Sunday, October 26, 2008

It may seem like I've gone off on a tangent, discussing economic theory in the blog about the hands, but this is very much related to Educational Sloyd in which Salomon proposed that woodworking in school helped to create a cultural climate of dignity and respect for ALL labor.

When the Smith-Hughes Act (1917) was signed into law by former Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson, putting federal dollars into programs isolating the hands from the education of the elite, the white/blue collar divide was institutionalized. Now, in the current presidential debate, Joe the Plumber is playing a big part. Even though he is not a real plumber and he has shown no real skills at anything, the McCain campaign has found him to be its greatest hope. He is a symbol used to frame the debate, and isolate and alienate, taking advantage of the long established class divide that Educational Sloyd worked to alleviate.
If a person has never attempted to do anything creative requiring the skill of the hands, he or she is unlikely to understand the value of the contributions of those who do, laying the foundation for the other side of the divide:

Those whose skills have been marginalized and who've been taught to doubt their own intellectual abilities choose belief over curiosity and become victims of resentment and prey to those who would manipulate them for malicious political purposes.
Meanwhile the newly college educated may be the hardest hit in the declining economy. According in an article in the Chicago Tribune, October 14, "Is College Worth It?" by Megan Twohey, in many professions low salaries and large student loans severely limit the financial advantage of college education. The one third of college students who drop out are left with loan expenses without the salary advantages required to pay them off.


  1. If I remember right both you and Jean went to college and that your daughter is at one of those leading institutions right now - I am not sure you come from whence you speak.

  2. There are many reasons to go to college. One of them is financial. The others are to meet rather well defined personal goals.

    I went to college because it was expected of me, and I was glad I did. I use things all the time that I learned there, and I particularly use the confidence that came from being a college graduate to tackle issues in areas of philosophy and economics that I would never consider if I had allowed my hands-on inclinations to limit my intellectual curiosity or allowed others to do so.

    As you know, we are investing heavily in our daughter's education, but not because it was something we expected of her or for her, but because it was something she has wanted for herself. And throughout her upbringing we have encouraged her hands-on engagement in learning as I know you have done with your daughter.

    It is not just the elementary and high school systems that are suffering and failing in the US, and I provided the link to the article as evidence that we need to look clearly at the whole thing.

    I had proposed to Dr. Alan Brinkley, Provost at Columbia, that they add an affirmative action program for the hands to their core curriculum, bringing hands-on learning to their prestigious university. I won't hold my breath, but the high drop-out rate from universities leaving students in debt, are also related to the failure to engage the whole student in the educational process.

    Isn't it wonderful that in my own blog, I can be an expert in nearly everything? But when you start looking at life through the lens provided by the hands, you get a slightly different view of things. Is it true? It will be for those who learn to look from the same perspective, and if it brings us closer to truth it might be a good thing.

  3. Anonymous10:02 AM

    I think the issue here is that not everyone should go to college, yet that is the direction many of our states seem to be taking, i.e., greater access. There are good reasons to go to college and even better reasons for some young people NOT to go to college. Being in the college business, I see lots of students who are wasting their time....and their parents' money...

  4. John, I suspect there was a time that my parents might have wondered whether they were wasting their money on sending me to college... or they would have wondered if they had known what I was up to at the time. I may not have been as bad a wastrel as some of what you see as Dean.

    But a couple years ago, in the Rogers, Arkansas School district, the superintendent said that they were essentially failing every student who didn't go on to a 4 year degree. The level of degree has become more important to some than the skill and maturity it should represent.

    It is like how Joe the Plumber can be the star symbol of McCain's conservatism while if he were knowing of his own best interests, he would vote for Obama.

    I am curious what my readers think of my economic principles. Am I making sense?

  5. Anonymous4:56 AM

    Interesting discussion starting here. Going to college gave me the credentials that allowed me to have a good living. And I definitely wasted a great deal of time when I was in college. But it seems to have worked out, and as I see students at the community college where I work wasting their time, I have to hold off from criticizing too much. They have dreams to follow, like I did.

    The skills of working with my hands didn't come from my college courses, but from the jobs I did to make money to stay in college. And then, of course, from having children and owning a first home when you can least afford it. It would be tough to separate those different skills at this point.

    Both my sons work well with their hands, and both have intellectual curiosity that's impressive to see. One is a liberal arts graduate and the other culinary. Part of college for both of them was, as it was for me, gaining a sense of independence and maturity and making a network of friends that can last throughout their lives.

    Sorry if this rambles, but it seems to me that both sets of skills are important, and college is a place where sometimes you discover that it's not the place for you. Better for the person to find that out for him/herself than to be told by someone else.


  6. One important thing in this conversation is that college should not be considered right for everyone, nor should not going to college be considered an automatic path to failure.

    Another issue is the question, how to we make college more inclusive of the hands?

    If we keep graduating large classes with no connection with hands-on creativity, what have we done?

    It seems to me that by failing to include the hands in education we do two things. We decrease the mental and emotional capacities of all students, and we sustain a culture in which many important vocations are regarded with contempt.

  7. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Mario, you are correct, of course, in that we should not be telling young people whether or not they should attend college. They do need to make up their own minds. Doug has hit the nail squarely on the head, though, in stating that: "college should not be considered right for everyone, nor should not going to college be considered an automatic path to failure." I believe the larger issue here is "expectations." Students who are "expected" to go to college are under severe pressures by society/parents, et. al. to do so. We must change the notion that NOT going to college dooms one to failure. It's just not so!

  8. Anonymous10:12 AM

    Another issue here, too, is that many students start college (becaues that is expected of them) before they are ready. I really think that many of the issues I see are not so much because students shouldn't be here, but rather because they are here sooner than they should be. I think if HS graduates spent a few years in the real world first, then they would be in a much better position to decide if college was the right choice for them...or the WRONG choice.

  9. Anonymous4:46 AM

    JJD and JD both bring up good points about college. The program at my school that is a combination of high school and college doesn't work very well because the kids are so young, and for the most part, not ready to do college level work or be as self directed as they need to be.