6:00: Morning News

We are failing our children vocationally

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Last week on the Morning News we got onto the subject of trout stocking.   My co-host Shauna Johnson was surprised to learn when I was in high school in the early to mid 1980’s in Virginia, we would occasionally help the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stock trout.  She was even more shocked to learn there was a program in those days which allowed high school guys to help with forest fire fighting duty.

I never gave it a second thought.  It was an adventure and of course in those days I would be up for most anything which could legitimately get me out of class, even if if meant wielding a shovel to dig a fire line.  She was shocked to hear high school kids were allowed to participate in these duties.

I’ve thought a lot about her reaction.  We never thought twice about it, nor did anybody else.  I don’t know for certain, but I’d be willing to bet those programs have been eliminated in the Old Dominion. I”m sure somebody feared the worst and believed kids were not capable of such grueling, physical and dangerous activity.  That’s too bad.

I helped a time or two stocking fish and fighting fires, but I was also one of the lucky ones who grew up on a farm.  By the time I was in 8th grade I could proficiently drive a tractor.  I can vividly remembering plowing a cornfield in the spring when I was middle school.  Naturally I was under the watchful eye of my dad, but still, I was at the controls.

I also stacked haybales on a wagon pulled behind a hay baler.  I hoed tobacco, picked beans, shoveled corn out of a wagon into a crib, and a myriad of other manual tasks.  I knew how to castrate a bull, build a tool shed, or split firewood. I was taught hands on lessons about how to safely use machinery and power tools.   My dad showed me all of these things.  The more responsibility he could trust me with and the more I could learn, the more help I was on the farm.

I see those lessons being taught in some places still today.  I recently spoke to a group of 4-H kids in Gilmer County.  My guess is most of them could probably operate a farm tractor, but most teenagers today don’t seem to have a clue about any of the aforementioned concepts.

It has become unpopular to let kids “learn by doing.”   We’ve become a society of worry warts terrified of everything. We are scared to allow kids to operate machinery or tools or even be in the proximity of them.  Consequently, by the time young people reach the age they are allowed to operate such equipment, none really know how.

My observations are anecdotal, but I see a real problem developing.  We are raising a generation which can’t do anything for itself.  We don’t have enough mentors in our midst to teach them valuable skills as part of their upbringing.  You need to be patient with a kid who’s learning to master these skills. You have to be willing to slow down, show them how, and then let them do it while you observe.  It slows the job–but it empowers the kid.

Using power tools, machinery, or engaging in a risky job also requires a higher level of responsibility than we are demanding from our children.  A parent or other responsible adult who works with kids often will know when and if that responsibility has reached the proper level.  Naming a certain age at which this happens is never an accurate way to determine when they are ready.

Our society, for whatever reason, has taken a dim view of vocational education.  As Mike Rowe has well determined, “Somebody’s got to do it.” If we don’t change our attitudes and start teaching children skilled labor, we are going to rapidly be in serious trouble.   They aren’t all going to become master plumbers, or carpenters, or mechanics.  However, at least having some knowledge of those skills and how to make minor repairs is important knowledge everybody should possess.

Imagine how we could change the world if teenagers could run a lawn mower as well as they run a game controller.  Consider the money they could make if they could use a hammer and power saw with the same skill they display crafting a text message.  Our country needs a renaissance in which teens put down the fork and pick up a hoe.   We need more “do-ies” and fewer “selfies” in a society which has gotten completely screwed up.

…or maybe I’m just too old.