Will Pick Apples?"
Americans Won't Do
by Dr. John E.
Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
The apple blossoms were in full bloom
during a recent trout-fishing trip to the Winchester area. As I observed
this wonder of nature I kept asking myself, “Who will pick the apples that
these blossoms will produce?”
can’t think of a parent who would encourage their child to grow up to be
an apple picker. Few kids even contemplate where apples and other produce
Most of the fruit and vegetables grown
in this country require picking by someone, and the immigrant farm worker
has filled this role for some time. Along one of the streams I fish in
Madison County are apple barns and temporary housing awaiting pickers who
will work for wages that few of our citizens would accept.
When the pickers finish the job, they
will move on to some other place where produce is ready for harvesting. If
they didn’t pick the apples, who would?
Immigration has become a contentious
political issue in recent years. During a speech at an Air Force base in
Arizona, President Bush made the comment, “This program would create a
legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers
to fill jobs that Americans will not do.”
The part of this quote that I’ll focus
on is “jobs that Americans will not do.”
Sadly, the list of jobs and occupations
that Americans will not do continues to grow — no longer just the
apple-picking jobs, but many occupations that were once a big part of
middle-class America. This trend has paralleled the loss of quality
manufacturing and other jobs to overseas companies. We must ask ourselves,
what does — and will in the future — America produce?
Our educational system reflects the
perceived wants of society. Over the past few decades we have seen a
constant erosion of vocational and technical programs. The school where I
once taught changed its auto mechanics and masonry labs into a weight room
and bus maintenance garage. The electronics program was also closed.
Vocational centers throughout the state and country have shut their doors.
When our local system went to site-based
management, which lets the individual principal have control, I told a few
school board members that the vocational, art, and music programs would
suffer or be eliminated. Principals want to look good, so they promote the
college prep or IB programs at the expense of the other so-called
non-college courses. I spent 21 years as a college professor and know
first-hand that many so-called non-college courses provide equal, if not
better, preparation for an advanced education.
Many educators say we can’t get
students to take these courses. They claim that most parents want their
children to get a college education and the schedule is filled with
college-prep courses. These comments have some merit, but most kids don’t
go to college. If given a choice, what parent wouldn’t want their child to
be a doctor, lawyer or astronaut versus working as a carpenter, truck
driver, or other similar occupation? Wanting students to obtain high-paying
jobs isn’t wrong. The problem is, we have chosen to demean many of the
occupations that most Americans will eventually do. We have become snobs in
the view of most other countries. No one wants to pick or grow the apples.
We have become all about enjoying the fruits of labor, but not the labor
What would you call the great Michelangelo, a painter or an
artist? Most would say he’s the great artist who painted the dome of the
Sistine Chapel. But, what would have happened to the artist’s great works
if some other workers hadn’t taken the time to restore and clean his
paintings for us to enjoy?
The same analogy holds true for Henry
Diesel, whose engine design powers tractor-trailer trucks and other large
equipment. Without drivers and mechanics, the engine is useless. Just a few
decades ago doctors, teachers, lawyers and other professionals were
respected for their dedication to helping make life better for the human
race. Today, those seeking to enter these professions are more inclined to
view the financial benefits of a profession as more important than its
Many say we have become a service
economy. George Orwell, in his novel, Animal Farm, writes that, “All
animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
We view many of the services provided in our so-called service economy the
One service that’s more equal than
others is telling people what to do with their money. Colleges are full of
students wanting to be financial advisers. An advisor for a small fee will
tell you what to do with your finances. Those members of society who toil in
“not-so-equal services” will be told by a select few what to do with the
rewards of their hard labor.
If I had a choice I guess I’d like to
be a financial adviser rather than a Maytag repairman. I have some concern
about advice services going the same way as our manufacturing jobs. Many of
my recent calls for advice have been answered by an advisor in India. I
guess they are better than U.S. citizens at giving advice. Why else would
someone from India answer my call? What? You say they work for less money,
that’s why? Maybe one day we will be answering the phone calls from India
... What goes around comes around.
The economy will be a main topic of
conversation as we move toward the presidential election in November. My
definition of a good economy is simple, “Having enough income from a job
or retirement to live as an individual chooses.”
The definition of “enough” may vary
by individual, but there is a fundamental level of existence that most of us
have come to expect. That level can be obtained by all if we as a society
are willing to work at all jobs.
Never let it be said, “There are jobs
that Americans won’t do.” If you’re hungry enough you’ll pick your
own apples. It’s okay to know the great works of literature or
philosophers of the world, as long as we also teach the value of picking
See you at the apple orchard, and hope
to see a few fellow educators there.