My grandfather dropped out of school when he was in third grade, the sudden death of his father the driving force behind him having to abandon a formal education to go to work. By necessity my grandfather became a skilled laborer and eventually a well-to-do meat-packer; and no doubt his business success had to do with a commitment to self-education. He was an avid and voracious reader, which made him a well-rounded individual. He lived to be 97 years old, and right up till the end he could do the Sunday crossword puzzle in The New York Times in less time than I could replace the spark plug on my lawnmower.
I, in short, am not a well-rounded individual.
I may have graduated from Vanderbilt University, a (#humblebrag) top 20 school according to the U.S. News and World Report, but I’m about as handy around the house as a blind man with 10 thumbs. I recognize this failing and always have. I don’t disdain hard work, and have held my share of blue-collar jobs, including as a lawn-maintenance worker at a retirement community and a dishwasher at several restaurants. Give me a shovel and ask me to dig? No problem. Show me a steaming car engine and ask me for a diagnosis? No idea.
If I were unable to find work stringing together words, I’d have few reservations about turning to manual labor as a way to make ends meet. After all, I think I’d rather sweat than starve. Is that open-minded or merely practical?
Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, thinks the United States as a whole doesn’t respect blue-collar workers. The emphasis on obtaining a “higher education” overlooks the need for society to be undergirded by a workforce that possesses practical, useful trades, he says. Rowe, who jokingly refers to himself as a social anthropologist of sorts in the video above, recently testified to Congress about the need to start a nationwide public relations campaign touting the need for blue-collar workers. He notes how odd it is that the country is suffering from both high unemployment and a labor shortage in certain sectors. Why aren’t there enough skilled welders in certain areas? In part, it probably has to do with people’s lack of respect for this profession. Why would you want to become a welder or possess some other blue-collar job? Well, as Judge Smails in “Caddyshack” put it so aptly, “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”