Food For Thought

"Who Will Pick Apples?"

Jobs Americans Won't Do

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

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?”

 I 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 are grown.

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 itself.

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 service aspects.

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 same way.

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 apples.

See you at the apple orchard, and hope to see a few fellow educators there.  

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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