As my colleague David Cunningham has already discussed, a comment made at the November 10 Presidential debate brought many things into question: “I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”
David mention the ongoing conversation about the factually incorrect part of the statement (who makes more money) and the grammatical error (less v. fewer). He also considered how this particular use of the word vocation continues to inform much public discourse:
“The last two decades have seen huge changes in the language of vocation, such that — in the world of higher education, at least — the phrase ‘vocational education’ is no longer so frequently used when referring to trade-school training for work such as welding, cooking, or diesel mechanics. But as this candidate’s comment suggests, that usage is still very common in the larger political and cultural realm.”
At a recent debate among candidates for President, one participant (who, for the purposes of this blog, will remain nameless) made the following statement:
I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.
Said candidate has been criticized on many fronts. Philosophers actually make considerably more than welders, if a “philosopher” is someone who teaches philosophy. And of course, anyone with a bachelor’s degree (in philosophy or anything else) will earn considerably more over a lifetime than someone without one.
In addition, several commentators have wryly asked why the candidate’s own academic background had not taught him the difference between “less” and “fewer.”
(I suppose that I’ve partially identified him by using “him”; however, I’m also guessing that few readers will have imagined that Carly Fiorina made this swipe, since her own undergraduate philosophy major seems to have prepared her pretty well for her career.)
These quibbles aside, what particularly struck me about the above quotation is the use of the word vocational. The last two decades have seen huge changes in the language of vocation, such that — in the world of higher education, at least — the phrase “vocational education” is no longer so frequently used when referring to trade-school training for work such as welding, cooking, or diesel mechanics. But as this candidate’s comment suggests, that usage is still very common in the larger political and cultural realm.
This should serve as a reminder, to those of us deeply involved in the campus conversation about vocation, that our work may not always translate easily into the wider public context. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use the word vocation; it does mean, however, that we may want to be a bit more intentional and active as to how we define it, employ it, and explicate it.
The terminological problem also suggests that when we think about “alternative” language for vocational thinking (call and calling, lives of meaning and purpose, and so on), we might not want to think of this as merely optional. At this juncture in history — when the word vocational is still being used (and heard) as referring primarily to trade schools — we should generally seek to employ a wider range of vocabulary. This will help us to get the message out beyond our immediate contexts.
Why recommend this book review, and the books themselves, to those interested in “vocation matters”? Because some in higher education may shy away from even secularized versions of religious discernment and vocational language because of the connection they see between religion and violence, tout court.
Manji and the authors she reviews can offer helpful nuance and useful perspectives to deploy when the (often exaggerated) religion-violence linkage surfaces in a counseling situation or collegial conversation.
The blurb on the TED site indicates where Wapnick is taking her viewers:
What do you want to be when you grow up? Well, if you’re not sure you want to do just one thing for the rest of your life, you’re not alone. In this illuminating talk, writer and artist Emilie Wapnick describes the kind of people she calls “multipotentialites” — who have a range of interests and jobs over one lifetime. Are you one?
Her message is worth pondering and sharing with students.
Here’s a problem faced by a great many college students as they complete their undergraduate years:
When graduation comes around, the big question facing students, faculty advisors, and parents is: what’s next? After pursuing immersive and engaged experiences in academic settings, these passionate, hardworking students are not as excited about taking up well-paying but arguably monotonous jobs in large organizations. They want to directly see the impact of their work rather than designing a widget in a cubicle and becoming another cog in the corporate wheel.
This quotation, from a forthcoming book (of which more below), describes a concern that a great many college faculty and staff have seen re-enacted every year at graduation time. The students have been formed by Continue reading →
I find it useful to think of “vocation” as one of Western culture’s master plots for narrating or making sense of our lives. But we need to recognize that a narrative approach to vocational self-understanding—whether secular or religious—throws into stark relief the differences between the situationof faculty and staff, on the one hand, and the situation of the students with whom they work, on the other.
It is much easier for faculty and staff to tell their stories than it is for students to imagine with any certainty the story that will, eventually, be theirs. And that uncertainty places obligations on educators Continue reading →
In leading faculty and staff workshops on vocation at the NetVUE campuses of Illinois College and Carthage College, I have used this short video to spark conversation. Although the video definitely broadens the scope of vocation beyond specifically theological callings, it does make explicit references to God and to Jesus (it was produced by the Fund for Theological Education). This is always a delicate balance. Continue reading →
Over the next several years, a group of about forty academic leaders will be involved in a series of projects designed to create new scholarly resources on vocation and vocational exploration. This project is sponsored by NetVUE, which is administered by the Council of Independent Colleges. Our work is made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
While we are also publishing journal articles and several books, we are aware that this project is part of an ongoing conversation about vocation as an important dynamic in undergraduate education. We want to support and nurture that conversation by Continue reading →