Last Sunday on a leisure drive back from lunch we passed one of the most prestigious private high schools in our area. A sign was proudly posted at the front entrance stating: “100% College Admission for our Seniors – again.”
I’ll have to admit I cringed on seeing that. Now I know that any high school principal who doesn’t claim this as his/her goal is likely to be accused of not having the students best interests at heart and would also likely be run out of town by indignant parents. But personally, I think there is a major elitism at play here. And ultimately, a lot of those students suffer as a result. Is our goal really to prepare every student for life in a cubicle? In looking at my grandchildren I see those who would weep at such a prospect.
The elitism is in believing that every occupation pursued by a path outside of college is somehow “lower” and not a worthy pursuit for our students. We have become a culture that looks down on labor and craftsman positions. So, really, in this graduating class we will have no Ferrari mechanics, no sculptors, no HVAC specialists, no one I can contact to design another water feature, no skilled carpenters, no stone masons, no welders and no piano tuners?
Two days ago I had a young man come out to do the spring check-up on our air conditioning systems. Just a check-up, no parts were required. He was here less than two hours and my bill was $149. Yesterday my John Deere tractor was returned with new bearings in the front wheels. Total bill – $2690.78. Most of that was labor – billed at $70/hour. At the same time I have a young attorney friend who is working part time at Kinkos at $10 to supplement his income. The HVAC guy and tractor mechanic – $70 an hour.
In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote that the expansion of “higher education” beyond what our labor market demands creates for white-collar workers “employment in substandard work or at wages below those of the better-paid manual workers.” And then he added, “it may create unemployability of a particularly disconcerting type. The man who has gone to college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in professional work.”* I’m sure you know people who are stuck in $12/hour jobs who would never lower themselves to work in something like being a tractor mechanic.
If we consider our children to be smart and really want the best for them, should we not consider a broad range of occupational possibilities?
I must admit I’ve made a very good living working with people who at 45 years of age admit they are living someone else’s dream. As we unpack that incongruity and begin to move toward an authentic life, all kinds of things come to the surface as meaningful work possibilities. Pastors have become artists, dentists forest rangers, and doctors organic gardeners.
Having the ability to go to college is not enough reason for doing so. There must be more of an alignment with a person’s values, dreams and passions. I have worked with countless professionals who have proven their academic ability to create a life they detest.
Space does not allow for addressing the outsourcing issue. Many of the jobs college students trained for can now easily be outsourced to China of Taiwan. However, if I need my roof repaired, drain unclogged, lawn mowed, or want another beautiful sculpture of a standing tree on my property, I can’t have someone in China provide that service. People with those skills are immune from outsourcing. Or as has been said, “You can’t hammer a nail over the internet.”
Let’s stop depriving our children of their best options. I’d like to see that sign say – 60% college, 10% trade school, 10% continuing family business, 10% entrepreneurs, and 10% world travel to further clarify a career path. That would make me want to send my child there.
Okay – bring it on. I’m sure this will be offensive to many. How would you defend this ridiculous goal of 100% college admission?
*(Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942; New York: Harper-Perennial)
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