One of the major problems which faces the United States Navy is that of securing enlisted personnel both for the active operating forces and the active and inactive reserves. As far as one can foresee, the people of the United States are of a mood to support a reasonably large fleet. This fleet, backed by an adequate reserve, will require men—large numbers of technically trained men.
The enlisted men of World War II constitute a large pool from which can be drawn, by proper inducements, a reasonable number of men willing to continue their association with the service. However, it must be recognized that with the passage of time this pool will shrink rapidly. As men grow older, they accept family responsibilities and they find that it is impossible to give up one night a week to drill. As for two weeks’ cruise— well, that is vacation time for the family. While personal interest might lean towards a two weeks’ cruise in the U.S.S. Blankapolis, peace in the family dictates a two weeks’ jaunt in the family jalopy with friend wife doing the navigating.
The real basic problem is to obtain the Navy’s proportionate share of the thousands of young men who each year reach the age of seventeen. These men must be convinced that the Navy is a fine outfit, and that association with the service is a rewarding experience.
There are many approaches to the problem. The Bureau of Naval Personnel has explored many of them and the fine record of enlistments indicates that the youth of America has learned of the Navy. But we must not point with pride to what has been accomplished; we must set our sights on new objectives. We must induce a larger share of the technically minded youth to become enlisted men.
It is the firm conviction of the writer that the vocational schools of the country are the greatest potential source of enlisted men. Here is a pool of men, technically minded, who are not in the main interested in continuing on to college. They are anxious to obtain a job upon graduation. The question that should be asked each one of these men is, “What better jobs are there than those offered by the U. S. Navy?”
Vocational schools are creatures of comparatively recent growth. Centuries have passed since Socrates in the academic calm of the olive groves of Athens laid the basis for our modern classical curriculum. The life of the vocational schools, on the other hand, extends not much beyond five decades. Vocational schools are, therefore, in a state of transition. Now it is generally recognized that facts are slow of acceptance in educational circles. It is only beginning to dawn upon the classical educator that “book lamin’ ” is not the most efficient device for the greatest number of students. A seed of doubt has been planted. The conventional educator is beginning to wonder if there isn’t something in vocational education. The vocational educator, on the other hand, lacks the experience of centuries. He is extremely loath to break away from the traditional curriculum and to chart new educational paths. All too often vocational courses have been superimposed upon a watered-down academic curriculum. The results are unsatisfactory from every point of view.
But out of the welter of educational confusion there are emerging two new types of school, the technical high school and the vocational high school. The technical high school—exemplified by the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, The Brooklyn (N. Y.) Technical High School, and the Bayonne (N. J.) Technical High School, among many others—trains boys who are capable of becoming technicians or who plan on continuing their studies in engineering colleges. Schools of this type combine rigid training in the physical sciences and academic subjects with the shop courses necessary to train the hand and the eye. Only a high calibre of boy can stand the intellectual pummeling that is received in the technical high schools. The boy must be good or he does not receive his diploma.
The vocational schools are faced with an entirely different problem. Their student body runs the intellectual gamut from alpha to omega. At one end of the scale the school is handling highly intelligent boys who are anxious to become good mechanics. This type of boy wants no part of a college education but handles his lathe or planer with the same loving care that Kreisler plays the violin. At the other end of the scale are Society’s misfits who are not capable of learning anything above the level of a few simple tasks. In between these two extremes are the great mass of boys, good sound material out of which will come the bulk of those who will do the world’s work. These boys are not brilliant students; they are not “book minded”; they are not susceptible to the old fashioned methods of teaching; they are a challenge to the educator.
It would be a perversion of the truth to say that this challenge is being met one hundred per cent efficiently. Mistakes are being made. But the important thing is that educators are accepting the challenge. A teacher who is detailed to the vocational schools no longer believes that he is being sent to Coventry. School Boards are beginning to authorize funds for the erection of vocational schools rather than use an old building a whisper away from condemnation proceedings. Techniques are being developed which will permit each type of boy to be trained to the limit of his capabilities. Even poor Mortimer Snerd is being taught a few simple tasks that will enable him to pull his weight in the economic boat.
Of course in the vocational schools there is an infinite number of subjects taught. The Machine and Metal Trades High School in New York City, where the author teaches, specializes in Machine Shop, Foundry, Sheet Metal Work, and Mechanical Drawing. The equipment in the shops does not have to blush by comparison with the most modern of industrial shops. Fundamentals are stressed, and a good solid foundation is laid upon which can be superimposed the finished training in industry. Here is a potential source of men to fill many billets. The same condition holds true in all the vocational schools throughout the length and breadth of the land.
It is true that many of the lads from the vocational schools enter the regular service. However, the percentage of enlistments is not nearly what it should be. Why? Simply because the Navy does not do a good selling job. Now this is not to be interpreted that the writer recommends a plethora of press agents and public relations men. As a matter of fact he takes a very skeptical view of their value. The selling job must be done directly with the men with whom the students come in contact every day—the teachers and vocational guidance counselors. They are the men and women to whom the students turn for advice. They are the men and women who should be sold on what the Navy has to offer.
The first step should be to arrange inspection trips to naval activities by small, and I say again, small groups of teachers and vocational guidance counselors. These groups should be provided transportation to naval activities such as ships, naval bases, and shipyards, but particularly to locations where training activities are being carried on. The point that should be stressed is that the Navy is one organization in which education never stops. The visitors should be given not only every opportunity to see how the Navy trains its personnel, but also the same opportunity to talk with Warrant Officers, the Chiefs, and the enlisted men. Vocational guidance counselors are apt to be suspicious of smooth talking officers who, they suspect, are trying to sell a bill of goods.
The second step would be for the recruiting agencies to maintain a continual contact with the schools. When John Doe arrives at the recruiting center from the Machine and Metal Trades High School he already knows that he wants to enlist. An unimaginative recruiter can sign him up and put his feet back up on the desk and wait for the next “victim.”
The recruiter who is really on the job will make some attempt to find out what led the youngster’s feet into the office. Was it a teacher? Who was that teacher? Why did he advise you to sign up with the Navy? If the recruit looks like good material, there is no law preventing the recruiting officer from dropping a little note to that teacher, thanking him for calling the attention of John Doe to the advantages of a naval career. Better yet, when things pall a little around the office, be can jump into the ever present jeep or station wagon and drop in at the Machine and Metal Trades High School and make the acquaintance of that teacher. For the teacher is meeting on the average of a hundred and fifty to two hundred youngsters a term. Even while he is giving a lesson on cutting a thread, unconsciously he may call attention to some naval practice in thread cutting which will cause some youngster to whistle “Anchors Aweigh!”
Even if the youngster decided to join the Navy on his own account and his record shows that he graduated from the Machine and Metal Trades High School, an attempt should be made to contact the school. What is the youngster’s record? Does he have any special aptitudes? Do you think that he is capable of further training?
The day is long past when it was possible for an executive officer to line up a draft of men on deck, and decide by the cut of their jib whether they should be cooks, bakers, or candlestick makers. War is now the business of the technician, and each man must be fitted into the niche where he can serve to the limit of his capabilities.
Of course, aptitude tests are not perfect. Despite the advertisements that appear in the popular press, there is no known test or battery of tests that will indicate the exact occupation for which a person is best fitted. There is no known test that will measure “get up and git” or initiative or courage. But used with discretion and judgement, intelligence and aptitude tests will give a much better picture of a man’s capabilities than the technique of intuition.
Now it is pretty generally agreed that the longer period of time over which the tests are conducted, and the greater the number of tests conducted, the more valid will be the results. A great number of school systems follow this plan. A jacket follows a youngster as he progresses from primary grades to the time he leaves the jurisdiction of the school system. Baltimore, Maryland, for example, has a most comprehensive program of intelligence and aptitude testing which extends throughout the whole school life of a youngster. Upon the youngster’s graduation from high school, the authorities have a pretty good picture of his capabilities. While attached to the Interior Control Board, the author visited the Baltimore School authorities and, at that time, gained the impression that they were more than willing to make available to the Navy such records as would assist in using to the utmost a boy’s inherent capabilities.
The obtaining of such information would serve two purposes. First, it would give the Navy information as to the billet a youngster would be best fitted to fill. Second, it would impress the school authorities with the idea that the Navy was trying to use its manpower most efficiently.
Unfortunately, the writer cannot view with any degree of enthusiasm the Inactive Reserve program insofar as it may apply to the vocational schools. It may be gratifying to statistically minded people to announce that 1,000,000 men have joined the Navy’s Inactive Reserve program. He feels like saying, “So what!”
A little over a year ago, the program was initiated in the writer’s school. A group of officers attended a specially arranged assembly and presented an effective program. The youngsters were enthused. They signed up, and then—nothing happened. Gradually, their papers were cleared and they received a notice to report for their induction. They dribbled down to the recruiting center and one by one were sworn in. Repeated attempts were made by the school to find out who had signed up; how many had taken the oath; would it be possible to administer the oath at an assembly program? No information was forthcoming! Gradually interest waned. The number of youngsters dropping by the writer’s desk to ask about the reserve program decreased.
Furthermore, the youngsters who did sign up had no idea and, for that matter, still have no idea of the step that they have taken. The memory of a youngster in a vocational school is extremely short. He has to be continually given a shot in the arm if you expect results. The process of filling out papers, obtaining parents’ consent, and taking the oath was an exciting new experience. Now that the cycle is complete, they are waiting for something new and interesting to turn up. The immediacy of any crisis would bring about a flood of resignations or a great deal of bitterness if they found that they were being inducted into the service without the formality of a draft. The youngsters would feel that they had been trapped.
As for the youngsters advancing themselves in rating by means of correspondence school courses, again that is not in the cards. These boys are not book minded. They cannot sit down, read a lesson in a correspondence course, and then prepare the answers. Perhaps if the material were put in comic book format, some results might be obtained. But certainly, if we who teach these youngsters day in and day out find it almost impossible to get them to read their conventional texts under constant threat of dire punishment and withholding of diplomas, can it be expected that they will sit home and con a lesson on gunnery or navigation? Maybe they will, but I seriously doubt it!
The answer is not in an Inactive Reserve program that looks well on paper, but an Active Reserve program right at the schools working in conjunction with the Reserve units which have been activated in the areas where the schools are located. Sell the Navy every day of the school year.
We have the Naval ROTC units in the colleges which are training future officers. Why can’t we have REMTC (Reserve Enlisted Men Training Corps) right in the vocational schools? Of course, there would be some educational authorities who would shudder at the thought of introducing militarism into the schools, but there are others more realistic who would, I believe, welcome such a program.
The program could be organized basically in much the same manner as the NROTC program is organized in the colleges. A certain number of periods each week would be devoted to naval subjects. In addition, one afternoon per week would be set aside for the purpose of drill, instruction at a local armory or naval base or, perhaps, a special talk by a visiting officer. Those students who were signed up in the Reserve program would receive credit towards their vocational diplomas for the time spent in studying naval subjects.
In the organization of the curriculum, attention should be given to the subjects normally studied in that particular vocational school. For example, the Machine and Metal Trades High School would be an ideal place for the training of machinists, motor mechanics, or sheet metal workers. While the youngster is receiving his practical training at the lathe or bench, in his periods in naval science he could be given such instruction that would correlate this general training with specific naval applications.
Uniforms should be issued—dungarees and white caps during the working day, and blues and whites for assembly programs and drills. Certainly there must be hundreds of thousands of uniforms stored away in warehouses that could be used for this purpose. Petty officers should be selected from members of the faculty already in the Naval Reserve, or Reserve commissions could be granted to such members of the faculty as could comply with the requirements. Finally, one day’s pay a month should be given to all members of the Reserve unit in good standing.
Of course Mrs. Caspar Milquetoast will bleat, “This is introducing militarism into the high schools.” Certainly, it is introducing militarism into the high schools. But it is introducing the best phase of militarism, the training phase—the phase of militarism that teaches a youngster to respect himself, his person, his uniform, the authority of those ranking above him and, above all, respect for his flag and country. If this be militarism, it is high time that we made the most of it.
Upon the shoulders of the vocational school teacher is being placed, to a larger and larger extent, the training of those who will carry the heat and burden of the day. As vocational educators clarify their ideas and increase the efficiency of their program, more and more students are coming to them for training. Whether or not the Navy receives its proportionate share of these students will depend entirely upon the Navy. A wideawake, realistic program of demonstrating to the vocational school graduate the advantages of a naval career and a Reserve training program right on the campus will cause the recruiting officer to look upon his enlistment quota with a satisfied smile. Such a program would give us what we enjoyed before the war—the advantages of a good waiting list.