Blog author: ken.larson
by on Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In the July 22 Wall Street Journal, the editorial staff takes off on Congress for “bashing career colleges.” As a recruiter focusing primarily on manufacturing industries — where machines pound, pour, slit, weld, paint and deliver what the public demands and the guys up front have been able to book — I’ve noticed an increased lack of capable and eager young people for both the jobs on the shop floor and the ones in engineering.

The WSJ article suggests that career schools are looked at disparagingly by the state house and D.C. subsidy providers because they are mostly private and make profits. And I can testify to their being expensive because I’ve interviewed those who went to these schools for IT and “programming” training and have been told what their college loan balances are. They are not cheap at all. The larger question is why they have a place in the market.

At a high school I’m familiar with in southern California — I dare say at more than one — there is a thoroughly equipped wood shop. But the teacher on staff has only one course — CADD design. The machines are silent. And the same goes for many Catholic boy’s high schools that at one time filled the gap for a young man whose talents trended toward the engine of a car and not finding allusions in the poetry of Alexander Pope. “It’s all college prep now,” my very good Christian Brother friend informs me.

Well, if you read Charles Murray — I know, but let’s move past The Bell Curve for now, okay? — what you discover is a huge amount of research material that points toward an inescapable conclusion that not everyone should be going to college per se. “But, oh my God,” your wife intones, “what will they become without college?”

Those of you who’ve read my stuff over a period of time know I’m a movie guy. I periodically watch stories that give me an inspirational boost. In The Cowboys staring John Wayne, a rancher enlists the help of a dozen mostly pre-pubic young men from the town’s one-room school to help him drive his herd north for sale. It’s obviously a tough labor market. We learn it’s due to a gold rush. Wayne’s character doesn’t suffer fools easily but that’s not a bad thing and the boys are quickly transformed with the assistance of the hired cook played by Roscoe Lee Browne.

Along the way they meet a fellow who lies, has been in prison, tried gold but it required digging and has veered toward something he’s good at — taking other people’s property. His end is just. These are not boys anymore.

Murray suggests that the regime of college — and here let me be clear that I’m talking about a curriculum that presupposes a high school of preparation — is not suited to more than 30% of the population. While our culture has embraced “thinking man” and “debunker man” we’ve allowed “working man” to be neglected and looked down upon. That’s a bad thing. We’re not all rocket scientists and we all can’t get jobs working on rockets. And I have to tell you from experience, even jobs in exciting innovative industries can be menial to some who work there. I’ve listened to them complain.

When Leo XIII issued Rerun Novarum in 1891, a transitioning world and industrialization were in full stride. A division of labor was developing as processes became more complex than plant-harvest-eat. And we know markets are slow to adapt and unless all of us are on the straight and narrow — yea, lots of luck — we’re likely to meet guys like the one in the movie who takes “other people’s property” for a living. The operative word here is property because our talent, our time and what it provides us is OUR property. But this works only in a world where certain truths are known and become part of our formation as persons.

For me in my clumsy way — this is my understanding of Benedict’s reminder in Caritas in Veritate. And my illustration of the cattle drive strives to incorporate an example of subsidiarity — in this case a small family business. Just look at all the things it provided those boys, even the ones who didn’t make it home.

So, what do we do with Murray? The WSJ people are assuming that the only place we have to go is from where we are. But that means were laying courses on top of a foundation — oh God, I’ve used Obama’s illusion — that may not have any reinforcing steel in it. You know, lots of soil is expansive and steel helps tie things together. [Does "How firm a foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord" come to mind?]

It’s very illuminating to read letters from our Civil War soldiers to loved ones. They’re eloquent and most contain allusions found within the good book they had learned to read at home. They were mostly farmers and one among many children. And their letters are far better written than most emails I receive and covering letters sent to me with resumes from many who think they’re ready for the world of work.

We need to start school all over again, from scratch. And yes, there are models.


  • http://www.theupsstorelocal.com/4553/ PATRICK POWERS

    Another great book and movie about the power of work is CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS with Spencer Tracy. It’s one of my favorities, but hard to find.