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The War on Work
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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

The school year will be winding up soon, so high school seniors are planning their futures. And the default for many students is university.

Now university is worth it if you’re aiming for a specific job. And learning is certainly a worthy endeavour on its own. Nevertheless, I worry that we’re pushing so many kids into the university stream without giving them other options.

It seems that every parent yearns for that university degree for their child, but I know many credentialed twenty-somethings currently working in Chapters or fast food joints. Not too many jobs exist for History majors or Sociology majors or English literature majors. And meanwhile the kids have spent close to $100,000, and foregone the income they could have earned some other way.

It’s that other way that Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy from the TV series, wants people to start thinking seriously about. Dirty jobs can be incredibly rewarding, physically fun, and get us back in touch with the world around us. We live our lives with iPhones and Blackberries, trying to keep connected to each other. But in the meantime we’ve lost touch with the physical side of life; we don’t use our brawn, thinking the brain is all that matters.

And we forget that the brain is actually involved in many dirty jobs. In one video I recently watched of Mike Rowe, he was working on a sheep farm when it came time to castrate the male lambs. The farmer showed him how to do it: you stick the testicles between your teeth and let ‘er rip.

Rowe was appalled. He knew the correct and humane way to do it (based on research he did on his Blackberry) was to put an elastic band around said body part until it swelled up and fell off on its own.

The farmer invited him to do it, and so he banded the lamb. The lamb soon became immobilized with pain and fell down, panting. On the other hand, the lamb who had undergone the bite and rip procedure was already trotting off with his companions, as if nothing had happened.

And Rowe realized that much of what he knew about the world was wrong. He called that moment a turning point. What we have done, he says, is to assume that the people that work in front of computers are smart, while the people who do the real work out in the world are dumb. And in reality, it’s the people who do the real work who actually often understand the world better.

What we need, Rowe says, is a PR campaign for manual labour. We need a PR campaign that says hard work is actually beneficial, and fun, and rewarding. To climb into bed at the end of a day feeling as if you have done a good day’s work isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s something to be proud of.

Our society seems to believe that hard work is something that one must avoid at all costs. We must have cushy jobs that are inside, in front of a computer screen, accompanied by tons of meetings. For most university students, that is what their futures will be. For many that will be a good life. But not for all.

Our high school students need to know that a life of manual, skilled labour is something that can be very rewarding psychologically, physically, and financially. It isn’t something to steer clear of. And maybe if we began to praise those dirty jobs more, we’d get back to our roots of what’s really important, and we’d stop being such pretentious snobs. It’s worth a try.

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At 12:51 PM , Blogger True Femininity said…

Wow, Shelia! What an awesome post! I agree completely, and as one of those English majors who can't find a job, I've seen this played out in the real world too. ;)


At 3:08 PM , Blogger jerysmiles said…

A friend of mine recently posted the following on facebook: "I want to know what you think! How much did you learn in college and if you have debt from it, is the debt paying off? Also, curious how long it took everyone to get their 4 year or graduate degrees? My... degree was 6 years to complete b/c [sic] I did it debt free, and took a couple of semesters off for missions." This was my response to her: "I loved college. It took 5 years because I, too, did it debt free. I learned nothing from my classes. I met a lot of close friends and became a Christian through Campus Crusade for Christ on campus. I haven't used, nor do I intend to use, my degree. My classes were crammed full of much more propaganda than facts or information and the only wisdom I gained was from life experience. I recommend hanging out on campus for four years "pretending" you're in college and not wasting your money on the rest. You can have your "cake" and eat it too!" An even better idea, is the one you gave here, don't waste your time on college at all, unless you are truly passionate about a field that requires a degree. Instead, gather the wisdom and experience that WILL benefit you out in the REAL world.


At 4:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

In response to jerysmiles, because I'm currently in the final stages of my dissertation, I am not going to publicize my name on this comment until the fall - after I have my Ph.D. in hand. But after going through the entire education system, and even having taught at the university level myself, I agree TOTALLY that today's college degrees are no longer what they once were. IMO, the overwhelming majority of professors may hold Ph.D.'s (i.e., they've studied a lot in their field and learned how to jump through the hoops), but they have NO CLUE how transfer that knowledge to their students. Knowledge about a subject is one thing, being able to teach is a totally different skill set!

The founder of PayPal recently stated we had the Internet bubble burst, and the real estate bubble burst, and that the next bubble to burst will be the College / University bubble. In other words, it won't be long before people stop going to college because there's just not a decent return on the investment.

The world needs people who PRODUCE, but most of what today's professors do is indoctrinate students into a socialist mindset.

To Sheila's point, I think it's great that the trades are re-gaining ground in value.


At 8:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Except that in today's world, a college degree of any type is often desired for jobs. So unless my kids have a desire to do something that doesn't require a degree, I will encourage them to go to college (just not the $100,000 kind).
Nurse Bee


At 8:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Very well put, Sheila! My husband and I fall on opposite ends of this spectrum. I'm a History major who has been very fortunate to find very good work since graduation because I know many are not. And my husband is a truck driver - though he does so much more in a day than sit in his seat. We both encounter the snobbery you mentioned from people likely more educated than ourselves on a daily basis. He gets it from site managers or engineers who seem to know how to do his job better than he does and I get it from my boss who seems to think that every task should only take 5 minutes - even though he himself couldn't do it in 2 hours. It's sad that in so many cases education is followed by the pretentiousness you mentioned. As Christians we need to combat this and ensure that our children understand the value of work period. Whether you're a garbage man or the Prime Minister, we all have jobs to do and we're called to do them as best we can.


At 1:08 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Amen, Sheila, amen. As a mom of three boys I am naturally concerned that they be able to support themselves and a family. And starting out with a crushing load of debt from school loans is not the way to do it.

If they have a burning passion to do some particular thing (pediatrician, for example ;D) then they need that higher education and special training.

But the tech school is looking mighty good. I joke with the boys that I want: a plumber, an auto mechanic, an electrician, or contractor. Something useful. Yes, we are watching for their passions, we are waiting for the Lord's leading, but we are NOT going to send them to university in hopes that they will figure out who they are and what they want.

Being a diligent, hard-working man or woman is something to be proud of, regardless of whether your figurative collar is white or blue.

My husband is taking more time to come around to this mindset - family history playing out, and as a professional himself. He's an architect - spent five years in university and another four or five years working before he passed his licensing exams. BUT...

He had a coworker who came into the firm as a draftsman. He probably had some tech school course in CAD. He worked for many years, studying on his own, and also passed his licensing exams.

Granted, it took this other man more years of work (at a lower wage) and study before he passed his exams and got licensed. BUT HE WAS WORKING THE WHOLE TIME, not accumulating debt.

Ironically, the AIA (American Institute of Architects) would love to close that "loophole" and force future architects to have a five-year degree in order to (test to) become licensed. It's insane.

What is more important - the skills and knowledge required to pass the test, or where one acquires it???

We need to rise up and pressure more fields to be open to qualification through apprenticeship. And, as you said, to value all kinds of work. We need more people willing to work hard with their hands. We need more people like my dad and grandfather who, when something goes wrong, figure out how to fix it. Who are willing to put in a day's hard work. Day, after day, after day.



At 1:54 PM , Blogger Tina Hollenbeck said…

Brilliant post - thanks for writing it! I'm going to share it on Facebook because over the past couple of years I have come to realize the truth of what you've said here. Learning for its own sake is a beautiful thing - and can be accomplished on one's own without spending all that money on a university degree. It just requires natural curiosity and access to the internet and/or library. So, yes, unless the Lord calls someone to a specific, degree-requiring field (i.e., medicine, law), university is unnecessary. You might enjoy a book called HOW AM I SMART? by Dr. Kathy Koch. She talks about the 8 ways in which we're all smart...and points out that we need to allow each child to pursue his/her passions as God has created them - which is NOT always (or even most of the time) in the direction of a university. My girls are just 9 and 10 and so I have no idea where they'll end up after high school...but I sure as shoot am going to have them think through all the options and not just assume a 4-year "liberal arts" degree is what's needed.


At 12:53 AM , Blogger Jen's Busy Days said…

I have 4 boys who I homeschool and I am in the same camp as Herding Grasshoppers. Get them to have a trade! If you get one in the building or hospitality industry they can be hard going but they can be a fall back for later if a Uni degree doesn't get you what you want straight away.

Here in Australia you can get an apprenticeship from the age of 15. We will be encouraging our boys to continue their homeschooling for the high school years over the approximately 4 years it takes to get an apprenticeship. If they decide on Uni they will be cashed up (hopefully) and will also have a good work ethic and some maturity. Depending on their attitude they may prefer the heavy labouring or they may use the heavy labouring as an incentive to work hard at Uni so they don't have to go back to heavy labouring. Either way I am happy.

I too am looking for a carpenter, mechanic, electrician and plumber, although I will consider a welder or a builder. lol

Best wishes
Jen in Oz


At 12:56 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

You guys with boys are all making me a little jealous. I definitely think it would be handy to have an electrician, a plumber, and a mechanic in the family!

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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