Friday, May 7, 2010

Congrats to the Parkville Rotary Club
Their Uganda school lunch program has taken off! For details, see my peace journalism site.

Take your child to Uganda

From the Parkville Luminary

I sort of wish that on “take your child to work day”, I could have taken my son to an awful job—something tedious and physical and sweat-inducing. That way, he would have learned the same hard lessons my brothers and I did when we went to work with our dad a few (few dozen?) years ago.

Dad was a commercial laundry truck delivery driver. He dropped off sheets, towels, etc. to big hotels and fancy restaurants, and picked up their heavy, wet, stinky, dirty stuff for delivery back to his laundry. Dad hated this job, but did it for years. The heavy lifting sometimes caused his back to ache, and on these occasions he grabbed one of us three boys to ride along on his route and assist him. My older brother spent the most time with dad at work, though my younger brother and I did go a few times ourselves.

We would have been hard-pressed to find a more powerful incentive to get a good education than to spend a day with dad at this job. The work was not only hard, but you were out in the elements. He came home frozen in the winter and dripping sweat in the summer. My grandmother, who lived with us, loved my dad, but would always inappropriately ask him about his day the minute he walked through the door. On rainy days, as dad busted through the door soaked through to his underwear, grandma would ask him, “Larry, did you get wet today?” Dad patiently mumbled, “Yes, grandma.” On 100-degree days, grandma’s question was, “Was it hot?”

Dad’s work day started at 5:00 a.m., another strong disincentive. Although helping him lift heavy pallets of laundry was ostensibly the reason for dragging us along on his route, I’ve always thought that dad made it a point to show us the kind of job he was stuck with because he didn’t have advanced training or go to college. It was a powerful lesson.

A few years later, my 12-year old son Alex spent the day with me last week at Park University, where I teach communications. My job is not physical or sweat inducing or tedious (unless you count meetings), nor are you out in the elements, though we did have to traipse through a monsoon on our way to one of my classes. Still, I hoped that Alex’s day would help frame his ideas about the value of higher education.

Alex sat in on two of my classes. In the first, Reporting II, we analyzed feature stories written by the students, discussed website design, and took a look at a new trend of reporting with smart phones. Alex had some valuable input about the characteristics of good websites. Afterwards, Alex said that class was interesting, although he thought some of the students were “sluggish.” Now, in their defense, most of my students are very good, although at the end of any semester, sluggish is the perfect word to describe a minority of them.

Lunch, his favorite part of the day, consisted of bellying up the bar at a local watering hole and ordering a few beers (root) and discussing such weighty items as Cher, girls, and the prospects for meaningful financial reform. (Well, at least two out of three).

Alex’s day concluded in my Peace Journalism class. Since Alex and him mom are going with me to Uganda (I’m teaching there for six months beginning in July), and since this class is discussing that Uganda project, Alex was keenly interested in the proceedings. Alex told the class about why he’s looking forward to living in Uganda (meeting new people and experiencing new cultures) and about why it’s tough leaving home (missing friends and family, especially grandparents) in an intelligent, nearly adult way.

In both classes, Alex was hyper-attentive, riveted on the proceedings without a hint of boredom, fidgetiness, or distraction. This attentiveness is probably easier to achieve when your dad is the professor and when you are iPhone-free.

Alex reports that he had a great day, and that he enjoyed both classes and chatting with my students. I asked him if my job was easy or hard, and he replied, medium. At least he didn’t call me sluggish.

I’m sure Alex received my not-so-subtle message: with an education, you can have a job that you love, just like your dad. I hope he will receive another message next fall in Uganda: with an education and the right job, you can make a positive difference in the world.

EPILOGUE: I told my class that the boy said they were "sluggish". Rather than laughter, which I expected, some smiled sheepishly, while others had no visible reaction. Were they offended, or embarassed?

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