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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 3.3.2023

“Are you with me now?” AJ Ryder

“It’s a two-faced world from the bottom to the top.

It’s a two-faced world when’s it gonna stop?”

I had some really good meetings with people from Year-Up about their connection to work called One Ten whose mission is:

… hire, promote and advance one million Black individuals who do not have a four-year degree into family-sustaining careers over the next ten years.

The set-up for this talk was because for the past few weeks, I’ve been talking with Phil Price about his new work at Year-Up where they are brokering deals with corporate America to provide those 1.1 million new high-wage jobs without a college degree. This is not an easy task considering the culture in these companies and their history. Phil and a team from Year-UP are working on changing these cultures and Elisha Gilliam whom I met with is involved in recruitment of potential employees. After hearing about what they are doing, I wanted to know how come they are waiting till people graduate high school and turn 18. Why not, do what we do and get young people who are interested in this type of work connected earlier to people in these companies. We know from our work that building relationships early on is key. Elisha more than understood the point I was making and we set up another time to talk and bring more people into the mix.

Contrast this to a very disturbing expose from the NY Times this week about unaccompanied migrant child workers exploitation by large corporations doing dangerous work and getting paid very little. Yep, sometimes the same companies that say we can’t have young people doing internships at their place, have young people actually doing very dangerous and illegal work when it comes to their bottom line. I’m not doing this story justice by any means here. You have to read it but I do feel that it is part of the work we should be doing. I’m happy to get a group together to discuss.

For many years, I’ve been fixated on the Meccano toy because of its name. I first remember hearing about Meccano from Brian Mills when we were discussing LEGOs and Erector Sets. Growing up in the UK, Brian had Meccano and in the US, I had Erector Sets. Eventually these companies merged but the original brands remained depending on what country they started in. The name Meccano looks like it comes from the word mechanics but that is only part of it. When you examine the whole word, what it really represents is Make and Know – MECCANO. Making and knowing is quite different than knowing and then making. Which comes first? In schools, the term used is know and be able to do, not do and be able to know. The difference is the difference of going from concrete to abstract or abstract to concrete. When schools assume and leave out making and knowing or doing and knowing, we end up in a great deal of trouble. When schools assume you are smarter if you seemingly can abstract first before you can get to doing something, our system is in loads of trouble. And, when they assume that we can develop ways of knowing by not touching anything and using all of our senses, WATCH OUT!

This week, I was on Kauai and spent a good amount of time with Kapua. Part of that time was spent walking the land that the school will be on. For the life of me, I could not really understand what Kapua was talking about until I walked that land. It was too abstract but once there, the position of the mountains, the sea and the history was explained to me with my feet firmly planted on that ground and I got it. I’m not saying I really understood the same way Kapua does but I started to understand. It’s different. Later on we started talking about Āina - meaning that which feeds. Āina is a critical element of Hawaiian culture. “Native Hawaiian ancestors had an intimate knowledge of the ‘Āina, …. regarding the cultivation and sustainability of the land, water, and people.” Namahana is an Āina based school. In my opinion, this is really important in our own growth and development of BPL or more modestly, I would say important to my own personal growth and development. I asked Kapua to write a few paragraphs about what all this means so I can add it to the chapter in Learning to Leave called Looking Ahead. Since the book makes the case for new ways, new forms and new measures, the merging of old ways and science generates new ways, new forms and new measures. Kapua described that when indigenous ways and science in this case, specifically environmental science meet to form what I believe are new ways of knowing this is part and parcel of what the book is referencing. When these new ways, new forms and new measures develop there is something in schools for indigenous people (and everyone else) and before that there was little there if, there is only a Western way of acquiring knowledge.

In the article I read by Kapua there is a story about how long it took her to skillfully learn how to catch he’e – octopus and how that is connected through story to her lineage. Getting back to Meccano this is precisely the point. For knowledge to become wisdom, you first have to start with the concrete – do and know.

Contrasting this to our 4-hour Deloitte meeting, a group of well-intentioned consultants took information from a variety of settings, made assumptions and “led the witnesses” through exercises that at times seemed concrete but don’t be fooled by a slight of hand. These concrete exercises were in no sense related to the abstractions put up as assumptions that we had to intellectually try and “feel’ our way through. From the time I was a kid to now, I’m very frustrated by these head games and I fear they lead us to make poor decisions if we don’t rely on our experiences in the places we are doing the work.

I would tell you that the same topics of equity, place and outcomes were addressed at my time with Kapua and Deloitte but one left a hole in me and the other filled me with joy. “Beware when ambiguity is reduced to certainty and the physical is reduced to the mental. MECCANO!

Wayne Shorter, music innovator and a favorite son of Newark passed this week at 89 years old. If you don’t know who he is you’ve heard his music. He crossed over into pop from jazz with a group he founded called Weather Report. Song of the week Birdland.

Be well!

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