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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Up From Management (archipelago) Tue 7 Dec 04 18:28
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>
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Robert Chevalier (archipelago) Wed 8 Dec 04 17:06
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.
Members: Enter the conference to participate