It’s Not Just About the Money

By Sgt. William Begley (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/574004) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Sgt. William Begley (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/574004) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 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!

 

Welders, Philosophers, and “Vocational Education”

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.

By Sgt. William Begley (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/574004) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Sgt. William Begley (https://www.dvidshub.net/ image/574004) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

‘Islam and the Future of Tolerance’ and ‘Not in God’s Name’

In the November 8, 2015, New York Times Sunday Book Review, Sacks Not in God's Name Irshad Manji reviews

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 vocationHarris and Nawaz, Islam and the future of toleranceal 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.

Those wishing to plumb the questions further may be particularly interested in another book on the topic of religion and violence, published a few years back. Its author, William T. Cavanaugh, is a member of the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project and one of the contributors to the Project’s first volume of essays.  Cavanaugh’s book is titled The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).  For another (more popular) take on the topic, see Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Penguin Random House, 2014).