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The blessing of (school) work


Ora et labora - Pray and labor. St. Benedict

Non-Sequiter, September 1, 2012

I'm not sure why "work" has such a negative connotation in U.S. society. Perhaps it is a residual sentiment from times when most "work" was physical - dirty, dangerous, and exhausting.

I thought a great deal about "work" and its place in my life this Labor Day weekend - how it has defined me, shaped me, and rewarded me. (18 hours of driving gives one time for reflection.) While it has not always been true all the time about every job I've had, I have generally been blessed with work that gives me pleasure and my life meaning. My son-in-law's sermon last Sunday talked about St. Benedict and his observation that work and prayer can be one and the same. And that "work" is not the same as employment. I would agree.

When unemployment rates are too high, when job opportunities seem to be lacking, and when people seem to be unable to advance at their place of work or in their careers, the problem is too often framed as simply economic. And while it's absolutely true that everyone ought to be able to put a roof over one's head, purchase healthy food for one's table and give one's family decent medical care and an education, we focus far too much on the monetary rewards of work rather than the psychological rewards. The real tragedy of a lack of work is when people can't find joy in life and form a positive view of themselves. It's not really about taxpayers needing to fund welfare or unemployment payments. People without meaningful work are living a diminished life.

Everyone should take pleasure and find meaning in their work. 

And this includes students and their school "work." Whether in class or out of class, any task a teacher gives needs to be given thoughtfully, mindful of how its successful completion defines, shapes, and rewards the student's sense of him or herself. Why should students not look forward to school work as much as many adults look forward to going to work?

It's the challenges, the problems, the obstacles, and the work (see cartoon above), that make life pleasurable. Think about it as your year of school "work" begins.

Welcome back.


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Reader Comments (6)

Well said!

It's funny to think how many students believe that most of their work is "busy work" - as if us teachers had nothing else to do but create, handout, grade, hand back, and review assignments.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

As I Tweeted, best line for my money "People without meaningful work are living a diminished life." Feeling fortunate as well to have new challenges and opportunities to take on everyday in a field I find geekily interesting.

September 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Kenn,

And some kids rightly feel the work is busy work, I'm afraid. Unless it as personal relevance and importance, many children will see homework as a hoop through which one must jump to work within the system. Or they will drop out of the system altogether. I like Alfie Kohn's thoughts on homework <>.


Hi Nathan,

I think often of my job putting me into the Flow mode described in his book of the same name by Csikszentmihalyi.

Either that or I have met the Peter Principle early in my career.


September 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Beautifully and thoughtfully stated.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Love this post Doug. I work a lot, but love every minute of it. I haven't read the Flow book, but did see a presentation in MPLS this summer that focused on Csikszentmihalyi's work.

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Rees

Hi Curt,

Thanks for the kind words. Flow is a great book - something that has stuck with me for many years. I think you'd like it.


September 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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