Do Students Reject Learning Based on Job Expectations?


I worked for a while in rural North Carolina.  I confronted two issues there that are instructive. The first was that many people did not value education because for the most part they expected to do menial labor activities on farms or in construction.  They figured they did not need much education. That was the adults!!  Kids in such situations have little hope of succeeding academically when their parents do not value education, and in some cases may either ridicule their efforts or at least be un-supportive of same.  The second was the idea that the “guys” who could not work anywhere but needed a job should get a job with the “city.”  Wow, I’d like to hope we are past both of these, but the Census statistics clearly show we are not on the education part at least.  Census data indicates that when you look at educational spending, per capita income, graduation rates and unemployment rates, the bottom 10 states are:

North Carolina

Tennessee

South Carolina

Nevada

Kentucky

Alabama

Mississippi

West Virginia

Louisiana

Arkansas

All but Nevada (#35) are in the bottom 12 in spending per student and the academic achievement of their students appears to indicate the efforts are inadequate.  For the most part these are largely rural southern states, so my experiences 25 years ago may be no different now. Kids see low wages, higher unemployment and figure what does education get them?, so it perpetuates the myth of their parents. Or maybe it is not a myth afterall?  Interesting these are primarily the states with the highest number of students in poverty, lead my Mississippi’s whopping 71%.  All are over 50%. All among the states with highest rates of food stamp recipients.  So the kids are living the low income expectations.

Where I currently am I periodically interact with inner-city kids. No surprise, there is a similar mindset – the kids see their future as minimum wage jobs that require no skills, or the expectation that the violence of their surroundings will catch up to them (crime, welfare, etc).  None of their expectations require education (although it is surprising how sophisticated their understanding of all of these issues are), so many do not pursue learning with vigor after 10 or 12 years old. Skipping school, suspensions, lower scores and grades are common.  Too many parents do not encourage their kids and the mindset creates deterioration of urban schools. Periodically I have students who are actively trying to escape the stereotypes, but they will confirm that school is not a priority for far too many  inner city kids.  No surprise they learn this from their parents who are often underemployed or lack good employment because they never obtained the education needed to escape the neighborhood. 

In both cases the problem is lack of employment expectations. The kids look around them and figure they have no hope of escaping the minimum wage, limited skill jobs. Unfortunately our job resurgence indicates that these are the jobs we are producing the most on far too many areas.  In the past 2 years, the State of Florida suggests that 90% of the jobs created are minimum wages jobs.  The local casinos are advertising for hundreds of jobs – as waiters, kitchen help, maintenance, etc. most starting at or just above minimum wage rate.  The hospitality industry is full or low wage, limited skill jobs. So is agriculture in rural areas. The problem is the message sent to kids?  Education is not rewarded, so why bother.

So what does this have to do with utilities?  Utilities are everywhere and inn every community. Education affects utilities because as technology grows, we need better job skills from workers.  Gone are the days of hiring people to dig ditches that may not need to read, write or do math.  We are computerizing everything.  As a result all of our jobs, regardless how much labor may be involved, need skills.  Utility field people are the face of the utility.  We need qualified, employees to can represent the utility well, not uneducated, ignorant people who can’t answer questions or who cannot communicate with the public about what they are doing.  The question is how to solve this problem especially in rural areas where education may not be valued. 

First, we need to get into the schools.  Not colleges, but middle schools.  That is where many students appear to be lost.  They get to be 16 and drop out.  Hanging out, not working, gangs, crime, drug cultures, etc all appear to be “easier” than going to school and then working to earn a living.  We need to create value in all of our jobs.  Certainly not all jobs need a college education, but  a high school diploma with basic abilities to read, write, do math and communicate to the public are needed to create value for us. We need to impress on rural communities and inner city kids that we provide desirable jobs and encourage them toward us.  That may mean internships, student efforts in schools, tours, and lots of interaction with teachers.  It takes time, but may be worth our while on many levels.  

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