Skip to main content

Elliot's Blog (October 6, 2019)

“Are you with me now”? AJ Ryder

I spent most of the week in Los Angeles with Andrea Purcell Big Picture Learning’s manager of L0s Angeles Leaves To Learn doing work on integrating ImBlaze, Harbor Freight Fellows and Project InSight. This work is all connected around the bigger picture of CTE.

One meeting we went to was at the California Science Center. It was about developing another avenue for students in the trades, this time the marine trades. All of us at the meeting believe we can get this work around the marine trades started up this year by piggybacking off of the work we are doing with Harbor Freight. Parallel conversations about the marine trades are happening in Seattle, NYC, San Diego and New Orleans. Similarly, this notion of piggybacking on Harbor Freight work also holds true for Project InSight as well as the theater trades. All of these skilled trades fields are populated with tradespeople who are retiring and we have the population of young people ready to meet them and learn with and from them.

What we intended to happen with Harbor Freight is happening. The combination of: ImBlaze; giving monetary benefits to students, mentors and teachers; and using new measures to assess student interest, practice and relationships is yielding results that is changing CTE systems and ways to fund systems.

Dr. Allamby

This article about Dr. Carl Allamby, who at age 47 graduated medical school after a career as a car mechanic, might sound like a one-off story but is it? Years ago, I wrote this article below about two other doctors who were doing work with their hands. Read on! The wisdom in the skill of working with your hands is just as rigorous as any. Just different.

Attention Must be Paid: Getting Inside the Outside

"I do look at them sometimes, and I realize these are the same hands that now touch people's lives and brains. Nothing has really changed," Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa

Here’s a story about two of the top surgeons in the world. Their lives start out in very different places, but their passion for their work, their patients, and how they learned to do what they do is, by their own admission, where attention must be paid.

Dr. QDr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa a.k.a. Dr. Q, is Director of the Brain Tumor Surgery Program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Director of the Pituitary Surgery Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Director of the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. If you think that’s quite a few accomplishments for one person then you will be amazed at how he got there. At 19, Dr. Q illegally entered the United States by jumping over the border fence. His working journey from illegal migrant worker, to truck driver and welder, and his formal schooling journey from San Joaquin Community College to Cal State Berkeley and Harvard Medical crisscross many times. For this reason, his in-school and out-of-school learning should not be pulled apart so fast. Dr. Q’s many points about how he negotiated all of this terrain sound very reminiscent of our work with so many of our students.

In a story we heard Dr. Q tell at a keynote, he made a reference to running a mechanical tomato picker as a farm worker while still in his late teens. Dr. Q. mentioned how similar the sensations and sensibilities are between operating this machine and the feeling he gets being totally absorbed in his work while doing brain surgery. We would love to have a conversation with Dr. Q about what he really meant here. The initial quote that starts this blog is one window into how he thinks about the connections. So much of being a surgeon is elevated in our society and so much of operating a tomato-picking machine is de-valued. Yet, the engagement, focus, and flow sound so much the same.

Dr. ZDr. Zeitels is arguably the top laryngeal surgeon in the world. He has performed operations and treatments on countless singers, including Cher, Adele, and Steve Tyler. Dr. Zeitels grew up in New Rochelle, New York where his father, an orthodontist, insisted he become a doctor. But Zeitels loved rock music and working with leather crafts. One interview states, “Zeitels laughs off the background chatter and proceeds with the same steady, ambidextrous hands that used to carve leather goods with images of Joni Mitchell album covers for extra cash between classes at Boston University.” His work with leather was quite a passion. He honed his ambidexterity and learned how to work with a material similar to vocal chords. What a training regimen for a future laryngeal surgeon that was driven by his passion for the arts!

Both of these men are at the top of the medical profession. In their youth, both worked with their hands in different yet incredibly absorbing ways around their interests. They both point out that this hand/headwork was a touchstone that made them the surgeons they are today.

Did school have anything to do with teaching these skills? Why not? Did schools even pay attention? What would our schools say today? Where would they sort these two men? Our bet is that none of this extremely rigorous hand/headwork matters to schools. It does not lead to work that the schools consider within the realms of career and technical or art and academics. What schools do pay attention to is giving everyone the same learning opportunities, sometimes motivated by equity but often by shear laziness and lack of imagination. Everyone gets Algebra 2 as the gateway rather than seeing there are many gates one can go through to get to a place. The Algebra 2 gate maybe only one way to get where you want to go or it may leave you out but, in our system, it is now the only way.

We would be wise to pay attention to what our students do outside of school, bring that learning inside, and watch and support them as they go down their journeys.

What might schools do to pay better attention to their students?  How might schools use information about students’ learning and work outside of school?

Read more: