JITE v32n3 - Under Review - Critical Education for Work: Multidisciplinary Approaches

Volume 32, Number 3
Spring 1995

Lakes , R. (Ed.). (1994). Critical education for work: Multidisciplinary approaches . Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 200 pp., $37.50 (ISBN 1-567-50109-5).

Rupert N. Evans
Professor Emeritus
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Professor Lakes has assembled an interesting ten chapters whose authors come from almost as many disciplines. Anthropology, economics, educational measurement, history, labor education, philosophy, and vocational education are all represented by capable practitioners, most of whom hold academic appointments. The book ends with Lakes' report of an interview with Len Krimmerman, the noted advocate of worker-operated businesses. Krimmerman is quoted as saying, "to be critical of established institutions doesn't go nearly far enough for me … the task is not simply to raise … criticisms, but to propose a better model" ( p. 184 ). One could wish that all of the authors had seen this quote before they wrote. Most of them do a better job of raising criticisms than of proposing a model.

The 1985 Paulo Freire book, The Politics of Education , has stimulated many authors to revisit his theme that students should be taught to understand and critique societal institutions. Lakes' book applies this theme to education for work, and particularly to vocational education. More than half of its content addresses repeatedly the fact that work needs to be critiqued. We learn that there is harassment, discrimination, abuse of power, environmental degradation, and a host of other problems in and around the work place. Schooling also needs to be reformed because it interacts with society "to produce a laboring class of individuals who lack social vision, personal agency, and civic responsibility" ( p. 3 ).

Considerably less space is devoted to remedies for these ills. We are told of some things that don't work: Teaching people to read doesn't solve all their problems (it would have been interesting if Freire's concept of critical literacy had been contrasted with print literacy), and students are currently sorted, tracked, and dumped--which leads to all sorts of ills.

The most frequently proposed remedy in the book is a major restructuring of the control of work. Capitalism is viewed as hopeless. Unions need to be reinvigorated, and the best solution is for workers to have ownership of the means of production. That is, managers should be elected by workers and be subject to recall at any time ( p. 116 ). However, worker ownership is not enough. Each such enterprise must be kept small, because all large organizations tend to become adversarial and amoral ( pp. 120-121 ).

The most important topic in a book with this title would appear to be: What should be done in education for work? We are provided with only a few bits of help:

  1. Students should learn through experience, including experience on the job. They can then examine these experiences critically through participatory activities such as role playing, case studies, and journal writing ( p. 92 ). Classroom research should be conducted on workers' rights and on other work-related themes, which are seldom covered in the standard curriculum. The goal should be to empower students to help reconstruct the work place. It is not easy for teachers to let go, even briefly, of the authority to tell students what they need to know, and students should have the right to help reconstruct the school.
  2. New metaphors should be created. We should no longer concentrate on vocational education as an instrument for economic development, or as a vehicle to help students succeed, or as a separate world for special students. The new metaphors should emphasize imagination, freedom, artistry, and activism.
  3. Critical vocational education should be participatory, placed in an historical context, take students from the known to the larger context, engage students in liberatory dialogue, make learning experiences relevant, promote active citizenship, make topics problematic, and encourage reflective thinking.

Vocational education succeeds rather well in helping individuals learn the technical or applied aspects of a job and thus be functionally empowered, but one also needs to be empowered critically. The goal should be to ensure that "learners not only gain an understanding of the sources of injustice in their work lives, but, more importantly, acquire the analytical tools in which to collectively challenge and act on the origins of their marginalization or oppression in the labor market" ( p. 3 ).

Most vocational educators would profit from reading this book, and teachers who have had little exposure to organized labor or to labor education would profit most. One wonders, however, why vocational educators are the prime audience for the book. Academic teachers who have never been employed outside the schools are likely to need it even more. Perhaps vocational education offers a better setting than an academic classroom for the critique of work. Perhaps, also, some "critical educators" see vocational education students as representing an under class that is more nearly ripe for revolt against the established order. What an interesting turnabout it would be if someone found that it is really an advantage to have students who have been sorted, tracked, and dumped.


Freire , P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power, and liberation . South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Reference Citation: Evans, R. N. (1995). [Review of the book Critical education for work: Multidisciplinary approaches .] Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 32(3), 87-89.