A Dublin Café - the hostess was chatting with me about our visit and giving me suggestions of things to see.
On our first day on the isle of Eire, I noticed that the women cleaning the toilets were smiling and greeted women as they came into the facility. I, of course, returned the greeting, smiling back. How nice, I thought, but I didn't ponder on it for long.
Next, I noticed that the bus and tram drivers smiled at patrons, answering questions completely and politely. In addition, the vehicles we road in as well as the stations were immaculate. The same was found when we went to tea at the local museum cafés.
What got me really thinking, however, was the museum staff - everyone from the docents to the security guards. Not once did we encounter anyone not willing to explain something, give advice, directions or assistance, even if it meant walking with us to show us what we needed to know or do.
(Don't think for a moment that life in Ireland is perfect. There are problems there, same as everywhere. Their banks messed them over the same as ours. Unemployment is as big a challenge. There are homeless people and addicts. But, there is a difference in how people approach there day-to-day work, that I couldn't help but notice.)
After pondering for the past week, I have come to the realization that in Ireland, where children don't appear to be pushed from infancy to go to college, there is still pride in doing service work as well as handiwork. Carpenters are proud to be carpenters, masons are proud to be masons, waitstaff are proud to be waitstaff. Artists, poets, and musicians are a pride to a family, not considered less than perfect, or worse yet, failures. Walking the streets of Dublin, we saw tailors, cobblers and bakeries, something that we see too few of, if any, here in the US.
I have come to believe that here in the US, we have done a disservice to our children by expecting all of them to be college/university educated. Go to any town in the States and there are machine shops and factories lying empty and rotting. Working with your hands is something we have come to disdain, rather than admire. For instance, tool and die makers - a craft my grandfather was proud to be a master of at the Gillette factory in Boston - are hard to find in the US now. If things aren't being sent out of the country, then they are being done with computers and robotics, for which you need a college degree in order to operate the machines.
Why is it that we cannot be proud of our children if they want to become mechanics or plumbers or woodworkers? What is wrong with taking pride in construction work? My Dad was one of the people that dug out and built the Callahan Tunnel in Boston. To his dying day, he was proud of the work he did and the men who worked with him.
If we really want this country to be great, we need to push for less college readiness testing and more opportunities for children to use their individual gifts and talents in a way that suits them. After all, happiness in life is essential for a balanced, productive, and content human being. Rather than eliminating shop, art, and music classes, we need to promote them, allowing children to feel pride in the work they do as well as their creative accomplishments. In addition, we need to stop pressuring our children to be the number one best overall. Being the best they, individually, can be is what is important.
As an educator with over 40 years of teaching behind me, I have seen the heartbreak of a child who wants nothing else than to be a farmer or a singer or a mechanic, being forced onto the college track only to end up either dropping out with a host of emotional and mental issues or becoming a graduate with no joy in what they do for a living and no hope of changing it for fear of disappointing their parents.
Life is too short. As old as I am, I know without a doubt that happiness and contentment in ourselves and what we do is the key to a fulfilled life. We need to rethink what we are doing to our children and ourselves in this country before we no longer have options.
More on alternatives to college:
We Need Alternatives to Traditional College Education
Alternatives to College - various articles in the Huffington Post
Alternatives to Traditional College Education