Is being ‘on time’ a matter of cultural perspective?

by Christopher Paslay

America’s future career counselors are being taught that meeting deadlines and showing up on time for appointments is a matter of cultural perspective.

Last December I received my master’s degree in multicultural education from Eastern University.  In my Urban Education class our professor gave a mini lesson on “time orientation,” and explained how being “on time” was culturally relative.

“In some cultures,” she said, “‘on time’ means arriving 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  In some cultures it means coming fifteen minutes after the scheduled time.  And still in other cultures, ‘on time’ means you arrive at exactly the time scheduled.”  She was serious and not being facetious in any way.

The first thing that struck me after hearing this was the term “Black Time,” a slang and racially insensitive phrase used by people (including some African Americans) to describe a person who shows up late for something.  One of my best friends in high school was African American and his father used to say to him jokingly, “Be home in time for church—and I mean on time, not Black Time.”

The idea that time orientation is culturally relative, outside of multicultural education programs,  is absurd.  Time, unlike many other subjective entities, is one of the few things that is objective and fixed.  For those like my Urban Education professor who don’t believe so, try arriving at a train station 15 minutes after the train is scheduled to arrive and see if you catch the train.  Or, come back to your car 15 minutes after the parking meter runs out and see if you get a ticket.  Or, show up for a job interview 15 minutes after the scheduled meeting, and see if you get the job.

Time isn’t a matter of cultural perspective.  Those who believe this are in for a lot of pain and suffering.

Yet this reality doesn’t stop progressive multicultural theorists from teaching impressionable young minds that time is culturally relative.

This summer, I’m back at Eastern taking a class in Career Counseling as a requirement for my School Counseling Certificate.  The book we are using in class is called Career Counseling: A Holistic Approach, by Vernon G. Zunker, the acknowledged guru in the field.  In chapter 9 of his book, titled “Career Counseling for Multicultural Groups,” he gives a blueprint for counseling African Americans, Asian and Pacific Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Whites, pigeon-holing each group with generalized stereotypes—all the while warning future counselors against the dangers of stereotyping.

Zunker goes on to say that different cultures have different “work values,” and different ideas of “appropriate behavior” and “appropriate dress.”  Zunker states, “Thus, it is not surprising that one cultural group may generally view a behavior as being appropriate, but members of a different culture may view that same behavior as gross or insulting.”  Interestingly, Zunker gives no examples to back up his premise; so much for teaching future counselors that they should help students and clients to speak, dress, and behave in a professional manner on a job interview or in the workplace.

Back to the notion of time orientation.  Zunker states:

Among some cultures, differences in time orientation from the dominant society can present barriers to effective career planning and other time commitments that are normally assumed in career counseling.  In traditional career counseling, the client is expected to be on time for appointments and abide by a set of time rules to complete certain counseling interventions.  In many collectivist cultures individuals are not as obsessed with being on time and maintaining a strict time commitment.  A Navajo Indian woman asked me if the next meeting would be “Indian time” or “American time.”  She explained that “Indian time” is “whenever we get together that is convenient.”  Being on time for most counselors is viewed as a positive value, and lateness is often misunderstood as a symptom of indifference or a lack of basic work skills.  In this case, I learned firsthand that time orientation has different meanings for different cultural groups.

Zunker’s theory on time orientation stops here.  There is no follow-up advice or instruction to future counselors about how to address the problem of lateness or missed deadlines by clients who have an “alternative orientation” to time.  Zunker is mute on the issue, and his silence is his own approval.  In other words, by not stating that these behaviors are faulty (they are, in his words, a “misunderstanding”) he is signaling to America’s future counselors that it would be racially intolerant or culturally insensitive to expect clients to conform to the dominant culture’s definition of being punctual and meeting deadlines.

So how do we explain the misfortunes that happen to clients whose time orientation is culturally relative?  Why is it that people with alternative perspective on time habitually miss trains and buses, get parking tickets, are hit with late fees by the IRS and credit card companies, get their utilities shut off, and never get hired for jobs?

According to social justice advocates who embrace a multicultural theory, these people are caught in the throes of institutional racism and the cultural oppression of a dominant white society.

In short, these people are all victims, and future counselors are being indoctrinated by theorists like Zunker to expect as much.

Is your college degree worthless? Blame your career counselor

by Christopher Paslay

Progressive career counseling theories may be contributing to high unemployment rates among Americans aged 16 to 24.      

Unemployment rates for our nation’s youth are at an all-time high.  So is student-loan debt among recent college graduates.  Town Hall columnist Victor Davis Hanson summed-up the situation in his article “The New American Helots”:

Ancient Sparta turned its conquered neighbors into indentured serfs—half free, half slave. The resulting Helot underclass produced the food of the Spartan state, freeing Sparta’s elite males to train for war and the duties of citizenship.

Over the last few decades, we’ve created our modern version of these Helots–millions of indebted young Americans with little prospect of finding permanent well-paying work, servicing their enormous college debts or reaping commensurate financial returns on their costly educations.

Student-loan debts now average about $25,000 per graduating senior. But the percentage of youths 16 to 24 who are working (about 49 percent) is the lowest since records have been kept. The cost of a four-year college education can range between $100,000 and $200,000 depending on whether the institution is public or private. Only 53 percent of today’s college students graduate within six years. Student time spent writing and reading in college has plummeted.

Simply stated, Americans are spending more money on higher education and getting a smaller return on their investment.  Too many young adults graduate with impractical degrees like those earning a bachelor’s in Women’s Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst or those getting a master’s in Ethnic and Multicultural Studies from Minnesota State University (any college major that has the word “studies” in it is an indicator of its worthlessness—for example, majoring in “Math Studies” instead of simply majoring in Math).         

There are those folks, however, who believe practicality has nothing to do with education, that knowledge is its own reward.  Although there is some validity to this argument, young men and women should graduate college with at least some marketable skill or training that puts them in a position to find meaningful employment. 

Unfortunately, over the past decade, too often this has not been the case.  College grads are not finding jobs, and have amassed over one trillion dollars in student loan debt.  The Great Recession is partly to blame, but is not the sole culprit.  Underneath the rocky economy is a bigger, more worrisome problem perpetuating youth unemployment and obscene student loan debt: disgustingly progressive career counseling theory.    

Here’s a brief history of career counseling in America:       

In 1909, a guy named Frank Parsons, the father of career counseling, formulated the conceptual framework for helping a person choose a career.  His approach, known as Trait-and-Factor Theory, was straightforward and had three steps.  First, a person seeking a career took a test to indentify his skills, abilities, and interests.  Second, the person was given a list of career opportunities that matched his skills and interests.  Third, the counselor helped the person find the best fit between the two.  Trait-oriented theories, for the first half of the 20th century, worked well.  People found careers, paid taxes, and contributed to society. 

In the 1960s, career counseling theories began to expand into a new direction; finding a career was no longer simply about working to pay the bills, but to express yourself.  A guy named Donald Super pioneered “Developmental” career theories, which taught that career aspirations, like a person, develop over time.  Self-concept was the central principle of Super’s new career theory.  According to Vernon G. Zunker, a noted scholar on career counseling, “The major practical application here is that individuals implement their self-concepts into careers as a means of self-expression.”     

In the late 1970s and early 80s, “Social Learning” and “Cognitive Theories” came to the forefront.  It was around this time that John Krumboltz proposed his Learning Theory of Career Counseling (LTCC).  This theory developed the idea that making career decisions is a learned skill—that simply matching a person’s interests and abilities with available jobs is archaic and limited—and that each individual’s unique learning experiences over the lifespan are what lead to proper career choice. 

Finally came the 1990’s and the height of cultural diversity and political correctness (and the birth of identity politics in career counseling).  The new career counseling perspective was that the values of the dominant white culture were broken and oppressive.  According to Zunker, “The point to consider in this context is that individuals from different cultures develop their own set of values and work needs that were shaped in their unique environment.  Values that differ from those of the dominant white culture are to be recognized and appreciated.”  Apparently, universal human values—such as respect, work ethic, honestly, personal responsibility, etc.—do not cross cultural boundaries. 

Zunker goes on to say that “Career choice, for example, may be driven by goals of family as opposed to individual aspirations.  In the individualistic cultures of Europe and North America, great value is placed on individual accomplishment.  In the collectivist cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the individual focuses on the welfare of the group and its collective survival” (his choice of the word “welfare” is curious, no pun intended).  Zunker does a nice job of stereotyping every race and culture while warning future counselors not to stereotype.  He also says that white counselors “are to increase their awareness of their own culture in order to change their racist behaviors.”

So where has 100 years of progressive career counseling theory gotten us?  Besides $1 trillion in student loan debt and a 51 percent unemployment rate among youths aged 16 to 24, not very far.  Today’s career counselors might want to consider going back to the basics of Frank Parson’s good old Trait-and-Factor Theory.  Work isn’t always about self-concept and self expression, but about the dignity of having a job and making a meaningful contribution to society.