On Common Ground: The World of Work

by Thomas R. Whitaker


Education in a democracy has many aims. It must develop abilities in the humanities, arts, and sciences, provide opportunities for growth in community life, and prepare young people for responsible citizenship. It must therefore introduce a wide range of intellectual, ethical, and aesthetic skills and values. But education must also elicit and begin to train the talents that are necessary for the world of work. And that task has become increasingly complex in our technological society. This number of On Common Ground considers some of the ways in which school­university partnerships may assist in that task.

The Essays: Some Connections

The Images: Some Perspectives

Our cover illustration, which relates most closely to Secretary Reich's essay, portrays the "instruments of power" in the United States as of 1930 but as part of a mural cycle that recognizes the need for continuing social and economic creativity. Indeed, Thomas Hart Benton had learned a good deal from the philosopher John Dewey, the American historian Charles Beard, and the historian of culture Lewis Mumford. Benton's faith in modern democracy was a faith in the power of people to make use of technology, not to be used by it. The "instruments" are not in themselves "aims." Wise use of technology, Benton understood, requires continuing reform of our institutions. "Change of form," he said, "is just as much the essence of a true democracy as it is of a living art. It is the will and ability to change forms under the pressure of new needs and new experience in a living, going environment, that proclaims the very reality of democracy and makes it technically serviceable in real government."

A major challenge in the field of education is to ensure that our technological society is open to the talents of those of every race and every social or economic stratum. Benton's recognition of that challenge, at his earlier moment in our history, is evident in City Building, the concluding panel in his mural cycle for the New School of Social Research. This portrayal of the excavation stage of building includes, at the left, a monumental image of a racially­mixed work crew a bold image indeed for 1930, when prejudice still excluded blacks from most union locals. Building Common Laborers was one of the few unions that accepted black members.

With T. P. Ready's essay on Project 3000 by 2000, which aims to increase minority representation in medical education, we include a contemporary image that leads us into a child's experience of healing in one kind of Hispanic context. Carmen Lomas Garza's Curandera (Healer), which we reproduce with its accompanying explanatory text in both English and Spanish, comes from her book, Family Pictures. This book, which is designed for children, often reflects Lomas Garza's own early experience. It was brought to our attention by Manuel N. Gsmez of our Editorial Board.

Relating also to the theme of minorities in education is the image we reproduce with Thomas W. Payzant's essay on the Goals 2000 Educate America Act and the Improving America's Schools Act. This painting, titled Playground (Recess), is by the African American artist, Archibald J. Motley, Jr. Suggesting children's art in its naive perspective, high horizon, and linear treatment of the figures, it evokes the energy of playground life and also portrays the interracial harmony that is possible there. The painting is a study for Motley's mural project of about 1940 for the Doolittle School on East 35th Street in Chicago. Like much of the art sponsored by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, those murals have since been covered over or destroyed. This painting is now in the collection of African American art established by Harriet O. Kelley and her husband Harmon Kelley, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist. The Kelley's entire collection will be shown at the Smithsonian Institution from April 23 to the end of August in 1995. With Playground we include some comments by Harriet O. Kelley that appeared in a recent issue of JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association (June 15, 1994).

On the back cover, to accompany the essays on partnerships with business by Edward Kisailus, Thomas Persing, and Thomas Furtado, we have reproduced Charles Demuth's painting of 1921, Business. No doubt the regular grid, the calendar, and the dominating digits in this painting suggest an impersonal world of office work. But Demuth has here transfigured that world through an asymmetrical composition, some unpredictably angled and shadowy reflections of buildings, and refreshing delicacies of tint. We can here discern the creative human factor the basis for all our optimism about the world of work not in the explicit "subject" of the painting but in the artist's subtle rendering of its motifs.


Back to Table of Contents of the Fall 1994 Issue of On Common Ground

© 1997 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

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