Sunday, December 03, 2006
I don't pretend to know all the reasons for teen gangs but here's one plausible reason that's frequently overlooked: kids who are not suited for college feel they have nowhere to go. For years teachers warned them that if they didn't study they'd be selling fast food all their lives and they took it to heart. I imagine they reasoned that if adult life was going to be pointless and boring then they may as well enjoy their teen years. Gangs don't do much for you but they do provide excitement and if you get killed while young what have you lost? A life of drudgery.
It seems to me that we need to ease up on the college or the scrub bucket rhetoric. It seems to me that an awfull lot of complex and well-paying jobs can be done by non-college graduates. Shakespeare didn't go to college, nor did Thomas Edison, Carnegie, Walt Disney, Ben Franklin and Bill Gates. Before the G.I. Bill (after WWII) an enormous number of complex jobs were done by non-graduates. They must have done a pretty good job because we went from an agricultural country to the pre-eminent industrial country in the world on their watch. People who believe we can't advance unless we send a whole generation to study Derrida are ignoring a lot of history.
Sometimes it seems to me that the America has hardened its heart against blue-collar workers. I first noticed this when the middle class cheerfully allowed the manufacturing jobs to go overseas in exchange for lower prices. The middle class had office jobs and weren't affected by the job loss but blue-collar workers were decimated. When even office jobs started to go then the middle class suddenly declared a crisis and started talking about the danger of "outsourcing." Where were these people when the blue collars were hurting?
I see the same thing happening now with this insistance on absurdly high academic requirements for jobs that never required them before. In my school district you need a Masters' Degree to teach grade school. I believe that absurd requirements like this reflect a class bias; middle class kids tend to have these degrees and blue-collars don't. Who's most likely to get these newly-restricted jobs?
Just for the record, I identify completely with the middle class and I'm a big booster of higher education. I don't want to dumb things down, I'm simply arguing for compassion and common sense. We should keep standards high but remove artificial barriers to upward mobility. Exciting jobs should be within the grasp of whoever can best deliver the goods. I wouldn't show non-academics the mop and bucket. I'd show them a vision of success through hard work.
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 1:21 PM