Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jobs for snobs won't make you happy

This post from Australia is a bit light-hearted but the author has a point

My friend Tom has a burning ambition to work on a road gang. Whenever he drives past roadworks, he slows down and beeps his horn at the blokes in hard-hats; waving, smiling, winding down his window to say hello. They don't often wave back. Tom's a solicitor at a big-city law firm. He has spent a decade studying, working overtime and establishing himself in a job he hates with a passion.

He's not alone. Marie's loathing of her insurance firm is so intense she's begun trying to bankrupt the place from the inside, fantasising about the day the liquidators move in. The only thing preventing Kate quitting as a emergency doctor is an occasional illicit blast of pharmaceuticals from the dispensary - and the fact she's eaten so many consolation Tim Tams she's worried her scrubs are the only clothes that still fit.

This is a strange little phenomenon that started in the first few years after we left school. The people who were apparently the brightest - the ones who got the highest marks - soon became the most likely to be hollow-eyed and unhappy. Most of them despised their colleagues only slightly less than they loathed their bosses. They'd lie at parties about what they did for a crust. Everyone had reverse ambition: grand dreams of work at the drive-thru.

These are white-collar people. They're not slitting throats in abbatoirs or mopping up spilt orange juice in shopping malls; they're working in industries of prestige, with opportunities for taxi-charge rorting and other fringe benefits.

Objectively, there's no good reason for them to do jobs they hate. Except for our oddly snobbish system of university admissions. Last week, thousands of NSW kids went through the agony of discovering their marks in the Higher School Certificate. To the students, the scores are desperately important. Those four little numbers will determine the future shape of their lives. And what a shame that is.

This is how it works. A clever kid works as hard as possible for the final two years at school. He'd quite like to be a PE teacher, or maybe a tour guide. He makes it through exams, avoids getting arrested at Schoolies, and learns his university admissions index ranking - let's say it's 97.35. Then he looks at the line-up of university courses he can scrape into - it might be podiatry at the University of New England, or actuarial studies at UNSW.

Tour-guiding and PE are forgotten. Mum and Dad say it'd be mad to waste his time on anything like that, when his marks are giving him the chance to get into such flash degrees. Everyone from teachers and classmates to Nanna's friends urge him to make the most of his potential by entering the highest-mark course he can possibly get into. They say it'd be a terrible thing to waste all those marks by going into a degree that requires a mark of only 70.5, or - horrors! - an apprenticeship. And so our brilliant school-leaver spends the rest of his days removing ingrown toenails or sitting behind a desk worrying about whether his managing partner likes him.

How did we get into this logical cul-de-sac? Instead of considering what will make our kids happy, our collective tendency is to think only about whether their marks are high enough for the most impressive-sounding courses. Off they go to law school or radiology lectures - even if they'd much rather own a tea-shop or wax eyebrows. Any top-scoring student who fails to enter a high-mark course is regarded as a bit thick - or at least ungrateful and in need of a good war. Wouldn't it be better to encourage kids - and educational institutions - to think more cleverly about how they guide students into careers?

A federal review of higher education last week recommended changing the university admission system so a high school mark is not the only criterion for determining entry. The review suggests including interviews and other tests for gauging what suits individual students That's a good start. The next step is a bit trickier - eliminating the ingrained snobbery that shoehorns kids into the wrong careers. Law and medicine might be potentially lucrative careers, but they're no social good if they make Junior miserable.

Tom claims he's seriously considering applying for work as a stop-go man on a road gang. He says he'd be sure to wave back at all the passing cars. I'd love to see it.


9-year-old is called a drug dealer over cough drops

Case prompted when student shared Vitamin C candy with friend

A Florida elementary school accused a 9-year-old student of selling drugs for sharing cough drops with friends. Officials at Patterson Elementary School in Clay County decided, however, not to discipline Khalin Rivenbark, who met with the girl and her father Wednesday.

The accusation arose one day earlier when the child got into trouble after her father put some Halls Defense Vitamin C cough drops in her school bag when she was recovering from a cold, she told Jacksonville's WJXT-TV. She later shared some with friends.

"[A teacher] saw me with the cough drops out and I guess she saw me give it to one of my friends, and then like, 'Oh, I see this good business going on around you,'" Khalin told the station. "She said, 'You're selling drugs.' (I said) 'No, I'm not.'" The 9-year-old said one of her friends gave her $1 for the cough drop.

Her father, Andy Rivenbark, told the station, "It's absolutely crazy." The student said the cough drops were in her bag, and two friends asked for one, so she handed them out. One friend insisted on paying. "She felt guilty taking the cough drop or whatever, so she gave me a dollar. I didn't want to accept it, but she had me take it," Khalin told the Jacksonville TV station.

The student handbook for Clay County Schools says, "If a student must take a prescription or over-the-counter medication during school hours, it must be received and stored in the original container, and be labeled with the student's name, current date, prescription dosage, frequency of administration and physician's name." But WJXT reporter Diane Cho questioned whether the Halls cough drops qualify as a drug, since the ingredients were nearly the same as Lifesavers candy.

Andy Rivenbark said he didn't get a note or call from school administrators about the incident. "It's definitely detrimental to somebody who we teach the whole time growing up, 'don't use drugs because drugs are bad.' To accuse her, it's unnecessary to make a comment like that," Rivenbark said.

The report said the meeting included an admonition from school officials for the child not to bring cough drops again.


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