Skills…a Disappearing Act? Pass it On!
My husband has found a new hobby in the last few years. He never expected to be a woodworker since his calling and profession has been as a minister of the Gospel of Christ…first in the United Methodist Church, also as a Navy Chaplain…and now as an Episcopal priest. He began making trays and surprised me recently with a beautiful wooden tray with inlaid wood shown to the right below.
He continues to experiment and has just finished making a chest of drawers for his closet. I think he is quite good and I’m proud of his efforts.
Bill’s woodworking has led me to do some research on Paul Sellers, who is a master at woodworking. He lived in the USA, but has returned to his roots in Wales. Now he is training and passing on the talent and skills that he knows to younger men and women.
Paul says, “For me, I must realign my way of life as a maker to teach and train. I invest what I’ve learned and built in the safest possible place I can think of. In a sense, it’s more a condition than anything else. When someone wants to become a master of something they prepare a place to receive and store the information. It’s a safe place I’ve found. A protected place I see a man on his knees tightening clamps and it reminds me that skill begins to build with a single chisel cut, a saw stroke and the placing of a plane on a board of wood…So I look at this week’s memories and see different things that I learned and think back to 1989 when I started seriously teaching people how to work with wood. I said to myself back then that something had to change.”
What did Paul mean by change? He knew that we were losing to this generation the skills that were not being taught. Yes, we have machines that can do a cut…and a job, but Paul thinks that these only make every piece made look the same. It is the hands of each man that moves and turns to make each piece different and in many cases a work of art. We have to pass on what we know about how to do things with our hands before those who know how pass away and the talent is no longer with us.
Question: What have other countries done to ensure that the “passing away” of special talents and skills does not happen?
In Germany, for instance, the following is part of the overall educational program. Our son, Steve, who speaks fluent German has spent much time there. He shared this link with me from Wikipedia:
“Germany has high standards in the education of craftspeople. Historically very few people attended college. In the 1950s for example, 80 percent had only Volksschule (“primary school”)-Education of 6 or 7 years. Only 5 percent of youths entered college at this time and still fewer graduated. In the 1960s, 6 percent of youths entered college. In 1961 there were still 8,000 cities in which no children received secondary education. However, this does not mean that Germany was a country of uneducated people. In fact, many of those who did not receive a secondary education were highly skilled craftspeople and members of the upper middle class. Even though more people attend college today, a craftsperson is still highly valued in German society.
The History of a true Craftsman:
Historically (prior to the 20th century) the relationship between a master craftsman and his apprentice was paternalistic. Apprentices were often very young when entrusted to a master craftsman by their parents. It was seen as the master’s responsibility not only to teach the craft, but also to instill the virtues of a good craftsman. He was supposed to teach honor, loyalty, fair-mindedness, courtesy and compassion for the poor. He was also supposed to offer spiritual guidance, to ensure his apprentices fulfilled their religious duties and to teach them to “honor the Lord” (Jesus Christ) with their lives. The master craftsman who failed to do this would lose his reputation and would accordingly be dishonored – a very bad fate in those days. The apprenticeship ended with the so-called Freisprechung (exculpation). The master announced in front of the trade heading that the apprentice had been virtuous and God-loving. The young person now had the right to call himself a “Geselle” (journeyman). He had two options: either to work for a master or to become a master himself. Working for another master had several disadvantages. One was that, in many cases, the journeyman who was not a master was not allowed to marry and found a family. Because the church disapproved of sex outside of marriage, he was obliged to become a master if he did not want to spend his life celibate. Accordingly, many of the so-called “Geselle” decided to go on a journey in order to become a master. This was called “Waltz” or Journeyman years.
In those days, the crafts were called the “virtuous crafts” and the virtuosness of the craftspersons was greatly respected. For example, according to one source, a person should be greeted from “the bricklayer craftspersons in the town, who live in respectability, die in respectability, who strive for respectability and who apply respectability to their actions” In those days, the concept of the “virtuous crafts” stood in contrast to the concept of “academic freedom” as Brüdermann and Jost noticed.
Nowadays, the education of craftspersons has changed – in particular, self-esteem and the concept of respectability. Yet even today, a craftsperson does sometimes refer to the “craftspersons codex of virtues” and the crafts sometimes may be referred to as the “virtuous crafts” and a craftsperson who gives a blessing at a roofing ceremony may, in many cases, remind of the “virtues of the crafts I am part of”. Also certain virtues are ascribed to certain crafts. For example, a person might be called “always on time like a bricklayer” to describe punctuality. On the other hand, “virtue” and “respectability”, which in the past had been the center of the life of any craftsperson became less and less important for such education. Today, a young person who wants to start an apprenticeship must first find an “Ausbilder”: this may be a master craftsperson, a master in the industrial sector (Industriemeister) or someone else with proof of suitable qualifications in the training of apprentices. The “Ausbilder” must also provide proof of no criminal record and proof of respectability. The Ausbilder has to be at least 24 years of age. The Ausbilder has several duties, such as 1) teach the craft, 2) teach the techniques, 3) instill character, 4) instill social skills. In some cases, the Ausbilder must also provide board and lodging. An agreement is reached on these points before the apprenticeship begins. (Taken from Wikipedia)
Pictures below are of the Journeymen (and women) in Bad Kissingen, Germany and two Journeymen of Denmark:
What about the history in the United States to provide for this type of training?
I was impressed with an article written by Rebecca Glazer. Read it and weep for we may be missing the boat here in America when it comes to passing on the skills needed by all of us!
“We all have that friend—the one who speaks four languages but can’t operate a coffee maker to save his life, or ours. Yet to some extent, we’re all that friend; we tap out 20-page papers on comparative literature, we debate the merits and shortcomings of various philosophical worldviews, and we excel in the biochemical laboratory, but if a faucet starts to leak, our only recourse is to call the plumber. We take our cars to the shop, we buy our vegetables at the grocery store, and when we need coffee, we order it from Starbucks. Our generation illustrates the outcome of an educational system that has abandoned technical skills. Not only has this system never taught us better than to undervalue and underpay those who do possess these vital skills, but it has also bred a generation of highly-educated college graduates who lack the basic skills of self-reliance.
Technical schooling in America has traditionally come in two forms. In the first, students studied at specialized institutions known as trade schools or vocational schools, while in the second, they learned technical skills within the setting of their public high school. Vocational schools were particularly popular throughout the Vietnam War, when companies and firms hired directly out of feeder schools, providing competent instructors and up-to-date equipment. After the war, however, many school districts felt that these highly exclusive trade schools were unfair to the majority of students, and so discontinued the partnerships between specialized schools and companies. Instead, they made vocational training available in all public high schools, to any students who desired such an education.
In the 70s it became evident that U.S. students were falling behind the rest of the world academically, and so the country made it a mission to improve the academic programs in secondary schools. In 1984 the Perkins Act was signed into law in order to continue funding vocational education, but at a drastic reduction of its previous scope. This meant less funding and fewer hours for vocational training, which was re-named CTE, or Career and Technical Education, in the 2006 reauthorization of the Perkins Act. Students can still graduate with one or two CTE credits in fields like construction, agriculture, and manufacturing, but educational emphasis has been placed far more heavily on preparation for college. While this shift in educational focus significantly improved college enrollment rates for several decades up to the present, it also left a generation seriously lacking in any of the technical skills practical to life outside a cubicle, and with little regard for those who possess them…
This disparity of income reflects an ideological shift parallel to the growing emphasis on college education: the devaluing of manual and technical skills. In sacrificing vocational training for academic rigor, we as a country expressed our preferred values, the purely mental over the also manual, all the while forgetting how much patience, precision, and intelligence are required to perfect those skills we have come to dismiss.
Since the early 20th century, according to a 2000 report from the BLS, the number of people employed in manual or technical fields has fallen sharply, while the number in fields requiring higher education has risen. Teachers, lawyers, accountants, and computer specialists now dominate the workforce, with 23.3 percent of all employed people working in “professional” fields, and another 19.3 percent serving clerical roles, up from 4.4 percent and 5.2 percent in 1910, respectively. In contrast, craftsmen have fallen from 5.5 percent of the working population to less than 2 percent, and laborers (excluding farm and mine) declined by 64 percent, from 10.4 percent to only 3.7 percent of the population, likely as a result of the outsourcing of manufacturing and production to other countries.
These shifts away from manual and towards mental labor don’t just reveal a trend towards education for its own sake; they reveal a shift in attitude from vocational schooling as a popular and prestigious choice to a “second-rate” education. The choice to pursue a technical field now carries social stigmas that discourage young people from learning how to work with their hands.
It’s hard to know whether working wages fell because manual work was no longer considered valuable, or whether the work was undervalued and passed over because it was already underpaid. Either way, the choice to emphasize knowledge over skills has created a society in which a life of manual labor is a path to be escaped rather than pursued. Yet as we flee from the necessity of working with our hands, we lose valuable skills which were once commonplace…
When we don’t have skills and don’t live with the people who do, we forget their value. When your handyman lives next door, he forces you by proximity to respect him and his career, but when he drives to your home from a very different part of the city, you forget how much you share in common. You pity him for his life of labor, and hope his children will have the opportunities he didn’t. Then you wonder, “If everyone is able to get a good education, who will come to fix my sink?”
The choices are three: either you condemn a certain percentage of the population to a low-wage, undervalued existence; you learn to value, respect, and pay well for the vital technical skills you lack; or you figure out how to fix your own sink.
No matter what we choose, our society is at a crossroads…Our generation needs an alternative. We need vocational training, not only to provide the general population with the most basic of technical skills, but also to train a manual workforce that is both skilled and respected. We need to value both mental and manual labor, to admire those who possess the skills and knowledge we lack…”
If you know a person with a skill, encourage him or her to work with an apprentice. Pass on what you know! Teach…teach…and teach some more for the world will be a better place when we have the young people of today with a chisel, hammer, saw or other tools in their hands rather than a phone.
VIDEO: Paul Sellers passes on his skill as a woodworker to others.