In his speech to the NAACP the other day, President Obama talked about education and said it was his goal to assure that every single child in this nation got an education all the way through college. He spoke of going to college as “fulfilling the promise” that life held for everyone, and here I am as a 66-year-old retiree without a college degree. He’s saying, in effect, that I did not “fulfill the promise” of my life, and I’m a bit insulted by that.
After high school I went into the Navy, where I was trained as an electrician. I then worked in steel plants as an electrician, machine operator, maintenance mechanic, and supervisor. I later did get some advanced education, worked in plant management and later formed my own company, but that does not mean that I did not take great satisfaction in my career as a blue collar worker. I enjoyed it a great deal and took pride in being an excellent electrician and mechanic. In some ways those were better days than the white collar jobs that followed.
I thought back to when I was an electrician at Allis Chalmers Manufacturing. We built electrical transformers that were so big you could live in them. They were for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and they were not as big as a house, they were as big as an apartment building. They carried voltages and electrical currents that you cannot even imagine. We built those things, and they helped light up half of America. There were several hundred of us working on those transformers; not one of us had a college degree, and we did something pretty valuable and contributed something to our community and to our nation.
A few weeks ago I happened to be watching when our garbage can was emptied. The truck was the type with a mechanical arm operated by the driver and, after dumping the can, the driver moved forward, extended the arm just a bit and neatly set the can in our driveway rather than leaving it in the street. I had a slight urge to go out and shake his hand. Here was a garbage truck driver, taking pride in his job and doing it with flair and style.
We need those garbage truck drivers who take pride in “doing it right.” We need the electricians wiring up the motor controllers and repairing the cranes. We need the crane operators at the docks, and the truck drivers on the highways. These are not just “bridge jobs” to be suffered through while you wait for something better, they are honorable jobs that need to be done by people who take pride in doing them well.
When you hold out a college degree as the necessary expectation of every child you denigrate these jobs and many others like them which do not require advanced education, and you discourage today’s youth from any willingness to fill them. You turn these jobs into the infamous “jobs that Americans don’t want to do.”