This story first appeared in this blog March 16, 2011 in slightly different form and title. We had just done some major renovations to our home, and we were really pleased with the results. And now it’s 2022 and graduation season for high school and college students looking forward to their entry into adulthood and the job market! So this story seemed particularly timely to me for these young people who will be deciding what they might want to do in their future.
Ray and Alex came to install the new sink and faucet the other day. I watched as they figured out what went where and worked out all the kinks in a job that looked incomprehensible to me. These are the same men, remember, who moved a wall, rebuilt a closet, put up crown molding and baseboard that they also stained, helped lay tile, installed lights, added a full-length window by the door, put up the corbels and capitals; in short, anything that needed to be done. And they knew how to do it all. Like magic. I never cease to be amazed at people who know how to build things and do stuff like that.
Then I thought of Chase who had all the redecorating ideas and did the painting and finish work. He, too, knew all the steps and procedures to do a professional job. I remembered Israel and his helpers who laid the tile.
All of these men do quality work, are in great demand around here, and they need never be out of a job unless they choose to be. Which begs the question: why are we trying to send every kid to college when we have a real need for skilled carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, painters, mechanics, welders, you name it. And we have plenty of kids who would love to work at jobs like that, would enjoy the satisfaction of a well-finished product or a problem resolved, and could make a nice living doing it.
I started to get on my soap box about the need for more vocational training and two-year technical colleges for a variety of other hands-on careers, which we do need, but I realized what I really wanted to say is that somewhere along the way we have devalued what used to be called manual labor or blue-collar jobs and instead made kids think they should all be college graduates with white-collar jobs. I am all for a liberal education in the traditional sense (not political sense); a college education broadens one’s horizons and offers new worlds and experiences while studying for their career of choice. But we have a passel of kids out there who would much rather be learning how to work with their hands to create or repair something than holding a book in their hands, and we have done them a disservice to make them think that college is the best option and that the trades are somehow second-class jobs. All I have to do is look at my updated and beautiful home to know that the world needs those kinds of skilled professionals along with the white-collar workers.
Our society needs all kinds of people to fill all kinds of jobs. All work that is honest and well-done is valuable and necessary and deserves to be respected. Long before all this business about “essential jobs,” I used to tell my students that whatever job they chose to do, to perform it in the very best way they can. Be they a doctor or a ditch-digger, be the very best doctor or ditch-digger they can be. Take pride in what they do because all jobs are essential and necessary for the world to function successfully.
I used to have a poster in my classroom, now in my barn/greenhouse, of Will Rogers that quotes him as saying “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects,” which means then, that everybody is smart, only on different subjects. I know how to teach English. I am glad Chase and Ray and Alex know how to work on houses.
So to all you graduating seniors, just know college is still one option, but so are trade schools, technical schools, and two-year colleges; all good choices. And if you pursue one, only to discover it might not have been the right choice for you, by all means change directions and start over.
Congratulations and have a great life!