From El – Are you with me now? “Manipulating things in the physical realm is a satisfying manifestation of effort, passion and fulfillment, - Me” - Beth
What happens when three Harbor Freight Fellows work with a group of educators by taking them on a Leaving to Learn experience? We found out at the Deeper Learning Conference. Beth, Juanjose and Will came down from the Bay Area with Charlie Juju to discuss what they are doing with their lives as young women and men going into the trades. Through their personal stories and actions, they opened the participants’ eyes to another world. In the end, it was not just the stories they told but how they worked with everyone in the group and how they communicated and formed a bond with the workers at the places we went to.
At the beginning, all of the educators in our full-day session were skeptical of doing anything like what we were doing with Harbor Freight Fellows in the schools or organizations they were working in.
“Students will never tell you what they are interested in.”
“Businesses will never allow them to intern there.”
“How can you do this for all students?”
“I tried doing this and it didn’t work.”
But, once we got everyone to Leave To Learn and into another environment things changed. The group was with went to a cabinet making shop that employs around ten people. The headman, Tom Clark who started the business spoke with us about how he started. “I was always good with my hands.” “I loved to take things apart to see how they worked.” “This was me.” After a stint in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Tom left aviation mechanics and wanted to learn about wood. When the questions came up about how he learned, he told stories about walking into places and asking to intern without pay to learn. Pretty soon, someone took him up on his offer and then shortly after that, he was getting paid. When asked if he would take an intern, he went back to his own personal history and said, sure if he felt the student wanted to really learn. This opened everyone’s eyes up. Hearing it from Tom made the difference. Also, seeing how Tom and our Harbor Freight Fellow Will had an almost immediate rapport that none of us had also transformed everyone. All of a sudden, Tom and Will went into the world of wood, design and fabrication. Through language and gesture, they left everyone and all we could do was watch as they started solving real problems.
The ability to finish one another’s thoughts only happens when you know something and another person knows something well. Is this intellectually rigorous? Are the stakes high? Are real problems not only being solved but also corrections being made? I got the feeling that if these two were in the same geographical area Will would be working for Tom in a Nano-second.
As our conversations continued, not all things to be considered were resolved. When I asked Tom about how he started his business, he talked about how he was always very confident in himself. At the start of his career, he left his job day job even though he had a family and a mortgage. He figured out his next move by walking up to home builders and asked if, they needed cabinets for their kitchens. One builder gave him the work, he performed very well and the rest is history. Will on the other hand like many students today are more anxious about taking these sorts of risks. Would being with Tom help that? What can school and society do to provide the incentives and supports to make business ownership real to more students?
By the end of the day and back at HTH everyone came away with a very different perspective than when they first arrived. Our Fellows were amazing. Will with wood, Beth with metals and concrete and Juan Jose with high end residential lighting. All different. All great. All Fellows coming from different places and all believing that this is what they should be seriously learning in schools in a highly rigorous manner. What nonsense to think and believe work in the trades is not as intellectually rigorous as academic coursework. One is not better than the other. It is just different.
By the way, we showed Navigating Our Way to the entire group and first asked each Harbor Freight Fellow to respond to it. First responses were smiles and statements like,
“This is me.”
“I liked it a lot.”
“Finally, something promoting who I and my friends are.”
“It made me feel good.”
The culture of conversations with the Elders
When I was in New Orleans, Sunny and I went to see Charmaine Neville at Snug Harbor. Although I had not talked with Charmaine in over 30 years, it was like we continued where we left off. On stage Charmaine was masterful in so many ways. She was masterful with the audience as part of the performance. She was masterful with every band member. But most of all, Charmaine was great with the young musicians when they were invited to come up and play with her. All night, young musician after musician got the chance to play with her and the band. After the show, I talked with Charmaine about her bringing up all of this youthful talent and she summed it up by saying, “I’m all about the young musicians. This is what we do. Is there any other way to get good at what you love to do?”