In any life, an occupation isn’t enough

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Gov. Paul LePage joined business leaders Tuesday to launch a campaign to interest more Maine students in manufacturing jobs.

This is a good idea, no doubt. Students should be aware of opportunities in all areas and realistic about the career paths they take.

LePage used the occasion to take a swipe at the educational establishment. “Our schools have been in denial of what’s going on out there,” he said.

He may have a point, but let’s not only blame teachers. Many families over the last century have specifically aimed their children at college and even professions.

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How many of us have heard from our fathers, “You’re going to college so you don’t have to work in the factory like me.” (Or drive truck, mine coal or run an elevator.)

All honorable occupations, but our parents envied the doctor in the white coat or the boss in the white shirt, and wanted “better,” as they saw it, for their children. Including a better income.

Many grew up knowing that anything short of college was going to be a disappointment to their parents and they were eventually lauded as the first in the family to graduate from college.

What’s more, we all know the numbers. Manufacturing jobs have been disappearing in Maine and across the country for several decades.

But manufacturing is a long way from disappearing, and there are many reasons to believe manufacturing once done overseas may be returning to our shores.

Many of these jobs are not your father’s back-breaking mill job. They involve robots and elaborate precision equipment.

But we challenge the idea that either a certificate in welding or a Ph.D. in botany ensures a well-rounded person.

Learning is a lifelong process, and anyone who doesn’t think so is shortchanging themselves and our society.

There’s is an interesting book called the “Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.”

It is revealing to thumb through the pages and see how much you have absorbed not just from formal education, but from Sunday school, the military or your vacation out West.

What is NAFTA? Who fought in the first world war? Who was Job? What is DNA? What were the Dark Ages? Or the Renaissance? Or the Ten Commandments?

And it’s all relevant, all important.

“Community is built up of shared knowledge and values — taken for granted as part of the fabric that connects us to one another,” explains the preface to the Cultural Dictionary.

This is essential in a democracy where we are all called upon to weigh difficult and even highly technical questions.

What are the ethical issues in genetic engineering? Who’s right about global warming? Why do we talk about Roosevelt’s “New Deal” even today? How can Mainers have a higher tax burden but still pay lower taxes than residents of other states?

Of course, we all need an occupation. But if a young person thinks that’s enough, they are cheating themselves and society.

We should all be striving to be a polymath, a person whose expertise spans a lot of different subjects.

That’s the person who can weld but can also frame a house, talk about the Civil War with authority, speak a second language, bait a hook and know what “Gangnam style” means.

Yes, we all need a marketable occupation, whether it be welding or psychiatry.

But, according to Rudyard Kipling, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we shall all be as happy as kings.”

He called that poem, “Happy Thought.”

He could have called it “Happy Life.”

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

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