Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

On more than one occasion since I arrived at Allegheny, a person has labeled my work, what I do, what I offer to the students and the community, vocational. Each time I hear that comment, I wince and bristle inside. It feels dismissive, disrespectful.

I am a journalist. After the most recent comment, I decided to do what journalists do. I decided to investigate. I interviewed professors at Allegheny and other academic institutions. I spoke with colleagues in journalism. If someone described your work as vocational, what would that mean to you? How would it make you feel?

It’s definitely a charged word, one professor said. It implies a vo-tech education. In high school, if you took vocational-technical classes, it meant you weren’t going to college. If someone calls your work vocational, it implies you’re not an intellectual.

Another professor voiced a similar opinion with one distinction. Particularly in a liberal arts college/tradition, if a professor refers to your work as vocational, it means that you and your work are not valued or respected. It implies that you are not a scholar, that you don’t do scholarly work. It doesn’t necessarily address your intellect.

These opinions reflected what I was feeling. Devalued, dismissed and disrespected. It implies I work with my hands not my head. I’m not a peer. I’m more like a plumber. I don’t belong.

I remember vocational classes in high school: auto repair, woodworking/shop class, typing, home economics. I would have loved to take a woodworking or auto repair class; at that time, girls weren’t allowed in those classes. I took typing and that skill has served me every day since I graduated high school.

On fall break, I was walking along the ocean with a dear friend, a graduate of Wellesley College. I told her about my experience at Allegheny and the vocational label some at the college attach to journalism.

Remember the origin of the word vocation, she said. It means a calling.

I beamed.

Exactly, I said. I often tell the students that I consider journalism a noble calling.

I went home and looked up the word. Vocation derives from Latin vocātiō, meaning a call, a summons. It first meant a call by God, particularly to a religious life in the Christian tradition. In the 20th century, it came to be associated with training, talents and a job. I’m not sure when the negative connotation attached to it.

I asked a journalist friend about the label of vocational and its blue-collar implications for our profession.

Of course it’s vocational, he said. We don’t think about journalism. We do journalism. When you teach journalism, you teach students to work for a story. If they fail, they learn to dust themselves off and get back to it. If that’s blue collar, I’ll wear that badge with honor. And yes, it is a noble calling. We sure don’t do it for the money. We serve our communities, our democracy and our world.

I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, of people who serve. Among our men, we have farmers, fishermen, an electrician, a tinsmith, a janitor, a state representative, soldiers and sailors. Among our women, we have farmers, a home economist, a nurse, teachers and a suffragist. And yes, there’s a woman reporter who preceded me by three generations, long before the vocation called me.

Journalists do important work. Teaching the next generation of journalists is important work.

Journalists are members of the Fourth Estate. They are watchdogs tasked with the duty of holding our governments and businesses accountable. Journalists risk their lives covering conflict abroad and corruption at home. They document history and tell the stories of a community, from the county fair and school board meetings to far-flung wars and areas of conflict and suffering. Journalists provide information that serves the public interest. A free press is a pillar of our democracy.

It takes smarts and guts to be a journalist—and to serve.

I followed in my great grandmother’s footsteps in becoming a journalist. I followed in my mother’s footsteps in becoming a teacher. I followed all my ancestors in a life of hard work and service.

Both my jobs are vocational. I’ll wear that badge with honor.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-vocational-a-term-i-wear-like-a/article_602b069a-7ced-11e5-a8a6-9b43114d875a.html

 

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