May 13 • 5M

When They Say to Learn a Trade

Only some young people get this advice.

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Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: charlotteclymer.substack.com
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The other day I saw a politician I admire say something on Twitter that’s long been fashionable to say.

They said: “We shouldn't have college as the only career path for young people. Trade school is just as important. We need to promote trade school like we do college."

We hear this a lot, and it always seems to crescendo when discussing the exorbitant cost of a college education.

When a politician says this, I agree with it completely. There is nothing about this statement I don't like.

But I have to ask: how often do Members of Congress—or really anyone—say this to kids and parents at elite prep schools when they visit those campuses? I honestly wonder.

I’d like to know how many children of Members of Congress have chosen a trade over college right out of high school.

I’ll bet that’s a very, very, very small number.

Trades are lucrative, creative, and full of career possibilities. Trades are perfectly excellent career paths.

Encouraging trades is great, but also, I think it's a bit silly to pretend that a certain privileged segment of the population isn't being steered right to college without hesitation or further thought, and let’s get real: they’re not weighing their options by “considering trades”.

The children of elites aren't talked to this way. There’s no guidance counselor telling them:

"Hey there, William Flatuence Williamson III, I see you're the sixth generation of your family to attend St. Alban's -- have you considered a union-protected trade with good benefits that will reliably sustain you and your family during a recession?"

This conversation doesn’t happen at elite prep schools. We all know that.

No, only certain young people--those not born into privilege--are being told they can always pursue a trade. Because this is a system built on inequality and it is easier for a mediocre, privileged young person to coast through than it is for a brilliant but unprivileged young person to break through.

It’s not just prep schools, either. There are elite public high schools where it’s unlikely young people are getting the full sales pitch on learning a trading.

And instead of making access to elite colleges more equitable, more affordable, more universal, young people without means are forced to take out these enormous loans with interest whose accumulation, alone, is crushing in a matter of years.

Young people who come from the lower socioeconomic band of households are told that only certain colleges can get their family ahead and you must take out gigantic loans to pay for that elite degree—and oh, no matter how hard you worked and did everything you were supposed to do, maybe the job market is going to tank and—out of your control—you’re left holding a lifetime worth of debt looking for jobs that don't exist requiring a degree you couldn't afford.

I just wish in this whole discussion about student loans and exorbitant college costs, we could at least all be honest about the reality of our collective situation instead of acting wounded when these inequalities are pointed out.

Trades are great. They should be encouraged. But it feels like they're often used as a shield to avoid fixing this bullshit system, and that makes me angry.

I don’t pretend to have a golden solution to the mess of college affordability in this country, but I think it’d go a long way for those in power to be completely aboveboard when talking to families who can’t afford elite colleges.

I would respect a lawmaker more if they said: hey, this is a complex problem, and it would make it a lot easier on the rest of us if you pursued a trade instead of an elite college education like my children.

But politics has never been an honest trade.


Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.