Farming and Schooling

Farmers can be good entrepreneurs. Farmers are used to investing a large amount of time, money and labor now for an uncertain payoff in the future. In contrast, kids who grow up in school want structure, predictable rewards and guaranteed income.  They don’t want to take chances, and resent the idea of working for free. And learning to think in terms of paper- and screen-bound concepts and abstractions can kill the kind of concrete, creative intelligence that they can learn on the farm, and which can be so useful in setting up a small business.

Yeah, I’m overgeneralizing. But I look at the kids now in rural Thailand who have at least 7 or 8 years of schooling (as compared to their parents, who mostly have 0-4 years of school). and it is hard to get them to open a market stall, plant a vegetable garden, or even take a chance on a bus ticket into Bangkok without a job waiting. They’ll only invest in a machine like a chain saw or electric sander if they are sure it will get them a job with daily pay. After several years of required schooling, they are really good for nothing. They have been taken off the farm, so they no longer like farm work or can even do it very well. They are wary of risks. But after several years of lousy rural schooling, they haven’t learned enough to get a good job in town or a government job. They are just good for construction or working in the chicken factory.

A couple of times Luna has tried to hire people with high school or even some college to help her with her marketing job (ordering and designing clothes and bags in Thailand to send to her contacts in Italy). It never worked out very well. She complains they are lazy, “They know computer, know math, know English. But they not want to do nothing, not want to learn about job. Just want somebody to give money to them, not want to work.”

Every now and then, a rural family puts some money into educating a child enough to get a low level professional job in the city—secretary or nurse or bookkeeper or something like that. The results are often not satisfactory. The professional kids become obsessed with their city live and careers. They are embarrassed by their rural family, and rarely visit home or send money (except when they need their parents to take care of their kids). To be fair, entry-level professional jobs are often very low-paid, and the kids have to use what little money they earn to maintain appearances with a certain standard of living. But the family back on the farm can still wonder; why is this any better than opening a market stall–or even working construction?

But a government job, or the police is a different story. Nobody will ever second-guess a job like that. Sure the police are corrupt, womanizing bastards, and government workers are arrogant jerks who have to sit in an office all day long. But that kind of guaranteed income, while still being able to live near family and country, and maybe even own land and work the harvest . . . . But these are mostly open to men. Women still have to rely on their own resources.

And in the U.S.? Our system is so geared to preparing us for paper- and screen-bound office hierarchies and salary-work that it is hard to imagine alternatives, other than free-lancing office work that is symbiotic to the corporate hierarchies. It is no coincidence that many of the great tech entrepreneurs and creative entertainers are people who dropped out of school (although, to be fair, only after receiving a decent elementary and high school education). And immigrants are disproportionately represented in small business.



Posted on December 15, 2012, in Society, Thailand and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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