JITE v37n1 - Book Review - The History and Growth of Vocational Education in America

Volume 37, Number 1
Fall 1999

Gordon, H. R. D. (1999). The history and growth of vocational education in America. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. $43.80, 204 pp. (ISBN 0-205-27512-5)

Thomas V. Toglia
New Mexico Junior College

As its title implies, this book provides a comprehensive examination of the history and growth of vocational and technical education in America. The author uses carefully sequenced chapters, discussion questions and activities, and several appendices containing useful information in order to guide the reader through the historical foundations of vocational education. Moreover, the author skillfully connects the philosophy, history, legislation, and structure of vocational education in a manner that provides immediate relevance to those involved in preparing today's technological workforce.

Author's Purpose and Objectives

Increasingly, vocational educators and practitioners are discovering the need to be well versed in the historical foundations of vocational education. A thorough understanding of the early developments and evolution of vocational education provides valuable insights and guidance to those currently involved in planning programs, making policy decisions, or preparing the next generation of professionals. In response to this need for historical knowledge, the author presents an in-depth look at vocational education, from its European roots to present day issues related to women in the workforce, special needs populations, and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. The overall purpose of this book is to provide usable information regarding the development of vocational education that practitioners can apply to current workforce education issues.

The specific objectives of this book are:

  1. To provide an overview of the early beginnings of vocational education,
  2. to provide information regarding the impact of land-grant institutions and other selected factors on the professional growth of vocational education,
  3. to examine the legislative history of vocational education,
  4. to explore the issues related to the participation of women and special needs populations in vocational training, and
  5. to examine vocational programs, teacher preparation, and vocational student organizations.


The book is divided into nine chapters with nine appendices. Each chapter concludes with a summary, a reference section, discussion questions, and activities that provide for expanded learning. By beginning with an overview of the topic and then moving through specific events in the history and development of vocational education, the author provides practitioners with valuable insights regarding the evolution of vocational education and how it has grown and transformed American society. Most importantly, throughout the book, readers are given solid wisdom that connects the foundations of the past to the issues facing vocational educators today.

Chapter 1, "Early Beginnings of Vocational Education in America," clearly details the early influences of the Europeans on the development of vocational education in America. In addition, the author summarizes information concerning apprenticeships, the Industrial Revolution, and the manual training movement in the United States. The chapter concludes with a discussion of implications for today's workplace. Chapter 2, "Leaders Influencing Vocational Curriculum Development," describes the historical contributions of Booker T. Washington, David Snedden, Charles Prosser and John Dewey. The chapter includes an exceptionally well-done comparison of the educational philosophies of Dewey and Prosser.

Chapters 3 through 5 are the focal point of the book. These chapters discuss the major factors that have influenced the development of vocational education.

Chapter 3 describes the "Impact of Land-Grant Institutions on the Professional Growth of Vocational Education." After a brief introduction concerning higher education in America, the author gives broad coverage to the First and Second Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The First Morrill Act established land-grant institutions in response to demands for vocational training from the agriculture sector of the country. The Second Morrill Act provided increased funding. These two acts represented the first true involvement of the government in the support of vocational education. The author convincingly documents the connection between the Morrill Acts and their vast implications for vocational education.

Chapter 4, "Selected Factors that Influenced Vocational Education Development," focuses mainly on the effects of World War I and II on the development of vocational education. In Chapter 5, "Legislative History and the Changing Workforce," the author draws all of these issues together with a chronological analysis of the major legislative milestones that have shaped vocational education. Beginning with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, the author provides a detailed description of numerous pieces of legislation, including the Vocational Education Act of 1963 and Amendments of 1968, the Carl Perkins Legislation, and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994. The author concludes this examination of the legislative history of vocational education with a discussion detailing the implications for today's global workforce.

Chapters 6 and 7 are primarily devoted to issues regarding women and special needs populations in vocational education. The main topics covered are legislation, sex equity, and minority participation. The remaining two chapters, 8 and 9, are dedicated to vocational instructional programs, teacher preparation, professional associations, and vocational student organizations. Starting with a brief historical background, each area is discussed and current implications for vocational practitioners are offered.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This book is intended to serve the needs of several audiences. In particular, those engaged in preparing undergraduate and graduate students in vocational teacher education programs will find that this volume provides excellent coverage of the historical aspects of vocational education. In fact, all practitioners involved in the field of vocational education would benefit from this book. Some of the more distinguishing features of this work include end-of-the-chapter discussion questions and activities that allow the reader to extract more understanding from the text material, extensive references for each topic, and numerous information-rich appendices. One appendix in particular, "Growth of Vocational Education Preparation and Retraining," presents a very detailed and helpful chronology of the significant events in the history of vocational education.

I found this book to be very readable and practical. However, if this text were to be used in a classroom setting, it would have to be supplemented with current material regarding the latest developments in vocational education legislation. This is not a weakness, but rather the unfortunate reality resulting from the time it takes to bring a book from its writing to publication. Nevertheless, the author's goal of clarifying today's issues in vocational education by exploring the historical foundations of the past is effectively accomplished.


Toglia is Lead Instructor and Coordinator of General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program at New Mexico Junior College, Hobbs, New Mexico.

Tracy Gilmore