefit as a whole society.
Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and critical pedagogy theorist, introduces two types of education, the banking concept and problem-posing education, in "The Banking Concept of Education." The banking concept of education separates the learner from their consciousness and their world; students are encouraged to passively accept the world as it is while teachers narrate the static information to them.
In problem-posing style of education, students and teachers both participate in dialogues to teach each other; thus students contribute to the process of change by taking an active role in shaping the world which empower and liberates them. Freire highlights the problem-posing education style, noting it is a means to achieve greater freedom and equality through dialogue, inquiry, praxis and reflection because it engages students and promotes critical thinking. The banking style of education on the other hand, does just the opposite; marginalizing students by promoting silence and promoting greater oppression.
Neil Postman, an American Author and educator, suggests "the purpose of public education is to help the young transcend individual identity by finding inspiration in a story of humanity." (p. 171). Postman presents the compelling argument and concept he calls "false gods" which consists of economic utility, consumership, technology and multiculturalism in public education. Postman asks his readers to consider schools based on his alternative visions and approaches education by replacing the "false gods" with a sense of community, personal identity, continuity and purpose.
Freire and Postman both encourage students and teachers to contribute to change and engage the learner to partake in a dynamic learning environment, something vocational education fails to offer. They encourage a taste of the forbidden fruit, something for students seeking an education as a means to an end.
Nowhere is the divide between vocational and academic more evident than at the high school level where students are introduced to postsecondary success where many pathways to the future become available and are implemented in the way of career academies. Tsolakis (2008) states that the practices of traditional vocational education includes tracking of women, minorities and other non-native English learners or special-needs students which has enabled oppressive forces to devalue the potential educational benefit of vocational reform (p. 3). Many vocational education facilities focus on male trades including building trades which historically have not catered to the female population; this is particularly true in the United States. Vocational education is often promoted as part of a larger educational movement known as "multiple pathways" meeting the need for students interested in "college and careers" (Oakes & Saunders, 2007).
Ultimately however, vocational education for many proves unsatisfying. It is not the challenging base that students need to progress. Rather it offers a static future, one where a job can be found for many, but not necessarily a career that offers growth potential for those driven to move on in a changing society. Vocational education, when compared with traditional education, is merely one step above mindless activity for individuals in some cultures, particularly those in which there is no hope unless one attains significant status through education.
For example, in countries where women are oppressed and forced to bear the brunt of parenting and making babies, the only escape may be through a proper education. Yet social inequities keep women tied down. Some women are fed the lie of equal opportunity by being offered a fair education in the form of vocational education. Okano and Tsuchiya note that vocational education in Japan is highly oppressive, keeping the poor as they are and the rich in their social camp. As an example, a student may be observed as a capable reader and writer, and promoted to a better learning environment because her family is better educated and both parents professionals. Another student on the other hand may enjoy crafts, sewing and cooking, and may choose a "domestic science course" at a vocational science school, without being offered an opportunity for academic study, which a school will endorse, because her parents are not educated professionals (p. 9). This selection and promotion or lack thereof is considered fair because the system is based on class and individual achievement; schools "legitimate existing inequalities in such a way that the powerful maintain, and enhance their resources and power" (p. 9). Okano and Tsuchiya further explain that education simply serves to prepare women for "harmonious adult society through meritocratic selection" or consensus theory, or by instilling "the dominant ideology in children" so they accept society based on "domination and conflict theories" (p.9). This highlights Freire's observation that the oppressor manifests a false "generosity" that simply perpetuates injustice; the educational system that appears "fair" and just; a system that is nourished simply by death and poverty, a system that will become desperate at any threat to its existence. It is a false charity that makes evident the illusion that all children are treated fairly when offered an opportunity for any education, such as an education in the "soft" arts as a homemaker in a vocational institution that teaches crafts for a poor and uneducated family that desperately requires a more professional education to discover a means to an end.
Freire adequately note true generosity fights to destroy the causes of false charity which subdues and rejects life; it extends less in "supplication" so that more hands can transform the world. Freire (1999) notes suggests we must "adapt to the fact of reality" (p. 7) but what is reality? Is career education reality? Often when considering one as an independent wage earner officials fail to consider the much broader "social justice considerations" including the "collective sense of identity, valuing of individuals" and "how life/careers might be differentially constructed and enacted" (Irving, 2010). In theory, vocational education should ensure all students gain a wide range of competencies that they may develop many skills ensuring they have adequate and equal opportunities within society; however those managing career opportunities often appear to be complicit oppressive agents when they fail to address the social and structural inequalities formed by political and economic factors enforced by state doctrines (Mcllveen & Patton, 2006; Irving, 2010). The concept of social justice is often confused and obscured rather than clear (Apple, 2008) largely because it is not defined; however it involves the following factors as highlighted by Irving & Young (1990): (1) exploitation of a group, (2) marginalization of a group, (3) powerlessness of a group, (4) cultural imperialism, (5) violence to a group. Social processes and practices can lead to oppression including institutional structures including schools that enforce rules and "unquestioned norms and behaviors" that reduce the extent to which people including women are able to determine their own "actions and choices" (Irving, 2010). Nowhere is this more evident than in the practice of offering Japanese women a "fair" choice, where women coming from tertiary-educated professional backgrounds are automatically offered professional educations, and low-class women assigned vocational education. These are unquestioned norms and behaviors perpetuated by a society that marginalizes women and exploits certain social classes. The oppression of women has multiple affects including the limitation of self-development and self-esteem, and the limitation of the development of personal capacity (Irving, 2010). The collective identity of Japanese women and other social groups that have been systematically margilazied through vocational education becomes blurred. One must ask what it means to be a citizen, indeed a human in a society where disadvantage occurs because of cultural and educational deficits (Irving, 2010). The solution to the problem lies in the extend educators and politicians are willing to look at education from a broader social, political and moral perspective, so that programs can be better "contextualized" according to Irving. The goals would include enhancing an understanding of who is best…