Friday, September 28, 2012

The Working Class

I had an interesting conversation today at school. One of my students came up to me prior to the first bell and said, "I'm so embarrassed. My mom is working here at school today." Within only a few seconds, I responded, "Don't ever be embarrassed that you have a parent who is willing to work."

To understand the passion with which I uttered those words, you must first understand the geographic area where I live and work. Owsley County, where I teach, is usually found somewhere near the top of the list of poorest counties in the United States. A bit of research helped me locate the median household income based on the 2010 census: $18,125.

True, part of the reason for this low income status is that we do not have much industry or business within a several county radius. The nearest Wal-Mart, oftentimes used as a reference point for how much commerce is available, is one county over, and that one isn't even one of the Super Wal-Marts. There is no McDonald's to hire students after school or parents through the week and if you want to get a prescription filled, you go to a locally owned pharmacy because there is no Walgreens or Rite Aid.

There are adults who would work, if jobs were available, but there has been a progressively growing number of people who have become dependent upon the government for assistance. This laid-back attitude has been filtering down into the generation of students who fill the seats in my classroom. Any discussion regarding future plans, future education, or careers garners at least a handful of responses like these: "I'm not going to finish high school.", "I'm going to drop out.", and most startling to me, "I'm just going to go home and draw a check."

It is because of this handful of students and their apparent lack of appreciation for a good work ethic that I responded as I did. I think that the young man was probably more embarrassed by his mom's presence at school than he was by the fact that she was working. This student understands that his parent is doing whatever she can to work at every opportunity that presents itself. I just wish that I knew how to help some of those OTHER students who have no vision of working, of earning a living, of the self satisfaction that a paycheck, no matter what size, can bring.

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