Monday was Labour Day, that day each year in which we supposedly celebrate the virtues of work and vocation. In practice, there is relatively little reflection on work that takes place. The day has become a marker separating summer and vacation-time from the routines of the rest of the year, in which the academic calendar reigns supreme.
Admittedly, the Staples advertisement of a few years back which portrayed parental elation and glum young people at this "most wonderful time of the year" is a bit of a caricature. Still, the implicit message is not frivolous: that summertime is when parents are burdened entertaining their children, waiting for September liberation.
There are many dimensions that might contribute to parental jubilation at the end of summer. Many employ exhausting parenting styles which feel obligated to program every part of almost every day, leaving virtually no time for unstructured play for kids (or rest for parents). Then there are the challenges of caring for kids in the majority of households that are either led by a single parent or in which both parents work. Arranging for childcare and providing the taxi services to get everyone out in the morning and back home at night is an almost full-time job in itself. And what about the relative lack of safety in communities such that it no longer seems responsible simply to let children wander and play without supervision, trusting that they will be home by supper?
Let me add another to the list. A recent Maclean's article highlighted how many kids no longer are occupied doing household tasks. Part of the reason is that many modern homes subcontract most repairs to a trained professional. This, alongside kids' overusing technology, and alongside liability concerns that limit shop classes, all contribute to the comparative lack of practical skills compared with the kids of yesteryear.
The ones from the farm community weren't afraid to get in there and get dirty. They could figure out basic repairs. And when you have to feed the chickens and milk the cows every day, you learn how to show up to work on time. Those who didn't have hands-on experiences couldn't grasp basic nuts-and-bolts mechanics, they couldn't solve simple problems. Worse, they lacked the same work ethic, which made them too difficult to train. The implications reach well beyond the trades.
Talking about family values and the implications of our modern way of living isn't all that welcome in our modern times. Individual choice seems sacrosanct, and making moral judgements seems a cardinal sin. Still, the knowledge that NASA "stopped hiring those who didn't have mechanical hobbies in their youth" only adds to the argument. The time we spend at home with our parents, learning in a far less formal way than we do in the classroom but nonetheless significant life lessons, also has impact on how we view the world and some of the practical ways in which our brains creatively function.