Get a McJob! (Sha Na Na Na)

Written by Marking Time : March 4, 2008

mcdonalds.jpgAn item on recently spurred me to thinking (which as we all know is a dangerous thing nowadays):

While sleepy workers know they’re not performing as well as they could during the day, work is what’s keeping them up nights, according to the survey, which found workdays are getting longer and time spent working from home averages close to four-and-a-half hours each week.

It seems people are also trying to squeeze in more time for themselves and their families, even if it means less sleep. According to the survey, the average time to wake up is at 5:35 a.m. and it’s followed by about two hours and 15 minutes at home before heading out to work.

The study that this comes from was done by the National Sleep Foundation. There were only 1,000 people surveyed, though, so it may not be completely accurate or comprehensive. Nevertheless, it raises some tough questions.

Like this: in our greed and insecurity, are we addicted as a culture to productivity, and it’s evil twin sister consumption? Do we consistently compromise our quality of life, are we forced to do so, because we have to work for money instead of money working for us? And is it really that essential to keep up with the Joneses, or with JonesCorp?

Side note: There are historical and philosophical reasons the “Dow-Jones” Industrial Average is called that… and since right-wing Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch is now the one gleefully pulling the strings at the Wall-Street Journal, he’s kind of in a position to set the pace for the Dows and Joneses, isn’t he?

But let’s get back to the sleep issue. That average waking time, 5:35, is what really caught my attention most. It’s a bit later than 5:10, which is the time my wife, a public high school departmental administrator, gets up. Now, one might ask why a teacher or department head at a school which starts classes at 8:10 has to get up so early? I know I’ve asked–for years now. So here’s some hints: it’s not the commute, which for her is only 20 minutes; it’s not the actual start time of school, even though “Early Bird” classes, sports, and extra-curriculars now routinely start at 7:20am; and it’s not the “family time” in the morning, as she’s pretty much getting up, making coffee, cleaning herself up, and driving to work by 6:10.

What I think is happening, for my wife and millions of other Americans, is that the expectation of productivity for the middle class within a given workday (or schoolday) has steadily gone up in the post-agricultural, post-industrial era. And a school is nothing if not a rehearsal for life in corporate America. Historically that’s what school was meant to convey: a work ethic, a set of economic (not academic) values, and a regimented way of organizing one’s life. It’s true, we don’t go to school to learn information or gain knowledge in the classical sense. We go to school to learn and practice culture — especially industrious, productive behaviors, individually and in groups. We go to school to learn how to assimilate. Any educator, historian or philosopher will tell you this (if they’ve done their homework). That’s not an altogether bad thing, either –the role of school in socialization. But it is definitely a thing that many students and parents fail to fully comprehend, especially if they are first-generation Americans.

Now, I’m not proposing that we slow down so much that we fall behind, or that we re-format every classroom so that it is tri-lingual all day, or that it only lasts until 1pm. Convenience is always a major factor in middle-America, and that is acceptable. What I’m saying is that we need to re-think schools, and the workplace in general, so that we work smarter and healthier. If not, then our compulsive need to constantly make everything better, stronger, faster, and more cheaply (like they did for the Six Million Dollar Man, who’s now worth just $550,000) has the potential to send our children’s physical and mental health into a downward spiral that will only ensure their failure in a changing global marketplace. Witness the immense growth in childhood obesity alone for strong evidence that our kids’ leisure lives (and our own, by implication), need a major overhaul.

Back to our example: my wife. What that drive to pack more work into a workday translates to for her is that she has to get about half of her individual paperwork and class preparations done between 6:30 and 8:10, because she knows that the flurry of new school-wide or departmental needs will begin in earnest as soon as the actual school day begins. At that point, large time blocks for concentrated work sessions become very difficult to create — what with having to deal with various meetings, phonecalls, and semi-urgent on-the-fly situations. Thus in helping everyone else do their work more effectively– which is the role of most “middle managers”or department heads– she has very little time to write reports or do her own work during the standard workday.

And unless I’m mistaken, that 8:10am start-time for my wife’s high school is at least a half-hour to fifty minutes later than school started when our parents went to high school. In an informal poll I took of some teachers over 50, they all said their school day was typically from 9am to about 2:30. So what has happened to the world in 50 years, that we now need to pack two or more extra hours of schooling into a day? I know, I know… for one thing, more mothers have gone to work, which is mostly a good thing. But it’s more complicated than that. Why, for example, haven’t more fathers stayed home, or downshifted to part-time jobs? Why has our culture gotten so caffeinated in such a short time? What does the violence that coca growers and little militias in Colombia perpetrated last weekend have to do with me or my tax dollars?

It’s the economy, stupid. And the values of the specific culture where a family lives. In China, for example, it’s worse: a full 9am to 5pm day for school kids (sometimes more), with very few breaks and little or no physical activity or creative outlets. (Sound familiar to you parents of urban students caught in the No Child Left Behind, teach-to-the-test trap?) But at least in China they have some nap/free time scheduled in the middle of the day, not unlike in Europe.

And as for adult workdays, the U.S. is not even the worst offender. It’s common knowledge that in Japan, 10-12 hour workdays are common. This is not unlike the length of workdays in the 19th century, when the agrarian economy and it’s dawn to dusk schedule ruled the day. But at least in that case, work time often coincided with family time, and few people traveled very far–if at all–to get to where they worked. In modern Japan, Dad commutes home, arriving after 9pm, and often has little interaction with his family (unless he’s a very energetic saint). Poet, priest and men’s movement guru Richard Rohr, OFM talks about this phenomenon creating a huge “father hunger” within the youth of Japan’s middle class. These “Hello Kitty kids” often end up alienated and angry, filling the void with the consumption of pop culture “candy” like manga and computer games.

Once upon a time, labor unions and well-intentioned civic and religious leaders helped to abolish child labor and establish the eight hour workday as the humane standard worldwide. But we seem to be losing ground in that struggle again. What so-called pragmatists might say is that we can’t afford to work less, nor to pay 1.5 workers to do the job that a single worker now does. That’s a specious argument, though, as it assumes that everything that is presently being accomplished absolutely must be done. But time is a limited resource, as is individual human potential. Who is to say what we can back off on? If there are losses in certain fields (and there probably will be), won’t those be offset by job gains in new, heretofore unrecognized fields? I think so. It just takes some outside-the-box thinking.

So why can’t we employ twenty teachers for every soldier? Or maybe we do now, but if so… why do so many of my poorer or less-educated students end up joining the military, or taking crappy service sector jobs, as the only alternatives they can see ahead of them? Looked at another way, why can’t we employ twenty factory workers (with good working conditions, to cut healthcare, turnover, and company overhead costs) for every middle manager, … and do it without making that middle manager have to do too much of the work of those supposedly well-trained employees on any given day?

Most importantly, in an era where the only growth in employment is the increase of McJobs, why can’t we move toward training and employing five hundred skilled professionals (like an X-Ray technician, or a CAD expert to work with an architect) for every hundred counter-workers at Starbucks? Why are we dumbing down or kids, or sitting idly by while the consumerist marketing moguls who run this culture dumb them down?

The bottom line is this: can we really afford NOT to adjust our lifestyles and economies to the realities of the globalized, post-modern world? We need not agree to be cogs in a machine that only seeks to grind up our individual dreams. We need not continue to be the victims of chaos, circumstance, and the obvious population explosion. It is our own human history, our own story to write or change as we see fit. Let’s take it back.

Maybe then we’ll stop losing so much sleep over the disintegration of our civilized way of life.

Author Bio:: Mark Nielsen is a “once-and-future Catholic”, presently a square-peg Mennonite/evangelical at Reba Place Church, Evanston, IL.

A founding member of Generation X (b. 1965) , he’s “younger than that now”. Married, one young son. Currently working as a grade school teacher, though with a background in video/multimedia, and with aspirations to publish both fiction & nonfiction.

White. Italian-American/Mutt. See blog/website for further details. Offer not valid in the U.S. Virgin Islands or Guam.

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7 Responses to “Get a McJob! (Sha Na Na Na)”

  1. Get a McJob! (Sha Na Na Na) | No Child Left Behind on March 4th, 2008 9:17 pm

    […] Here is the original post: Get a McJob! (Sha Na Na Na) […]

  2. mountainguy on March 4th, 2008 9:19 pm

    What does the violence that coca growers and little militias in Colombia perpetrated last weekend have to do with me or my tax dollars?

    As a colombian I am, I’ll tell you: I don’t wanna sound like a conspiracist theorist, but probably the funds sent to “Plan Colombia” will raise again (at least as long as republicans are sleeping in white house). Do USA want to have a new war? Hey, I don´t like Chávez, but I’ve never liked this “USA good puppy” called Alvaro Uribe Both of them are mesianic-violent leaders). Off course there was a violation of Ecuador’s soverignity…, off course is very suspicious that FARC militias are hiding in Ecuador’s side. Maybe there won’t be a war… maybe we colombians will still living under a total polarization (right vs left, guerrillas vs state-paramilitar crimes)…

    Excuse me, this doesn’t have anything to do wth your post, but I wanted to post my fears, opinions, visions… what would happen if coca (along with marijuana et al) were legalized..?

    Greetings from Colombia

  3. Maria Kirby on March 4th, 2008 10:48 pm

    I homeschooled my middle son until high school. At first he didn’t think the homeschooling had been that great. But by sophomore year he had decided his peers were all stupid. As a junior he is convinced that he knows how to think- that he has mature thinking- is attributed to his having been homeschooled. He cites his classmates’ inability to find Dilbert funny as evidence.

    I think my son has benefited from being in the system. But I would have liked to have homeschooled him through high school. I don’t particularly like the socialization the kids get at school. The kids tend to be rather mean to each other. I’m not sure kids really learn how to relate in Christian ways with each other. It seems to me that socially it tends to be destructive because the kids don’t have enough supervision, or the supervision isn’t designed to address more constructive social interaction.

  4. Michael Cline on March 5th, 2008 8:59 am

    For “devotional time” yesterday I read a segment from C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” (as package by Richard Foster in his “Spiritual Classics” Devotional). There were times in it where Lewis attaches the natural self with all the hustle and bustle of the day…from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we hear competing voices. The “hurry up and get stuff done” voice is largely our own, the natural self. What we need to do is remind ourselves of who we belong to and who’s voice is more important than that one. When this occurs, we can orientate our lives around a entirely other vision and value system.

    At the end of the devotional, Foster suggested writing on 3×5 cards “Who am I listening to?” and placing them near the bathroom mirror, the coffee maker, etc…so the first thing I realize when I get out of bed is that their is another voice to hear than the one the world generally offers–the voice that sounds a lot like my own.

  5. Geoff Holsclaw on March 5th, 2008 11:27 am

    thanks for the great post. sleep really is so important. didn’t everyone see that Star Trek: Next Generation episode where no one is getting REM sleep and they all go crazy?

    we would probably all work more efficiently if we slept more.
    How about this: “Save the Economy: Get more Sleep”

    but seriously, I’ve always told seminar students (and everyone I pastor who will listen), that the best emotion, physical, and spiritual thing you could do is get regular sleep. How much depression and illness would be wiped out if people just slept more?

  6. Brad Vander Waal on March 5th, 2008 1:28 pm

    good article, I have often wondered how a society that has come so far in technological advances has been able to continually increase the amount of hours of work in a week. Seems like if we have technology to do stuff easier, we then should get to work less. I know it’s more complicated but I think that mainly complicates is greed.

  7. Raleigh Booze on March 6th, 2008 3:41 pm

    way back in the day people only worked between 2-4 hours a day, and I’m pretty sure they lived happier, healthier better lives.

    I’d go back to that

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