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Development of Work Values

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During early childhood, an individual's self-concept is molded, and the work-a-day world plays a significant part in its formation. The home serves as a world of work laboratory for vocational development wherein children's attitudes, values, and goals are initially formed. By observing such home service personnel as milk and mail deliverers, television repair technicians, plumbers, and the like, children soon pattern their "play" experiences after these observations. From the world of work outside the home, they develop concepts of the nurse, the doctor, the law enforcement officer, the grocery clerk, and so forth.

Children listen to their parents and siblings express points of view about people in various occupations, thus acquiring their families' attitudes toward occupations. They soon learn to think of some occupations as valuable and some as valueless. Their inherent opinions of these occupations cling to them as they mature. Parents have a great deal to do with determining children's basic attitudes toward work... whether they will be work oriented or indolent, whether they will seek responsibility or avoid it, whether they will look upon work as an opportunity for growth or as drudgery. By observing their parents, children learn attitudes about gaining education or training, earning and spending money, enjoying esthetic experiences, doing different types of work, incorporating religious beliefs into their lives, and relating to others. The parents serve as models for children, with the youngsters absorbing values and goals their parents deem most important. A child may later accept or reject parents' attitudes and values, but the parents' orientation will have a great influence on the child's life.

Siblings also affect the child's vocational development. If an older brother or sister has done particularly well or has dismally failed in school or in a career, the influence on the younger child is manifested in the child's behavior toward the world of work. If there is strong rivalry between or among siblings, the child may avoid doing those things the brother or sister did. Conversely, if there are strong ties, the child may pattern his or her life after the older sibling.

Parents' occupations significantly influence the ways in which their children develop. If the father is a businessman, he will react to any family situation in a business-oriented manner; e.g., if he is primarily concerned with profit and loss, there will be a carryover of this concept into the home where it might affect the family budget, recreational activities, intrapersonal relationships, and even religious orientation. In short, the child will see the father dress as a businessman, speak as a businessman, act as a businessman, and in truth be a businessman. And the child's life will be in some manner oriented toward the world of business.

Similarly, if the child's mother is a schoolteacher, her occupation will influence the way that she relates to her own children. Because her training and work are oriented toward educational principles, she will incorporate the knowledge, attitudes, and experiences gained through her profession into her role as a mother. Thus the child's development will have been influenced by the parent's threefold role as homemaker, parent, and teacher.

Few would doubt that parents exercise the greatest single influence upon educational and career choices of their children. Yet, though most parents are aware of their responsibilities to their children, they have little concept of how they can aid in their children's career development. Parents express frustration at not knowing how to instill within their children the desire to want to work or to want to learn how to work. They often indicate that they do not know how to talk to their children in regard to future career roles. The schoolteacher may be able to help parents with these problems. The family and school can work together to convey work values to the youngster.

Elementary school children are in the "fantasy" stage of career exploration, where they see themselves performing tasks of various workers without identifying abilities or interests related to occupations. In this beginning stage of discovery, learning can be greatly enhanced if parents will create within the home an atmosphere that will enable a child to experiment with many occupations. Through work in the home, the child can be exposed to many careers if parents are alert to the relationship of the tasks in the home to the world of work. (For example, a child could learn about the field of interior decorating by becoming involved in buying or repairing furniture and making room arrangements in the home. An informed parent could assist the child to learn about this field by explaining decorating principles and by involving him in decisions and work that must be performed.) There are a multitude of tasks in the home relating to the working world which can assist the child to learn about such jobs as carpentry, taking care of a yard, purchasing, interior designing, chauffeuring, budgeting, restaurant and hotel work, education, health or medicine, mechanics, and so forth.

Not only can a child learn about types of work, he can also learn basic attitudes and values associated with work. Since the child will develop attitudes and values whether or not a deliberate attempt is made to teach them, the result may not be positive. The home can provide the setting wherein the child can learn to follow directions, work under authority, develop responsibility for accomplishing tasks, develop initiative to work without being told to do so, and complete each task he begins. However, the home can instill opposing values in the child if the parents continually express negative attitudes about work. "What a week! I'm glad it's Friday." "Back to the old salt mine." "You didn't do as you were told. Now you must scrub the floor as punishment!" None of these comments do much to make work seem worthwhile.

Parental involvement is particularly important in career exploration because the nature of today's society has removed many opportunities for parents and youth to work together. The era of the family farm or business has essentially expired. Few of today's youth know what kinds of jobs their parents hold or what they do when they get to their place of work. S. I. Hayakawa, President of San Francisco State College, said:

To become a man, it has always been necessary for boys to associate with men, as helpers on father's farm, as apprentices to craftsmen, as squires to knights, as water-boys to baseball teams. Through such associations, they learn the secrets of the adult culture; what rituals to observe, how to care for equipment... how to earn and maintain the respect of other men in a society of men. But today most boys are separated from the lives of men. Men leave for factory or office in the morning, commuting many miles to work. They do not return until evening. Boys are brought up by mothers and schoolteachers. Hence, boys often have no idea what their fathers do at work. They have no idea what a man does that makes him a man.

Yet self-evident as this statement is, it contains its own anachronisms which must be dispelled. Girls see mother primarily in her homemaking role, and rarely see other women in occupations other than teachers, nurses, or clerical workers. Opportunities must be established for them to perceive possibilities beyond the traditional stereotypes.

Just as the family business or farm is on its way to obscurity, so also is the era of the family as a self-sustaining unit. When once a family raised its own foods, made its own clothing, provided its own shelter, it has now entered an age of specialization in services and products. Rarely are parents involved in making or growing anything for the family. Instead, they are able to buy products and services without their children having a knowledge of how these products are manufactured or how service skills are learned. Lacking perspective on many types of work, parents are unable to teach their youngsters about work that involves family needs. Their own work has become so specialized that it is often only one segment in the manufacture, distribution, and dissemination of a product or service. Thus the educator can perform a vital service for the family by assisting children to understand how to relate modern-day services to various types of careers.

There is no fundamental principle of work itself that cannot be easily demonstrated in the home. It is in the home where children are first introduced to such concepts as the interdependence of workers on each other for successful production, the importance of cooperation among those who work together, the nature of specialization of work roles, the need for punctuality if a task is to be completed on time, the desirability of cleanliness in the work area, the necessity for accepting personal responsibility for performance of assigned tasks, the urgency of following instructions, and the value of avoiding unnecessary waste. Other concepts can be learned also... the boredom one feels in performing a routine task, even though it might be an important link in a chain of assembly-line tasks, or the reprimands that are typically a part of the world of work if a worker fails to perform his assigned task correctly. Yet these negative results can be mitigated by a self-awareness that the rewards which come from successful completion of an assigned task are worth the extra time and effort.

While these values can be learned in the home, and while some work values will inevitably be learned there and elsewhere, it is difficult for parents to expose their children to a representative vista of the world of work. First, children and parents no longer find many occasions to work side by side in normal work settings. Second, it is no longer likely that the family will purchase such items as furniture that was made in the "shop down the street" where children can see the craftsman at work. Instead, the family purchases furniture-and most other items-without having any knowledge of how it was constructed and often with little knowledge of (and little concern about) what types of material have gone into the construction. For these reasons, it is important that teachers become involved in the vital role of assisting children to learn about their parents' work, both to understand more about work and more about their parents.
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