What’s the Best Road to a Graphic Arts Education?

  • How can young people best further their life-work training and education?
  • Would formal education at college best prepare individuals for printing?
  • Or is organized craft or apprentice training of the most practical value?

In a recent issue of The Inland Printer, a letter to the editor raised a question which is in the minds of many young people who were interested in printing as a vocation or who are already so employed. That question is “Shall I seek training and further education in the school or in the shop?”

The writer of the letter wanted to become a competent stripper-cameraman in a lithographic plant. He asked whether college training would help them. Many composing room apprentices faced the same problem. Will a college degree contribute to their efficiency? Would it improve their financial status?

A completely satisfactory answer cannot be given. Many factors must be considered, such as the ability of the individual to respond to college training, his ambition to succeed his job and to advance beyond it, and his realization of his role as an individual in a rapidly expanding industry.

Even though many of them lacked formal education, printers have always been an intelligent and literate group. Traditionally, compositors have been at the top of the list. For that reason, printers have often maintain that formalize school courses in printing were not as necessary as craft training.

Apprentice Training Varies

All of us recognize the inherent value of apprentice training if the program is properly set up and administered. The fact to be faced, however, is that very few are so well organized. We all know that in actual practice this period can be a very undesirable experience. In many plants, the apprentice is allowed to perform only unskilled tasks, such as proofing and type distribution. In addition, no one comes forth with a friendly analysis of method and procedure.

What happens, then, in the plants which are not organized, and are therefore unable to provide even the outline of a formal training program? What occurs in the specialized plant, or the opportunity to receive a broad experience is severely limited? The results, it must be admitted, do not add to the apprentice’s sense of responsibility or to his awareness of the importance of his job in relation to the industry as a whole.

A further complication in apprentice training today is the age of the apprentice. He is no longer a boy out of grade school or even high school, but is instead an adult, with an adult’s economic responsibilities. He may even have a wife and family to support.

Where, then, this formal printing education fit in?

It begins, of course, in the grade school as a “shop” course, frequently non-vocational and generalized in its coverage. The next step is the high school. Here the subject matter is still introductory, but often contributes toward true vocational training. The specialty or vocational high school goes still further. In most instances it is the last formal step in the training of a printer.

While the competence of instruction is in some instances very high, unfortunately it must be noted that too often the courses offered are substandard.

Competent Instructors Needed

Responsible printers, individually and in trade associations and clubs, have long been dissatisfied with the results of this kind of training. In the past few years, they have increased their efforts to supervise training methods and facilities in public schools. Too often, boards of education fail to provide competent teachers or the proper facilities. Frequently, school shops become a means by which printing can be produced inexpensively with student labor.

Substantial contributions to the establishment of high standards have been made by two organizations–the International Graphic Arts Education Association, an organization of printing teachers, and the Education Council of the Graphic Arts Industry, Inc., a group sponsored by the Printing Industry of America. Both groups are represented by a single secretary, Samuel Burt, who has done much to insure the success of the joint effort.

Printers in areas where school training is inadequate are advised to contact Mr. Burt at 5728 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington 15, D.C., the home office of the PIA. Both organizations are alert to improve relations between schools and industry and offer many suggestions to meet this objective.

A sample of their valuable work is an advertisement entitled, “Should Your Child Go Into the Printing Industry?” Which appeared recently in Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Collier’s.

The writer of the letter which prompted this discussion was interested primarily in printing education at the college level. Before answering his questions about the value of a B.S. degree to the printer in a small shop or to the craft specialist, we might look at graphic arts courses offered by colleges today.

The postwar period has brought a renewed interest in printing education. Since 1940, the number of colleges offering graphic arts subjects has greatly increased.

Colleges Offer Many Programs

Pressure from the industry itself has changed the college attitude toward graphic arts, in addition to the present position of the industry in the economic structure–a factor which offers an undeveloped area for higher education.

In the past, many colleges offered printing courses in connection with programs in journalism. This training has not satisfied to marshal printers, as teaching has usually been at the country shop level, at least in practical shop practice.

At the other extreme have been the courses which have adopted the esthetic approach to printing as an art or craft. Such ventures have brought about an increased awareness of the quality of good printing.

The contributions of such men as Daniel Berkeley Updike, whose course at Harvard resulted in a great book on type; George Parker Winship, also of Harvard; Ray Nash of Dartmouth, and Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt of Columbia, have been notable. The area between these extremes has been relatively untouched by higher education, except for the pioneering work performed by Carnegie Institute of Technology, which has successfully operated a degree course in printing since 1921.

There are now about 150 colleges offering courses in graphic arts, a number of which offer a B.S. Degree in printing. The programs cover a wide range, pending on the facilities of the institutions themselves. Several schools operate a junior college level, with two- or three-year programs.

The Rochester Institute of Technology, whose Department of Printing has grown remarkably in the last ten years, began as a two-year school. Note converters and Associate in Applied Science degree for three years’ work, and a B.S. for the four-year program.

As a college education valuable to a printer in a small shop? I would say it would be very helpful, since the smaller plan needs a man whose training is broad enough to be put to use in a variety of ways.

This is not to say that a college is the best place to train a linotype operator or a compositor, but the graduate of such instruction is certainly more adaptable to any job and should quickly attain a journeyman’s competency.

The printing industry ranks high among all manufacturing industries in the number of establishments—over 30,000. Most of these are small plants. They are small because they have been run by individuals with limited specialization.

The continued growth of colleges in the United States will eventually assure the position of the college-trained person in virtually every industry, much in the same way that a person with a high school education supplanted the great school graduate.

With the graphic arts industry on the threshold of new technological advances, college training offers the greatest opportunities for young people about to begin their careers. Actually, this concept is not limited to the printing industry, but is common to all. The dream of every American parent is to guarantee his child a better education than his own.

Lastly, with the B.S. degree make it better compositor or pressman or platemaker out of a man? The answer is still yes, particularly if the individual is looking to the future. Of course, this is not true in every instance at present, I am sure that in the next few years it will be.

It must be remembered, too, that the benefits of higher education go far beyond the immediate goal of the acquired skill, and contribute for the growth of the individual as a person and as a citizen.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the November 1956 issue of The Inland Printer.


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