Monday, February 18, 2013

The mind at work – book summary

Rose, M. (2004). The mind at work: Valuing the intelligence of the American worker. New York. NY: Penguin Books.

While out tramping at the end of January, I took along MikeRose’s book, purchased second hand via Amazon. The paperback book is small and light enough to add to the tramping pack but provides a good solid amount of before bedtime reading. After the preliminary read during the tramp, I have worked through the various ‘bookmarked’ parts of the book and these are now summarised.

I first read this book at the University of Canterbury library several years ago, as one of the books to read on workplace learning. A few parts were pertinent to my thesis but the majority I have had to put aside. Now, much of the material in this book has relevance to the ‘learning a trade’ project. see here for completed project resources

Rose’s writing style makes the book an accessible read and he interweaves stories from his own biography. He makes use of the experiences of his mother, a waitress and his uncle, a car finisher to augment research ‘case study’ interviews / observations with hairdressers and novice carpenters, plumbers and electricians. The main argument across the book is the need to value forms of intelligence that are not tested through IQ tests.

 The introductory chapter provides a succinct overview of the key ideas through the book – that all work is skilled although some take less time to learn then others. Everyone who works has to use their ‘smarts’ in order to complete their work with integrity. Work is fulfilling in many ways for people, providing opportunities to socialise, learn specialist skills, become part of a ‘brotherhood’ and earn a wage. Work that is mainly seen to be physical / blue collar, still involves a large range of cognitive skills to be learnt.  The terms intelligence, cognition and skill are defined and discussed as these terms are used through the book –notes on these terms provide the academic references.

Following chapters (1 through to 6) summarise the physical and cognitive demands of occupations – 

- waitressing  (memory, task prioritisation, judgement, people relationship skills, ability to read the context in order to do enough to get the most tip!)

- hairdressers (aesthetic dimension of hair styling, bringing together knowledge of hair and chemistry, tactile skills to work out how to shape different types of hair, fine motor skills – cutting air, putting on curlers etc., visualisation of how a cut will look on a client, ‘counselling skills’ to help customers find the right styles, build rapport etc. )

- plumbing (working with tools and materials, attitudes of craftsmanship, ability to ‘see the whole picture’, problem solving using logic and access to plumbing theory, knowledge of materials etc. important role of mentors in helping disenfranchised young people return to learning)

- carpentry (vocabulary – both text, tactile and spatial, application of arithmetic to specific problems, ability to read plans, visualise in 3D, how to work efficiently through learning tricks of the trade, visual estimation and judgement skills)

- electricians (aesthetics – neat wiring that is also functional, craftsmanship – doing a job well, physics of electrical circuits coupled with problem solving, working with something that is ‘invisible’, making sense of symbols used in electrical plans, applying maths to practice),

- welders (tactile knowledge with difficult tools, multiple materials and welding methods,  reading plans)

 - teaching a trade (compassion, ability to empathise, move from trade worker to teacher, dissect tacit knowledge to make accessible to students)

- motor vehicle finishing (tactile knowledge, persistence in assembly line work, problem solving and innovations to improve quality and save time/ money / increase productivity, ability to find the problem).

Chapter 7 on rethinking hand and brain provides a comparison of blue collar labour with the work of surgeons and physical therapists (occupational  / physiotherapists). Matching the commonalities between how new surgeons have to learn practical skills akin to those of trades people and yet, there is an honouring of surgeons’ skills but nor of the panel beater.

Chapter 8 – hand and brain in school provides a historical overview of the American vocational education systems and how things can be different.  What perhaps is already happening now in NZ, where there is the embedding of literacy and numeracy into authentic learning through pre-trade training programmes and through ‘trade academy’ courses.  Avoiding the reading /writing to be taught only by English teachers and the trades by ‘shop’ instructors.

The conclusion brings the various threads together. The brain and hand work synchronously together, one cannot be separated from the other. To learn a trade is to work dynamically both with brain and hand. 


bookss summrie said...

Nice Way to Explain the Summary chapter in an impressive way, book summary by chapter

Jerry Gene said...

Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.

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