via Daily Prompt: Apprentice

Okay. I have a beef with this century. Several, in fact, but today’s daily prompt brought one of my most significant peeves bubbling to the surface. I feel as though my fingers might blister and fall off if I don’t write at least one post about it. By and large (very large), we as a society not only do not have apprenticeships, but do not encourage them, and I feel as though this is one of many reasons why we have problems.

So. Many. Problems.

Allow me to elaborate. First, some history: Apprenticeship, as it was commonly used, hasn’t been in practice in Western Civilization since around about the years just before the Industrial Revolution. It was a functional system of education which involved getting your kid into a career early. You know, kind of like the elitists freaking out about which pre-school their toddler goes to so that the little crumb-grabber can end up in Harvard and then the Senate… when the time comes. Except this was very free-for-all and had less to do with power and more to do with secure futures.

Say you wanted your son, Edwin, to become a blacksmith. You’d have an edge, of course, if you knew a blacksmith, and the chap knew that you had a solid parenting character bucking your child up. Well, you would contact said blacksmith and offer up your kid as something of an unpaid (or low-paid) assistant for somewhere between three to seven years. Children would go into apprenticeships as early as seven, but rarely later than their early teens.

This apprenticeship, ideally, would offer Edwin room, board, the opportunity to learn a trade by which he might make a living, a mentoring relationship with his ‘master’, and the opportunity to see life outside of his home thereby expanding his understanding of the world at large. Of course, anytime free labor is involved, power dynamics are soon to follow. Surely, you have a friend who has horror stories of being an unpaid intern at ‘that place’. However, by the time the apprenticeship was through, young Edwin would likely have the means and abilities to live on his own. We’re talking ages 16-18, here, people.

Contrast this, if you will, with the modern American high school system. Your kid, let’s call him Josh, has been in mildly educational daycare from ages 5 through 18. Josh can read, write, and, hopefully, do basic arithmetic. He might have a dash of trade experience through shop class. He might have a one-in-10-million chance of becoming an NFL or NBA star with a million-dollar career. Odds are, however, if he’s going to get a job by which to support himself, let alone a family, Josh will need to go to college or trade school.

By the time Edwin was 18, he could pay his taxes (granted, they were a lot simpler back then), support a family, run a business, and generally add something to society. Taxes are an untaught subject in Josh’s school, he hasn’t the first idea about running a business unless he had some good talks with his dad around the dinner table, and work ethic… well… let’s just say it’s not a given.

We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re teaching our children the quadratic formula and the history of gender discrimination, but have we stopped to consider why? Are we thrusting knowledge down their throats for the sake of knowledge? Apprenticeships had a purpose. College kids are starting without majors so they can find their purpose.

Why? Would you rather hire Josh or Edwin? Why are we so keen on knowing instead of doing?

I think it’s because we don’t foster the most important thing in youngsters nowadays: interest.

You see, it’s not about finding that /dream/ job where you are your own boss and make a million dollars every year. That doesn’t give you purpose, not in the slightest. Pursuing your interests does. Why do you think people have hobbies?

When I was fifteen, I was stymied in a particular course with my interests. My parents lovingly suggested that I start working in the family business as a cook. I didn’t particularly want to, but it was something to do for the summer (at that point, I had turned 16). I was young and very impressionable, not unlike an apprentice, but I got paid the same as the other employees for doing the same work.

I did the same thing the next summer.

And the next.

And the next.

Eight years later, I’m still doing it – and you know what? I love it. I love my job. I haven’t called myself a ‘cook’ in years – I’m a chef. I take the technique and mentality seriously. And I’m taking on even more responsibility this year.

I was put to doing something practical, something hard, and I found purpose in it after the fact. Yes, I have a college degree. Yes, I have other skills. But… if I needed to find a job in the workplace at large… I’d probably bet on my abilities as a chef.

You might have noticed college students setting things on fire on the news lately. I think it’s because there’s a desperate need for purpose in our society. I think they want to be a part of something so badly, they’re willing to throw any decency or principal out the window to feel it. Somehow, I don’t think we’d have this drifting millennial generation (of which I am one) if we kept the idea of apprenticeship. First labor, then purpose.

Personally, I think purpose is easier to find that way. When you have a purpose, so many of the insignificant things simply fall away.

In short: fewer problems.

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