Dunbar Vocational High School

"Dunbar Vocational on the Southside includes within its boundaries a large white neighborhood extending to the western city limits; yet, there are virtually no white students in attendance." - An Equal Chance for Education

Founded in 1942, Dunbar vocational school was established to serve as the center for vocational training to African Americans in Chicago, as a result of racial segregation in vocational education in the early 20th century. Not only where African Americans excluded from attending certain vocational schools, vocational programs failed to prepare African Americans for well-paying and skilled labor. In spite of racial exclusion, African Americans maintained a small presence in the building trade union, and protested major projects within the black neighborhoods and segregation in vocational schools. Particularly, the exclusion of blacks in Washburne Trade school. In response, the school board established Dunbar Trade school, specifically for the African American population. Though a trade school, Dunbar Trade school was still not equal to Washburne Trade school in all attributes. Students at Wasburne Trade school received better quality education than their counterparts at Dunbar Trade school. Further, trading programs in Dunbar such as shoe building, tailoring and dressmaking did not reflect the demands of the job market. Also, students who envisioned careers in the trading industry rather ended up with unwanted college careers because, specialized knowledge necessary to prepare students for successful careers in the trading industry were either cut back or eliminated completely. Dunbar failed to provide the necessary foundation for a trading career, because, though students are required to select a vocational specialization, their programs were either structured to prepare students for college or the acquisition of certain knowledge not relevant in vocational training. This did not only lead to an increased emphasis on office services rather than the promotion of local trade that it historically intended to accomplish. But also resulted in the delayed entry into the workplace, a situation not experienced by their white counterparts in Wasburne Trade school. In a positive light, we can only hope that an integrative reform agenda focused on matching the needs of students, the professional abilities of teachers and the vocational requirement of the economy would be developed, necessary to effectively prepare students for the job market.

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  1. David L. Green. “Vocational Education and the Race in the Chicago Public Schools: Three historical case studies and implications for current reform.” The Urban Review 24, no.1, 1992.