Of Daffodils and Diesels, Revisited
This classically ironic essay by an unknown author has been around since I began homeschooling, and I often recommend it to parents of children who just don’t fit the college-bound mold. As vocational education has been abandoned and it becomes more and more common to try to shove every student into a college, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this essay and think about the consequences of expecting every young person to walk the same path.
Know your student
As much as I value the beauty found in literature, art, and music and enjoy studying it, I realize that the world would be a wee bit lopsided if everyone were just like me. We need machinists and mechanics, soldiers and sailors, builders and bricklayers as much as we need authors, artists, and scholars. Each plays a much-needed role in society, and we do a disservice to young people when we imply that only one type of gift is valuable.
Earning potential for skilled trades
No matter what society tries to convey, a worker who diligently and ethically practices a skilled trade can earn an excellent living, and if they have an entrepreneurial bent, can also provide an excellent living for many others. Skilled tradespeople usually possess a significant financial advantage when they start out. They are unencumbered by student loans and many are actually paid to learn on the job.
I know that many parents look at blue-collar jobs and fear that their child will be unable to support a family, especially on a single income, but honestly — it happens all the time. If you visit the National Bureau of Labor Statistics and search the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), you will see that there are over 800 occupations that require only a high school diploma, but have a median yearly income of $60,000 to $79,000 as of 2018. If you visit the OOH, you can search the database to see what is available, whether there is increasing or decreasing demand, and so forth.
Demand for high-skill trades
Consider also that in times of disaster such as fire, flood, tornado, or earthquake, the most immediate need is for people with practical skills — cleaning, digging, repairing, healing, building. The economists, philosophers, and academics will eventually be needed, but at first, it’s all about practical ministry. There is honor and value in work well done, whether it’s work done mostly with mind, heart, or hands. Plus, it’s pretty hard to offshore or outsource a plumbing emergency!
Finally, and very significantly, there is also joy and success when a student is allowed to work out his or her gifting. Bypassing college doesn’t mean that learning has to stop. It can go on through many avenues, and people can continue to grow throughout life.
The essay below provides a vivid picture of a competent young man with strong, mature role models who is deeply interested in relevant things. He has mastered many of the skills he will need to use his gifts, and he’s eager to learn more from people who share his interest and talent for practical knowledge. I think he’d join Winston Churchill in declaring, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”
Of Daffodils and Diesels
I’m not very good in school. This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I’m bigger than most of the other kids. The kids like me all right, even though I don’t say much in class, and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school. I don’t know why the teachers don’t like me. They never have. It seems like they don’t think you know anything unless you can name the book it comes out of.
I read a lot at home — things like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and the Sears catalog — but I don’t just sit down and read them through like they make us do in school. I use them when I want to find something out, like a batting average or when Mom buys something secondhand and wants to know if she’s getting a good price.
In school, though, we’ve got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can’t memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Some of them were easy, like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been 30 altogether and I never did get them straight. I’m not too sorry, though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice presidents. 😉
I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn’t interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors. I guess I just can’t remember the names in history. Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three and he says I can drive one when I’m 16. I know the horsepower and gear ratios of 26 American trucks and want to operate a diesel. Those diesels are really something.
“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein
I started to tell my teacher about them in science class last week when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she said she didn’t see what a diesel engine has to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just shut up. The kids seemed interested, though. I took four of them around to my uncle’s garage after school and we watched his mechanic tear down a big diesel engine. He really knew his stuff.
I’m not very good in geography, either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying the imports and exports of Turkey all week, but I couldn’t tell you what they are. Maybe the reason is that I missed school for a couple of days when my uncle took me downstate to pick up some livestock. He told me where we were headed and I had to figure out the best way to get there and back. He just drove and turned where I told him. It was over 500 miles round trip and I’m figuring now what his oil cost and the wear and tear on the truck — he calls it depreciation — so we’ll know how much we made. When we got back I wrote up all the bills and sent letters to the farmers about what their pigs and cattle brought at the stockyard. My aunt said I only made 3 mistakes in 17 letters, all commas. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on “What a daffodil thinks of spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.
I don’t do very well in arithmetic, either. Seems I just can’t keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this: If a 57 foot telephone pole falls across a highway so that 17 and 3/4 feet extend from one side and 14 and 16/17 feet extend from the other, how wide is the highway? That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the size of a highway. I didn’t even try to answer it because it didn’t say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not. [Logic]
Even in shop class I don’t get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and a bookend this semester and mine were sloppy. I just couldn’t get interested. Mom doesn’t use a broom anymore with her new vacuum cleaner, and all of our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the family room. Anyway, I wanted to make a tailgate for my uncle’s trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I’d have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn’t see why, but I kept quiet and made a tie tack even though my dad doesn’t wear ties. I made the tailgate after school in my uncle’s garage, and he said I saved him $20. [Relevance, meaningless rules]
Government class is hard for me, too. I’ve been staying after school trying to learn the Articles of Confederation for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn’t be a good citizen unless we did. I really tried because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school, though, because a bunch of us guys from Southend have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor’s Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym out of the old pipe, and the guys put me in charge of things. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.
Dad says I can quit school when I’m 16. I’m sort of anxious to because there are a lot of things I want to learn.
Model-Based Writing Tip
Despite the seemingly casual tone of “Daffodils and Diesels,” the writer skillfully demonstrates mastery of the very skills that the school has judged lacking. He reads for knowledge, memorizes large quantities of relevant information, understands scientific principles and knows the true meaning of community service. He is proactive and competent with building, and is able to use geography, math, and writing for reality-based tasks. Although the theme of “I’m not very good …” is threaded throughout the essay, all the evidence in the supporting points give a contrary impression.
This is an excellent example of an essay in which the author tells the reader one thing, but shows something different. (For another example of this type of writing, read or listen to Antony’s speech in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.) To learn how to write using this form, use the four stages of Model-Based Writing:
- Absorb: Internalize the work through deep reading, note-taking, outlining, and in some cases, copying.
- Consider: When you finish reading the essay, use 1-3 sentences to explain the main idea. Identify literary techniques and look for the underlying structure of the work. Look up unfamiliar words and usages, and if appropriate, compare with other works.
- Transform: In this step, you might change poetry to prose or prose to poetry, rewrite an ancient scene in a modern setting, reshape fiction into a feature article, a poem into a journal entry, or an essay thesis into an opposing argument.
- Create: Use a form or technique you’ve learned in this unit to create your own work.
Remember, every student has gifts and strengths, and each is valuable.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (From I Corinthians 12)