Children of the Corn
Trying different jobs can help you clearly see what you don’t want to do for the rest of your life—and give you motivation to go after what you do want to do
By Ryan Griffioen, Representative
High school jobs, summer student jobs, and internship programs are great ways for Canada’s future workforce to gain not only work experience—as in finding out what the grind of regular, daily work is like—but also whether they actually have long term interest in the line of work in which they’ve always believed they had interest. Early work experience can confirm what you thought you always wanted to be when you grew up or a wake-up call to let you know you’re heading down the wrong path in life.
I know I had several changes of heart, well into my university years. When I was a child, I wanted to be a garbage man because it looked like fun hanging on to the back of the garbage truck. Through my teens I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, perhaps because TV made them look so attractive (LA Law, Ally McBeal, Law & Order, Night Court, ER, etc.).
My high school jobs, co-op program, and summer student work helped me clearly see what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life, but one most specifically stands out.
In southwestern Ontario, it’s almost a right of passage to be a corn detasseler. Sounds exotic, I know, but it wasn’t.
Basically, children aged 13+ are conscripted—at least that’s what it felt like to me—to work as field hands for what can only be described as “big corn,” which was really the local farmers who grew seed corn for big name seed developers. (I’m sure there is a John Grisham or Stephen King novel based on this industry.)
All joking aside, corn detasseling was and continues to be a primitive physical process in the highly scientific crossbreeding of different strains of corn. It is simply the job of these kids to pull the leafy, green spike from the top of each designated corn plant to keep it from pollinating the other corn plants.
It wasn’t brain taxing work to be sure. I mean it’s not like the kids must determine which plant gets to keep its tassel; the farmer plants the designated corn in very, very long and straight rows. It’s just quite physical work, that starts too early in the morning, and must continue, whether the sun’s shining or it’s pouring rain.
Nothing clarifies your path in life better than starting your workday wearing a garbage bag pancho and wrapping your feet in plastic grocery bags so that you don’t get soaked by the morning dew. It’s not as though you didn’t sweat enough to soak your clothes by midday, but it helped somewhat stave off the inevitable corn rash.
I thought the seed companies were super generous to hand out water jugs, small lunch coolers, and sunglasses to each detasseler. But now, with a little hindsight, and today being immersed in workplace health and safety, I figure it was more about minimizing their liability when it came to kids suffering dehydration, heat stroke, or the thousands of tiny lacerations one receives from the razor-sharp corn leaves.
Obviously it wasn’t torture enough to keep me from returning; I did it for four summers. It was decent money for a few weeks of “hard labour.”
But I knew field work wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That experience and some others motivated me to do what was necessary to get the education needed to expand my future work options.
My children, like me, need motivation as well. I’m proud of my 14-year-old daughter for getting started on her second summer “in the corn.” We told her the same thing I heard when I was her age—you work in the corn until you find yourself another job. She’s already eyeing job postings at local retailers.