Support offered for working class hero

Jake Stricklin, IV Leader Columnist
April 10, 2014
Filed under Opinion

“A working class hero is something to be,” Ottawa High School’s building trades instructor Dave Keely belts out the lyrics of John Lennon’s anthem of the working man at the Fine Arts Festival.

If you have been following local news lately, you have surely heard about the Ottawa High School board’s decision to cut the building trades program.

This decision has sparked a revolution on a local level. The student body started a protest that caught the attention of national news and the host of the television show “Dirty Jobs,” Mike Rowe.

Over 100 students were suspended from school after leaving the building to take the protest public. They picketed outside the school for five days, with support from many taxpayers and union reps in the area.

As an OHS graduate and former building trades student, I am appalled by the decision to cut the program. This was the program that inspired me to pursue a career where I could be outside using my hands, as well as my brain.

Had I not taken building trades, I would likely one day be stuck in an office somewhere, bored and miserable. My experience with the trades program is one of my most fond memories of high school. I learned more from that class than I have from any core curriculum class in high school.

I have found the skills I learned from building trades to be useful for both my job and personal life. I know in 10 years I won’t remember, nor need to remember, what I learned in most of my classes, but trades skills will remain useful to me forever.

Building trades also developed a brotherhood between students like no other class. It wasn’t all about leaving school and having fun: it was about coming together to make a difference in the community.

I cannot say enough about the instructor, Dave Keely. He ran the program exactly how it needed to be run, with safety, work, and fun in that order. He treated us with respect and we returned it. But what is happening in Ottawa right now is not just about the school cutting a class and a good teacher; it means much more than that.

I understand that the administration of OHS has unlimited wants and limited resources like everything else, but putting money before education is not the answer.

The real expense of cutting vocational classes is paid for by the students who have the potential to find their calling outside of a traditional classroom. The big problem here is the conflict of interest between the so-called elite and working classes. The blue collar workers are the people making the white collar salaries possible, but often it seems the latter fails to recognize this. They only see in black-and-white terms of profitability.

What we are witnessing in Ottawa is a much larger social problem boiling down to a small town high school. The board and administration want to see the students conform into something they are not by taking away opportunities in alternative education. For many students, the common core system will fail miserably. Everyone learns in a different way.

Our society will not succeed if we take away the working class.

As for the school’s budget problems, there are many ways to save money without cutting legitimate classes. That should only be a last resort to keeping the doors open. When a one-of-a-kind program is cut the same year as the far too abundant administrators receive a raise, we are looking at priority problems rather than money problems. Keely was able to present proof to the board that the trades program was self-sustaining. He even sent me a spreadsheet explaining that the enrollment of the program has increased overall since he started at the school, contrary to the claims of the OHS administration.

The sad truth here is that the board was given every reason to keep the program, including the backing of a record-setting attendance at the meeting. They decided to side with the administration. They are not working for the people, they are working for “their” people. This is how our system works on every level of government, but it is more visible in a local community like Ottawa.

If the people of Ottawa can get the board to overturn their decision, it will be one small, however significant step in the right direction for the working class hero.

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