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?