I am a retired school teacher who comes from a long line of school teachers. My parents never said “if you go to college” ,it was always “when you go to college” and they sacrificed a great deal to be sure we would be able to earn a degree. My grandparents on both sides of the family were immigrants and the most important thing they wanted for their children was an education and their children and grand-children and even great-grandchildren have not disappointed that dream.
When I taught school (for over twenty years), I taught with some of the finest people I know. Not only did these teachers work for lower wages (and still do), but they were teachers because they cared about kids (and still do). Nearly every vocation today requires training, studying, learning beyond the basics. Technology has opened up new ways for students to train. People are not tracked into the four year standard program only. They are many different ways of reaching a higher level of learning in the career path of the student’s choice. Beauticians, barbers, nail technicians, oil field workers, certified nurses’ assistants, in fact every route we take to employment these days requires people to be able to meet certain standards before they are allowed into the work field. A degree in agri-business helps the farmer or rancher to better understand the economics of the world markets, how to find the crop most suited to the climate in which we live, how to use satellites to produce a better yield. Anyone who wants to find a way to turn their passion into a livelihood needs basic skills before they can start building toward something more polished. Actors go to acting school, musicians study business so when they make money they know how best to manage it and that takes education.
For generations children were expected to continue in the career their parents and grandparents held. But even in the Middle Ages, the guilds organized their trades so you began as an apprentice, then a journeyman before you became a master craftsman. It was education learned at the side of a master, but it was its own form of education.
During the Renaissance (1500s), the religious leader Martin Luther, a German monk who earned his Doctorate in one of the many medieval universities which were even then making their appearance, talked about the holiness of any vocation. He said the maid who swept the floor to the glory of God was just as important as the priest serving the Mass. He told people that no trade or job or task was less than another. The purpose of our lives is often answering the question, How can we be productive in a way that does not kill the human spirit? How do integrity and a conscious fit in to our working lives? I think of Bruce Smith, the Dawson County Agent, the community lost to cancer just a couple months ago. Bruce’s life was how to make the production of food, its growing, its availability something reachable to all people. His work with 4-H was all education so the young could learn how to be the farmers of tomorrow, sustaining the family farms, making them a viable reality. He had studied the subject in college and then had several experiences that continued to build on what he had learned on his parents’ farm.
Education is not the enemy. Without learning, work would return to the often mind-numbing, repetitive tasks of a generation or two ago. Today’s generations need to see beyond the stars as humanity continues its call to make the world a more humane, caring, open society. When people can see work in this way, it really moves beyond only money producing and moves into something which gives us life-long direction and purpose.