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, October 26, 2018

An Artist of Tools and Industry

            Several years ago the artist Rachel Lussier rachellussierart.com set up her easel in a family-owned hardware store and began painting the tools that covered the walls: individual oil portraits of a ball peen hammer, a hand saw, a trowel, needle-nose pliers. In the brief text that accompanies this “Hardware Series,” Lussier writes that the paintings reflect “my preoccupation with objects designed for the human hand.” She finds “allure and beauty” in these tools she has turned into still lifes, and she celebrates as well the hardware store itself, a meeting place as well as a business that is rooted in its community. Click here to see the series.
            After the intimacy of the hardware store, Rachel shifted scale dramatically, travelling to the abandoned Bethlehem Steel Plant in Eastern Pennsylvania to paint curving and angular sections of the corroded furnaces, tanks, and smoke stacks. If you’ve ever seen an abandoned steel plant, you know the mix of awe and desolation evoked by these massive shuttered factories. This plant in Bethlehem has been closed for over twenty years.
            Rachel is not a studio artist; she likes to take her equipment out into the world to render the objects she finds there—from a screwdriver to a rising vent pipe to an airplane fuselage—and also to remove some of the barriers that separate the artist and art-making from the viewing public. “I am fascinated,” she writes on her website “that most people appear to be just as curious about how the art is created as by the final product itself.”
            Among those visiting the Bethlehem Steel plant—it’s a tourist site now—are men and women who used to live in the city but moved away (likely following the next available job) or people who worked for decades in the plant and still live nearby. Some stop and talk to this woman standing before a canvas on which a rusted chunk of history is taking shape.
            Rachel has emailed and spoken with me about these exchanges. It comes as no surprise that people talk about how many jobs the plant provided, not only for making steel itself, but also for everything from bookkeeping to sales. And then there were all the goods and services purchased by workers at Bethlehem Steel, keeping the city economically vital. People talk about the way someone with a high school education or less could make a good living on union-scale factory jobs, and they talk about the generations of families who worked at the plant. One woman points to a towering crane that her grandfather operated for thirty years.
            The people talking to Rachel also convey the awful, thundering force of the plant when it was operating. Twenty-four hours a day. Three shifts. Loud and hot and dangerous. The plant had its own fire department, and one fellow who was a firefighter tells Rachel that he knew five different men who were killed on the job.
            Overall, Rachel explains to me, she feels from the people she meets “a sense of loss.” The expression of loss is sometimes straightforward: A woman who had moved to Ohio says that she started to cry when she drove within sight of the plant. And sometimes what is expressed is more abstract and runs deep. In the middle of conversation, a guy says “We don’t know who we are now.”
This loss of identity along with the economic rupture that contributed to it has been much discussed nationally since the 2016 election, for Donald Trump tapped into it, and, as with everything he touches, has cheapened and exploited it. Rachel is grateful for the stories people tell her and tries to honor them as she paints the rising smoke stack of an old furnace, quiet and cold behind a chain-link fence. 

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