In Praise of Trade Schools
Religion & Liberty Online

In Praise of Trade Schools

Williamson_Free_Trade_SchoolOne of the benefits of a Christian theology of work is that it frees parents up to encourage their children to pursue various employment-related vocations that cultivate creation, rather than prod them to waste a life in the unfulfilling pursuit of the American Dream. Our obsession with the American Dream, as a means of achieving a life of comfort and ease, has distracted us from the fact that the world’s economy doesn’t need adults simply with college degrees so much as it needs people with skills. Real skills. Skills that contribute and facilitate human flourishing. Traditional college settings can serve as a wonderful opportunity for some to cultivate their minds, hearts, and souls, but it is important to remember that trade and technical schools do the same as well.

I was more than happy, then, to learn of The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Media, Pennsylvania, a wonderfully dynamic option to traditional university education that focuses not only on the formation of skills needed in the marketplace but also on the formation of moral virtue.

The school has a fantastic history. According to the school’s website, “on December 1, 1888, Isaiah Vansant Williamson, a Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist, founded The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades. His purpose in founding the School was to provide financially disadvantaged young men with the opportunity to become productive and respected members of society.” It was out of Williamson’s commitment to human dignity that he launched the school after seeing a generation of disadvantaged young men in danger of sabotaging their own futures and lacking a vision for how they could contribute to the common good. Here is the mission of the school:

The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades prepares deserving young men to be useful and respected members of society.

To accomplish the mission, Williamson gratuitously provides students with academic, trade, technical, moral and religious education, and a living environment based on the Judeo-Christian perspective that fosters the values of faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service.

At The Williamson Free School students pay no tuition and can specialize in the following areas: “Construction Technology (Carpentry Emphasis), Construction Technology (Masonry Emphasis), Horticulture, Landscaping and Turf Management, Machine Tool Technology, Paint and Coatings Technology, and Power Plant Technology.” These are extremely honorable and much-needed vocations in our global economy. These graduates are equipped to get jobs anywhere in the world. America needs more and more schools like this with expanding technological proficiencies and beyond for those who want to fully participate in the cultivation of creation but may not be interested in a traditional college track.

Trade schools should be encouraged and celebrated because these students are just as gifted, capable, and talented as students at any traditional college setting. Schools like Williamson are not “alternative schools” with respect to traditional college settings nor do they serve as a “Plan B.” Trade and technical schools offer a first-rate “Plan A” for those students who seek to participate in the global economy in a unique, highly specialized way.

We need more schools like The Williamson School in urban and rural settings and interspersed in America’s changing suburbs because all sorts of employments are honorable and pleasing to God and make real contributions to the common good, especially “blue collar” jobs. In fact, if we do not have well-trained workers and leaders in these fields no nation can even have an economy.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.