Apprenticetown is a way to organize ourselves to provide work experience and education to young people in our town. I describe here the kinds of people who may be involved and their roles. For we will want to know who can help: Who can develop courses? Who can teach? Who can counsel?

This is a long-term picture. It won’t come about overnight. We begin at one point and fill it out from there.

This is just one way to think about education. If it helps you where you live, use it. If not, find out what works in your town. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

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You’ve heard of the term, “College town”. Now think of a place in your county where there are enough people, students, and businesses – enough folks with an interest in education to make a new kind of school work. Apprenticetown is a new school, but it’s really an old school. At the center of Apprenticetown is the apprentice. This may be a young person, perhaps between 16 and 23 years of age . The idea is to give this person work. What work needs to be done in your town? Let him or her work and be productive as early as possible. And provide the guidance from different angles so the apprentice is equipped to excel.

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This apprentice will work for a company. So we need a business owner who needs a job done. The apprentice hires on and gets to work. The apprentice produces value for the owner and the owner pays the apprentice. There will usually be a direct supervisor at that company for whom the apprentice works and with whom he interacts on a daily basis. What kind of company will bring on an apprentice? There are many pursuits. I know electronic engineering and software development. So I look for the chance to put apprentices to work in designing new products. But many other fields are suitable even if they have not had a tradition of apprenticeship. What field are you in? Make a list in your field and among the suppliers and customers you touch. How about in the hospitality sector or in business communications or agriculture or forestry or merchandising? Re-think the list. Expand it.

What we want to do here is to take your list of possible apprenticeships and some of the new tools we have in this century, and give students more choices. Now, it won’t work for everyone. Some students are clearly cut out for academic work. They should go to college. Some need to pursue very demanding fields for which there is presently no substitute for the facilities of a college. Some vocations simply demand the certification of a college degree. The construction trades have well established, formal apprenticeships. But there are a lot of students who finish high school and that’s it. They go to work. Other than slugging away at the job, they may not have the support around them to stay alert and keep learning. These are smart people who will continue to grow with a new kind of school and a community who cares. For a segment of our population, more apprenticeships are going to make a lot of sense.

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Now as this apprentice works, he is going to be studying business. He is going to be observing the business practices. He will get an education in the particular technical field of his work. So therefore, we see that he has mentors in these two areas. A business mentor interacts with this apprentice periodically. Maybe they meet weekly in the morning, one mentor and a number of apprentices. They tackle a theory of business, and basic financial practices. A curriculum for business is needed. Over the years, the apprentice will touch every aspects of business, the measurements, the objectives, the law, and critical factors like risk, and courage. There is plenty to learn from both good and bad events. Business thinking is not monolithic. There is not simply one standard view, but many. The viewpoint is important. Someone must judge what is good. Who can create a good business curriculum?

Also there’s a technical field for which a technical mentor and curriculum are needed. This mentor also meets with the apprentices – any in the town who share this field. They may work for different companies, but they follow the same technical curriculum under the supervision of that mentor. Who can develop the technical curricula? There are loads of courses online. Community colleges offer courses and often customize them to fit the need. The means are available to craft exactly what is needed. No doubt, in your county is a person well suited to produce an excellent technical curriculum. Recruit him. Recruit her.

The mentors do not simply push through the curriculum, keeping noses in books. They ask how is the business doing? Is your work in trouble? Life always seems to place one challenge or another before us. Something bad – a problem to fix, or something good – a gain to re-invest, a surprise advantage to press. Mentors and apprentices apply the part of the curriculum that meet the need.

A hidden benefit goes to the business owner. He expects the energy of the apprentice. But his company also gets wise guidance from experienced mentors delivered indirectly by way of the apprentice. So the businessman indirectly taps a consulting network whose aim is the advancement of the individual.

A success indicator is the attitude of the supervisor. When this supervisor is first given an apprentice, does he see it as a burden? A charitable hassle? Let’s check on him next year. Let him ask for two apprentices or three. Because he discovers an apprentice is not a burden. Instead, the supervisor is extended. He can do more because his apprentices have the benefit of business and technical guides who care.

The owner, the supervisor, the apprentice: these are key parts of the Apprenticetown model. Real work is being done. The work is productive. This is not a charitable activity. Goods and services are being produced. Money flows correspondingly to take care of living expenses and time. The separate interests of the business, the apprentice and the technical field are respected and work in harmony.

But an apprentice is not just a unit of business. He is more than a cog in the machine. He is a whole person. So there should be another curriculum. We call it a worldview curriculum. It includes all those things that develop the individual and establish him as a member of his community. In a broad sense, it compasses the liberal arts – the art of liberty. The apprentice must develop as a free person, able to think fully and act.

Where does this curriculum come from? It comes from families, from churches, from mutual aid societies and other voluntary organizations. These are communities in essence: they share a common faith. By offering a curriculum, they make disciples, they adopt others into their community. It is self-evident that people have the right to preserve their distinctions and to deepen and extend their heritage.

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So on this side of the diagram, we look to groups of families in an area. These families share a philosophy. They share a point of view. So they form together for mutual benefit. It is by their authority that they form their curriculum and appoint their mentors. They say, this is what we must teach our young people. This is what we really must teach them.

The apprentice looks at what is offered. He chooses the community with whom he will affiliate. He reads. He studies the writings, philosophy, and Scriptures that lay the foundation. This means he is busy. Work by day, study by night. Maybe he meets for dinner once a week with a half-dozen other apprentices and with the mentor. Over dinner they talk about the feasts and famines of the week.  The apprentices learns how his community worships always –  in success, in adversity, in study and in work.

Week after week over the years this community passes on their way of walking. This is how they care for their sons and daughters – and their adopted sons and daughters.

To strengthen and extend your community, what needs to be written and who can write it?

That’s Apprenticetown in a nutshell. It is a way to organize locally. We start with one program – a subset – not the entire school. We start in any place where people bring their skill, experience and passion. Do you have a question? How can we help each other?

People are full of good ideas. We need a thousand experiments. So if you have an insight about another way of working, gather some folks and make it happen. Let us know what you find.

As they say,

“There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

We heartily agree, adding,

“As long as the cat gets skinned.”