Blue Collar Brilliance: Knowledge Required of Blue Collar Workers

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How many working people does one interact with on a daily basis? From grocery store clerks to bank tellers our lives are constantly being streamlined by the working class. Do we ever wonder about the difference in the intelligence of people in different professions? Do we subconsciously look down on those in professions we deem lesser and consider them less intelligent? In “Blue-Collar Brilliance” author Mike Rose explains what he found while examining the activities and duties that blue-collar workers take care of. He uses his findings to challenge the general idea of the intelligence required to work in those professions; however, he does not accurately compare the intelligence acquired in school and intelligence that the worker receives in the workplace. Also, by belittling the importance of education he creates a resistant reader that will be less likely to accept his point of view.

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Rose begins the article by using his mother as an example of a blue-collar worker who relied on her intelligence and learning skills daily at her job as a waitress. He notes some of the things that she needed to do at in her profession such as use special terminology, and the ability to quickly communicate with her coworkers. In addition to those learned skills, she developed the people skills that were required of her when interacting with the public. Some of these skills we can consider inherent, experience with her customers over time, honed such skills like the ability to multitask, knowledge of terminology and customer service. On top of that she continues to study the behavior of people in the restaurant in order to continue improving. (Rose 499) Rose really made a point of driving home how hard his mother worked and how much effort and mental energy it took. He argues that the thought required of blue-collar workers goes disregarded in the world today, but can we say that thought equates to intelligence? Is the information that school can provide the same as the information that gets learned through real world practice?

Rose makes many mistakes throughout the article in explaining his point of view on the worth of knowledge. At one point in the work the author tries to attack western ideas of intelligence in relation to blue-collar jobs claiming, “Verbal and mathematical skills drive measures of intelligence in the Western Hemisphere, and many of the kinds of work I studied are thought to require relatively little proficiency in either”. (Rose 503-504) However employers value verbal and mathematical skills in their employees; for example, some employers use a written essay as part of their application, to test literacy. Being literate and math proficient to at least some degree has become necessary to function in the world today. On top of that exceptional skill in either or both of them will give the individual an advantage in a competitive workplace. The exceptional workers become more likely to be considered for promotions by their superiors than someone who can simply do the job. Rose’s claim undermines the benefits of these skills in blue-collar professions.

Rose’s uncle Joe becomes the second example of intelligent blue-collar workers, as he reached the rank of supervisor with only his work acquired knowledge. The author once again goes into listing all of the various tasks and mental acrobatics that his uncle dealt with in his profession. The jobs they work required some similar skills, but he needs some unique skills specific to his profession. This enlightens the reader to the specific skills that apply to different jobs and make some easier for certain people than others. His job required more physical work than the waitressing one, but the big similarity they shared was constant improvement. Both the waitress and the assembly line worker found ways to work effectively and efficiently over the course of their careers. In the case of his uncle, his skills eventually led to him getting promoted to supervisor and he broke out of the blue-collar level. Not only did this person rise above his former status he did it without a proper education. However, one thing to note is that both of the examples the author provides of blue-collar workers from his family dropped out of school early. His argument would be stronger if he compared a blue-collar worker with formal education and one without and found that both used the same amount of intelligence. With no formally educated blue-collar worker to compare to, his argument against the worth of traditional education leaves room for doubt.

The uncle of the author rose up through the ranks by using his acquired knowledge to help fix problems, but would education not help him along on that path? The author makes no mention of the opinion of his uncle on school or if having more schooling would help him be successful in his career. The author does however mention that “He lacked formal knowledge of how the machines under his supervision worked, but he had direct experience with them”. (Rose 501) Would his uncle not seem like an even better candidate for promotion if he previously received education on how the machines worked? His uncle succeeded in becoming a supervisor without this knowledge, but can we really said that having that information would not help? The redesigned paint sprayer his uncle made had potential to reach even higher efficiency levels if he learned about how that kind of machinery worked.

The article “Blue-Collar Brilliance” was published in Back to the Lake: A Reader and Guide a book intended to teach students English skills. The audience of this article consists of students who study to help themselves succeed in their desired profession. Many of them work blue-collar jobs while attending school. When Rose claims that deeper knowledge of verbal and math skills is not all that necessary for blue-collar jobs, he belittles the worth of formal education. (Rose 503-504) His statements disregard the effort that many of the readers put into learning and improving themselves. This makes the reader less likely to want to understand his point of view. If the design of the article aimed to change the way that they think of blue-collar professions, it fails to get that idea across by making a large portion of the audience feel like the time and effort they put in will not help them succeed. If the author intended the audience of the article to consist of blue-collar workers that did not attend school, we could expect a different response. However, Rose makes these claims in a text shown specifically to students, this in turn negates the intended effect of the article.

Throughout the text Rose tries to dispel the presumptions of the worth of education, claiming that a different kind of knowledge is required of blue-collar workers. The author fails to see that both formal and practical knowledge apply to all professions. If one simply learns what they need to learn in order to get by they can never improve, and as he explained constant improvement in important to blue-collar professions. His claims stunt students desire to learn and be the best most effective version of themselves they can. By stating that blue-collar professions do not require as much formal education Rose fails to see the benefits of having that knowledge. Also, since the audience of the article mostly consists of people going to school, the author created a resistant reader by attacking the worth of their education.

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