OTHER VOICES

Guessing at what LePage saw in cartoon

Posted Sept. 26, 2012, at 1:13 p.m.

After more than three years in office, we know our governor to be an abrupt and impulsive man who often speaks curtly and then leaves the explaining to others.

That’s what happened last week when the governor’s staff was left trying to explain a cartoon the governor mailed to the state’s school principals that seemed to poke fun at college-bound students.

The cartoon showed two students, one headed to welding school, the other to college. The cartoon pegged a starting salary for a welder at $50,000 and the starting salary of a college student as $25,000.

“Folks,” the governor wrote beneath the cartoon. “We need to do better and we can do better. Let’s put our children first.”

First, it is necessary to know that cartoons are often exaggerations of reality meant to get laughs or make people think.

So, fact-checking a cartoon is a little absurd, yet the state’s newspapers went at it with enthusiasm last week.

The Bangor Daily News correctly pointed out a raft of studies showing that higher levels of education are generally associated with higher levels of pay, often much higher.

A variety of sources do indeed show welders can make a decent living with a starting salary of between $12.50 and $17 per hour, but that’s more like $24,000 to $36,000 a year, not $50,000.

So, it’s just not accurate to say that welders make that much more money than college graduates, particularly in higher-paying fields such as math, science and engineering.

But the real point of the cartoon was the little thought bubble over the college-bound student’s head: “Loser,” he’s thinking as he looks at the welding student.

We’re just guessing here, but we suspect that was the point the governor was trying to get across to the state’s high school principals.

If we may put words in his mouth, he was saying we need to fight the widespread attitude that blue-collar jobs are low-paying dead ends.

The governor is heavily influenced by the small-business people he has met as he travels around the state. Many have told him that they cannot find qualified Mainers to fill skilled manufacturing positions. This shortage is unfortunate and a frustrating drag on the state’s economic growth.

But the governor, the manufacturers and school principals are fighting a deeply embedded attitudinal prejudice that unfairly ranks and classifies occupations.

Many are vestiges of another era when carrying a briefcase implied brain work and creativity, and carrying a toolbox meant manual labor, rote and low pay.

These broad generalizations were never accurate and they have become far less so as our world has become, in all respects, more technical and complex.

If you think fixing the engine on your modern car is simple, just try doing it yourself sometime.

But young people choose careers for many reasons. Students no doubt want a paycheck, but they are likely also interested in the respect they will receive in their chosen field.

The governor’s message was that we need to change those old-fashioned, unfair and often inaccurate perceptions of technical careers.

A four-year degree is a worthy goal, but it is not the only worthy goal and it is not the only way to make a good living.

That’s a message we all need to hear and repeat.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Sept. 25)

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