Monday, December 12, 2011

Educational Overload

 Just as I was getting excited about reports that construction work and jobs showing improvement so early into December, a huge gain upon even the optimistic November numbers, a good friend of mine in Washington, who once apprenticed under the same NYC electrician as me, forwarded me a small article. The article, published in the Washington Post, reports on a study that finds two-fifths of graduating high school students unprepared for both college and the workforce, or even work training. Research for the study was done at John Hopkins and the University of Arizona and the results, originally published last year while the study was still going on, are very interesting to say the least.

I am reminded of a scene from the first season of Treme, HBO’s luminous New-Orleans-set drama, in which an older man, a handyman by trade, boasts that he can build an entire home to a young hood who has attempted to rob him. It speaks to a truth that might have gotten glossed over in the age of self-confidence: Always know a trade. Indeed, to be totally clear, know something that no one can short-change. A NYC plumber has stores of knowledge that are practical and of constant use, and therefore will always be needed. I think of myself as a good writer but that can’t be proven, necessarily; it’s only believed to be true because enough people have reacted positively to the way I write.

 This isn’t to say that writing and other artistic endeavors are pointless. On the contrary, a temperament inclined towards artistry makes one humble, curious and forever more interesting in comparison to those who find such endeavors “pretentious” or, worse yet, “useless.” But as I told my young cousin only a few months ago, as she moved off to Portland to study poetry and work for an organic farmer, it’s important to know an everyday task back and forth, whether it be building a house or creating a detailed Excel spreadsheet. Of course, I’m inclined towards the former, seeing as remodeling and construction will never go out of style.

Indeed, the study concludes that a Bachelor’s Degree is often less crucial to a job hunt than an expertise in a STEM field, which often encourages higher-paying jobs even without a college education. It’s a hard issue to talk about, seeing as college was for me a rather revelatory experience, as I’m sure it is for most students. But, finally, there’s no rule saying you can’t go to college while also finding some level of expertise in a STEM field. It’s a compromise: an overwhelming amount of work for a small duration of your life, in exchange for a home to call your own where you have the option to either fix-up yourself or relax and pay some hard-working NYC handyman to fix for you. In essence, it gives you more options.