Acton Institute Powerblog

Mike Rowe on Higher Education and ‘Vocational Consolation Prizes’

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Ever since the cancellation of Discovery Channel’s hit show Dirty Jobs, former host Mike Rowe has been spreading his message more directly, challenging Americans on how they approach work and success.

As Jordan Ballor has already noted, much of Rowe’s critique centers on the current state of higher education. In a recent appearance on The Blaze, Rowe offers a bit more color on this, pointing to the growing disconnect between skills and needs and wondering what it says about our larger attitudes regarding work:

As Rowe explains:

College needed a PR campaign in the mid 70s. It did. We needed more people to actively use their brain. But like all PR campaigns, it went too far, and we started promoting college at the expense of all those vocations I mentioned that my grandpop did. And suddenly, those things become vocational consolation prizes.

“Vocational consolation prizes” may strike some as a touch too cute, but it seems to me a rather helpful crystallization of the common sentiment we see today. It challenges us to reconsider our view of work itself, certainly. But further, it prods us to consider the uncomfortable possibility that we may, just may, be viewing our achievements as some sort of “prize” in the first place — in which our vocational pursuits are primarily about us, rather than the glory of God and the love of neighbor.

One of the primary challenges of economic change is orienting one’s goals, hopes, and dreams within the economic habitat of human needs. The disconnect Rowe points to indicates plenty of disorder when it comes to how we approach or view certain jobs or vocations, but any such perspective may itself indicate another bit of disorder in how we approach the self in relation to God and man.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.