Friday, November 21, 2008

Joe le Plombier

It turns out there are two Joe the Plumbers, though of course there are thousands more. One of instant and greatest notoriety is really named Sam, lacks license and owes back taxes. Another, Joe Cottonwood, A.K.A. Joe the Plumber or in French, Joe le Plombier is really named Joe, is currently a general contractor and writer, and maintains a blog called Clear Heart Blog: The heart of a carpenter. He became "Joe the Plumber" when his first novel Famous Potatoes was published in the US and his occupation was listed on the back cover as "plumber." He became Joe le Plombier when his book was translated and published in France.

When people are characterized, joe six-pack, joe the plumber, and are used in the media to make arguments, and to frame debates on ideology, real people are diminished in stature. We have a vast gulf in America, distancing the characterized "elite" from the characterized "working man."

One of the objectives of Educational Sloyd was the elimination of that gulf. We seem to share that objective today in a way. Look at all the college scholarships being offered to minority children who show promise in academic subjects. You can go to the best ivy league schools for free if you are smart enough and poor.

But educational sloyd used a different strategy to bring a more thorough result. Put tools in the hands of all children. Challenge all children in the problems of creating quality work and workmanship. Unless all people understand the dignity of real work and have experience in the effort and the rewards of that effort, we are characters to each other instead of fully dimensioned human beings. And those human beings at the top of the chain will continue be completely out of touch with the needs of the American people.

Joe Cottonwood writes eloquently about tools and real life, so his blog is something you might enjoy.


  1. Not sure if my comment went through. If this is a duplicate, please delete it:

    Your words are very kind, Doug.

    My 3 children went to a school whose hands-on philosophy is similar to yours: Peninsula School in Menlo Park, California. My 2 boys grew up helping me in construction projects even before they were of legal age to do so. One of my sons, starting in fifth grade, started building musical instruments. My daughter was more interested in drama and dance. Up through 8th grade, they all measured below average on academic accomplishments such as spelling and grammar.

    Hands-on education works! In high school, with solid self-confidence and real-life grounding, they all blossomed in academics. All 3 went to fine colleges and now have careers that combine the hands-on and the intellectual. One majored in philosophy and is now a medical doctor. One had dual majors - philosophy and engineering - and now works in industrial design. One is an urban planner who also has a bluegrass band and co-writes songs with me.

    And they were never ashamed of my work in plumbing and all of construction. It paid the bills and, they could see, balanced my spirit as I wrote novels at a desk. Lots more I could say...

  2. Again, this may be a duplicate post. Google is behaving oddly today:

    Uh, um, one other thing. "Joe Cottonwood" is my pen name, so I'm a little uncomfortable hearing people say it's my "real" name. Sam Wurzelbacher and I each use the name Joe as a nom de plume. I'm not sure what his motivation is. Mine is privacy.

  3. Thanks Joe, for leaving your comment and observations. You are right, hands-on education works, and as observed by early educators, it builds character, discipline, problem solving abilities and a whole range of things that don't happen when kids noses are glued to either a book or screen.

    But as many others have noted, education is not about helping each child rise to his or her highest ability and aspiration, but to keep them under control, and subject to manipulation.