A Moment of Clarification

I realize that I have only discussed the Job Corps, and my thoughts on it, briefly. I thought that I should perhaps take a moment to outline what the Job Corps is, for readers who don’t know, and what my issues with it are as well.

The first thing that I think is important to understand is that I do not feel that the Job Corps is inherently bad, or that the people in the Job Corps are all juvenile offenders who only speak in Ebonics. The Job Corps has been around since 1964, when a lot of great social programs such as the Peace Corps were founded. It takes 16-24 year old American citizens of any race or religious background. I think that in principle, the Job Corps is a good thing. People who want “marketable skills” should be able to acquire them, and I think that the Job Corps does an admirable job of doing that for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Job Corps provides opportunities to people: students who have dropped out of school, for example, can get an equivalency certificate. Students can also pursue education in a variety of instantly marketable fields, and have a chance to follow their passions. Especially for people who experienced violent home lifes, or had issues with drugs, the Job Corps is a really spectacular thing: a safe place to learn and get on with your life. The Job Corps works with potential employers to place their graduates, and has an extensive followup program to determine how effective the Job Corps is, as a whole.

Let me state this again, in case this is not clear: I do not have a problem with the principle of the Job Corps. In fact, I applaud it, along with programs like AmeriCorps, because I think it has the potential to build a better society. It gives people who might not have a chance an opportunity to do something with their lives. This is not a bad thing.

I am also from a disadvantaged background, and I chose to take a different route in life. I decided to pursue a useless college education rather than a technical trade*, and that was my own choice, just as someone else can choose to attend the Job Corps. However, I think it is important to recognize that this was a choice: no one forced me to go to college, and I do not think that people should be forced into going into the Job Corps. I also find it tragic that as a member of the “academic elite,” my life choices and valid criticisms of the Job Corps appear to be largely inaccessible to participants. I am not, as someone recently accused me of being, “a college educated frat boy**.”

There are, in fact, so many things wrong with the above accusation that I do not even know where to begin, although I did once own a painfully ironic hipster shirt that said “fratboy.”

The thing about the Job Corps on Treasure Island is this: I have interacted and talked with some of the students there, and gotten a varying response. Some of them are really enthusiastic, and others are frank with me that going into the Job Corps was not a choice. I mean, technically it was, but it was presented as an option: clean up your act by going into the Job Corps, join the military, or face time. Now, I happen to think that offering rehabilitation rather than jail is a pretty groovy thing. I do not approve of the prison system in this country, and the alarmingly large proportion of African Americans and Latinos who are currently stuck in it. But I have qualms about forced options. Not a fan, I will admit. Now, I think going into the Job Corps is better than going to jail, but…it still makes me nervous, because of events in American history and because of what this country is.

Not being in the Job Corps, I don’t know how job counseling is done and how people are introduced to the program. But it makes me deeply nervous to see a large amount of African American and Latino people in the Job Corps learning how to serve whitey. There. I said it. Puff calls it “the future slave training centre,” which in a way is true, in the sense that if you learn a technical trade, you will sometimes find yourself entering a life of wage slavery. Is this always true? No, of course not. Some trades pay extremely well, and involve a high level of skill for which good pay should be demanded.

Others do not, and I see a lot of Job Corps students learning low level technical trades. And this saddens me. Now, maybe I am just not meeting the people learning complex trades, because they are all too busy studying to be seen in public. But I see a lot of future sous-chefs at mediocre restaurants, and rent-a-cops working the night shift. Being in a state of wage slavery myself, it depresses me to see others entering that condition, especially when the Job Corps students I meet are, for the most part, bright and intelligent individuals who could do more, if they so choose.

The generation of individuals growing up right now is facing a lot of challenges. Most of us are thousands of dollars in debt by the time we graduate from college (if we take that route) and face years of entry-level jobs at low rates of pay. College is not a guarantee for success, and it should not be viewed that way. Graduates of advanced technical schools like auto mechanics probably make a lot more money than me, as well they should, because their pay is a direct reflection of the training that they underwent. And a sous in a mediocre restaurant probably makes more than me too, and I’m not sure what industry that is a reflection upon.

I think perhaps my fundamental problem with the Job Corps is that I have a different value set than the one the Job Corps promotes. I do not believe that the way to happiness is found through money, and if it was I might be more supportive of a program training people to cut my lawn, wash my dishes, and secure my events. The Job Corps maintains a status quo, to me, that there are people who need to be served and then there are the servants who serve them. And I dislike that, because I do not think that anyone needs to be a servant.

Now, some people take pride in their customer service, and work hard to make careers as professional waiters or housecleaners or what have you. And I think that when this is a choice, that is an admirable thing to do, because the fact is that there are restuarants and people too lazy to clean their own houses, so you might as well take advantage of them.

But to foster a culture of servility? No, thank you.

To borrow some line of hippie crap I was fed in elementary school, everyone has the potential to be their own unique and wonderful snowflake, and everyone should be given a chance to explore that. Some people choose to pursue their icy identities in college: this does not make them bad people, and it does not give anyone the right to sneer at them. I don’t need to demonstrate my difficult background street cred here, but suffice it to say that I am tired of hearing the attitude that college educated individuals are all little rich kids born with silver spoons in their mouths and no knowledge of the actual world. Some people choose to explore their potential by doing nothing, and this is also an admirable pursuit with a long history. Others go to technical schools to learn about things that interest them, and to develop a set of useful skills. This is also a good thing, because technical knowledge is valuable. Others are forced into a predetermined role by the society they live in, and this…is wrong.

As I say, when something is a freely undertaken choice and the participant is aware of all of the ramifications of that choice…well and good. But when the whole story is not being told, and when the choice enforces traditional values of class and social status, I would hope that it would be questioned. No one should exist to serve anyone, and I would hope that this has been clearly established by now.

Our choices are our own, and whether we like it or not, they shape the society that we live and work in. I can see how those content with a widening gap between the rich and the poor would not have a problem with the Job Corps on Treasure Island, I really do.

*Bonus points to the reader who can name the technical trade I am fully trained in!

**Additional bonus points to the reader who can name the sole campus organization I was ever actively involved in!

[Treasure Island]
[Job Corps]