This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.
** ** **
There are many kinds of intelligence. At the moment, academic intelligence is being honored far above vocational intelligence. Only when the teachers and parents will come to truly believe it will the child also believe that his talent, whatever it is, is good, that he will be respected for his labors, that a job well done in any field of human endeavor is truly an achievement, whether it is cerebral or manual. Tribute is long overdue the future tillers, toilers, makers and menders who will keep our physical environment from falling apart at the seams.
We owe an apology to the nonacademically-minded young man who is not college bound. How often do the newspapers print the pictures of vocational school graduates who have made the most of their mechanical gifts? In June of each year long columns appear in the newspapers listing the names of the Westinghouse, Merit, and other scholarship winners. Rarely are the achievements of the vocational school youngsters similarly publicized. Why no fanfare for the future plumbers, painters, bakers, mechanics? We are not fooling the kids. Is the mechanic, by implication, a less important human being than the scientist? We keep on asking, “Who is going to do the plumbing?” Certainly not any young man whose honest labor is not respected as much as that of the scientist.
The members of juvenile gangs come mostly from the ranks of the nonacademically-minded youngsters who resent their exclusion from places of honor reserved for the “smart kids.” In retaliation they create honor rolls of their own, social orders in which they can achieve positions of prestige. The very names of the street gangs indicate their hunger for status: the Dukes, the Kings, the Royal Ambassadors, the Princes, the Lords, the Barons.
** ** **
Debora here: This is something I feel strongly about. There’s been a general exodus in America from manual jobs to corporate “office jobs,” which has created its own set of problems. One, there aren’t enough good office jobs to go around, so a lot of young people are finding themselves buried in college debt with no employment prospects to show for it. Two, we’re running short of skilled laborers. Example: here in California the roads are absolute crap. Even freshly-laid asphalt is rough, bumpy and uneven. It’s like no one knows how to properly build a road anymore. We need to woo young Americans back into skilled trades before the infrastructure completely falls apart. Three, the lack of social respect for manual labor has led to an appalling decline in pay scales and benefits. People like to say, “We hire illegal immigrants to do the job that Americans won’t do,” but that’s not true at all. Most young Americans would be happy to take a manual labor job if it payed a living wage, offered reasonable benefits and didn’t treat its employees like disposable trash. Four, all these sedentary office jobs are wreaking holy hell on our collective health. As a nation we are overweight, under-exercised, depressed and discontent. Most of those miserable cubicle slaves would be astonished to learn how much happier they’d feel after a day of satisfying physical work that fits their particular talents. But they’ve been told that that kind of work is beneath them, and they believe it. And don’t even get me started on all the sweatshops in other countries manufacturing virtually every product that Americans use or wear, because it’s cheaper to enslave children and pollute countries with looser industrial regulations than it is to practice domestic environmental responsibility while giving workers safe conditions, fair pay, reasonable benefits and humane treatment.
I…seem to have hijacked Sam Levenson’s post, so I’ll stop here. More tomorrow.