During the awards ceremony at my son's Chinese school, I was struck by how the advanced teacher praised the students who were being recognized. Instead of focusing on their achievements, she described how hard they had worked, how they had faced difficulties and overcome them, and how they had improved during the semester. This ceremony was significant for me because it showed how much U.S. culture has ceased to value work.
While as an educator I pride myself in using the microcosm of the classroom to create an ideal world where students are treated fairly, I can no longer affirm that if you work hard you will succeed. Sadly, I only have to mention reality television and the Kardashians to validate my point. The demonization of immigrants who do manual labor and the high rate of suicide among farmers are the more destructive consequences of this shift from admiring workers to being enthralled by lots of money, little talent and no work.
Of course, hard work will always be a requirement to learn or acquire a new skill. The difference is that while the need for hard work never goes away, the value society has placed on it has largely disappeared. The challenge is to teach younger generations how to live with this basic paradox. On that score, I think the teacher at the Chinese school got it right.
I’m Frances Jaeger and that’s my perspective.