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Professional Identity Crises


Parents have always held visions of what professional uniforms their sons or daughters should wear. These visions are becoming fetishes in a world in which professional titles provide license to a reframed American Dream. Christina Freeland describes it as a “winner-take-all economy” in which “education is the trump card.” Consequently, parents over time have increased their investments in education to ensure that their children are not second-class citizens in a high skilled economy.

The stakes for our children’s educational and professional futures are high, but we should not forget the question of who are you should be more applicable to a person’s character than their professional identity. Some of the most accomplished professionals committed the most incredible crimes. Do the names Kenneth Lay and Bernie Madoff ring a bell?

Still, parents recognize the stakes of not doubling down on the trump card of education. In the recently released study on parental financial investments in schooling, demographers found that parents have increased investments in their children’s education in the last few decades. Living a life of the mind doesn’t motivate parents’ investments. Returns of high paying jobs do. However, parents should also pay attention to the other professional identity crises we are all contributing to. 

Who or what do we want our children to become from a moral perspective?  What kind of parent should one consider oneself if he or she produces a low-skilled worker with high moral rectitude? Likewise, what kind of parents are we if our children exercise the belief that people with the most toys win.

Investments in young-adult service programs like City Year help collegians understand the privileges and responsibilities of an educated class. City Year corps members commit 10 months to full-time service in high-poverty schools as tutors, mentors and role models.  They provide the extra people power to help schools implement interventions that research shows to be effective on maximizing students’ learning potentials.

I recently served as the graduation speaker for the 2013 City Year New Orleans class and spent time with the graduates. I appreciated their diversity and leadership skills. Most of them committed to working in the schools and communities in which they served. 

City Year corps members prove that Civics is not just a course to take. Service is not just a noble but extraneous distraction. Service in schools helps translate classroom lessons of English into improved moral discernment in our neighborhoods. Service provides opportunities for students to decode mathematics into community building. Through deeds and presence, service helps make clear the choices we all possess to make conditions in our communities better. And isn’t that the point to a great education.

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