Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Skilled Trades Lead to Engineering, Not Poverty and Shame

     On January 21st, 2018, I met a man who used to be a wood shop teacher at a Kindergarten-through-8th-grade school in Lake Forest, an affluent suburb of Chicago, Illinois.
     My acquaintance told me about how he lost his job. He said that, one day, he came in to work at the school as usual, and a construction worker walked into his wood shop classroom, and laid some blueprints on a table. When asked what he was doing there, the construction worker casually informed the teacher that he and his crew were going to have to start taking the machines down.
     Unbeknownst to the wood shop teacher until that moment, the school was ending the wood shop program, and wanted to re-assign the teacher to a different subject.

     The reason the school gave was that there was a safety risk; a student could lose a finger, or get seriously injured in some other way.
     But on the other hand, high school students would be better able to understand and adjust to that risk than younger high school students, so why not allow only seniors and juniors to take the courses? Students need to acquire hands-on skills at some point, and they should start acquiring those skills, so that they're ready to start working when they're 18 (or 16).
     Aside from being better able to respond to dangers in the wood shop, older students are better able to understand the risks and consequences associated with using wood cutting equipment. So why not allow juniors and seniors to sign waivers, indicating that they understand the risks, and – with parents' permission – agree to accept them, in exchange for receiving wood cutting skills.
     While we're on the subject, why don't we make sure that more (or all) schools, have wood shop, auto shop, and other technical courses and programs, on site? And why don't we encourage more schools to take others' lead, and have one campus for juniors and seniors (who can drive, and take wood and auto shop), and another campus for underclassmen (i.e., the freshmen and sophomores who still mostly take the bus to school)?
     But I'm getting off topic.

     The supposed safety risk associated with wood shop classes is just a ruse, because that risk can be allayed; through proper safety education, and waiver programs.
     But, of course, waiver programs do not satisfy those who support terminating wood shop classes. That's because waiver programs do solve the problem.
     Parents who want to take wood shop classes out of high schools, want to avoid the risk of liability lawsuits against the school. For a public school to be found liable for an injury to a student, and have to pay damages, would be costly to the school (and the local school board) in terms of both finances and reputation.
     It is my assessment that parents who are against wood shop classes, by and large, do not care that waivers and proper safety education solve the problem, because the waiver system eliminates the possibility that the school could be found liable to pay damages to an injured student. It does this by refusing to accept students into wood shop programs if they do not agree to foreswear suing the school.
     This is a wise policy in my opinion. The intent is to reduce the chance that a student will behave carelessly in a wood shop classroom.
     What upsets parents who are against wood shop classes, is that solving this problem exposes their real agenda. That's because the ulterior motive behind the opposition to wood shop classes is more than just safety concerns, and concerns about legal and financial risks to the school.

     People who enter the trades – such as construction, automobile repair and maintenance, electrician work, heating and cooling, plumbing, etc. - are generally not regarded in a positive light by wealthy suburbanites.
     The wealthy tend to see those types of jobs as somehow “beneath” themselves and their children; particularly construction and auto repair. And plumbers? Forget about it. Plumbers are garbagemen in the eyes of many of these people.
     But then, of course, “garbagemen” are really sanitation engineers. People who get really good at automobile repair and maintenance, end up offering suggestions that improve the quality of their trade. Wood shop can lead to wood crafting, not just construction. And construction, heating and cooling, and plumbing, are all essential things we need to survive comfortably in the modern world.
     Any person who takes wood shop or auto shop in high school, or studies electricity, could become an engineer. Don't believe me? Think of all the math that goes into the study of those subjects; algebra in electricity, trigonometry in simple construction, calculus in advanced construction.
     Studying a skilled trade late in high school could potentially lead a student to choose a trade school or technical school over a university.
     There, students could study C.A.D. (computer-aided design), 3-D printing technology, CNC machining and die casting, mechanical engineering, electrical systems engineering, architecture, bridge design, and more. And the electrical systems, homes, and bridges that result from those studies, improve all of our lives.
     So why disparage tradespeople? Why pretend that someone who wants to work with their hands, learn a trade, develop their skill, and produce or manufacture something of value, is only going to be a garbageman for the rest of their life?

     In Lake Forest, Illinois in particular, and in other nearby affluent suburbs, there is a sentiment among many well-off parents, who believe that - to paraphrase the words of my wood shop teacher acquaintance - “We want our children to be doctors and lawyers; we don't want them in construction or plumbing. We pay people to do those things for us, and we want our children to as well.”
     My friend's portrayal of the attitude among these parents, confirmed my worst suspicions about this topic, which I had long suspected.
     Parents like that would never tolerate their child become a skilled tradesman. Even if it meant cheaper electricity or a better home for themselves. After all, a person who becomes a skilled tradesman might join a union, or even – God forbid – become a card-carrying red! A bourgeois parent would never tolerate it, when they'd rather see their child working in an office or a trade floor, or better yet managing a workplace from afar.
     The effect is that any child who grows up wanting to earn an honest living, without manipulating money or simply managing and moving resources that somebody else produced, is not going to have an easy time finding a career in which his parents can take pride.

     Perhaps more importantly, one potential outcome is that many children will grow up in privilege and opportunity, without any skills or common knowledge to take advantage of those opportunities.
     The students who would have studied the trades, but were deterred by their parents' disapproval, would have found paths to perfectly comfortable livings. In the more valued of the common trades, tradespeople can even earn six-figure salaries (that is, if they're particularly skilled in their fields, or if they become managers). That's a hefty sum, compared to the salaries earned by most people who graduated college after having studied humanities, social sciences, and liberal arts.
     How is a wealthy parent harmed by having a child who grows up to be an industrial engineer, civil engineer, or public works employee (even if he is a garbageman)? A parent is only harmed by such an outcome if they have both 1) an unhealthy sense of identification with their child's achievements; and 2) a twisted set of values that derides honest work that hurts no one, based on the field somehow being “dirty” or “low-class”.
     Well, disparaging people for being “low-class” is how you get a lower class. Antagonizing people who perform tasks that are essential to making our lives easier and more comfortable, is how you get both increased social division and increased stagnation of infrastructural development.

     What about the rich kids who weren't intelligent enough to become doctors? What about the kids who studied political science, but were too honest to defend obviously guilty people or push a political agenda? How are they supposed to make ends meet?
     It might sound like I'm saying “the poor rich kids”, and in a way, I am. But the poor and rich alike deserve opportunity to acquire skills and become independent, and become self-employed if they choose, and to choose a field that has meaning and value to them.
     Students who grow up well-off in the suburbs, grow up disconnected from both the reality of nature on the rural farms, and from the reality of large concentrated numbers of people (and, importantly, poor people) in the urban centers. So they grow up without people skills and without connection to animals and nature, and to the life processes which sustains human beings. They grow up away from the world of the productive; away from places where food is grown, and things are built and manufactured, alike. Away from the majority of the people, and as a consequence, away from people who might suggest alternative ways of living and working, of which a student might not have otherwise heard.
     As a result, they grow up without essential sets of skills that have to do with life outside the suburbs.  Without picking up hands-on skills, they grow up completely unprepared for the real world and its problems, and with little practical ability to be independent and self-sustaining. These are real problems, and neither they, nor the problems that poor kids experience, ought to discount the seriousness of the others'.
     Poor kids (and rural kids), at least, get to go on school field trips to farms, plants, factories, and refineries. Those field trips can do either of two things: 1) prepare them for farm work, factory labor, working in a steel plant or oil refinery, etc.; or 2) scare them away from those fields, so that they'll be effectively encouraged to go to college instead (and pursue a “higher” course of study).
Rich kids never had those field trips. Or if they did, then it was mostly about scaring students away from “dirty work”, and there was no real risk anyone would end up in those fields (unless they wanted to).
     That is, as long as the rich kids are willing to take advantage of all of the privileges and opportunities which their upbringing affords to them. And sometimes that means taking advantage of white privilege, or succumbing to social pressure to boast about your achievements and employability to the point of it compromising your humility.
     The suburbs are no fun. Say what you will about poor urban areas, and rural areas; they're where real life takes place.

     Students should not leave high school, having practically no clue what a factory is, nor what S.T.E.M. fields are (science, technology, engineering, and math).
     An eighteen-year-old graduate from a public high school ought to instantly know what you're talking about if you say the phrase “the trades”. A young adult should be able to recognize a grain elevator, or an energy plant, when he sees one.
     Someone who is just entering the work force should also know what their basic rights are in the workplace; in regards to safety, health, breaks, wages, conditions, and how to participate in effective negotiation with management.
     Neoliberals and neoconservatives in the suburbs don't care about workplaces having good, or even adequate, safety and health conditions, or good pay, or good break policies. They just wonder why employed people can't start their own businesses, create jobs, and contribute to society to a degree equal to the help they've received.
     Not that they would ever listen, but there is a simple answer to this: If you didn't shame them for becoming independent contractors, or for trying to survive without striking a deal with some large corrupt multinational, then they might do just that!
     The last thing a wealthy parent wants is for their child to grow up a unionized tradesperson. Someone who can destroy the work they've just done, if the person who hired them refused to pay what they promised. A wealthy suburban parent would hate to have to treat such a person like a human being with dignity; whether it's their child or not.
     The only thing they care about is shitting on those people, criticizing them at every opportunity, controlling them, and making it as difficult as possible for them to become independent through honest work.

     The last thing we need is for parents and teachers to educate children, while completely neglecting to inform them as to what types of professions the world will need most badly when they enter the workforce.
     If I had been told at age 14 that the world desperately needed more engineers, doctors, or whatever, then I would have considered studying engineering or medicine, and I would have thought about how I could fit in to those careers. Not only to make a lot of money; but because I know that people need those services. I'd know that I'd be contributing something which is valued by others, and that would give my work (and the studies which precede it) a sense of purpose. And the quality of work of someone who believes in the work they're doing, is impossible to put a price on.
     It saddens me to realize that many wealthy parents have neglected to suggest back-up plans to their children, in case they don't turn out to be the doctors, lawyers, astronauts, cowboys, and artists they expect to be when they leave college.
     While they heap criticism and disdain upon the skilled trades (which they regard as unskilled), such parents are usually also content to allow their children to make money carrying bags at gold courses. To such parents, the fact that caddying involves sucking up to the wealthy for money, makes the indignity of that job tolerable.
     Moreover, it provides the caddy with an opportunity to ape the most Machiavellian, narcissistic, and psychopathic tendencies of the business and political elite who belong to those golf courses. This, of course, will be essential to furthering their future white-collar career.
     The fact that, by allowing their children to caddy - and intern with corrupt businesses, law firms, political offices, etc. - they are conditioning their children to serve the elite and the old money, not to become independent of it. In effect – despite their privileged upbringing - they are reduced to the same level of servitude to the wealthy elite, to which the poor are reduced as well.
     The only consequences of obedience to affluent suburbanite parents is eternal servitude. The best form of rebellion against such a flawed parenting style is total independence.

     In 2014, Chicago teacher Douglas Bartlett, was suspended for four days without pay, after he showed common hand tools to his elementary school students. The tools included screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, a pocket knife, and a box cutter.
     According to Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, Bartlett “thought he was using physical objects to help his students learn the required course material.” However, since the set of items he displayed in his classroom included a pocket knife and a box cutter, his instruction that day was deemed to be in violation of Washington Irving Elementary School's policy against “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon on the job when not authorized to do so.”
     I guess they were worried that one of the kids might pick up the box cutter, hijack the classroom, and fly it into the World Trade Center.
     Bartlett maintained that he displayed all of the items as tools, not as weapons. The school, on the other hand, says that Bartlett failed to ensure that the knife and box cutter were inaccessible to the students, and that he failed to obtain permission from the school before showing the items.
     Auto shop and wood shop classes are disappearing from high schools, depriving students of hands-on skills, while standardized multiple choice tests relieve students of the burden of having to actually remember the correct answers. Wealthy parents want their kids to get into good schools so they can have dignified jobs (that is, jobs that the parents consider dignified).
     So you have to wonder whether reprimanding the teacher for showing common tools, was anything more than a way to distract students from acquiring valuable trade skills that could risk injury to them (or, more importantly, to their public school's finances).
     Where are those life skills and agriculture classes in high schools?

     A world where everyone knows advanced math, and everyone knows one or more skilled trades, and anyone can farm part-time on their own property, is not something that the business or political elite want. They want obedient workers who are equally dependent on big business and the corrupt governments with which they collude.
     Luckily, however, many of these people are dying, and their death cannot come soon enough. They, through their ignorance and passivity – and their need to be persistent social-climbers and yes-men – are causing the destruction of our ecosystem, and the poisoning of our food with toxic industrial preservatives.
     But this is not enough for them; they must also profit off of our efforts to save the planet, in order to render them ineffective and useless. After all, what do they care? They're intent on dying before anyone can catch them in the act. They'd hate to sit around waiting for judgment and revenge to come. And it will come.
     But the fact that their judgment is coming, does not stop them from encroaching on our ability to merely subsistence-scavenge from within the shell of the old world which they have destroyed, but kept alive like a zombie. Just like the “headless” “zombie corporations” which they have kept alive through bailouts and restructuring, heading companies with C.E.O.s who often have little to no understanding of the industry in which they're working. Just like the idiot politicians who know nothing about the things they're regulating.
     Don't ever allow yourself to become so deluded as to think that you could never become like one of these people. All you have to believe, in order to slip down the road to their twisted line of thinking, is “Hey, I got mine, and I'm not complaining!”
     I, for one, will complain as long as I am pressured into renting things which I would rather own, and as long as I have to beg and apply and pay for permission to use something that I thought was my own property.

     We must each own a means of production, if we are to be independent, and self-sustaining. For only when we own the means to produce, can we keep everything we produce with it, without the owner of the equipment demanding compensation for its use. We should return to the days when many companies gave their employees tools as part of their compensation package.
     We should also seek to ignore and invalidate all contracts which pressure employees into agreeing - as a condition of gaining employment - to refrain from competing with their employer company, when they leave that company, for some duration of time. These are called “non-competition contracts”, and they interfere with the freedom of competition which is afforded to us in the marketplace.
     These contracts, as well as other anti-competitive agreements, only make it harder for a worker to resist the temptation to borrow other people's means of production in order to earn a living, instead of the owning a means of production outright by himself. The enforcement of non-competition contracts results in a truly sorry state of affairs, in which virtually every worker who 1) is not the best in his field, and 2) dares to quit working for an employer, is effectively unable to operate successfully and competitively in the field he has chosen. And maybe even the field to which he has decided to dedicate his life.
     The only alternative to redressing this unjust state of affairs, is to coerce 99% of people into dependence and “skill-lessness”, while those who already have advanced skills – and those who represent them  receive more pay, more economic rents, and more legal insulation from competition and legal responsibility, year after year.

     Students in high school today, as well as all young people in general, should be encouraged to at least consider the trades. Being a doctor or a lawyer is all well and good, and medicine is literally a life-saving field. But skilled farm labor, and H.V.A.C., will become devastated fields if several million people do not learn the skills necessary to join them within the next several decades.
     And that is the kind of information that I wish I'd had when I started high school. I hope that the younger of my readers will not discount the value of that information.

Based on a Facebook Post Published on January 22nd, 2018
Edited and Expanded on January 24th, 2019
Published on January 24th, 2019

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