Work Ethic and Attitudes of Entitlement

A Short History of Education

We in the U.S. view education is a “right” because the laws mandating required attendance give parents no optional choice, other than homeschooling. What most people don’t understand is that education is federally funded to develop a workforce that meets the needs of the national economy and businesses’ needs for a skilled workforce. These laws began when manufacturing was located in cities where there was an abundant supply of unskilled workers. Manufacturers employed children for reasons of size (fingers, hands, bodies that could reach into small spaces) and economics (children would be paid less).

Businesses wanted a workforce that could follow directions and do repetitive tasks. Sometimes those tasks developed into skills not associated with machines. An example is that mechanics became experts on machine maintenance and repair. Imagine living in our current world without a mechanic! As machines become more complicated, employers wanted employees who were at least literate to some degree. By requiring children to attend school and learn to read and compute, fewer children were employed. The growing number of adult workers, many of whom were immigrants, took advantage of the situation.

What has pushed the age at which a child can legally drop out of school was the need to stop children from taking jobs potentially for adults who had families to support. The body of laws governing the labor force under age 18 is called the child labor laws. These regulate the number of hours and the times during which adolescents can work during the school day, on weekends and during the summer. They also regulate the type of jobs younger workers can have. An example is someone may work in a fast food restaurant between the hours of 4 pm and 8 or 9 pm and for 8 hours on the weekends, no later than 9 or 10 pm; the same individual cannot drive a vehicle. Insurance regulations usually limit heavy equipment to those over the age of 25.

Current Education

Employers became used to having responsible, skilled adults as employees. The standards for literacy increased and jobs that once were designated as manual work became skilled. Labor unions started demanding specific training programs: apprenticeships and journeymen were stepping stones to full membership. The vocational and technical schools, once at the high school level, became post secondary. Because students had higher levels of education, text books required higher levels of reading which sounded the silent death knell for people who would rather physically do than academically achieve.

The prevailing logic on student achievement is that everyone can achieve at grade level. Grade level is the average achievement of students at a particular age. Average, of course, means that there are students achieving above as well as below. Enrollment in school according to birth dates creates a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional maturation (hence, readiness) for skills instruction in any given classroom. Beginning in kindergarten, grade level instruction means the students has achieved certain developmental milestones. What happens when the instructional content requires specific developmental stages to master it, but the child is not at that developmental level? Remedial instruction has been replaced with “intervention” strategies (more, longer, harder) rather than finding and teaching any missing skills to provide a strong foundation for higher levels of instruction. Children develop attitudes toward their assignments: do it and get it done, who cares if it is correct?

The student begins the failure syndrome. Policies regarding retention for students ensure everyone is promoted, regardless of whether or not they have attained skills mastery at any grade level. This tends not to happen in high school where credits must be earned, although students are placed in their age appropriate grade even if they have few credits to warrant that placement. Students have become accustomed to being entitled to be promoted to the next grade or graduated to the next school level. The logic against retention is that it causes age and/or maturation difficulties for the student and his peers. Social relationships suffer with maturational differences, especially in elementary school. There are psychological stressors on the child because there are misunderstandings as to why he was retained. An additional problem is what would teachers do differently the second or third time around?

Developing a Work Ethic

Promoting a child with his age group (social promotion) enables him to carry the attitude that he will progress no matter what he does or doesn’t master. The initial shock comes in high school where he must earn credits toward graduation. Students, unaccustomed to work completion and studying, come into conflict with state requirements for graduation. Unless they adapt and develop those skills, they will fail both in school and in the workplace. Unfortunately, many haven’t learned the basic skills and attitudes on which to build a work ethic. Employers are disenchanted with the workforce because fewer individuals have the skills that employers want: self-discipline; ability and willingness to be responsible for standards levels of performance by the self and the group; ability and willingness to solve complex problems; ability and willingness to communicate appropriate with others, both peers and supervisors.

The work ethic, the belief that doing one’s best on a job at all times, has been disappearing from this country. In part, our social welfare programs are responsible, because individuals’ basic needs are assured. When individuals do not qualify for those programs, as illegal immigrants do, the worth ethic is alive and well because there is the need to work and remain employed for survival. Fewer people have that inner drive to achieve and be proud of what they accomplish.

The work ethic and achievement values have been replaced at school by social attitudes and fairness. Mediocrity at school and work has been rewarded. Peers view work achievement and a strong work ethic with suspicion because those qualities make others look “bad”. Social pressure prevails unless the individual changes jobs often.

Work Ethic, Education and Parenting

All the furor about education reform does not address the work achievement or work ethic attitudes. It tries to establish standards for basic literacy and/or information. It does not address what should worry employers most: work ethic and workplace skills and behavior. Those skills most easily manifest in children when they are successful in school tasks and take pride in their accomplishments. That means that children need parental support to help them master the basics so they can comply with requirements at school. A work ethic begins at home: compliance with parents’ directions for chores, achieving praise and rewards for special achievements, and seeing the parent taking his/her jobs seriously. Parents needing more support can visit Parents Teach Kids for help.