Not everyone wants or needs to go to college

I really, really admire our First Lady. I think she is the epitome of grace and style, and she’s a smart cookie, to boot. That’s why I am so let-down by this article detailing the kick-off for her campaign to help “at-risk” youths, and her remarks.

It’s not that anything she said was wrong, bad or in any way offensive – nothing was – but I am disappointed with this:

“When young people get to high school, you can help them see that higher education doesn’t have to be just a dream, but it can be a reality,” she said, promoting President Bush (news – web sites)’s plans to boost funding for community colleges. “Many young people who struggle in school believe that dropping out is their only option.”

Well…yes…all of that is very true. And I do read further that For his 2006 budget, Bush proposed continuing a $250 million program that gives grants to community colleges that train workers for the jobs needed by industries in their area, which is all good stuff! I’m not knocking it.

But I think we’ve been banging the “everyone needs to go to college” drum enough. I would have loved to have heard Mrs. Bush say this too-often ignored bit of truth:

College is not for everyone, and you do not need a college education in order to earn a decent living and get your piece of the American Dream. To be trained in a trade is a perfectly honorable thing, and those Americans who work as electricians or plumbers or mechanics or carpenters all have the choice of becoming entrepreneurs or working for another. And none of them have to worry about their jobs being “outsourced.”

I think it’s a message that needs to be put out there and talked up, so that these same “at-risk” kids (and non-at-risk kids who don’t find 4 years of college to be an attractive idea) can look at trades and not think of them as something “lower,” or as less-desirable choices than being a lawyer (yeah, we need MORE of those), or an investment banker, or an MBA. All of those people NEED the tradesmen, and they are willing to pay top dollar for someone who knows their stuff and does a good job.

I’m not speaking from some ivory tower. I’m the daughter of a tradesman, my husband is the son of one. Three brothers eschewed college for trades and all are doing very well – one of them has become quite the real-estate investor. In our Scout troop, several leaders are tradesmen – plumbers and electricians who own their own businesses and complain that they cannot find young people to come in and apprentice and learn the work. Why? Because they look down upon the blue-collar professions, not understanding their value and worth. Why? Because for too long a “college degree” has been touted as being the be-all-and-end-all of American life, and the idea of having a craft or a trade has been pushed to the side. On television, especially in sitcoms, such professionals are invariably depicted as sloppy, loud-mouth and ignorant – they are not made to seem attractive to the young.

Our plumber and electrician friends tell us that the young people who are willing to train in their trades are the immigrants – both the legal ones and the ones who came here illegally, but who have taken the trouble to learn English and find their way into a green card. They want to be trained in trade, and they work hard at it, so that they can earn their livings and take part in the dream.

“When my father started this business,” our plumber friend has said, “all of the plumbers around here were sons of Italian immigrants. All the roofers and sheetrockers were Irish. They trained their sons, and now we have the businesses, but our sons want no part of it. It’s too much like work. In 15 or 20 years all of the plumbers and roofers and masons will be named Sanchez and Martinez, but there won’t be enough of them…so if your pipe bursts or your roof caves in, or you need a tile floor, you’ll wait to get help…and then you’ll pay through the nose!”

Well…t’was ever thus!

I think it’s great to see people come here, learn the language so they can really enter the marketplace, and learn a skill. But I think it would be great, too, if we could help some of our own children – of all backgrounds – understand that there is no shame in pursuing a trade,that outside of college. And that plenty of noble people go to work in a blue chambray shirt instead of a $900.00 suit. And more often than you might realize… both types live on the same block.

The Bernoullie Effect has more thoughts on this.

WELCOME Roger L. Simon fans! While you’re here, please make yourself at home! Today we’re serving up thoughts on Susan Estrich’s Latest Meltdown, the glories of baseball, whether America might be over-videotaping their kids and if the blogs can save a woman’s life. Happy reading, and a big-fat THANK YOU to Roger Simon for the “Fedora-lanch!” :-)

About Elizabeth Scalia

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