Youth are unlikely to have a positive attitude about work unless their parents do. Unfortunately, many people still look upon work as did the ancient civilizations, viewing it as curse or drudgery and placing little value on promoting it to improve the national character. The Bible laments the driving of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, whereupon man had to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. In early Greek, Roman, and other cultures, work was done by the lower classes or by slaves; an individual was born into his occupational class, where the higher classes received no training in common tasks; rulers were given the craft at the top of the hierarchical ordering, with workers at the bottom. Freedom of choice was nonexistent.
Today work need no longer be a drudgery to the majority of working people. Ideally, the individual has an opportunity to understand his own capabilities and likes and to select a career related to these. Few must work only to exist. It is through work that an individual achieves maturity and experiences satisfaction, accomplishment, and joy in earning an income-and learns to express himself.
It is the responsibility of the family to impress upon the child the idea that work is a privilege and not a drudgery. The teaching of this attitude can be one of the most important tasks of the family. Cartoonist Charles Schulz may have Snoopy complain, "Work is the crabgrass in the lawn of life," but work-for pay, for service to self and to others, or for avocation, coupled with leisure-comprises that lawn. Elementary school teachers can assist parents in acquiring the attitude that work is good, as well as essential in a youngster's life.
Though some successful parents, having experienced hardships in their upward struggle to their present position in life, wish to spare their children these experiences, they fail to realize that these struggles may be the very lessons that developed their ability to achieve. Far too many parents believe that if they could make life easier for their children than it was for them, the children would somehow be better off... as if the ideal would be to create a condition under which the children would never have to work. This attitude is diametrically opposed to what we know and can predict about work in our society. The preservation of some form of work ethic and work values serves as an underlying goal of career education because it is necessary to the successful interrelation-ships of that society. Parents who take pride in their children's aspirations for work and successful performance of work tasks, no matter how small, are teaching concepts that are essential to our future.
This concept was illustrated by Socrates who interviewed a prospective student by asking: "Can you cook your own meals?" "No," the student said, "we have servants for doing that." "Well," Socrates continued, "can you make your own sandals?" "No," the student replied, "we have servants for doing that." Socrates then asked, "Can you make your own toga?" "No," the student said, "we have servants for doing that also." "Isn't it a shame," Socrates replied, "that we teach our servants better than we teach our own children."
It is vital that youngsters become involved in work, and parents can create work projects which will give children needed work experiences. All too often parents shake their heads in despair when children fail to complete assigned work tasks. Teachers can counsel parents in involving children in tasks around the home, explaining the following principles, which are common counsel in employer-employee relationships, but are usually neglected with children:
- Parents should realize that children gain most from a work project when they understand the entire scope of a task. Children are often given only menial tasks without fully comprehending the entirety of the job; therefore, they regard their jobs as dull, gain the idea that work is a punishment or a drudge, and avoid it wherever possible. If the child is able to see the gestalt, the wholeness of a task, from the reasoning, planning, execution, and evaluation stages, he is more likely to understand and appreciate the scope of the project. For example, children often dread the task of emptying the trash. However, if they receive an orientation of the relationship of this task to health or medicine and are provided with an opportunity to role-play tasks of those in medical professions, the job can be regarded as important and fun for the child. At the same time, the child has increased his knowledge about careers.
- Parents should involve their children in creative work projects. Though they are often concerned that their children seem to regard work as a drudgery, parents sometimes fail to create work projects that would interest their children and provide them with valuable work experience. The following examples could be cited by the elementary school teacher in a parent-teacher conference to induce parents to create work projects in their own families:
(a) One family, desiring a work project to foster family togetherness, organized a "Shower Club," electing officers and holding business meetings. The purpose of the work project was to install a shower in their home. Involving all the family, the club members planned how to raise funds and how to arrange for the shower's construction. Each member gained knowledge of work as a carpenter by watching the father cut, saw, and nail the pieces of lumber. They learned what a plumber has to do to connect new pipes to old inlets and outlets, and they became adept as painters when the father and mother allowed them to handle the paintbrushes-with much coaching from the parents. In addition, they obtained some slight knowledge of accounting as they totaled their budget and subtracted payments for the lumber, paint, plumbing fixtures, and so forth. When the project was finished, the parents were gratified to find that their children were imbued with a new attitude... that work is challenging, even exciting, and well worth the effort.
(b) In another family where the father is a physician, the parents were concerned that their children were leading a too-easy existence. The parents wished to instill a respect for manual labor in their offspring lest they grew up thinking that "work" meant only a profession and the duties imposed by a profession. They assigned manual tasks for which the children were responsible, in the home and at the office, and were keen to make certain that these tasks were carried out to the smallest detail. Because they wanted the children to learn the value of money as well as the value of manual work, they paid in definite amounts for the work done. The children not only received valuable hands-on experiences from these tasks, they earned a regular income with an added knowledge of the worth of their contributions.
- Children will have a stronger positive outlook on work and will put a greater effort into their tasks when they are provided with "time off." Even as adults enjoy vacations, children also look forward to them. If they are given a day off each week, free from housework, they will be more likely to enjoy work the remainder of the week, and following their day off, will accomplish their assigned work with increased desire and motivation.
- To use work as a punishment can only diminish the attractiveness of work as a concept. The same is true of insistence on work for work's sake, simply because the parent feels that the child ought to work. Some tasks may be intrinsically enjoyable; but for most tasks, the satisfaction comes from some form of achievement through work. It is that achievement which will be stressed by the wise parents.
Through consultations, the elementary school teacher can determine if parents have unrealistic or unreasonable expectations for their children. Then instead of scolding the parents for their expectations, the teacher may help the parents reorient their thinking by involving the child and parents in activities related to the child's interests and abilities. A self-explanatory activity which could assist the parents in learning the likes, dislikes, abilities, and interests of the child could then be implemented in the home.