Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ah, Innocence of Youth

One of the ways Claudia and I hope to raise socially conscious, sensitive children is to teach them to respect all types of people and all manners of work. Claudia and both come from humble backgrounds where people understood the value of work. On my side of the family, I was the first grandchild (as nearly as I can figure) on both sides of the family to achieve a Bachelor's degree, perhaps the only one to obtain a Master's level education, and I'm fairly certain the only one who has completed doctoral coursework. While Claudia and I are grateful that we were taught in our respective homes about the value of higher education and encouraged to obtain it, we understand what it is to emerge from families in which money was never abundant and the integrity of work was respected. So, we want our children to grow up with similar values of respect for all people.

This morning I had the opportunity to convey those values once again. I am no mechanic, even for the simplest of things, so on a regular basis we go to one of a couple national chain oil change services. This morning as we pulled into the bay and were greeted by a nice enough young man, I explained what was happening. Even if I am mechanically inept, I at least know the process of an oil change (thank my college education for that, I guess). With each step I explained why I was doing what I was doing, and why the mechanics were doing what they were doing.

With me were Tony (age 12) and Ben (aka "Jimmy," age 15), when this conversation emerged.

Tony: So, dad, does each person who works here have to have an engineering degree?
Dad: No. In fact, they probably do not have any degree at all.
Tony: Really? (awestruck by the realization that some jobs do not require that level of educational achievement).
Dad: Nope. In jobs like this you receive on-the-job training so you know what you're doing and then you just work.
Tony: Cool. How much do you think they get paid an hour?
Dad: Oh, I suppose between $8 and $10 an hour.
Tony: Sweet. I'm going to work here!

I smiled inwardly at the innocence of youth. For 12-year-old Tony $8 an hour sounds like a treasure trove. And to be able to have a job like this where you get to wear a uniform, help people and operate machines of various kinds couldn't be that bad.

Earlier in my parenting experience I would probably have regaled one of my children's questioning about a blue collar job like this by saying, "But you realize that with a college education you could have a better life?" Or "Well, you don't have to settle for a job like this, you could go to college and really do something with your life." Or, "This wouldn't be that great of a place to work at." Or, "Well, you realize that I make $X an hour, because I went to college."

And someday I will probably have a talk like that with him. But for today I want him to realize that the dignity of work, even in a job that pays very little compared to other jobs in society, is enough. I want him to know that the guys servicing our car are as valuable to society as the dentist whose practice is in the next block. I want him to realize that it's OK to aspire to an $8-an-hour a job when you're twelve."

Innocence, yes. But from my previous difficult experiences with his older brothers at the age of twelve, I think maybe a little innocence is OK with me.

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