Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dirty Jobs?

Welsh workmen. 
I really like Mike Rowe. I just about always agree with him. Most importantly, I respect his flawlessly logical perspectives on things. He's one hell of the thinker and he is not a tribe-joiner. He has played and still plays a huge role in promoting jobs that don't require college.

You'd think, as a teacher, that I would have a problem with this, but I never developed a bias against "the working class." And I know, full well, many of my students would be way more suited for job training than for college, after they leave my school.

Fact is: college is not for everyone, but we made it a matter of course. That's a problem. We've made it the natural next-step after high school. So, I agree with Mike Rowe: we should encourage kids to consider skilled and even unskilled jobs. These jobs are available and they are necessary and they are good, old fashioned, dignified work. There is no shame in not having a degree and there is plenty of money to be made without one.

If you are a long-term reader, though, you can probably guess what is coming next: It just seems that every good idea gets ruined by our society because, as a whole, it cannot see shades of gray; only black and white.

Instead of a nice, balanced outcome; instead of a world in which college people and non-college people live in the harmony of mutual respect and value, we have stepped into the trend of college-bashing. I'm already sick of seeing how much crane-operators make per hour and, consequently, how "dumb" it is to spend money on a college education when it will only result in student loans and high cost and not as much pay.

(If we are talking about stupidity when it comes to college, let's talk about the folly of choosing exhorbitantly expensive colleges just because little poopsie fell in love with the campus. A cozy, bricky dorm and a great coffee shop is not worth $50, 000 a year for the same full education you could get elsewhere for $10,000 -- or less, at least in the first few years.)

Here's the thing: Yeah, as a young man, the prospect of earning $35 an hour out of college would have been tempting to me. But if I had trained to become a crane operator, I would have subsequently launched myself from the crane arm after about six months of work. See, I have zero interest in being a crane operator, mechanic or truck driver or, etc... Does this mean these jobs and the people who do them are inferior? No. It just means they are not my thing.

See, I'd rather make less than a plumber and be an English teacher. And I couldn't have become an English teacher without a college education. See how that works? (I played my cards right and went to grad school for free, but even debt would have been worth it.)

God forbid we should promote one thing without denigrating the other. We seem unable, these days. (Work, good? Ugh. Then college, bad.)

Mike Rowe has a communications degree from Towson. Surely, that helped him get where he is; ironically, it helps him to promote the worthiness of non-college jobs. (And, to be clear, I think he has always been balanced in his views -- it's where the general public took the idea that is a problem; no blame falls on him, as far as I am concerned.)

In the much maligned Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy is talking to a young man named Mutt, who complains that his mom wants him to go to college but that he (the young man) wants to just work on motorcycles. Indy tells him to hold true to his path; if he loves motorcycles, that's what he should do ("...don't let anybody tell you different..."). Later, when Indy learns that young man is actually his son, with Marian, he chastises her: "Why the hell didn't make him go to school?" A funny moment, and a good indication of the problem with the old college bias.

My sons? One is a freshman in high school and the other will go into his senior year of high school next year. Neither one of them has shown any interest in the trades. They write; they act; they play instruments; they play video games; they love movies; they love animals. But they have never shown any remote interest in anything other than the intellectual or the artistic fields. Is college a "dumb" choice for them? No. It's the only choice for them -- unless they quickly develop a deep passion for carpentry over the next few months.

These pieces are always frustrating to write because I know the people who need to read them won't. Why would they waste their time reading something by a guy who was stupid enough to go to college when he could have made a fortune as an electrician?


  1. Huzzah! As the father of a sophomore engineering student at Drexel AND a son who just graduated high school who is starting a career in woodworking next month, I couldn't agree more. Why do we tend to look down our noses at certain career paths? It is the height of arrogant judgement. There is a right choice for all our kids, and we just have to be open minded enough to see it and guide them along the path that opens up for them.

    1. Amen, my friend. (And kudos for the Renaissance shoutout!) I am sure I made the right choice going to college, but I also think I would have been happy as a roadie for band...a drum tech for a big act... Even within ourselves, we have alternate paths...

  2. If my son isn't careful he may end up being a renaissance man. Oh the horror.

  3. I wonder: Why does it have to be either/or? I taught for ten years at an open-admissions branch of a state university for students who decided to go back to college later in life. In many cases, our students had gone into trades or taken other non-college career paths. Career-wise, they had been there and done that, and often their salaries had maxed out. They were looking for something new, which tended to be something old: the English classes they always wished they had taken. I had a construction safety foreman who, at 60, was finally able to fulfill his love of literature...and opera! So maybe in addition to figuring out what kids are cut out for at 18, we should also be preparing them to reinvent themselves in a totally contrary direction 30 years later.

    Another thought: Because college tuition is so stupidly inflated, I think it's in vogue right now for educated, middle-class parents to tell their peers that they'd consider a career in the trades for their kids. I'm not sure most of them mean it, but even if they do...what becomes of the kids whose families don't have the social capital to choose anything but a trade? If everyone's kid becomes a plumber, then an oversupply of plumbers drastically depresses salaries in the field. Society would be better off if we truly respected the kids who are already inclined to go into the trades rather than push tons more kids into those fields.

    1. Excellent point -- it doesn't, does it? Why do people stop grpwing after a certain age? Is it all over after you have given up your career. I might wind up taking up carpentry some day. Always wanted to. Maybe become a luthier. And a great point about the trendy parental acceptance of the trades. It does seem a little phony, to me. And, yes, I can see the trades getting glutted. We are a pendulum society. Nothing is ever balanced. (Back to "why is it one or the other?")