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What real jobs are out there, and how does school help?

Pedestrians walk by construction workers at Fulton Street and Broadway without a second glance.
Pedestrians walk by construction workers at Fulton Street and Broadway without a second glance.
Beth Ellor

As I go from one school to another, the sheer numbers of children overwhelm me. All stoically marching towards College and Career readiness. Yet I know from a wide range of anecdotal and personal experience, that right now, work is very hard to find. Sometimes parents will bemoan the years of seemingly irrelevant study in academic courses that their now-unemployed and discouraged child took in college - Elizabethan Drama, or German Romanticism, for example - and wish they had insisted on 'career readiness'. But talking to other parents, and unemployed people constantly in my acquaintance, I see that accountancy and business management weren't necessarily any more rewarding or successful in the great survival chase. Perhaps the lawyers, and certainly the medical field – hard to see the path to that from my 3rd grade observations…

But what of those who don’t pass the various milestones and go to college? Looking at the great mass of 3rd graders, who can be mediocre readers, poor mathematicians, rebels against studying and homework, living in families that have also not had much contact with the abundant, well-paid, consistent kinds of jobs that used to exist - what are their future job prospects like?
Sometimes as I walk about, I make a list of all the visible sightings of people doing actual jobs. Not the invisible professionals, office workers, not the account executives, or the secretaries booking appointments in reception areas - etc. The people who are serving the community as Postal workers, road works repairmen, internet installers, delivery truck drivers, freight handlers, security, doormen, and especially today - construction workers.
Down at the World Trade Center, there are more building sites than ever! Everything is starting to take shape, the through roads are being cleared out, the transportation hubs are rising, everywhere there are workers in construction gear doing major construction work, handling massive cranes, loading giant pieces of steel, creating the soon to be invisible infra-structure that will support the sleek hi-tech modern environment that is taking shape not just there, but all over the city. How do those people qualify for those jobs? Union affiliations? Civil service tests? Advertisements in trade papers, or on company websites? Are they well paid employees with benefits? Or contract workers with barely even disability insurance, if ever they should need it...?
I can tell you one thing they are not - physical weaklings. So how is a regimen of testing where children barely have 20 minutes of recess in good weather, where gym has been excessed and mandatory amounts of Phys. Ed. are routinely ignored, where running a couple of laps in the playground leaves them winded with their hearts visibly pounding in their throats - where are these strong, resilient people going to come from if we deny most growing children adequate exercise? How will they build stamina and assurance in their physical agility and skill? If we don't let them build with blocks in Kindergarten, how will they ever learn to maneuver the materials of construction and architecture?
I can only ask the questions, society at large must decide where and how public education provides opportunities and avenues toward decent jobs and competent workers. Saying "College and career readiness" as if it is a panacea, as if it actually meant anything - just doesn't address the issues I see before me every day.
The slide show includes documentation of just one area of the city, and the variety of employment I saw there. I also include views of the old industrial loading docks of Red Hook, from the Ferry, with giant cranes, piers and container shipping sites which once provided hundreds or thousands of jobs. That work wasn't for the fainthearted, and it probably had its down side, as work usually does. But it also was an economic base for whole communities and workers, and except for retail jobs being developed in the area, it's gone. But the children of this City deserve decent and abundant ways to provide for their future families, as well as the opportunity to explore higher learning. The two are not mutually exclusive. We have to keep laser focused on all aspects of the question – how?

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