Back to Skills

Making It In America: Lessons From the Factory

Back to Skills

This isn’t necessarily a story about education, but it speaks volumes about the challenges and often limited opportunities many young adults in this country face when their academic trajectories end after high school.

In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Adam Davidson looks at what life (and the work) is like inside a Greenville, S.C. factory for 22-year-old Maddie Parlier.

Parlier is a single mother, who gave up her plans for college when she was unable to afford child care. It’s interesting that the comments on the Atlantic story include more than a few questions about what sort of sex education Parlier received at her public school.

She freely acknowledges in the article that it was her unplanned pregnancy that derailed her plans to major in criminal justice and become an animal control officer. Instead, she’s grateful for a $12-an-hour job assembling fuel injectors. She knows she smart enough to do more, but the odds of that happening on her current track don’t look good.

Despite her vast potential, Parlier is less valuable to the workforce because her education stopped after the secondary level. Her employers know she could do more, but they don’t have the time or incentive to train her.

I point to stories like this when I argue that education is one of the most important beats a reporter can cover. Education is the one beat that crosses, regularly, into every other beat:  health, business, criminal justice, politics, science, sports — just to name a few.

The fairy tale ending, here, might be a generous benefactor offering Parlier a college scholarship, or perhaps an opportunity to train for work that has a promise of greater opportunity. A more realistic scenario is that if Parlier is lucky, she might manage to raise her child and just get by. But shouldn’t Parlier, and her many peers, be able to hope for more?