The Autumn of Our Discontent


As Summer gives way to Autumn, mornings and early evenings have developed the tell-tale whiffs of a seasonal change. The air feels and smells a little more crisp. It is obvious that Fall is approaching.

With this change in seasons comes the steady march of students back to their respective institutions of higher learning.

I am now among the legions of other parents who send their child off to college with a mixture of trepidation, excitement, nostalgia, and pride.

My own child begins college this year with a vague idea of what they would like to major in. This only marginally tracks with, what he has of late, expressed interest or passion in with respect to a future career.

Historically, this is not unusual. In years past, a college freshman was not expected to have their entire life mapped out and career choice figured by the time they are juniors in high school the way they are driven to today. Sadly, we see that there has been great pressure on these students to pre-determine their life calling way, way, WAY, before their education has even remotely prepared them for such a task.

I am of the opinion that today’s educational system here in the States, has devolved into a clearinghouse of prepackaged, programmed “worker-bees” who are shepherded into various “slots” starting as early as their high school years.  Testing based education from grades k-12 has subtly evolved into a means of sorting students to some degree. This then seems to set them up to be directed to educational career “tracks.” Socially encouraged by media, peers, and the established norms of today, to pursue careers that may not actually be in any way satisfying or “life-giving.”

The concepts of creativity and innovation are only discussed or encouraged as they relate to some corporate need. The notion of artistic expression is not only not encouraged, but devalued as nothing more than a hobby or interest. “There is no realistic means to make a living thinking artistically”, the students are taught and  encouraged to think.

No means of developing these skills are provided with financial support except by endowments and donations. While specialized “arts schools” are available, they are often times underfunded or short-lived at best, and almost universally marginalized as only for a select few.

Add to this that the means by which a potentially gifted tradesman/trades-person could learn a trade like woodworking are vanishing. Apprenticeships are virtually an unknown here. In fact, they have all but vanished since the early 80’s. Shop class has developed a reputation as a place where the students who “can’t cut it in real classes or career paths” go to earn credits for the quickly vanishing state-run trade schools after graduating. So not only is the ability to, at a minimum, explore woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, vanishing from secondary education, what is available has steadily developed the reputation as a mode of education for those with underdeveloped scholastic “chops.”

Admittedly, there are a handful of specialized schools  that offer education in woodworking and other artisan trades. For example, College of the Redwoods, Rhode Island School of Design, Red Rocks community College. However, that they exist at all is remarkable and on the whole are struggling to find relevancy in today’s programming schema.

I think that starting in high school, and in a much more expansive way well into college, there should be a parallel course of study made available to potential students. This course of study would be dedicated to artisan development.

I am not discussing just the building trades. (House building, Electrician,  Plumber, etc.)

I am talking about the Woodwright, the Blacksmith, the Glass Blower, the Ceramicist, the Potter, the Pattern-maker, the Tool and Die maker.

These are all trades that even in the face of automation, have stood the test of time and are just beginning to show signs of revival among the nation’s younger generations.

As this country moves steadily toward automating a great deal of its production capability, these trades stand out as having survived almost entirely due to the fact that a machine cannot truly duplicate that which the human hand can.

I see a curriculum that includes the history of these trades. It should also include a focus on modern application in the marketplace. In addition to practical hands on training, there should also be a historical and philosophical component included to provide context and a foundation from which innovation might develop, thus moving the trade forward.

This course of study could be taught at both the undergrad (4-year) and graduate levels(2-4 years).

This course of study should also have an individually trade specific course of study on entrepreneurship, business administration, design fundamentals, and process/procedure development. This is key. The vast majority of these students may very well figure out that they stand a better chance of success being reliant on their own skills and independence, than if they fold themselves into a more corporate environment, even as an artisan.

Further, this program should be state funded through state colleges and universities. It should be given the same measure of attention and financial support as a medical school, law school, business school, computer science school.

Currently there is a focus on graduating students from college to be “Job ready” upon leaving school. It is truly only in the trades, both traditional building trade courses of study as well as my proposed course of study, that a student can have any degree of actual work readiness. Even then, it is marginal. Hands on in a scholastic environment is vastly different from actual work experience.

My point is, the current model for higher learning is mostly focused on development of students who fit well as cogs in the machine. They reinforce this by feeding the notion that you can get your corporate position in lower or middle management right out of college. From there, dear boy/girl, the world is your oyster. Sadly the reality is far, far different.

Taking student loan debt, and the fairly large discrepancy between what is being taught in the classroom and what is actually being played out in the “real world” into account, the average student is often made to be just another cube dweller, with very little in the way of upward mobility.

Please, spare me any discussion of “picking ones self up by their bootstraps, or work harder and harder until you finally reach that brass ring.” My educated opinion is that is all utter bullshit designed to keep the wage slave in line using the carrot of career advancement as a means of control. It has been this way for a very long time, and while some actually do advance through hard work and determination, I would ask at what cost? Health? Family? Personal growth? Artistic expression? Their soul?

The truth as I see it, is that this model of career development has evolved since … well …since forever. It is only now that the income disparity is so stark and glaring, that people (namely younger generations) are finally waking to this reality and are starting to explore other means of both making a living and expressing themselves. What a perfect time to develop and implement alternative means of doing both in the nation’s educational system….Nes Pas?


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