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Re: [xmca] Mike Rose on academic-vocational divide
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Mike Rose on academic-vocational divide
- From: Helena Worthen <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2012 14:23:34 -0800
- Cc: "Worthen, Helena Harlow Worthen" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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David and Martin:
Huge questions. I will try to respond briefly, with the understanding that there is more to say behind each response but that I don't want to write another huge chunky message unless others speak up.
a) Why are LPP/Communities of Practice and CHAT theories adaptable to labor education? LPP/CofP because the "practice" of the community is first and foremost earning a living; welders earning a living, actors earning a living, nurses earning a living, etc. The various disciplines or topics like labor history, law, workers rights, economics equip the members of that community better for making a living. A CofP comes into being when you get people coming together around a collective purpose and where teaching and learning (in apprenticeship or direct instructional modes) are how the community perpetuates and regenerates itself by bringing people in from the edges (peripheries) and developing them into leaders or experts. While high technical skills are important, the "academic" subjects are essential. Think about public school teachers as a community of practice, for example. What kind of teachers are they if all they know is classroom management, lesson plans and their own topics? It's what they also know about the social status of teachers, teachers organizations, the different economic lives of their students, neighborhoods and cities, the various levels of governance of our education system, the history of our system, etc that makes them into a sustainable community that has norms and can exert some power. So, in order to move from being a just a crowd of people with comparable skills into being a community of practice, you have to make the links between the CofP and the world in which it is situated.
One of the limitations of CofP theory is that it is inward-looking. Lave has not spent much time looking at the interactions of CofPs with the world around them (although I gather she's working on new books right now). CHAT (especially Activity Theory) gives labor educators a way to map the components of the activity system of a given group of workers. You can use the points on the famous triangle to talk about who the community is out of which the division of labor takes place that brings certain people into the forefront of an action; you can talk about the history, customs and laws that constrain or enable them (all these terms are points on the triangle); you can talk about what resources they have -- technology, language, equipment, tools -- and you can talk about the purpose or motivation of the system. If you do a little legerdemain and assert that the community of practice (say, bus drivers in a big city) is just another way of looking at an activity system (or vice versa), then CHAT gives you a way of looking outside the CofP at what its world looks like, especially any other activity system (such as the city transportation authority that has refused to bargain in good faith for the last few years, as in Chicago) that it may be struggling with. And you can map that activity system as well.
So, you're not just talking about the skills the bus drivers have to have in order to drive the buses; you're talking about the knowledge, or learning, or wisdom or whatever that they have to have in order to earn a decent living by driving the bus.
2. How does bringing in economics bridge the academic/vocational divide? As I described above, "economics" is shorthand for the broad range of academic disciplines that back up economics (although not, apparently, classical free market economics, which appears to be history-free). Well -- first, this divide is an artifact of the educational system which created it by appointing some courses "academic" and some "vocational." So it doesn't necessarily have to exist in the first place. It has no basis in physical/biological reality. Second, as Mike Rose explains, its persistence and gravity are the shadows cast by the way it coincides with long-embedded assumptions about education and social status -- academic/elite/"knowledge workers" vs vocational/working class/manual workers. The vocational/academic divide fits in nicely with comforting thoughts about how well our system, inequalities intact, functions.
However, what happens when a class of bus drivers show up and want to know how to respond to employer proposals to cut their healthcare benefits? Immediately, we're talking about the cost of health care, the Canadian single-payer system, the politics around Obama's healthcare legislation, where the money actually goes (which means the salaries of CEOs and thus the accelerating economic inequality in the US and globally) as well as comparing how other employer-based healthcare plans get negotiated -- and this is just background to developing their own proposals, or counter-proposals, training negotiators and preparing to explain the outcomes to the membership. What's this got to do with learning to push a loaded bus through traffic? Lots.
One of my favorite questions to get a class of super-high-tech electricians arguing (many of them are married to women who are school teachers or nurses): "Why are you guys paid so much and your wife the schoolteacher is paid so little?"
I like David's question number b), too, but I think this is too long already. I would like someone else to tackle c).
21 San Mateo Road
Berkeley, CA 94707
Visiting Scholar, UCB Center for Labor Research and Education
On Feb 15, 2012, at 10:05 AM, Martin Packer wrote:
> Hi Helena,
> I had the same question as David's (a). I also would ask if you could say more about the ways that bringing (back) in the economic, the power and money, helps bridge the academic/vocational divide.
> On Feb 15, 2012, at 10:30 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Yes, if there is "something else" about overhead welding, it's the fact that when your puddle gets too big you drip liquid metal down into your crotch while you are welding. I did get an amazing set of burns down there.
>> At one point, I tried to make a kind of apron out of an old leather jacket I had, but it was usually way too hot in the plant, in the summertime in Chicago, to wear anything but the arm protectors. I should have made a loin-cloth!
>> I have three questions about Helena's (really sublime) exposition of the political economic issues that get swept under the carpet, not just in conversations about re-skilling workers but also in the workers' own aspirations, which are often, particularly in young workers, short term and object-directed (rather than directed at the quality of factory life).
>> a) Why do you think that legitimate peripheral participation, or activity theory, is particularly well adapted to labor education? Isn't it well adapted to the "skilling" aspect (e.g. how to improve the actual job you are doing) and rather less well adapted to the problem of rights, to teaching history, to understanding law?
>> b) Rose is really raising the issue of what we call the "presage variables" of labor education--that is, the set of literacy practices that workers bring to labor education, practices they are supposed to learn in public education, but which are really not on the curriculum anyway. What do you think a good middle school or even elementary school pre-programme for labor education would look like? What would we even call it? (Not "industrial arts" or "home economics", but maybe "industrial economics"?)
>> c) How does this notion of labor education as being centrally about the big picture of political economy (rather than to the skill-centered one of industrial arts) relate to Vygotsky's decision, in the early nineteen-thirties, to focus on CONCEPT development rather than developing complexes of ideas around the employment of tools in the labor schools?
>> This was, I think, where the zone of proximal development really came from! Unfortunately, I think it is also where a particularly grueling and gruesome escalation of the eductional curriculum--and industrial production--in the USSR began....)
>> David Kellogg
>> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
>> --- On Tue, 2/14/12, Worthen, Helena Harlow <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <email@example.com>
>> Subject: [xmca] Mike Rose on academic-vocational divide
>> To: "Activity eXtended Mind Culture" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>> Cc: "Worthen, Helena Harlow" <email@example.com>
>> Date: Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 10:38 PM
>> Hello XMCA again,
>> My first thought, reading Mike Rose's account of a visit to a welding class, was, "Do they learn why there are no old welders?" Because by the time someone is 50 years old, if they're still welding, they are scarred and self-medicating, if not actually disabled. Learning that, and then learning what to do about it -- how to manage the work of welding so that you could retire intact -- now that would be a class!
>> My second thought was to try to respond seriously to Rose. He sets out to re-examine assumptions that limit the effectiveness of remediation and CTE toward preparing students for roles in the new economy. Later, he names these as being themselves "barriers to a robust education for those who haven't been on the scholastic supershuttle." He notes the various theories that have justified the remedial curriculum for the past century (or more) and then turns to the divide between the academic and vocational courses of study, which he traces back to the Greeks.
>> The contrasting literacy practices across this divide were the subject matter of my dissertation, which I did as part of Norton Grubb's research team where, like Mike Rose, we went and sat in hundreds of community college classrooms (this is all in Norton's book, "Honored but Invisible," which Mike Rose lists in his references.)
>> But once I felt I pretty well understood what actually goes on in vocational classrooms, I jumped the track and started doing labor education, which is adult education with working people that encompasses the work and the conditions of work, but places them in the context of the political economy of work. Rose mentions labor ed programs calling them "workers education programs" and remarking that they "are not typically mentioned in this regard." That's true, and worth an explanation which I won't attempt here. Labor education is about workers' rights, labor history, labor law, economics, how to resolve problems long term and short term, contracts, and especially how to use the knowledge people create in the course of doing their work to improve their jobs and make them decent and survivable. In these classes, the vocational-acaemic divide is bridged. I believe that this is because the missing element is recovered: the economics: power and money. This
>> applies equally to welders, adjunct professors, nurses, hotel housekeepers, day laborers and airline pilots. This -- not "skills" - is what really prepares students for "roles in the new economy" (remember what "new economy" meant twenty years ago?)
>> My current writing is about how people learn this knowledge. There's a lot in print about teaching, but I am writing about learning, especially about how people learn at work. I've done a piece on apprenticeships in the building trades, based primarily on the apprenticeship program at IBEW 134 in Chicago, sometimes called the "Harvard of apprenticeship programs." I've done others on pre-apprenticeship programs for "the hard-to-employ" demographic -- meaning ex-cons, ed-addicts, minorities, women --where the most stunning news was how fast an adult can learn something like basic math if there's a real promise of a decent job at the other end. By "real" I don't mean the kinds of jobs that lie at the end of training programs funded under our Workforce Investment Act, which is the ideological twin of our TANF or PWORA welfare reform act and leads to money for training (for trainers) but does not lead to decent jobs. The most useful theoretical
>> frameworks I've found for shaking out learning at work are Jean Lave's communities of practice, Engestrom's activity theory, and Work Process Knowledge (Boreham etc).
>> I'd love to continue this discussion. My main point, for now, is that the academic--vocational divide closes when we get beyond how to operate the tools and get into the political economy of work.
>> Helena Worthen
>> 21 San Mateo Road
>> Berkeley, CA 94707
>> Visiting Scholar, UCB Center for Labor Research and Education
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