I learned of this article from Sunday’s New York Times Magazine entitled “The Case for Working With Your Hands” at AssortedStuff. It is written by a man with a Ph. D. in political philosophy who shares his work history that has resulted in the enjoyment he now has in his motorcycle repair business. The article brings home the world we live in where so many parents and other adults believe that the only path to success in the future is through a four year college degree and see the trades as demeaning or something done by those that couldn’t make it in the academic world. Crawford explains it with these words.
"The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid."
He goes on to make an important point that most of today’s adults don’t think about as they plan their children’s futures.
"But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India."
I am certainly not suggesting that the traditional college degree is not important or useful. It is not, however, the only way to achieve success in post high school learning and work and it cannot be the path that all should or can take. Crawford suggests, however, that most parents do not see it this way.
"A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. . .If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things."
What do you want for your children? What do we want for those young people that attend our schools? When and how should we factor in the aspirations of these young people?