Friday, August 8, 2008

If it don't fit....


I worked briefly as a stevedore at Port Newark when I was 19 years old. I got a nice offer to stay (25K per year plus wheels, not bad for 1978).

For a variety of reasons, I did not take it, but I stayed long enough to inhale a bit of asbestos, develop great biceps and pecs (now long gone), and receive a nugget of wisdom that has carried me far.

I was busy messing with some kind of doo-dad, getting frustrated, hammering uselessly on it, trying to make it work. It was hot, I was covered in hydraulic oil, and my ineptitude amused the more experienced workers.

One of the crane operators took pity on me and offered this advice:

If it don't fit, turn it over and try again.

Last night I had to re-seat a toilet, last week fix the hood latch on our '94 Caravan. In the past few months I've replaced drain pipes, fixed switches, cut down a tree, changed a couple of tires, built two platform beds, repaired a leaky gas line, replaced a mailbox post, and the few dozen or so other little things that don't require a whole lot of theory, but do require a little bit of thought.

Nothing in a fairly fancy educational background prepared me for any of that, except perhaps the shop class I took in 7th grade, back when schools still had them.

I spent a bucketload of time in schools, just a couple of months on the docks. And I got paid to be on the docks.

Excepting the asbestos still hanging in my alveoli, which serves me better at day to day tasks?

Not saying education isn't important, not saying that at all. Just reminding myself that my kids have several decades of life beyond school.


4 comments:

Tracy said...

I found you via your comment on Clay's blog post about assumptions. I like the illustration you made here. That's why teaching for me is SO much more than content. SO much. Maybe that's why I always choose to work in alternative settings where content is not necessarily #1.

I'll be back. I'll be teaching some science this year I think - grade 11. I'm going to need good blogs like this one to refer to. For sure.

doyle said...


"When we start to live by our assumptions, we stop learning."
--Tracy Rosen

Your words, obviously, but ones I plan to borrow. Thanks for the kind words.

When I teach physical science to the "low level" freshman, where little is expected by the outside world, we often get to places beyond where I get with my college prep sophomores, partly because the state's end of the course exam only applies to biology.

Content matters, but context matters so much more, and content without context numbs curiosity.

High school science has the potential to reduce the world to mechanics while stripping out the awe.

artichoke said...

I was going to comment on how this post reminded me of all the stuff I love in John Taylor Gatto's thinking on schooling and education ...but looking at your links I just know that you will know it already ...
Still is worthy of a place here

I want to give you a yardstick, a gold standard, by which to measure good schooling. The Shelter Institute in Bath, Maine will teach you how to build a three thousand square-foot, multi-level Cape Cod home in three weeks' time, whatever your age. If you stay another week, it will show you how to make your own posts and beams; you'll actually cut them out and set them up. You'll learn wiring, plumbing, insulation, the works. Twenty thousand people have learned how to build a house there for about the cost of one month's tuition in public school. (Call Patsy Hennon at 207/442-7938, and she'll get you started on building your own home.) For just about the same money you can walk down the street in Bath to the Apprentice Shop at the Maine Maritime Museum [now in Rockport - ed.] and sign on for a one-year course (no vacations, forty hours a week) in traditional wooden boat building. The whole tuition is eight hundred dollars, but there's a catch: they won't accept you as a student until you volunteer for two weeks, so they can get to know you and you can judge what it is you're getting into. Now you've invested thirteen months and fifteen hundred dollars and you have a house and a boat. What else would you like to know? How to grow food, make clothes, repair a car, build furni-ture, sing? Those of you with a historical imagination will recognize Thomas Jefferson's prayer for schooling - that it would teach useful knowledge. Some places do: the best schooling in the United States today is coming out of museums, libraries, and private institutes. If anyone wants to school your kids, hold them to the standard of the Shelter Institute and you'll do fine. From Gatto - Confederacy of Dunces

doyle said...

Artichoke, I stumbled upon John Taylor Gatto in The Plain Reader, an anthology from the magazine of the same name put together by Scott Savage, the editor of both. I may need to go read it again, though looking at his words you posted above, it's obvious his words left a few new sulci in my cortex.

When pursuing what matters, I keep bumping up against (funny how words can betray assumptions) cultures that emphasize simplicity (a word easily misunderstood and misused) and an emphatic connection to land/nature/life, and to, well, religion.

Obviously, I do not teach religion in science class, and perhaps more importantly, have no desire to do so. Still, I want my students to learn how to "see" the universe as much as is humanly possible, and when you broach the edge of understanding, you evoke awe.

"Awe" is not the same thing as religion, but can trigger odd reactions in the classroom, and more than once I've found myself backpedaling, bringing the kids back home to the classroom.

Gatto talks about "School as Religion,"
and I do worry that in my zeal to keep the kids from straying from a strictly scientific curriculum, I diminish what science means.

I'm starting my 3rd year of teaching in less than a month--I am a little bit more aware of what can happen in the classroom, a good thing, but also more aware of how things can get misinterpreted.

Reading too much Gatto may be detrimental to my career....