JITE v37n2 - Comments - Transforming NAITTE - Are We Capable of Change?

Volume 37, Number 2
Winter 2000

Transforming NAITTE - Are we capable of change?

Theodore Lewis
University of Minnesota

I write here as the new president of NAITTE (National Association of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators), the parent organization of this journal. My purpose is to acquaint you with basic initial dispositions that I bring to the position and to begin a conversation among the membership that I hope ultimately will lead to the transformation of our organization. The names and affiliation of NAITTE officers are shown on the back cover of the journal. Like me, some officers are new or have new responsibilities and were installed into their positions at the recently concluded Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. They are Roger Hill of University of Georgia, new president-elect; Charles Gagel of Bemidji State University, secretary; John Scott, University of Georgia, vice-president for technical education; Dan Brown, Murray State University, vice-president for industrial and military training; and Edward Mann, University of Southern Mississippi, trustee. By mid-year, Marie Hoepfl of Appalachian State University, currently associate editor, will be new editor of the JITE and Harold Shoemaker of University of Southern Mississippi will be membership chair. James Gregson of Oklahoma State University is the new research committee chair. Cheryl Evanciew, also of Oklahoma State, will be the JITE circulation manager.

NAITTE was formed in 1937, giving it 63 years of tradition. That tradition is arguably its main strength, as it is the continuing legacy of members who through the decades have pushed the field along through their creativity, leadership, and example. This journal is an important aspect of that tradition, being in its 37th volume--one of the longest serving journals of its type. Tradition points us to the past, of which we can be justly proud. But there is also the future, over which we have control, and which we can shape to our professional designs. If we depend on the momentum of history alone as impetus for the kind of future we must have, there is a chance that the organization could miss important opportunities. For example, history alone will not help us increase the number of women among our ranks.

In an address to NAITTE members at the ACTE conference in Orlando last December; Professor Eugene Martin of Southwest Texas State University cautioned us that "professional organizations must change with the times. They must seize the moment or risk marginalization and sometimes, even death." He asked rhetorically whether NAITTE could claim competitive edge. Whatever we believe our competitive edge to be, he cautioned, we should never negotiate it away or we may never have the opportunity to reclaim it. Professor Martin further pointed us to the need to think again about who our customers were, and whether they are well served. Are we able to attract new customers, he wondered? What did we have to offer the young professionals? Did the JITE still have the stature that it has had traditionally? Professor Martin pointed us to a number of indices that seemed to suggest complacency in NAITTE. Was tradition catching up with us? Was it time to break with tradition, to form new alliances, and to look again at mission and vision?

Eugene Martin's observations and cautions are food for thought. For an organization to improve its quality and effectiveness, it must subject itself to continuing self-analysis. It is important to identify those things that are not working well. But it is the complacency that comes with those things that are working well, that could push us under. NAITTE has to get a report card from members and non-members alike. We need a conversation that will unearth a broader sampling of dispositions that we can utilize as the basis for reflection and ultimately for transformation. Some of the questions Eugene Martin raises are crucial. A key one is "What is NAITTE's competitive edge?" In other words, what is it that makes us stand out uniquely from other organizations, or that gives us our particular stamp? I think that a key dimension of the answer is a tradition of scholarship, the JITE being central. Concomitantly, another key dimension is the quality of the people over the decades who have been our leaders and members. NAITTE has consistently attracted the very best researchers and thinkers of our field to its membership.

A third dimension of our competitive edge is that NAITTE has always been eclectic in its composition, deliberately bringing together scholars from across the range of sub-disciplines that fall under the broad banner of industrial and technical teacher education. That eclecticism is reflected in the structure of vice-presidents, each reflecting a unique strand of practice- industrial training, technology education, trade & industrial education, technical education. It is also reflected in the editorial philosophy of the JITE, making the journal a cross-disciplinary forum for ideas. Out of the ferment engendered by multiple streams of ideas has come a rich discourse that reflects breadth, rather than narrow particular points of view. Technology educators, industrial trainers, vocational/career educators can all find voice. A fourth dimension of our competitive edge is that NAITTE is a nurturing organization, reflected in the fact that it continually brings novice professionals into contact with more experienced ones and that, traditionally, the disposition of editors of its journal has been to provide needed assistance to beginning scholars.

But here I speak of what has given us competitive edge in the past. The important question is what will give us edge in the future. While some of the old dimensions of our uniqueness will remain, we will have to think hard about what new dimensions might be or how we can accentuate current ones. For example, we have still to strive harder for scholastic excellence. To maintain edge here we will need to take steps to increase research and scholarly activity among us that would reflect in our publications; and, overall, we would have to show just greater vibrancy. We need to make scholarship part of the very fabric of NAITTE, not just another hurdle to cross on our campuses as we play the promotion and tenure game.

What we know is that the environment in which we now practice is quite different from in times past. There have been program closings, for example, and a reduction of the professorate in teacher education. But there is also the opportunity of a teacher shortage, especially in technology education, suggesting potential for rebirth. One change in the environment in which NAITTE has been at the leading edge is the new focus on standards. Through the leadership of Marie Kraska along with John Scott, Tom Walker, and others, we have been at the forefront of trying to influence policy with respect to trade and industrial teacher standards. NAITTE can help in translating the standards into practice.

The scaling back of the number of practitioners and the fact that many are now tenured has resulted in drastic decrease of submissions, not just to the JITE, but to other scholarly journals in the field. This is a struggle the profession cannot afford to lose. We have to publish for reasons other than promotion. Since the halcyon era of the 1960s, when curriculum ideas abounded, and when programs flourished, we really have not had a comparable period of excitement. Perhaps, there is need for exploration of funding sources that can provide the basis for rebirth. NAITTE probably could play a role in bringing funding opportunities to the attention of the membership.

NAITTE has always been ahead of its time. For example, industrial training has been one of its spheres of practice, long before human resource development (HRD) became popular on the campuses. But as newcomers such as HRD have come to the fore, new organizations have sprung up, competing for members and allegiances, and with them have come new journals. This fragmenting of the field has led to very particular and discrete spheres of practice, with some subscribing only to HRD, or to technology education, or to vocational and career education. A consequence of this particularization is that where we once had a big tent under which there could be many correlated conversations, now we have many little tents each with its own discrete conversation. There is danger of watering down the brandy. Technology education may have its own unique infrastructure, but the average person on the street- the average parent- still does not know what it is. The practitioners continue to talk among themselves only.

HRD is now autonomous, assuming a strong corporate flavor and borrowing strongly from the new language of capitalism (teams, quality, strategic planning). HRD practitioners have in fact striven to inoculate their field against K-12 concerns. For example, they speak of "andragogy" rather than pedagogy. But the new field of HRD can offer little serious counter to the observation that it is merely vocational education moved to workplaces. Changing the location of practice ought not to change the essence of a field fundamentally. In the five years of my worklife in which I spent time in industry as an industrial trainer, the adjustments I had to make from being a technology teacher or vocational teacher were quite modest. And at my own university my teaching and advising has spanned the fields of HRD, technology education, and vocational education quite naturally. The amount of transfer from the one to the other is quite large. Thus, it takes little analysis to see that NAITTE is still relevant to the HRD practitioner. We always have been. Thus, we have to be careful, as we seek new alliances, not to forfeit our hard earned philosophical stance of viewing the practical fields integratively rather than atomistically.

NAITTE has to continue to be ahead of its time by framing all of these particular subelements of the field, whether HRD, or technology education, or career education, under a grand integrative conception that is amenable to common theory relating to the value of practice in education, the meaning of work, democratic purposes of schooling, and conceptions of human motivation that help us place the individual more centrally in our formulations. We cannot and should not chase after every splinter group as though we are seeking a home. We have a home. Just like there are too many TV talk-shows, there are just too many of these splinter groups, each with its own requisite "scholarly" journal, each trying to claim and reconstruct existing spheres of knowledge. For example, "task analysis," and "structured OJT", old staples of industrial and vocational education, are now considered Holy Grail within HRD. What we have the challenge of doing is adjusting so that we continue to be seen as a living, breathing, and relevant organization, that can respond to change, and that can remain a home for practitioners of varying persuasions.

To meet the challenges, we need to interrogate the culture of NAITTE, to see where change is needed and along what lines. We have to become much more active than we have been, and one way to do so is for us to have a vibrant professional life and discourse that does not have to wait until the end-of-year ACTE meeting. There needs to be much more dialogue during the year. One member has volunteered to create a listserv that would be helpful here. Another important way in which we can become more animated is to broaden the membership pool. As membership increases the potential for participation will also. Then, each current member of NAITTE should take it as his/her responsibility to help energize the organization by causing colleagues who are not now members to join. The slogan for this ought to be EACH ONE RECRUIT ONE . Many of our colleagues are not now members of NAITTE because they have never been asked. We can augment the membership of NAITTE just by walking down the hall and asking a colleague to join up. The new membership fee is $50.00. The student rate is $15.00.

As I speak of the potential for transformation here the question might legitimately be asked whether NAITTE is capable of change? Is the organization too far beyond the point where it can overcome inertia? I do not believe that to be the case. I think we are capable of transforming ourselves. NAITTE is not an inanimate object. It is made up of creative people. But to effect change those people will have to demand more of NAITTE and, in turn, they will also have to give more. I am confident that when called upon, members will rise to the challenge of effecting our transformation.


Lewis is Professor, Department of Work, Community and Family Education, University of Minnesota, St. Paul. He is also currently Program Officer at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC.

Theodore Lewis is new president of NAITTE (2000-01). Lewis can be reached at tlewis@nsf.gov or lewis007@maroon.tc.umn.edu