The Pursuit Of Happiness

Jim Wheeler wrote, as part of a comment on my Ideology, Reason, And the Brain:

In this country, as in the fictional Lake Woebegone, we insist that all children are above average. Not only that, we insist that they all learn the same things at the same pace, which when you think about it is absurd.

Jim has expressed that sentiment before, but it struck me as particularly true, after an event I was fortunate enough to attend last Saturday.

During “Senior Day” at Joplin High School’s last home baseball game, a school teacher introduced each of the senior players, along with their parents, as they walked to home plate for a photograph. During the introduction, the teacher related the after-high-school desires of each of the seniors. Most, of course, expressed the desire to go to college.

Except one. He said he wanted to be a “welder.”

Now, I had never heard anything like that before, despite sitting through several of those kinds of ceremonies. Granted, I only know this young man and his parents from the baseball team, but I like them very much, and I can tell you that I was not in the least bit surprised about his post-secondary education wishes.

This teenager is not the college type, and I’m guessing neither were his parents.  These folks were just raised with different interests and preferences, and advanced education means something different to them than perhaps to most people these days.

But guess what? We need welders to make this country work. We need folks who can do those sorts of things, and it was refreshing to hear that a kid, who has no doubt endured much you-need-to-go-to-college-programming from the system, could earnestly and honestly say, “No thanks, I want to be a welder.”

That high school graduate may not end up finding a cure for cancer or doing some other “great” deed, but he will be doing his part to keep America running, to keep civilization from falling apart.  And that ain’t nothing.

And my guess is that he will be damned happy doing it.

Previous Post

15 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  May 10, 2012

    I agree with you on this blog, Duane. Long ago, my father, a man that never went to college told me, “Son, I don’t care if you become a ditch digger, just become the best GD ditch digger that you can become”!

    Being a good welder in today’s world is far more than just lighting a blow torch and melting two metals together. Try “pulling a butt weld” on a stainless steel “nuclear” pipe and then having your effort X-rayed to verify the integrity of such a weld. it takes intellectual knowledge and physical skills far beyond the capabilities of some.

    Some of those folks perform such feats of skill hanging, literally, upside down in a “room” with temperatures over 100 degress F, just as an example.

    But the simple point is that without a sound high school education today, learning the skills to LEARN MORE, over a lifetime, the kids will not stand a chance “tomorrow” even as craftsmen of the “blue collar” type.

    I just found out this morning, in a private conversation, that about 400 kids will graduate from JHS this year. About 110 dropped out however. If my math is correct that will be a “graduation rate” of about 75%.

    Now what are THOSE kids (the drop outs) going to do, “tomorrow”?

    Anson

    Like

  2. It occurs to me, Duane, that your young welder is not constrained by his choice of schooling and occupation from the general and continuing pursuit of knowledge. Never before in history has so much information been available so cheaply. Thomas Jefferson nearly bankrupted himself putting together a personal library, but your young welder has the library, newspapers and the internet, all at minimal expense.

    Another blogger just told me this morning of the availability, just for instance, of classes from Yale on iTunesU – for free. Young welder can have the best of both worlds and I hope he takes full advantage of it. He could be better off as an autodidact than a college graduate who ceases to learn upon graduation, IMHO.

    Like

    • Good point. And I am eagerly awaiting for Harvard and MIT to get their free online courses up and running this fall. This is a phenomenal time for learning, if one is self-motivated.The problem is there is a lot of “learning” going on out there that isn’t.

      Duane

      Like

  3. Pete Kelly

     /  May 10, 2012

    “And my guess is that he will be damned happy doing it.”

    This is what its all about.

    Like

  4. Good story Duane. An econ. instructor at Southern once told our class that there are plenty of ways that a person can make a good living by doing things that others do not want to do.He said that no one is willing to get dirty anymore and that everyone wants to wear a suit today. Good luck to this young man.

    Kabe

    Like

    • I fear all of my kids are so under-educated, in terms of the practical things like changing tires or doing fix-up work around the house. I always tended to emphasize the book learning and inadvertently overlooked things like basic electricity or rudimentary carpentry and plumbing or, for God’s sake, how to clean a catfish.

      Like

  5. Duane's Favorite Nephew

     /  May 10, 2012

    I agree with what you say about some people just not being made for higher education, Duane, as much as I hate to admit it. As a Spanish and French professor at a community college in Texas, so many students sign up and then give up too quickly these days. They don’t have the discipline or the intellectual curiosity to want to learn as much as they can about everything. It’s a mindset that’s more and more common and very difficult for me to understand. I have always been a sponge for information and can talk fairly competently about a wide range of topics, from Architecture to Zoology. BUT I can’t weld a beam, fix my toilet, or change the oil in my car. We obviously need people who can do those things. My only concern is that a college education can open your mind to so many different things, thoughts, and ways of living and being. Republicans would love for the majority of Americans to stop at high school or vocational school and never develop critical thinking or reason–keep them ignorant and focused on Jesus and NASCAR, and they’ll do whatever you say.
    Ignorance is bliss… (and dangerous).

    Like

    • Nephew,

      Ah, I like this:

      My only concern is that a college education can open your mind to so many different things, thoughts, and ways of living and being. Republicans would love for the majority of Americans to stop at high school or vocational school and never develop critical thinking or reason–keep them ignorant and focused on Jesus and NASCAR, and they’ll do whatever you say.

      First, the fear of many conservative Republicans, especially those who highly value religious thinking, is that college will corrupt their kids, drawing them away from their ideological and theological faith. That “open your mind” stuff can be dangerous to Iron Age sensibilities. This is a common concern among the faithful. That is why right-wing evangelicals have so many damn colleges around the country, some of them around here.

      Second, there is a way for young folks to both pursue a vocation and open their minds to a wider experience. It’s called the Internet. Remember? You used to jump my ass many years ago for ignoring its power. Lesson learned.

      Third, Jesus runs a great NASCAR pit crew. The last time I checked, he could gas up and change a set of tires, oh, in the time it takes you to say, “Nietzsche was a putz.”

      Love ya, nephew

      Like

      • ansonburlingame

         /  May 11, 2012

        A question to consider,

        Which new technology had a greater effect on human civilization, the printing press or the Internet?

        Anson

        Like

      • Duane's Favorite Nephew

         /  May 12, 2012

        Unfortunately, most of the younguns I know (and I spend my entire professional life with them) use the Internet for porn, keeping up with their 5,264 Facebook friends, and piano-playing kitten videos. And they think that they’re great at multi-tasking, but frankly, their attention spans have been shortened and their minds have been addled by information overload and crowded webpages with nonsense and dozens of choices and links. They spend a few minutes on one, get bored, and are off to the next. So if your welding boy wasn’t inspired by school to be a more well rounded, well informed learner, what’s he going to do online? Kittens with blowtorches videos?

        Like

        • Ah, Favorite Nephew, methinks you have grown much too cynical for a man of your youth (and responsibilities).

          Although, I can’t contradict your assessment of not just the younguns but of a goodly number of middle- and old-agers. What I would urge you to do is just focus on the one or two of your students (surely, there are one or two?) who do give a shit about what you are teaching them. I would guarantee you that there are a few of them who much appreciate their excellent teacher.

          And by the way, “Kittens and blowtorches”? Damn, send me that link!

          Duane

          Like

  6. ansonburlingame

     /  May 10, 2012

    to all,

    A GREAT observation above about “They don’t have the discipline or the intellectual curiosity to want to learn as much as they can about everything.”

    THERE in a nutshell is the failure of our current K12 education system. Lack of discipline to be the “best you can be” at the individual level.

    My view as a conservative is until that problem is “fixed” or at least mitigated, we will NEVER solve our problems related to “social justice” by throwing money at it.

    My God, Duane, do you have a relative with such thoughtrs in his head???

    Anson

    Like

  7. Sedate Me

     /  May 12, 2012

    It’s worth noting that a big part of the problem is that this society undervalues meaningful skills because they are preformed by the “working class”.

    If you can invent “financial products” that have minimal utility to a productive economy, you will be over-rewarded beyond the point of insanity. If you are blue collar, even if you preform very useful and specialized tasks, you are neck & neck with dogshit. Even when these skills do translate into decent money, the image of these professions is vastly undervalued.

    This is why so many people audition to be instant “superstars” but completely overlook the trades, which -even in a shitty economy- are in high demand and short supply.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: