“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas A. Edison
I have always worked it seems. When I was a little boy we moved to a farm outside of Gainesville, Texas. It was a four room house, 15 acres of mostly sand and rocks, a chicken house, a barn and a pump house. The pump didn’t work so we bought a long rope and a long bucket. To water the chickens and the cow, we would lower the bucket and my brother and I would pull it back up. It had a valve on the bottom and a release handle on the top. We would fill other, more traditional buckets, with water and carry them down to the barn or chicken coop. That was our first job. I was four and Tommy was five.
When I was five, we would go with the farmer neighbors to another farm further down the road and pick dew berries and black berries for 5 cents a pint. We would also go to yet another farm and pull cotton. Cotton, even back then was picked by a machine, but the machines were inefficient and so local poor people, like us, could go and pull the remaining cotton off the stripped plants for five cents a pound. It involved, hanging a long bag around our neck and walking stooped over, down the rows pulling off the cotton bolls into the bag. At the end of a few rows we would haul our bags over to the weighing trailer and get paid cash money on the spot.
As we got a little older, the work got a little more intense. The farmer across the highway had a horse drawn plow and harness. He would plant potatoes every year and then use his plow to turn over the soil exposing the potatoes. We would go along behind him and pick them up into bushel baskets. We also pulled onions, gathered corn and stacked watermelons. Hot hard labor and we were in grade school. We needed the money. Mama and a job that paid the bills but if we wanted anything extra we had to earn it. We worked in the vegetable garden and we dug up worms to sell as bait for fishermen down at the store where Mama had an account that Daddy would pay when he was in town.
My point in telling you this is that…it didn’t hurt us. We weren’t being exploited. We weren’t being mistreated. We learned a lot of things about the world from the experience. I learned the value of effort. I learned to appreciate the things I had because I understood what it took to have them. I learned that the food I eat doesn’t come from the grocery store. I learned responsibility for the animals we kept and the tools we used. I learned that life’s rewards aren’t lying about to simply be picked up. I learned to work in tandem to complete a task and obtain a goal. I also learned that merely being present, didn’t earn an award.
Now, I am not suggesting that we round up little kids and cart them off to factories. What I am suggesting is that the last couple of generations have not learned the value of effort, at least in this country. (US). My kids included. They didn’t really have much to do in the way of chores. They certainly didn’t get blistered hands from shoveling rocks out of the garden. I think in hindsight, I did them a disservice. The world of the first world countries has gotten a lot easier in a short time. Even the technology isn’t difficult for the users anymore. Most of it is intuitive. Doesn’t even come with a manual.
“The end of labor is to gain leisure.” Aristotle
One of the issues facing us today is the cost of education. Not just the cost of the tuition and fees but the cost to a generation of kids starting their lives deeply in debt. Who in their right mind loans tens of thousands of dollars to an 18-year-old with no credit history and no work experience? The answer is …nobody. It’s insane.
My suggestion is to offer infrastructure build and repair jobs to kids out of high school in exchange for vouchers to go to college. Another area is in healthcare provided to our aging population. Believe me, digging ditches and emptying bed pans are great motivators to getting an education to so something else. Anything else! Stop this madness of hobbling the futures of our kids with debt and teach them what the alternative to education looks like at the same time.
I would make it voluntary as I don’t believe in indentured servitude. The work would be hard and pay room, board and vouchers for 1-4 years depending on the commitment. We’d get our roads and bridges fixed and the kids would get experience, an education and a clean start to their future careers. You’d have to run it like a business and not like a government program though, who wants to drive over bridges where shortcuts are overlooked? Make excellence pay more in vouchers.
Phillip J Hubbell is a project manager, writer, job seeker living the American Midwest.