The series, Victorian Slum House has run its course. I must admit to having mixed feelings about the show.
I have to take into consideration that this happened in another country and in a different century. Also, the producers sped through the series, taking one decade jumps each week. There wasn’t enough information to give you a well rounded view of events.
I couldn’t help think that the producers were also making a political statement about social reform. While I don’t deny that changes were necessary to bring living conditions up to decent human standards, I think the reformers went about it from the wrong direction.
They demolished and rebuilt many of the tenement buildings, believing removing the blight would improve living conditions. Unfortunately, they placed such tight restrictions for living there that it prohibited the vast majority (over 90%) of tenants to return. In one building, where hundreds could be housed, only 11 people from the original tenement were allowed to return. It seems inconceivable the reformers didn’t think this through, but that’s what happened.
The more successful reform was education. Meager as it was, it was still better than what they had before. Absorbing the work force into more skilled jobs also helped their financial situation. Every generation thereafter improved their lot.
No one in the US or UK today are as impoverished as the Victorians who lived in those slums of the 19th century, so comparing social reforms between then and now would be unfair, but there are small parallels.
Speaking as one who is 1) a minority, 2) a woman, and 3) from a lower income family, I can recall only one time when my mother accepted any charity, and that’s when one of the nuns took my sister shopping for clothes.
I don’t recall the specific circumstances, but some well-to-do person asked the nuns to award a clothing allowance to several youngsters. My mother, afraid of insulting the nuns, accepted, but the situation never repeated itself.
It was a kindness, I’m sure, but it didn’t alleviate the greater problem of being poor.
To me, the finest service the nuns ever performed was when they acted as intermediaries for potential jobs. The nuns were a super network of connections long before Facebook or Linked In were born. They had their noses everywhere. If you were a good student and motivated, the nuns would do what they could to get you an afternoon job somewhere. It changed my perspective immediately. It changed my life! Once I had a toehold in the real world, I knew I could better myself.
I’ve worked since I was twelve years old, a far cry from my father, who had to quit school and go to work when he was seven. Yes. Seven.
The Victorians living in the slums of London (particularly in the 1840s and 1850s) were living no better than abandoned dogs. The biggest tragedy, aside from society discarding them, was that they were trapped. What trapped them was their lack of skills and education.
When I was growing up it wasn’t unusual for teachers to encourage kids to take up trade school instead of college. Even today, a lot of kids aren’t suited for college, or worse, take useless courses that don’t prepare them for the real world. I loved Philosophy and History classes as much as the next guy, but let’s face it, unless you planned to teach those classes, there wasn’t a lot of future in a degree in those fields.
Had I been born wealthy I would’ve devoted my schooling to art history. Not given that luxury, I opted for a degree that could keep me in the arts and still pay for my groceries. Graphic design had other outlets too. I worked as a copywriter for retail, designed advertising, and designed physical displays, working myself up to management each time.
I freelanced, creating ads, designing logos, and designing book covers. It’s a skill. One, I not only was allowed to choose, but one that’s made me happy. People should always choose work that makes them happy. You always get a better product in the end if you enjoy your work.
I’m not a reformer and I don’t know the answer to the world’s ills, but I know from experience what changed my life. It’s not enough to throw money at a problem. Teach a skill, offer a job, or mentor someone hungry for knowledge. These were the best gifts I was ever given.
The other side of that coin is that you have to be the kind of person that wants to improve his situation and will work at it for as long as it takes. That road is never short or easy. It might not even come in your lifetime, but it will improve life for the generation that comes after you.
My father worked at menial labor all his life. His kids, all six of us, graduated from university with honors. He might not have been able to give us much, but he instilled in us something even more important, the will to change our own stars. Sometimes all you need is a push in the right direction.
How old were you when you started working? Do you enjoy your work?
PS I haven’t forgotten about my new series called Practical Independence. I’m thinking it’ll debut in September 2017, once my relations have gone home.