Thursday, July 21, 2011

Manual Labor: Part Two

First, apologies again for the delay. In addition to being sick from some horrific desert illness, I have also been trying to finish planning/teaching a professional development course for K-8 teachers and downsize/pack for my impending return to New England. I am very excited about the move...but packing is sucking out a little more of my will to live every day. Generally speaking, I hate stuff (media/art and a certain amount of apparel being the glaring exceptions). I wish I could just throw most of it away or set it on fire. Well, I like my cast iron pans too. I would keep those. And my wooden giraffe spoon. See...that's how it starts! I am rambling off topic now.

Back to the matter at hand: manual labor. I thought a nice way to follow up to my last piece on the subject would be to give some examples of just how complex the skills required for certain trades can be. First, let's go back to construction for a moment. Consider if you will what is required to build a bay window. Seriously...mull that over for a minute. It isn't a simple task. Just check this diagram out. In fact, there is a great deal of mathematics in construction. This is a pretty good website, which shows a sampling of the applied mathematics involved in basic construction. It also has some links to some really great lesson plans for the math teachers out there (hint hint). However, this just skims the surface. The math gets very sophisticated very quickly. There are those who might say, "don't engineers and architects do the designing", or, "they have computers to design those plans for them now", etc. Those people might wish to consider the following factors:

A) You cannot ever make the assumption than an engineer or architect knows more than the contractor or builders. Quite often, they don't. Also, a great many contractors do design their own plans.

B) People were building complex structures long before the advent of such programs (and before "architects" and "engineers" actually existed). Those structures, by and large, tended to be sturdier, not to mention much more beautiful and intricate, than many of the (ostensibly disposable) structures that we seem to be producing today.

C) CAD and other programs like it are not yet sentient beings. They do not use themselves. Someone actually has to tell them what to do. Anyone who has ever screamed at their computer because some unmentionable office program was giving them grief should give CAD a whirl sometime. Then we can discuss how such software programs allow manual laborers to "avoid complex tasks."

D) How many "highly educated" people have actually even looked at a set of designs for a building project? How many of those people have then tried to actually interpret the plans and then build something from them? How many were successful? This is not to say that such people don't exist. They do. But what percentage would be successful given such a task off the bench? I kind of want to start a competition to this end. Maybe one day.

E) These programs are not designed and coded by some omnipotent being, and thus are not guaranteed to be free from error. The user needs to have the good sense to know when the program has told them to build something which in reality cannot be built. Believe me, this happens. My dad (Billy) is still owed a thousand dollars from an architect because of this. My dad told him that his design was flawed and impossible to build. After intense arguments, the man bet him that he could build it himself. He tried, several times, and inevitably failed. He also failed to pay my dad the money. People don't like admitting they are wrong. I may have addressed that before on this blog.

I have spent a lot of time talking about construction, but that is certainly not the only trade that requires a very rich skill set. I decided to do a little digging into some of the courses required for different types of certifications and apprenticeships for a handful of trades. Here are some of the things I found:

This is a list of some of the courses and curriculum for apprentices and journeymen in the trades of plumbing, pipe fitting, welding and HVAC service techs. There is some pretty complicated stuff on that list. Certainly many skills that I neither possess nor believe that I could easily master.

This is the description of the curriculum for a course for concrete contractors. I have tried to mix concrete before. It is incredibly challenging. Getting the appropriate ratio of materials is not easy. And considering that the stakes are considerably higher than when you're making pancakes, you better be sure you get it right!

This describes the craft certification process for some electricians. Make sure to look over what is covered on the various exams. Simple stuff? Nope.

It takes a lot of reading, studying, practicing and general know-how to pass these exams and courses. They are far from easy. They are at least as difficult as any college calculus class, biology class, etc. I have looked at some of the course work that my dad (Ruben) has done in the past. I have seen how hard he worked. Moreover, I have seen him actually invested in learning the material, as opposed to just doing enough to get the grade he wanted in a class.

This all just goes to my point that many of these trades require a HUGE amount of education and training. Anyone who can master this sort of material is owed respect for that accomplishment, and for the dedication to their craft and willingness to pursue excellence through rigorous training. Moreover, anyone who can successfully take on these complicated subjects should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their problem solving prowess in other arenas, and not be cast aside in favor of those with certain special degrees (who have often only solved problems in the classroom).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tidings, Tiding Over

For those of you who have been reading and are waiting for the next part of the manual labor series: I apologize for the the delay. I have been incredibly ill (yet another attempt by this abysmal desert on my life) and haven't been able to really finish the research for the next piece yet. It's coming soon though, I swear.

In the meantime, I thought I would pass along this interesting article I recently read on Affirmative Action, and how it needs to "save itself from itself" in order to avoid being banned outright. While I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article, I can say that it raises some valid points worth considering. The really unfortunate thing is that most of the people willing to have these nuanced debates still support these types of programs in at least some form or we aren't the ones trying to ban them altogether. I am sure some people in that camp are willing to discuss these things, but they might be hard to come by.