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.”
What I’d like to add to the discussion is this: Finding your life’s work isn’t just about finding the job in which you will make the most money. (Here, I bracket the fight to raise the minimum wage and the gendered struggle for equal pay for another conversation.) In addition, your vocation includes more than just your job. Discussion about vocation as a frame for working with students in higher education continue to circle back to this: We want to help students to discover their callings. Or their purpose, passion, goals for shaping a meaningful life. As David said, this is the language that has currency in many places where “vocation” still doesn’t quite translate in the way we might intend it to.
So what if welders don’t make as much money as philosophers? We need welders who are dedicated to their craft to help build a strong infrastructure in our communities. We also need philosophers skilled at the art of logic and critique, teachers with strategy and patience to manage a classroom of eight-year-olds, and entrepreneurs to create products and services that improve our health.
We need people whose goals include doing work that matters, doing it well, and contributing toward the well-being of our communities. And we need conversation about what all of that means.
What we don’t need is more people whose only goal is making as much money as possible!