Many students at Berkeley High School (BHS) have jobs as grocery baggers, tutors, or general manual laborers. Jobs can be incredibly important for students because they offer both work experience and a source of additional family income. However, these jobs can cause conflict and imbalance between the personal and academic lives of students, forcing them to make a choice between the two. Such situations are prompting academic institutions with the question of whether or not students with jobs should be excused from their classes. Should students be allowed to prioritize their work lives over academic careers? My answer is a sharp and violent, “No!” Excusing students from school would do two terrible things: steal away childhoods and create negative ramifications in the long term.
Many people describe their high school years as the best years of life. Rocking parties, little responsibility, crashing cars into ponds, teen pregnancy scares, liver transplants, and so much more can make it an unforgettable experience. A job shouldn’t be at the expense of such experiences. Us high schoolers will work for the rest of our lives; we deserve and should cherish the time we have now, time we should spend learning things and expanding our minds. Attending school regularly makes us better, smarter people, and those with jobs shouldn’t be excluded from becoming such people.
This brings me to my second point: missing classes to work would in fact decrease overall income and increase inequality in our country. The key to moving up in our society is education. Education is the key to success, and it opens up new and rewarding career opportunities. The Jewish American population provides a good example, specifically Ashkenazi Jews coming from Europe. Many entered the US dirt poor in the early 20th century with nothing but their families and a zest for pickles. Now, Jews are the religious group in the U.S. with the highest average household income. This is one of the driving proofs people use when being antisemitic and claiming that Jews must run the world. I hope I don’t have to remind anyone that this isn’t true. The reality is, our culture (yes, I am a Jew) puts a huge emphasis on education. Those early-20th century Jews specifically chose not to send their kids away to work in factories, but rather they made a choice to deal with the temporary loss of income and kept their kids in school, sending them to college and then graduate school when they could afford it. Education is the pathway to lifetime and generational prosperity, and if schools allow kids to skip class for work, this pathway would be obscured. Extra hours of work won’t make success, but extra hours in school might. Schools need to encourage students to prioritize school over work until they earn a high school diploma to best prepare them for life.
The problem is, jobs are necessary for many kids. When it became clear that adults were more at risk of getting COVID-19, many teens stepped up, taking jobs in retail and other essential services with their adjusted distance learning schedules. There is a real dilemma for many families over what to do, and schools must figure out a way to accommodate and help without sacrificing school hours. One solution is this: schools partner with employers such as Target or Berkeley Bowl and work with them to ensure students can get and keep jobs while attending all hours of school. They would offer the companies fresh and eager talent in addition to a good image, and provide students and their families an income flow without taking away both their childhood and chance at success later in life.