inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #26 of 96: Up From Management (archipelago) Mon 6 Dec 04 23:13
    
   How do you shape an axe handle?
   Without an axe it can't be done
 
                    from "Book of Songs"  Chinese folk song cited by
Gary Snyder in _Axe Handles_ North Point Press, 1983
 
Sorry- hope Ihaven't started too many hares or pissing contests. But
the above verse points out just the kind of quandary I think we're in
at present. Is the programmer a new sort of craftsman,who can
substitute abstraction for the language of steel, or is he writing
himself in as a component which disappears into the tool? What of the
welder who has no use for the abstractions? Most working  people I know
are stone sensualists: they love the materials or the media they work
in. Any woodworker knows that both spiritual and erotic thrills are
some of the rewards for learning to truly sharpen his or her tools. I
am not implying that welders are superior to programmers in industrial
value or sensual awareness- It's just that a whole new synthesis is
needed.
>no such thing as an unskilled job-exactly. But we have chosen to
value certain things at  the expense of others.And here we are in the
midst ot what we are told is a revolution, and if my discoveries in
ergonomics are any witness we have not yet come to grips with the
industrial revolution.We are still mired in the destruction of
vernacular art.We are becoming more de-skilled every day.
Perhaps the scariest thing  I see is that white collar people are
becoming more de-skilled in truly astonishing ways. As they have
distanced themselves from any kind of hand/eye work they have become
more distant from their own.
Language (IMHO)just has to have everything to do  with opposable
thumbs. Language marks the first time humankind got to play in God's
toolbox.Now bureaucrats, politicians, members of the 'helping
professions" cannot write or even speak decent 6th grade English.
The people who losing the control of the primary tool are being put in
charge of larger and more dangerous tools...

Re <25> A shipwright would say that if it doesn't look right,it ISN'T
right. And he would be right.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #27 of 96: Dan Levy (danlevy) Tue 7 Dec 04 08:20
    

(I hope you all won't mind my cutting in briefly to say that I took an
American Lit class with Mike Rose at UCLA in 1978 that was one of the best
educational experiences I have ever had, which really enriched my experience
of reading to this day.  Thanks, Mike.)
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #28 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 7 Dec 04 09:16
    

Mike's book has a lot to say about the aesthetics of a job--in hairdressing
where it's very obvious to everyone, and in welding, in wiring, in plumbing,
where it might only be obvious to your peers.  But it's there for all the
reasons arturner says, and also for the pride a fine craftsman takes in
doing everything well, a message he or she sends into history saying "I know
what I'm doing."

<billcostley> what a brilliant thing to do with your writing students.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #29 of 96: from ANN DERRYBERRY (tnf) Tue 7 Dec 04 09:55
    


Ann Derryberry writes:




Re #26 of 27: Up From Management  (archipelago)

who writes:

> "We are becoming more de-skilled every day.  Perhaps the scariest thing  I
> see is that white collar people are becoming more de-skilled in truly
> astonishing ways. As they have distanced themselves from any kind of
> hand/eye work they have become more distant from their own."

As I've watched carpenters, electricians, plumbers, handymen and others work
(my dad included), it occurs to me that if white-collar workers found them-
selves having to be self-sufficient in a primitive setting (let's say ter-
rorists were able to contaminate most of the military-industrial infrastruc-
ture so that no one wanted to work there), they/we might literally starve to
death.  Knowledge has become so specialized, intellectual and esoteric that
we no longer know how to do anything of "real" value to sustain and provide
the necessities of life.  "Elite" workers no longer know how to work with
their hands or even how to evaluate the handiwork of someone else -- only
perceive how neatly done and pretty it is.  And then try to figure out a way
to do it on a larger scale with less resources and labor.  Also, we have ex-
ported that work.

For example in the US, small family farming is on the decline and the in-
timate knowledge that comes with it of how to raise animals, grow crops, deal
with the weather, etc, is disappearing as we give incentives to large
agribusinesses to produce, in one instance, vast numbers of hogs.  We also
import more and more of our food.  Farming is as de-valued an occupation as
any.  Perhaps you have covered this in your book.  Sorry to say I haven't
read it, Mike, but plan to as this is a subject I've thought about quite of-
ten lately.  (I come from a family of farmers and blue collar workers, and
have worked at low status and white collar jobs.) Annie D
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #30 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 13:26
    
Gail: I know the feeling.  As somebody who has a hard time finding my
way around the block without a guidepost, I cherish those little
moments when a stranger gives me directions, or for that fact, when get
a little unexpected help of any kind in a business transaction.  

But as you point out, underneath this little helpful moment is a much
bigger issue.  As countless observers have pointed out, so many jobs
have gotten so narrowly defined that they terribly restrict the
possibility of the growth of the worker.  Underneath this narrowing of
the job is an economic motive, of course.  But I also think that
another issue is the beliefs that so many in the society hold about the
mental capacity of people who do the front-line work.  
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #31 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 13:33
    
Bill: Your own employment history covers so much, and enabled you to
see so much, that you're the guy who oughta write a little something
about what you learned from it all.  

I really like the story you tell about the writing course.  So many of
those kind of industry-related training programs are really pretty
dull and detached from both people's personal and occupational lives.
What you did was to make a very clear connection between the classroom
work those folks would be doing with you and the work they would be
doing out in the world.  That's a powerful connection.  And it clearly
was not only motivational but made them commit their intelligence to
the task.    There's a truth here that I have come to embrace after so
many years of teaching: if you create the right circumstances, people
will surprise you with what they can do.  It's a basic tenant, I
suppose, of just about everything I have written.   
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #32 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 13:39
    
Brian: Bingo!  You put your finger right on the problem.  It is
unfortunately unusual that people cross occupational lines to
collaborate.  (This. of course, is also true in schools where it is
difficult to get the shop teacher and the english teacher to sit down
together and develop curriculum.)  And again, there are many reasons
for this divide, but I really do think that one of them involves the
beliefs we have about folks who do physical and front-line work versus
those who are certified by the organization as the people who are
supposed to be the thinkers.  
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #33 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 16:19
    
E.M. Richards: You raise some great points.  You are right, of course.
 Generally speaking, society views carpenters in a way different from
the way they view waitresses.  I don't mean to lump them together.  

Still, I think that the hand-brain biases that I discuss in the book
do apply to folks like carpenters and plumbers, although in a different
fashion.  

In school, for example, carpentry, etc. would be labeled vocational
(versus the academic course of study), and that distinction has all
sorts of consequences for the curriculum the kids get and for the
intellectual expectations held for them.  Also, though the carpenter
and plumber are certainly respected for their skills (especially when
the toilet is backing up!), I don't think that people, as a rule,
appreciate the degree of abstracting and conceptualizing embedded in
the work.  The very way that Labor Department analysts separate skill
and trade from symbolic work reveals this way of thinking.  See what
I'm driving at?  

Now I am not trying to deny the obvious differences between the work
of a plumber and, say, a systems engineer.  But I do want to question
the way we tend to separate mental from manual in our occupational
categories and in our schools, for the mind is ever present in the use
of the hand.  

On the other issue you raise, you are right about the class
distinctions within occupations.  What intrigues me is that--to use the
restaurant as an example--the waitress at the fast-paced coffee shop
may have to use more varied skills and think more quickly on her feet
than the waiter at the haughty restaurant.  But then maybe that's my
reverse class bias showing through.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #34 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 16:24
    
Alan raises a good point: the way people might devaluate work by the
look of it.  

Also, there's the point that Pamela raises in her post: the pleasure
in the display of one's skill and art.

And Archipelago's quotation of the shipwright is pertinent here: it if
doesn't look right, it isn't right.  One of the carpenters in Tracy
Kidder's House says it too: "What looks well, works well."     
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #35 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 16:31
    
Archipelago: How nice to see Gary Snider present here.  

Both your post and Ann Derryberry's calls up a fine book by Eugene
Ferguson, Engineering and the Minds Eye.  It is a historical study of,
among other things, the way the education of engineers has moved so far
away from direct sensual experience of machines and structures.  
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #36 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 16:32
    
Dan Levy: Oh Dan!  What a wonderful surprise.  Please don't tell me
that that was 26 years ago.  What are you doing now?  
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #37 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Tue 7 Dec 04 16:37
    
Ann Derryberry: Ann, I did not study farmers, but everything you say
rings true.  As I traveled across the United States for a previous book
(Possible Lives), I was continually struck by the resourcefulness you
described.  Your point about what would happen to "elite workers" if
they had to rely on their own physical resources could be the stuff of
a chilling allegory.  
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #38 of 96: E M Richards (booter) Tue 7 Dec 04 17:15
    

You know, Mike, I'm thinking... there is an interesting bunch of people
who come from white collar families, who have college degrees, and who
go into the trades after getting their college degrees. They seem to
travel across the class differences with their clientele in a different
way than tradespeople from pure blue collar.

It takes longer for a tradesperson to get fluent in their craft if they
take a side trip to go to college first, but I think it causes them to
cross some kind of invisible line that their vo-tech brethren (and sisters)
do not.

As a homeowner and longtime Berkeley resident, I have met a number of
tradespeople and have seen that some of the more educated guys have a
whole different income level and client base than the lesser educated
guys. For example, the only reason I got the Pendergrast brothers
(masons) to do my fireplace 12+ years ago was that they were still
young and knew someone I knew. Now, I don't think they would return my
call.

I wonder what the mental processes are in these folks who manage to become
well-to-do and get perceived as professionals that differ from those folks
who are just as skilled at the task at hand who continue to be viewed as
blue collar.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #39 of 96: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 7 Dec 04 17:39
    
I taught AutoCAD at a trade school one semester, and saw a number of
different kinds of students.  Some of them just wanted to get though the
course, and I can understand that - chances are that they'll never actually
use the program in work anyway.  But a few just dove into it totally, and
they wanted to make the most beautiful, accurate CADD drawing possible.
Even if they were having a hard time doing it.

Some didn't care all that much how good the cadd drawing was, but they were
damnn sure that everything on it was correct, from a woodworker's or an
electrician's point of view.  I almost think they saw the entire world in
terms of cabinetry or wiring.

I'm certain that all of them were good and dedicated at whathever trade
they were studying; you didn't last very long at that school if you
weren't.  But some of my students applied that "have to get it perfect"
attitude to everything, while others only applied it to their specific
trade.

It was interesting to see how some of them had a very narrow focus with the
"exactly right" thing, and others applied it to everything they did.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #40 of 96: Up From Management (archipelago) Tue 7 Dec 04 18:28
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #41 of 96: Up From Management (archipelago) Tue 7 Dec 04 23:23
    
 An interesting interview with Frank R. Wilson can be found here.


 < http://www.pbs.org/newshour/gergen/december98/gergen_12-31.html>
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #42 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 8 Dec 04 06:54
    

I can only add my amen to these posts.  I've watched dressmakers do miracles
with descriptive geometry (even if they wouldn't call it that).  My
grandfather was not a shoemaker, but he repaired all the family's shoes
because that was what people in his class did.

Mike, you speak of a kind of social amnesia, which I take to mean that we
forget how much many of these everyday crafts were once honored as
difficult, important tasks to do--a bit the way we feel about knowledge
workers right now.  Perhaps you could say something about that?
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #43 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Wed 8 Dec 04 11:05
    
E. M. Richards: Geez, this is an interesting point.  I know some of
these folks as well.  (And also there are tradespersons who did not go
to college but who are highly self-educated.)  I think you are right in
that, if nothing else such folks carry with them a kind of educational
capital that puts an interesting wrinkle in the dynamics of social
class.  

You ask if the thinking is any different in such people.  I don't
know--and I don't know of any studies that look at that.  My guess is
that the problem solving, perceptual and attentional processes, etc.
are not that different.  But what might be different would be their
ability to articulate those processes to others.  
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #44 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Wed 8 Dec 04 11:13
    
Alan: I have a question for you, and I realize that it calls for
speculation on your part.  Do you have any sense as to whether or not
you're talking about a personality characteristic or something that
occurred because of the training they were receiving?  That is, the
people who try to apply that careful ethic to everything--do you think
that's just the kind of person that they were or could you pinpoint
something about the training that really encouraged it.  It's probably
some interaction of both, but I'd be curious as to what you think.   
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #45 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Wed 8 Dec 04 11:27
    
Archipelago: Thanks for the link to Frank Wilson.  You and I both
admire his book The Hand.  He and I have exchanged some brief
correspondence.  

Like Pamela, I am taken with your discussion of dress making, and
think it presents a nice example of the blend of the tactile and the
conceptual that we have been talking about. 

Of course you knew that I would be very taken with the examples of the
mechanics teacher and the art teacher who see their work as
instruction in problem solving.  

You know, your compelling description of the way your sons were
brought up reminds me of Ann Derryberry's comments about the family
farm.  There is a kind of powerful learning that these situations
require that does not separate body from mind.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #46 of 96: Mike Rose (mike-rose) Wed 8 Dec 04 11:47
    
Pamela: The post that I just offered to Archipelago speaks to your
question.  And it is an interesting question that surfaces in these
last few posts.  It concerns the way our notions of what it means to be
smart and capable can change over time and place, and the kinds of
environments we live in.  The unfortunate thing is that we sometimes
don't appreciate the richness of what went before.  One striking
example is how in the language of the "new economy" you often get a
characterization of industrial work as not requiring much intelligence,
as being "neck down" work.  Talk about social amnesia!  Because of the
thoughtful book you wrote, Pamela, about artificial intelligence
(Machines Who Think), I would be curious as to your take on this issue,
as well.  Maybe we can play this line of thought out a little bit.    
   
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #47 of 96: Alan Turner (arturner) Wed 8 Dec 04 12:05
    
I think it's a bit of both.  I need to explain the school first.

The Williamson school is free, there is no tuition, no room and board fees,
nothing.  Students are required to buy their own tools as their training
progresses, which (not incidentally) leaves them with a good tool kit and a
respect for tools when they graduate.  It is also quite strict.  Just for
one example, the campus is immaculate.  Not just because the students would
get demerits and a weekend work detail for littering, but they would even
get demerits and a weekend work detail for _failing to pick up a piece of
litter_ if it is within their sight.

So there is an aspect to being meticulous about things other than their
profession built into the whole culture, and I only saw students who had
been infused with that for at least a year.

Perhaps some of the students had that personality trait to begin with, and
the school's admissions policy and strict rules filtered for that as well.
The curriculum and the campus life is suffused with being neat and tidy and
thorough, so it is definitely part of their training.

I think what I saw was that some of the young men arrived with that trait
and applied it to everything they did anyway, some learned it there and
began to apply it to everything, and some of them applied it to everything
that counted accordng to the rules.  If doing beautiful CADD drawings was a
requirement for graduation, then even the latter group would have
accomplished that task as well, but they didn't have to.  I like to think
that they just devoted more effort to their other courses, which I don't
see as a bad thing.

As you say, some interaction of both.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #48 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 8 Dec 04 13:37
    

When I was writing Machines Who Think, I wanted to comment on what a narrow
view of "intelligence" the field then encompassed.  I confess, I phrased it
so tendentiously, shall we say, that the editor strongly suggested I remove
it, and so I did.

Two things accounted for that narrow view.  One was cognitive psychologi
itself, such that it was a quarter century ago.  What counted was what you
could measure somehow, and IQ tests were still a big deal. [that's
psychology, of course]  The second thing was the primitive state of the
computer.  The kinds of intelligence that could be exhibited were pushing it
to its very maximum and even beyond.

It's a pity, because despite those two limiting factors, I can't think of a
researcher I talked to who believed that this was the be-all and end-all of
intelligence.  Simon especially was interested in different kinds of
intelligence--he was a fine amateur musician and artist--but all of that was
way beyond anything anybody could make the computer do then.
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #49 of 96: Robert Chevalier (archipelago) Wed 8 Dec 04 17:06
    <scribbled>
  
inkwell.vue.232 : Mike Rose, "The Mind at Work"
permalink #50 of 96: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 8 Dec 04 17:12
    

Grandpa actually began with a side of leather, which was "cured" in a huge
container into which all the chamberpots were daily emptied.

Like nearly everyone of his generation, he was an agriculturist--though in
his case, it was horses: their care, their training.  That was his "job".
The shoe repairing was something he did because that's what competent men
did.
  

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