Up From Management (archipelago) Wed 8 Dec 04 17:31
Wendell Berry had some serious and well-deserved disrespect (can't cite where ) for the term "farmer/intellectual", as someone once referred to him. To believe that the word"intellectual" automatically lent honor to the word "farmer" betrayed the most abysmal arrogance and stupidity. < pamela> your grand father sounds like mine. My Italian grandfather enjoyed sitting outside on hot days in a grape arbor which he and his sons built. He processed his huge crop of tomatoes in a power strainer built by my father out of the wreckage of a vacuum cleaner. No big deal-part of being paterfamilias or respectable son in law was the (assumed ) ability to practice a large set of vernacular and industrial arts.Oh, yeah-a small vernacular jewel: "any animal has enough piss and enough brains to tan his own hide" Eskimos still have urine barrels for tanning stuck at vatious places around some villages. There is a bilingual newspaper published in Santa Rosa called La Voz. This paper carries many stories of regional interest, such as the annual pruning contests which are held in either Sonoma or Mendocino Counties at some winery or other. Pruning is both brutal and sophisticated work, and crucial to the success of the coming grape crop.To win the contest is an indication of great strength and ability, and La Voz reports it as such. To many people the art of farm work is so remote that farm workers are merely another underclass, not practitioners of a trade which honors its own aristocracy. Pruning will probably start early next month. <http://www.srprint.com/lavoz/index.htm> <aturner> your school reminds me somewhat of Deep Springs College(subject of a WER article many years ago), The college is a working ranch and the students are responsible for running it.
Up From Management (archipelago) Wed 8 Dec 04 17:40
Link should be <http://www.srprint.com/lavoz/index.html> Sorry.
from BETTY ANN (tnf) Wed 8 Dec 04 20:49
Betty Ann writes: It's been said that our high school courses are being affected by the way our society views these different types of ways of obtaining an education.I certainly wouldn't dispute that and would like to add that not only does society's point of view affect educational cirriculums,but a person's earnings after his or her schooldays are over with as well.In general,it is said that college/university grads are the best paid,followed by high school grads,with the least amount of money being earned by those who didn't finish all four years of high school.To me,it seems safe to assume that in part,at least,this is happening because so many people in our society see a college/university education as being superior to that gained by people who choose to follow other paths in life.Therefore,people in the former group are rewarded more in a financial way than those in the latter group,even though there could be in dividuals who didn't attend a college/university who are just as well educated,in their own way,as those who did. Betty Ann
Mike Rose (mike-rose) Thu 9 Dec 04 12:37
To all: What is so interesting to me about the last series of posts is the way they have taken off from specific discussions about waitresses or plumbers--some of the work I deal with--and present a lovely mix of other work that reveals skill, thoughtfulness, intelligence. The examples--farming, tanning, all kinds of repair--are rich with the quality that originally caught my fancy: the smarts, the ingenuity in the everyday, right under our noses. We couldn't go very long without it. To Betty Ann: This issue that you raise about schooling is an important one. In a later chapter of The Mind at Work called "The Paradox of Vocational Education", I try to tease out some of the elements of this complicated relation between schooling and work, at least as it pertains to Voc Ed. Suffice it so say here that part of the problem is the model of mind that was absorbed into the development of vocational education in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. It posited that some kids (typically poor, immigrant, and/or ethnic and racial minorities) were "hand-minded" and that others were "abstract-minded." And, you guessed it, the "hand-minded" kids were tracked into Voc Ed and the others into a college preparatory academic curriculum. There have been a lot of attempts to reform Voc Ed over the last 10-15 years, but even the successful attempts, I think, keep bumping up against those old biases.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Thu 9 Dec 04 14:55
You mention that it isn't just educators who are misled, that often industry groups press for certain kinds of quite impoverished education. Would you say more about that?
Up From Management (archipelago) Thu 9 Dec 04 17:42
My wife is a landscaper, and once worked in the gardens of a major winery. It is no longer enough to make good wine-too many people can do that-a winery must create whole environments where people can sample wine accompanied by gourmet food grown on the premises, etc., and if they can tour the gardens so much the better. [be careful driving in Northern California on weekends: an alarming number of beamers ,mercs, volvos, etc. are being driven by people who've been offered a *lot*of free wine]wife was both docent and working exhibit in this marvelous viticultural theme park. She answered questions about the garden and the work she was doing, suggested various fruits or herbs currently ripe which would enhance the taste of various wines and foods, etc. The visitors were particularly taken with the cycles of the garden, with the living network of relationships. My wife enjoyed this work and she was good at it, but she bagan to notice certain disturbing patterns. "...you look at their clothing and their cars, and you can see that they know how to do something; but you talk to them and it's obvious that they don't know how to live..." She said that the majority were there because they felt some kind of hunger, and they sincerely wanted to learn how to enhance their lives. Near the winery there is a bakery with a monster stone oven, prominently displayed.which is used to bake breads only BWM-type owners can afford. Other shops nearby offer finely crafted local specialties at high prices. It seems as if whatever these rusticators are doing is not providing them with any satisfaction beside money. They are so hungry for relationships that they will pay to watch other people enact their relationships with the world....So what's going on? Despite what seems to be almost cosmic amounts of wealth in certain areas spirit is still as divorced from flesh as ever. The patterns of philanthropy are broken in many ways. Aldona Jonaitis described how the Museum of Natural History was endowed: letters were circulated among the hyper-rich of New York pointing out that they were being hopelessly outclassed by the hicks in Chicago who had just completed the Field Museum Of Natural History. That's how Franz Boas got his dream job. Museums , symphony orchestras, great public spaces such as Central and Golden Gate Parks were supported by those who controlled the flow of money and the means of production and some of the chief beneficiaries the working class. In San Jose, however, the cyber-libertarian millionaires were quite content to let their symphony founder.
Mike Rose (mike-rose) Fri 10 Dec 04 11:26
Archipelago: Your post reminds us of what a need we seem to have to, at least occasionally, have some connection with life's basic processes. As one small example, I think of the folks I encountered who would spend long periods of time in a garden or a garage just tinkering. I think of one fellow in particular who just enjoyed being with his tools, even when he wasn't making or repairing something. I certainly do not want to romanticize physical work, for the way it usually has to get done in order to make a living can be pretty harsh. I certainly saw it in my own family. But some of it some of the time, anyway, certainly brings you in close to a direct encounter with hand, tool, material, the pulses and the structures of life. Pamela: I would not want to claim to be an expert in job training and workplace education, but I have spent some time over the years either working with people who have participated in such settings or have observed the settings first hand. While there certainly are some programs that are decent, too many focus on the most narrow of skills, trying to impart just enough technique or literacy or numeracy to get a single job done. Furthermore, the means of instruction is too often the most basic, rote, and uninspired pedagogy. No wonder that students and workers often tune out and just go through the motions. If you think about it, nobody would create such training if they believed that students/workers were capable people. This is the kind of training that you create if you think that you are working with folks who are terribly inadequate. The irony, of course, is that you end up creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. People will tune out, and will act "stupid" if that's the environment that you create for them. This is something I discuss and illustrate a lot more fully in an earlier book called Lives on the Boundary, and it comes up, as well, in the chapter on vocational education in The Mind at Work. Now here is a really interesting and troubling thing. With the coming of the so-called "new economy", there has been a significant attempt in some industries to structure work so that front-line workers would in fact have more responsibility, use a broader range of skill and knowledge, make decisions, etc. This is a model of work and the worker much different from the model I described above. Here a richer kind of training would make sense, and, to be sure, some businesses have been able to put it in place. However, old belief systems and organizational cultures die hard. In the final chapter of the book I describe a study where a particular industry's sincere attempt to restructure front line work was hampered by old attitudes about what the workforce was intellectually capable of doing. So you have the structures of the "new economy" sabotaged by old beliefs.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 10 Dec 04 12:36
Yes, I found that one of the most interesting parts of the book, Mike. It's analagous to something I ran into when I sat on a panel about the future of engineering. Me: Why isn't the engineering curriculum richer in things like aesthetics? Engineer God: The curriculum is already too full; we couldn't load one more thing onto it. Me: But you just got through saying that it's all obsolete in five years. Engineer God: True, but these guys have gotta have a job when they get out. And so forth. And speaking of aesthetics--this comes up in many chapters in the book. I'd like you to describe it in its obvious ways, say, hairdressing; and in its much less obvious ways.
Up From Management (archipelago) Fri 10 Dec 04 12:54
I certainly wouldn't romanticize my family's experience- I was pretty well grown before I learned that a short, pointed D-handled shovel was not properly called a "Guinea banjo"... Ivan Illich, John Holt and John Taylor Gatto all describe in various ways how the educational system serves to control rather than to educate. If you have an economy which has a need for a large underclass then you will have to provide appropriate training to ensure an adequate supply; the U.S. seems to be making a great success of this.
Mike Rose (mike-rose) Sat 11 Dec 04 10:19
Pamela: THis issue of aesthetics turned out to be an interesting one for me, and one of the surprises that came out of doing the book. Of course, I knew going in that someone like a hairstylist would be concerned about the appealing look of her work. But even there, what impressed me was the intricate relation among so many factors that contributed to the aesthetic outcome. She had to be manually dextrous, she had to know a lot of styles, she had to know products and how they would or wouldn't work with particular kinds of hair, she had to know her tools, etc. But she also, if she was good, had the ability to modify particular techniques and styles in order to achieve a pleasing look given someone's coloring, facial shape, etc. Finally, she had to be able to figure out--often through questions, gestures, pictures in magazines--exactly what it was that a client wanted. I remember one woman coming in and saying, "Give me something light and summery." What impressed me was the stylist's ability to convert that abstract request into an actual style. So with the hairstylist all these factors are orchestrated to produce the pleasing style. The aesthetic here is an interactive and negotiated one. Now let's turn to areas where the presence of aesthetics might be a little bit less expected. What struck me over the six years that it took to write The Mind at Work was how often I ran into some expression of the aesthetic impulse. I think that, unfortunately, a lot of us tend to identify "aesthetic" as a property of the arts, maybe high-brow culture, and the like. This is unfortunate, I think, because it can keep us from seeing the expression of the aesthetic impulse all around us. Whether it was plumbers or welders or, for that fact, surgeons, it seemed important, at least to some practitioners, to make something or to fix something in a way that was aesthetically pleasing. As far as I could tell, there were two reasons for this. One was that, as a carpenter in Tracy Kidder's House puts it, "what looks well works well." Often the pleasing appearance has a functional purpose. So the electrical conduit that is flush against the house is both visually satisfying and structurally sound. The neatly braided wires within a wall make it easier for another electrician to trace a particular wire--but, as one pointed out to me, it also just looks nice. What was interesting to me, however, was the number of times that a person would take extra pains or even re-do something just to make it look nice--even when there was no structural or functional reason to do so: The extra wiping of a finger over a caulk line, the repair of a tiny gap underneath a bookcase, the refashioning of a bundle of wires because it "looked ugly." We are aesthetic creatures.
Up from Manegement (archipelago) Sat 11 Dec 04 15:06
The programmers I know speak of "cleanliness"and "elegance", two standards by which they judge their work...Shipwrights and fine finishers in other trades speak of jobs ending up "normal". "Normal" is a state in which all relationships are harmonious. If it isn't "normal" it isn't right. On fish processing lines, fish which are not well or completely processed are known as "dirty" fish. In some fisheries,a fisherman may express contempt for another's poorly done work by redoing the job. Words are sledom needed.
David Crosby (croz) Sun 12 Dec 04 09:44
you have taken a serious look at this .....her is a look at the heart of a fictional waitress....I hope it's not too far afield ......... Through Here Quite Often I come through here quite often and I think about you I come through here quite often and I wonder what you do a wrong turn at the corner I could say I got lost a confusion of memories when two streets crossed the picture that haunts me is eyes through the steam rising off of the coffee coming off of the cream and I dont even know you and I dont mean to stare but I know what youre thinking I can see that you dare to care about strangers and see into their lives as you hand them a spoon as you polish the knives you reach out and touch one every once in a while with offhanded wisdom or a lopsided smile now they say dont talk to strangers I say why the hell not if you dont talk to people what have you got a world without wisdom a life without laughs a season of loneliness friendships in halfs chorus do you care about strangers do you look at their lives their sons and their daughters their husbands and wives so I come here for coffee and I watch your face to see secret kindness and watch quiet grace
Mike Rose (mike-rose) Sun 12 Dec 04 10:00
My comments yesterday about aesthetic response--and Archipelago's post #61--have got me to thinking about a core theme of THe Mind at Work, one that I would like to say a little bit more about now. THe point that I was making about aesthetic response was how distributed it is among the population, among us. In a similar way, other qualities of mind are widely distributed as well. One thing that I did to illustrate this point was to look at some high-status work that also relies on a blend of hand and brain: for example, physical therapy and general surgery. I thought that perhaps by comparing these different kinds of work I could provide yet another line of sight on this issue. One thing that I was able to illustrate is the distribution of a wide range of mental processes like problem-solving, decision-making, making inferences from knowledge, a refinement of perception and attention, etc. Here is a specific example from plumbing and surgery. Both the plumber and the surgeon develop the ability to "see with their hands." THe plumber working in an old house is able to feel around inside a wall and is able to visualize what's going on with the pipes inside and make judgements about what needs to be done. In a similar way, the surgeon is able to feel underneath organs and other structures for texture, shape, pulse, etc. and visualize and make judgments about what it all means. Obviously, I'm not trying to say that if I need a surgeon, I could just as well use my plumber (or vice versa), but rather I want to remind us that they are both thinking in some fundamentally similar ways, at least in moments like the above. A further quality that I found to be widely distributed is an attention to craft (which can be related to aesthetics). Here is a nice little comparative example. A young man building a book case noticed a tiny gap in a seam at the very bottom of the case located such that nobody could ever see it, and it had no structural implications. Still, he fixed it because as he put it, "I know it will be there, and I want this to be right." I saw this same kind of concern about craft spread across all the occupations I looked at, from welder to surgeon. I want to be clear about all this. I realize that many practitioners do a poor job, for all sorts of reasons, from training to motivation. We have all been on the receiving end of bad work. But I don't want us to lose sight of a larger point: that a broad sweep of mental processes and a desire to do a job well are two of a number of qualities that are distributed across the population. There is among us a common core of competence that we do not often celebrate. We have heard much over the last few months about all the cultural divides in the country. I really do think that one of them has to do with this business of the way we segment ourselves through beliefs about intelligence and ability. I would like to see us rethink these beliefs, and I hope that considering intelligence the way that we are here at THe Well could provide one small contribution to this rethinking.
Alan Turner (arturner) Sun 12 Dec 04 11:13
I think I must have the ultimate example of something like that: I have some relatives who ran a machine shop, and everything they did was a one-off: they made specialized manufacturing equipment. But they did do a little limited production of repeated items. That was mainly to have something to do for one son who was mentally retarded. "make nice things" is how he described his work. I guess it stretched his mind as well, but I think he got most of the satisfaction just from assembling the widgets, and making them exactly right. My point being that even Roger, who never even managed to utter a complete sentence, found purpose in his life by assembling widgets and being able look at his finished ones. He had no problem-solving and virtually no decision-making skills. But he had that aesthetic pride in his work.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 12 Dec 04 14:38
There is among us a common core of competence that we do not often celebrate. We have heard much over the last few months about all the cultural divides in the country. I really do think that one of them has to do with this business of the way we segment ourselves through beliefs about intelligence and ability. I would like to see us rethink these beliefs, and I hope that considering intelligence the way that we are here at THe Well could provide one small contribution to this rethinking. That paragraph seems to me to sum up the great value of Mike's book. I've had wonderful conversations with waitresses since I read this book-- they swell, they agree: yes, that's how it is (and one, a trumpeter (!) and voice student, told me the differences and the similarities in her two lives). I'll have a conversation with my hairdresser in two days. And croz, thanks for that poem (song lyrics?). It really sings.
Andrew Alden (alden) Sun 12 Dec 04 16:31
Scientists are famous for adhering to "beautiful theories," too. The physicist Paul Dirac made a big deal of the mathematics being elegant. One hurdle in the acceptance and furthering of modern fundamental physics is that it's so weird, its beauty isn't widely appreciated.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 12 Dec 04 18:14
Mike does talk about surgeons in his book, who stick their fingers into the body to find out if "it feels right". That's a kind of aesthetic. Joe Meraglio, Mike's uncle, worked his way up from car sander (the nastiest, dirtiest job) to becoming a general foreman at the Lordstown GM plant. He too talked about things "looking right." The aesthetis impulse is deep, though it may not be universal. A house was built nearby my house in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The owner was exacting, making the workers pull apart whatever didn't "look right." But they didn't resent that--they loved it that he cared: they began to care too in ways they wouldn't otherwise. The house is one of the handsomest in Santa Fe. And like Andrew, I've often heard scientists talk about what's beautiful, and suspect that truth was inside beauty.
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Mon 13 Dec 04 00:01
re 56 from Archipelago: "It seems as if whatever these rusticators are doing is not providing them with any satisfaction beside money. They are so hungry for relationships that they will pay to watch other people enact their relationships with the world." Where I see people like that is "liberals" who pack community theater performances of Neil Simon plays. They seem to have some aching hollowness inside them that needs to be filled with reassurance that the world is still schmaltzy. I think this ties in to their lackluster performance on the job. Since they feel exploited, they do not really give themselves to their work. They hold back. They think they are holding back from their "bosses" but they do not understand that their employers are their _clients_. Traverse City is a big tourist trap, so we have both kinds of liberals here: the "BMW liberals" from Detroit who come here to visit the wineries and "antique" stores and such; and the locals in their 15 year old economy cars. Of course, we have both kinds of "conservatives" the ones in Lincolns from Detroit and the locals in pickup trucks. So, I guess that politically, it balances out. As far as haircuts go, I used to be a sucker for those Mall Stylists who do both women's and men's hair. (Different states require different licenses for this.) I have gotten a good cut, but mostly not. These girls have no interest in their work, as far as I can tell. The last time, I tipped her $10 in advance and told her to take her time and we would talk about the cut and she rushed me out of the chair. When I got in the car, and saw how bad it was, I asked for my money back. (She kept the tip.) For a good haircut, I go to a man's barbershop with a candycane pole in front. Women cut there too -- and often, if not usually, do a better job than the men -- but they seem to cut up to a man's standard: they seem to know men and like being around them and understand them. It just seems to me that in every line of work, every marketplace, every service or product, there are some people who care about what they do and some who do not. A few posts here involve "surgeons." In this, I see a certain underlying, implicit elitism. I am sure that we have all met doctors who are idiots. Sure, they memorized a lot of material and suffered a lot of hardships and they are really smart, but they seem to lack something essential in doctoring. Many of them get sued for malpractice. Many others avoid serious mistakes with lackluster output: nothing ventured, nothing lost. The same holds true of any occupation. I guess that in the worst light, it just seems to me that a book that tells people that you need to do a good job at work is something to be found in a high school guidance office. The fact that it was not is what makes the book publishable today. Who buys such a book? As far as I can tell, it must be those people in BMWs who visit wineries and go to plays. Meanwhile ... Susan: "Hey, Stella! Look here. Some college perfesser in California sez we need brains to do our jobs!" Stella: "Hah! No kiddin! Say ja hear about Marcia's baby?..."
Robert Chevalier (archipelago) Mon 13 Dec 04 01:59
>to care about strangers >and see into their lives >as you hand them a spoon >as you polish the knives I think (croz) is pretty close here...where does this "aesthetic" come from? It might be something as simple as getting up before you are through sleeping, the old man/old lady is still hurt and angry, the kid's depressed and detached and if he doesn't stop getting wrecked at school he's gonna get expelled, and your body is slow enough and moves with enough pain that you are beginning to feel that you might not have the 5000 years it's going to take for all the brushfires in your live to burn themselves out...and to add insult to injury, not only does the road lead nowhere but from dust to dust but you've got to get your dead ass up, grab your shovel and go pave the damned road yourself, and sometimes the only thing which keeps you from going postal on one hand and going out like an old light bulb on the other is art, and art, as Norman McLean has pointed out, can be hard to come by.And the poor bastard who has noone to make him coffee, and who is taking his personal paving job just a little personal pauses in his agony just long enough to catch out of the corner of his eye the turn of the wrist as the spoon is placed in precisely the proper position, and is somehow comforted. The hand, knowing itself to have succeeded in its mission with the spoon proceeds to its next task with renewed courage. The day has started, and the world is once again turning toward the morning.
lurkyyoungster (tinymonster) Mon 13 Dec 04 06:14
Wow, that's good, Robert; very poetic! And <62> -- Very relevant, and I like it! Is that a new one, <croz>?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 13 Dec 04 11:04
In case anyone is under any misimpressions, Mike Rose's book is as distant as it's possible to be from condescension toward his subjects, whether they're hairdressers or surgeons. It was respect for and curiosity about the members of his family in so-called "low skill" jobs that got him started on the study. He also wondered about the non-book-learning that elite professionals who are successful need. That non-book-learning surgeons acquire happens to share some characteristics with other professions, callings, occupations.
Up From Management (archipelago) Mon 13 Dec 04 12:49
For a truly poetic look at the difficulties of paving the road from dust to dust read Robert Leo Heilman _Overstory: Zero Real Life In Timber Country_ Heilman is a wonderful essayist-his work reminds me of Wendell Berry-and he has a lot of experience with life in logged-off America, with the pressing need for comprehensive omnicompetence in the art of Doing Without. Can't remember where,but Gary Snyder described his failure to combine the practice of writing with the job of trail building. He was getting nowhere with his writing, and losing much-needed sleep over it, and the finally said to hell with it-he'd simply work....he went on to say that his writing began to get a lot better after that...
Alan Turner (arturner) Mon 13 Dec 04 17:15
I'm wondering: several times you mention trainees or apprentices who have that desire to get it just right (even things that will never be seen). What's your take on that? Do you think it's something that they had in themselves all along, or something that their instructors instilled in some way? If the latter, what do you think they did to foster that attitude?
Mike Rose (mike-rose) Mon 13 Dec 04 20:27
Sorry for the late response. What a good set of posts this is. Croz: Thank you for the poem. Is it a song lyric? I hope so. I am pleased that our conversation made you think of sending it. Alan Turner: (#64) I also know of several cases like this one. They're powerful, aren't they? And they sure get us to thinking about the big question. Post # 73: That's a good question, and it touches on an earlier exchange. Again, I think that the answer is some kind of mix between a personality characteristic and the environment that a teacher establishes. I am struck by the culture of craftsmanship that some teachers are able to create in these workshops. It's not unlike the kind of culture that you can find in the good artist's workshop or dance studio. Alden: Yes, aesthetic response is an integral part of doing science and mathematics. Your mention of Paul Dirac reminds me of Henri Poincare's famous essay in which he discusses the role a sense of beauty plays in mathematical creation. Mercury: I completely agree that in "every line of work... there are some people who care about what they do and some who do not." I say that in paragraph six of my last post (#63). But I'm not sure what in my post leads you to think that my book simply "tells people that you need to do a good job at work." The book is about the way intelligence gets defined and the interaction of that definition with social class and occupational status. A fair number of blue collar and service workers have contacted me about the book and did not have the response that you attribute to Susan and Stela. Archipelago: Thanks for the strong portrait in post #69 and thanks for the references to Overstory and to Gary Snider.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 14 Dec 04 08:39
There's another quality that goes into doing a superb job that you mention, Mike. You call it not problem-solving, but problem-finding. Would you say more about that?
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