Dirty hands and active minds
I came across two items today, one which made me grin from ear to ear, and one that made me cry. Both are incredibly fitting to post on Studio H’s blog, because they speak to both the potential of and the dwindling value we place on “real work:” real, dirty, steel-shavings-in-your-hair work. In Studio H, we teach design, creative and critical thinking, community engagement, but we teach these things only as a means to do real work FOR our community. Last year, this real work was the construction of a farmers market pavilion for our hometown of Windsor. It was messy, dirty, and none of our students went home less than drenched in sweat every day.
The first item I came across was the poster above, a simple statement that reminds us that getting our hands dirty is not just for kids, or for tradespeople, but an important part of progress. The poster starts as a clean sheet of paper, and by handling it (there is a fine black powder on the back), you slowly uncover the words on the front. Get your hands dirty, and there is a real reward in store.
The second item I discovered was the video below, of Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe making a plea to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to support, encourage, and value skilled labor and trades. He talks about his grandfather, who “woke up clean and came home dirty.” He talks about our contemporary inattention to the work that must be done to keep our toilets working and food on the table and air conditioning flowing.
“I believe that we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor,” he says, going on to speak about vocational education, or more specifically, the lack of support or investment in vocational programs to produce skilled labor. “We’ve elevated the importance of higher education to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are labeled as alternative.” This statement hit close to home, as Studio H is often labeled as “vocational,” which comes with a stigma of sorts, but at its core, it’s about building skills- construction, communication, thinking through the hands AND the mind simultaneously.
He ends with a somber comment about the state of the American economy, which implies that more of a cultural shift is necessary, beyond just the creation of jobs. “We talk about creating millions of shovel-ready jobs for a society that doesn’t really encourage people to pick up a shovel.”
All this is to say that there is value in dirty work. We teach our students this every day. There is value in getting your hands dirty, and even more value in getting your hands dirty as a mode of thinking and working. Active minds and dirty hands can change the world.