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Re: [xmca] Mike Rose on academic-vocational divide

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 <hworthen@illinois.edu> wrote:

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen@illinois.edu>
Subject: [xmca] Mike Rose on academic-vocational divide
To: "Activity eXtended Mind Culture" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Cc: "Worthen, Helena Harlow" <hworthen@illinois.edu>
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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