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Ice On the Ruler

I used to believe that government would provide the answers for the disenfranchised, the uneducated, the people who had little or no hopes for the future, the people who can’t read a ruler and are perhaps doomed to sleep in cardboard boxes. I believed that society through government and, of course taxes could and should be channeled to this objective. As time went on and I left my college school books behind I became a tuck-pointer. I was an entrepreneur. It was a small S corporation.
I used to work in dangerous neighborhoods. I worked where you had to start real early and get out of there before people woke up. Most of the scenarios were pretty similar. I remember one in particular: the gangways were filled with urine, sleeping alcoholics and human feces. I used to have to be careful to make sure that my rope-falls from my suspended scaffold didn’t fall in the feces. I had stationary scaffold piped around the building as well. Young men who should have been in school were walking up and down the street. They would poke there heads into the bed of my truck while I was three stories up on the wall. They were looking for items of interest. I used to yell down at them caricaturing what they looked like snarfing around the bed of my truck.
“This is what you look like.” I’d say, and I’d hop on the parapet wall sniffing around like a cat. They’d laugh. “How’d you like to make some money?” I’d ask. Invariably they wanted to work. I’d put them to work brooming up and scraping up old dead mortar. I’d have them clean up the area. I’d pay them cash. People would begin emerging from their places around 12:00 noon, but the young guys who got up earlier got the work.

Sometimes I’d get to work and I’d see blood on the streets from an incident the night before. “What happened?” I asked on one occasion.
“Man, they beat the mess out of this old guy, last night.”
“That’s a shame,” I said. “Doesn’t anyone stop to think that that old guy was someone’s father?”
“Yeah, “ they said.” It was their father! You’re right.”
“No s*it?” I was really stunned.
“Naw, man.”

These young guys wanted to work. They wanted to learn. “Why aren’t you in school,” I asked.
“Man, school aint nothin’. Waste of time.”
I’d teach them how to use a ruler, how to make various measurements. The proper way to clean off bricks or fill sand buckets when the sand is wet (It expands when it’s wet.). They liked learning. It was the same in every rough neighborhood. And they were rough because I learned fast that I had to be out of there by 2:00 in the afternoon every day. You could tell they were disappointed when we were packing up for good, job done.

A few years later I was in the process of changing my career. My skin had been overexposed to the sun. I discovered that Microsoft had started a certification program wherein people could study and become something known as an MCP. I had read in a bunch of Want-Adds at the time “MCP required.” I read the book material into a tape recorder at night and listened to it up on the swing-stage during the day, 5 stories up in the air. I used to employ various cartoon voices to keep it interesting to me. I passed my MCP test, and then went on to pass all of my MCSE tests on the first try. I realized that something marvelous was happening in society: Industry, not government had made available a new path, a self paced and affordable path where people could study, apply themselves, and enter the profession. Thank God government regulation hadn’t stepped in to destroy it. Fortunately industry was faster than government. Other tech industries offered certifications, like Cisco Router. This was a great new world.
Universities and colleges, at first scoffed at the idea. I learned this first-hand: while I was working as a Network engineer I sought additional work teaching what I knew; at first the colleges were a closed door, and they told you why. But then, some far-sighted people at colleges saw the need for flexibility. I and others like me were soon sought after to teach the technology we were using in the real world.
Colleges and universities soon saw the need to adapt and provide programs that could compete with the certification programs. New Online Programs were being offered by traditional universities. This was not a change that came because Government was innovative. This was a change that happened because industry forced education to wake up.
Certifications were offered by the Masonry Industry as well. I became certified as a Mason Contractor. Some of the Certification Programs out there prepared people for the most difficult exams in any industry. The seemed to have borrowed their concepts from the Real Estate Industry, which for many years provided its own system of education, continuing education and testing.

Today I work as a programmer in education. I do feel that government has a role, but I no longer feel that government will provide the answers. It has become clear to me that only individuals and individual businesses provide the answers to the enabling of people. I look back on those young guys on the street, “Naw man, School’s a waste.” Yet they were fascinated with what I could teach them…. because it was real.
It would be wise if industries were empowered to educate, if they could be given more incentives to provide people with training and education. Such training could help reduce the number of injuries that occur, could reduce insurance costs and the number of unemployed. Educational systems need to learn to partner with sleek and efficient industries if they are to survive. There is no question that we have a system that is antiquated, and I have witnessed and experienced that it takes industry and individuals to shake up the huge, weighty, heavy-plated beast that actually thinks it can survive the freezing, the occasional cracking under-foot of glassy ice.

Copyright December 26th, 2010 by John P. Schumake


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