About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Rosie and the Sound of Groceries


I received some lovely email about my last post in which I imagine my mother, Rosie, going back to school. Thank you. If you'll indulge me, I'll offer one more portrait of Rosie, this one not made-up, a vivid memory of the end of her work day at the restaurant. The passage comes from the conclusion of a preface I wrote for the Tenth Anniversary Edition of The Mind at Work.

***

When my mother Rosie came home after a long day waiting tables, she would spread out on the bed an old white kitchen towel turned gray from years of coins and dump her tips on it. As she told my father and me about her day—a fight with the cook, a regular’s troubles at home—she would count and separate the coins. I had a weird fascination with that towel. Old, dirty, but the grime had a silver cast to it, the color of money. “If it wasn’t for the tips,” she told me many years later, “we wouldn’t have made it.” There was a front and back counter in the restaurant, and she described working with her sidekick, Ann, another career waitress, how they’d listen—when they could slow down enough—“listen real hard” for the sound of the tip and know if it was a dime, a quarter, a half-dollar, “or no sound at all…you either got stiffed, or they left a dollar.” I don’t remember many dollars on the bed.
I take some coins out of my pocket, close my eyes, and give each a short toss onto the table. She was right; they have distinct sounds, a tink, a thunk. The sound of groceries, of rent, of school supplies, of gas for the car. 
There is a direct line between those tips and me being able to sit here and write about my mother’s work, and my uncle’s, and all the other people who make so much possible through their labor. There are about two million waitresses in the United States. Through a combination of physical and social skill and the ability to think on their feet, they support families and put kids through school, or pay for their own school, or help aging parents. They make restaurants function at the point of service. They contribute to the social fabric of the neighborhoods where they work.
There are roughly two million home health care workers in our country, tending to those who are too sick to care for themselves. There are somewhere around one and a half million plumbers, carpenters, and electricians, daily clearing the flow of water, completing a circuit, building and repairing our shelter. The list continues, outward and across the country: ranch hands and farm workers, long-haul truckers and local drivers, firefighters and miners and welders, the untold numbers of people who work in factories, canneries, and meat-processing plants.
Collectively, these men and women form a massive web of skill that makes our country function, that maintains and comforts and, at times, rescues us. They are so present, their mental and manual abilities so woven into our daily lives that their skills are taken for granted, at times slip out of sight. The Mind at Work documents their ability and pays homage to it.


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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rosie Goes to School


            When I was finishing Back to School, a book about people seeking a GED or entering an occupational or academic program at a community college, I imagined what it would have been like if my mother, Rosie, had been able to go back to school.
            Rose Emily Meraglio Rose, like so many poor immigrant women of her generation, was taken out of school in the seventh grade to help her mother care for her younger siblings. Though I never heard her speak ill of her mother, my grandmother, life in the Meraglio household was terribly hard on Rosie, laborious and oppressive. She eventually moved to Los Angeles with my father, took care of him as his health failed, and waited tables to support us. After my father died, my mother eventually remarried, and my stepfather had a union job that enabled her to live the rest of her life in relative security and comfort.
            Rosie was shrewd, masterful with people, and endlessly curious about psychology and human behavior. I often wondered what might have happened if she could have stayed in school—or been able to go back. I talked about it with friends of mine who knew her well. We imagined her as a social worker or counselor working with young people. She would have been a natural.
            So there I was, wrapping up Back to School, and one afternoon I let fancy take over and wrote a short sketch about my mother. I offer it simply to honor her—and all the newer incarnations of Rosie.
            It is early in the morning at the local community college. Somewhere in the distance a church bell rings. Students are coming in from the commuter train and a few line up at food trucks. A young woman walks by me cradling a cup of coffee; she takes a sip and lets out a low sigh of comfort. I have spoken with a number of women here who remind me of my mother. They’re the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. They live in crowded households, work in the afternoon or evening, care for younger siblings or nieces and nephews, are wrapped up in demands and worry.
            I imagine Rosie in a place like this. Coming back to school in her twenties, nervous, unsure, but feeling the rush of excitement, a new beginning. Would she enroll in the culinary program? Or child development? Or maybe psychology—her fascination—with hopes of becoming a counselor or social worker? What would have been possible for her? I take the stairs to the second floor of the Humanities Building and sit in the back row of the Freshman English course. Students are coming in both doors, filling up the room. I picture Rosie in the front row. She tentatively looks around, smiles at the woman taking the seat next to her, reaches into the bag she’s holding and pulls out a notebook. She opens it, lays it flat in front of her, and runs her hand over the smooth white paper.

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