Of the ten days designated as national holidays each year, Labor Day is perhaps the least understood. For many of us, it amounts to little more than the dividing line between summer and fall, one last chance to sleep in, go to the beach, fire up the grill, or wave goodbye to tourists before turning our attention to the important business of a new school year or the pressing demands of our particular workplaces.
How many of our children, indeed, how many of us are aware that way back in 1884, the first Monday of September was- as indicated by the U.S. Department of Labor dedicated to “the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country?”
My father spent his childhood in the midst of the Great Depression and my mother’s father was active in the Union at Corning Glass Works, so you can imagine that each appreciates the spiritual value of work. I am the fourth of four boys, each of whom was put to work each summer in the various factories of the nearby mill town. Case in point, at the cable manufacturing plant in town, my job was to police the parking lot picking up the cigarette butts and earplugs that the first-shift workers had discarded on their way out of the building, in an era that predated the widespread availability of disposable plastic gloves! I earned 3.35 an hour for that job and on Fridays, I would affix my paycheck on the fridge with a magnet and the check would just kind of disappear—my contribution to the family, it would be explained to me.
And when one of us would complain, my father would invoke the familiar saying, “Well, why do you think they call it work?” “Work,” he was fond of saying, “is something you don’t mind doing most of the time and you actually enjoy doing some of the time.” As an adolescent, it was far more important for me to earn the respect of my bosses, Ed Artiaco, Cliff Diaz, Bill Sitts, than my own father’s. I didn’t like those jobs, but they taught me empathy and humility, two qualities that are essential to good character.
On Tuesday, all of us at Falmouth Academy, faculty, staff, students, even parents, got back to the important work of teaching and learning. For all of us, education is a labor of love: for teachers and students alike, some days it will feel more like labor and some days it will feel more like love. There will be days when we are inspired, when we will learn for learning’s sake only, when we will, as Marge Piercy writes in her poem To Be of Use,” “jump into work head first/without dallying in the shallows/and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.” But there will other days when it will just feel like work. You just don’t build muscle without a little heavy lifting. So when those days arrive, and they will, let’s be sure to remind one another of the value of hard work and endeavor to make every labor a labor of love.
To read more from Matt Green, please read the Head of School webpage or check out his Twitter feed.