Whither Weatherizing? Or, Whose High Tech?

with thanks to Darin Hayton and Milkboy

Coming Soon to a Community Bulletin Board Near You; with thanks to Darin Hayton.

As Obama inches toward implementing his job creation schemes, we hear a lot about the jobs that will be created through federally supported “green” initiatives,  including those in retro-fitting and weatherizing buildings. Folks who can afford it can already Google their way to a host of ostensible eco-opportunities: short-term training programs at community colleges and trade schools, or the purchase of their own, franchised “Energy Consultant”  businesses.  Some are doubtless more promising than others, but these seem to be exactly what the White House has in mind: quick fixes with a limited educational component.

But like previous federal efforts at  tech-sector job creation–in computing during  the 1960s, or nano-manufacturing more recently–the training of such green technicians seems likely to leave poorer Americans out of the best and most exciting technical jobs.  Why not supply real federal money instead to full-fledged higher-ed opportunities, to draw more un- or under-employed Americans into technology research, design and planning positions rather than into installation or repair jobs? Sounds too long term, for wage-earners and the environment? Then pay people to go to school and work part-time, or make work on real buildings a regular part of environmental science and engineering curricula.  We could rethink our occupational categories, too….picture the manual laborer as someone who contributes to technological innovation, or the engineer as someone who gets paid well to work in her community. Why not form  community- or workplace-based “Green Teams”  that integrate people of different skill levels, bringing an apprenticeship model to green design and implementation?…I’d love to know: Anything like this already happening out there?

Engineering Education in Perspective

Several excellent essays describing engineers as educators with social values and ideological commitments–left, right, and center–appear in the latest Technology and Culture. This journal, for those who don’t know it, may sound  narrowly academic but it frequently offers articles that are low on jargon and high on material of interest to practitioners and policy makers. This special issue on engineering education can prime the pump for new approaches to engineering education reform, and for some vital critical thinking on matters of race and identity in engineering, as well. For anyone who teaches humanities courses for engineering students, Matthew Wisnioski’s contribution, “‘Liberal Education Has Failed:” Reading Like an Engineer in 1960s America,” offers a fascinating backstory and more than a few constructive suggestions for sustaining that sometimes thankless pedagogical task. The fun may start, though, if we put it on our syllabi for just those courses…

Below the Fold, But Still…

The content of an article in today’s New York Times, In Job Hunt, College Degree Can’t Close Racial Gap, by Michael Luo, will surprise no one who has thought about the role of race in American hiring; only a handful of the hundreds of comments posted online in response to the piece today fail to corroborate its claims.   It would appear that one year into the Obama presidency,  even this only intermittently progressive paper worries about the limited change that election brought to U.S. race relations.  It is a brief piece, but it airs a variety of concerns expressed by minority job seekers, drawing attention to a range of motivations behind workplace discrimination and varied managerial attitudes towards corporate diversity. We could of course wish for more frequent and deeper coverage.  This article, like many on racial inequities facing U.S. workers, seems to find the unemployment of minority Ivy League graduates especially telling, as if those cases demonstrate with particular potency the failure of our merit-based system.   We might do better to ask  how our ideas of merit enact discrimination at all levels of education and employment.  But at least a small flare has been sent aloft this morning.