Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column was more centered around Ontario, where I live, and so I thought I’d rerun this column from two years ago, before most of you were reading this blog, that I really enjoyed.
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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