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The Humble Grumble


Jean Turner, RPT

comprising...
   ...the sporadic annoyances & humble mumblings of a Jeannius.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Pontificating About Education

When my siblings and I were raised, we were not presented with an alternative option to higher education. It was simply never discussed and the attitude (certainly of my father) was that we a) had the ability b) would get the marks and c) would enter university and get the degree that best suited what we were - two girls and one boy.

My brother is artistic, musical and sensitive to others' needs. He went to art school and became a really good architect. My older sister is a redhead, determined as they are. She studied to be a social worker but then has changed her career path altogether which always makes me wonder whether she suffered the same fate as I did. I was told to get a degree in Education so that I could become a teacher, considered by my father (also the person who paid the bills so we could not argue) to be a 'suitable job for a woman'. I actually wanted to build bridges. I also have since then 'changed careers' a number of times, finally settling on wood turning once I discovered it. For the time being.

So - we were taught, and quite rightly so, it seems, that education is the passport to future happiness. If money is the most important factor in life, that is.

But what if the reason for education is in actual fact Street Cred - the factor which persuades other people to respect you and what you do - simply because you have been taught how to do it? What if that piece if paper that says you have learned something becomes more important than the attained knowledge that it is supposed to represent?

So why, you ask, have I decided to pontificate about this today?

Well - the other night I attended a turning club demonstration. The person behind the lathe was a member of the club and also the person who lives nearby and who I share lifts with, so I get along with him pretty well.

What he said on the night really made me think. In fact it brought me up short, and for a day or so afterwards gloom and sense of desperation was heavy around my shoulders. In fact my husband tactfully described me as being 'with nose out of joint'.

What my fellow turner said, in essence, was that someone learning how to turn should (most definitely) go for lessons in the subject. What he said next totally disconcerted me, and this is what caused the gloom and desperation: 'After all - what if your dentist or a heart surgeon [stood beside you and just before they began their procedure on you] told you they were self-taught? You wouldn't trust them, would you?'

Instinctively I had an inclination to shout out that wood turning and dentistry and heart surgery were not exactly compatible examples, but then the second sentence sunk in and I kept silent - it was about trust and how one earns it.

He then went on to tell us all that we should all take (or should have taken) 'lessons' in turning. That if you haven't been taught - how can you be trusted to do it properly (and by extrapolation - this includes teaching the subject to others)?

In terms of the lessons: In principle, yes. If you aren't getting along fine on your own and if you want to progress faster than doing it on your own, yes. However... If you don't have the money, have a natural aptitude for the type of craft you are attempting, are bloody minded and determined to do things your own way or just happy puddling along as you are and happy to learn as you go along, then no. And why, I ask, in that case, are lessons so important?

In terms of teaching it's a completely 'nother matter, for it is important to have a trust in your teacher - that he or she may teach you properly. The whole problem (to my mind at any rate) with wood turning is that there is no general qualification to be readily attained. No degree, no NVQ as far as I am aware. There used to be (and still are a few) apprenticeships, and they are well and good if that's what you want to do for the rest of your life as your job, but not for the casual turner. There are no formalised and nationally recognised technical skills descriptions that I am aware of.

I know that the AWGB is trying to create an NVQ-type qualification for wood turning that is aimed at the casual turner, but that will be years away. The only means of qualification that I know of in the UK is the assessment that one goes through as part of the process to becoming a Registered Professional Turner with the Worshipful Company of Turners in London. There they assess your output rather than test your actual turning skills. I suppose from their point of view - the output is what it is all about and if you can do that - then you will have mastered a range of techniques and skills necessary to be able to exercise the craft properly.

But then, I am now looking at the problem from the professional's point of view, and what I really wanted to do is look at it from the club member's side.

I wondered what the results of a poll would be amongst turners who sell their work, turners who give lessons, and turners who are on the Register - if the question put to each of the groups was 'Do you consider yourself to be a) mainly self-taught, b) formally educated, eg apprenticeship, lessons, etc'.

Which brings up another point: How many lessons does it take to become a 'trustworthy' turner? How do we know that the lessons we have taken are from someone else who is 'trustworthy' (and not self-taught)? I know of only three professional turners who did apprenticeships in the UK. All the rest seem to have been hobby turners who turned pro (a bit like I have) after learning the ropes the hard way with a bit of guidance from books, videos and the occasional demonstrator along the way.

It's a big can of worms that he opened. Maybe what he said just came out wrong, but the irony is that the people he has relied on for his lessons were probably entirely self-taught too...