Ho, ho, ho, the funny things that kids say. They sometimes get things a bit wrong, its funny, but its cute. It makes adults feel clever because they have one over on them.
Cue, my funny kid story…
My six year old daughter turned to me the other day and said, “Daddy, when are you going to get a real job”.
“What?” says I. “I have got a real job. What do you mean?”.
“You know, a real job. Like a teacher or someone who runs something.”
“Well, I do sometimes teach and I even sort of run something.”
[Sceptical face from child]
“OK” I say, planning to get to the bottom of this. “What is a proper job?”
“You know, like a teacher”
“Yes, OK, but what else? What should I do to get a real job?”
“Well you could work there” [points at the red and white sign of “In and Out Chicken”]
“Sorry – so my job at the University isn’t real, but if I worked at In and Out Chicken it would be a real job.”
[Her reluctant nod leads me to think that she probably thinks that I’m unemployable in anything approaching a “real job”.]
Taking a different tack I try and move into teacher mode.
“I think what you mean is that you can’t really imagine what I do, because you’ve never seen it. You know about schools and take away chicken shops [note – I hardly ever feed my children from take away chicken shops] but you don’t really know about universities. A university is like a school really, but for older people, it is a place where you learn.”
[More sceptical looks] followed by a memory.
“A__’s dad works in a university. He’s a historian. That’s a proper job.”
“Hold on a minute, how can being a historian be a proper job. I do basically the same as a historian except I look at people who aren’t dead. That’s it, I’m basically a historian of the present – a presentorian!”
By this point my daughter has spotted that I’m talking nonsense and lost interest in the subject.
So what does this prove? Possibly that no matter what your Dad does he’ll always be mainly your Dad and his working life will seem unreal and distant. Possibly that I’m not very good at articulating the joy of careers research to an unsuspecting six year old. Possibly that children are so insulated from the world of work to that they can’t even imagine it and are left with only the roles that they encounter by chance in their day-to-day lives.
I remember reading some study when I was doing a year of undergraduate psychology which talked about how children would ape the behaviour of their parents in play. But, when the men (it was an old study) left the home to work the children would just go and stand around the other side of the house and wait before coming back. From memory we were taught about this in the context of child development and gender roles. But, given that my child now wants me to work in In and Out Chicken I think that its implications might be more about our societies failure to provide young people with insights into the nature of work.
It seems to me that for children to understand something about what the adults in their lives fill their days doing could only be a good thing. I guess that as parents we have responsibility for this, but it would be nice if schools also saw themselves as having a role in this. Career education with young children has always been controversial but it seems to me that it is just a part of children’s exploration of the world and their understanding of their place within it.
Anyone for a chicken bucket?