I’ve had any number of discussions with some of my good peeps this week talking about the factory. This is, as any long suffering reader of this blog will realize, one of my ‘first draft thinking’ posts, so stay with me if you can, and comment deeply if you can afford the time.
I’m currently in the process of trying to pull together a paper with someone about what literacies we need in order to deal with the current influx of control we have over the means of production. We are not, most of us, in control of the means of production around our food, or, for many of us, for our jobs, but we are able to participate. Far more. As many of the jobs in our factories disappear, and the jobs that we have get more complicated, new realities (or, really, old realities) emerge. We are more and more tasked with trying to figure out how to maintain larger stores of knowledge, computers allow us to compute more data, to process more products. Many of our jobs are in the process of breaking under the strain of scale creep.
Our schools and teaching for the factory
The traditional idea of schooling hangs on the idea that we can get a really long way on calling things TRUE. or FALSE. That we can offer a task with a single correct solution that can be achieved based on the general agreement of the people who are creating the curriculum. We all (or i certainly hope all) know that we are kinda simplifying the world by doing this, we know deep down in ourselves that the world really isn’t a place where things are completely right or completely wrong, but a place where these things are often or usually so. But its hard to measure those things and sure easier to design things around people ‘needing’ to know ‘this thing’. The other side of this is that this was exactly what some people had in mind when the designed ‘public’ education. We needed to have kids who showed up to work on time when they grew up and could live with pushing the button with their right hand. In a factory.
Hello, my name is joe, i work for a button factory
I have a wife and a job and a family
One day, my boss came up to me
He said “push this button with your right hand”
Hello, my name is joe, i work for a button factory
(half remember song from my childhood)
Walking out of the factory
Much to the chagrin of places like where i grew up, these jobs are fading fast. They are being exported to other countries where they can be done far cheaper and they are being done by machines. Any operation, whether it be winding a string of wool around a spool, or pouring lead into a kettle (a job i’ve had), or pushing buttons… if these jobs can be automated they will be. soon. 20 years from now there will be no need for people who can boldly ‘remember’ or who can staunchly ‘repeat’. Whether that be at the coal face or the book shelf. That’s not to say the remembering and repeating wont be useful… just that people wont be making money because of it. We are all of us walking out of the factories and moving back into the light, and it is a bright light that we are not used to seeing. There will be no more button pushing for joe.
Why this is a problem
Well… this sounds like good metaphor… hell, we’re moving towards the light. The only problem is, we’re very, very accustomed to the factory. We are accustomed, as a culture, to having a button that can be pushed. A truth that can be true, and fully true. A task that can be approached, tackled and accomplished and then… be finished. These are the ways of the factory… a factory has a superstructure a falsified context wherein things need to get done in a linear, straightforward way. It’s a place where science gets rarified down to its purest. Lead melts 318 degrees, it also sheds impurities just above that, so keep it between 325 and 319 and you’ll be able to clear it out. Wash hands. repeat. Each person has a very specialized task, and that task has predetermined parts… a way to win… judged by the fact that you are still being payed.
We’ve seen this light before
The funny thing about this brightness, is that we’ve seen it before. There was a time where many people did control the means of production. They did have control of the work that they did. Certainly not everyone, not everywhere, and not in every culture… but many many people. They watched the weather, and accepted that sometimes it was good for crops or not. They built tables and chairs, and horseshoes and made dishes and utensils. And each making was slightly different than the one before it, and they were each judge in a variety of different ways. A person who makes things makes a bunch of different decisions in the making that sets them apart from someone who doesn’t. It’s the difference between cooking your own food from scratch and cooking a frozen pizza. Bunches of decisions, small ones, but they matter.
Why are we shading our eyes
Our decider is a bit rusty. This is why we are shading our eyes. We aren’t able to make decisions for ourselves about things that are important. We’ve lost our ability to see through the vast amount of garbage we are being fed (see vaccination debate) and just deciding what is right for us. Our school system is often designed to train obedient button pushers, not strong deciders. I mean, lets face it, deciders can be a pain in the butt. They don’t do what they are told…
But we need to… and i don’t just mean the kids. We are entering a time that might be very shortlived. We have a chance, right now, to start to take control of the messages that are out there. To have a real pluralistic society where people are allowed to have different opinions about things and that could be something that makes us strong. But we need to be thinking about talking to people and teaching students what it means to be responsible to the work that you do. What it means to decide that my work is done because it is done right to the best of my ability to do it… not because i have managed to satisfy some obsessive rubric.
This is my rant against digital literacies. The literacies that we need are not digital. THEY ARE HUMAN. We need to be responsible to the products of hands… even if they are typed through a keyboard. The digital may have given us an opportunity to band together, but the banding is not about technology, it’s about us raising a very old standard.