Ceasing to Adapt and a Dying Trade

“You’re father taught you adaptability,” the teacher told his student. “When we cease to be able to adapt, we’re in trouble.”

“I went to work when I was 12, I worked with my brothers,” a budding 21 year-old jewelry artist stated.  “I didn’t go to class and got straight A’s.  I went to work instead and made money, and saved it.  Its sad, its pathetic.”

Our conversation began as in interview for my project on the Gem and Mineral Club in Quartzsite.  A young woman from Idaho was finishing her ring from the casting class.  She had traveled down here for a week to learn silversmithing, casting and wire-wrapping.  Her father owns an agate mine and she wants to work with these stones to create her art- and make a living.  We spoke about what she had learned from her instructor, but our conversation soon drifted to the theme of this journey thus far.  Embracing a trade and choosing a different route than her peers.

Her family supports her decision because, as she puts it, “my father chose the academic route” and he eventually turned away from his career as a bank executive to become a miner. He instilled the need to work with your hands and have a trade in his children.  According to the young jewelry artist, her older brothers started a cabinet making business at a young age, even sawing their own lumber, and are thriving now in the current economy.  Work and putting food on the table is something they’ve never had to worry about.  She began working for them at a young age and now her husband works with her brothers as well.

I asked her why she made the long journey to southern Arizona just to learn casting and silversmithing, didn’t someone teach this in Idaho?

“We never found anyone who could teach me,” she said.  Most of the people in her area are hobbyist and for a young girl aspiring to become a “world class designer” she had to journey far to find a teacher.

When asked about her art and if other young people are pursing this type of work, or trades in general, she gave a pretty interesting answer.  “Its a dying trade- its terrible to say. I don’t think its pushed hard.  Today kids- academics are pushed so hard- we’re not taught to work with our hands and this is all hand eye coordination.”

So, why aren’t we teaching our kids to create, to work with their hands, to step away from the computer and make something?  Why did we drift so far from our roots as a country?  Why did we sit back complacently and allow things like “No Child Left Behind” to occur and our school systems to create adults who adhere to a strict 9-5 regimen and keep the wheels of capitalism spinning? Why have we not shown our youth the beauty of entrepreneurship and of making a living through creativity, ingenuity and determination?

“We haven’t left them behind, they don’t exist,” the teacher responded when the topic drifted to the public school system and children who fall in between the NCLB cracks. He left the system after many years of teaching lapidary and silversmithing at a public school in Seattle.  The school cut his program, along with many other programs from the arts in order to adhere to the standardized testing regimen and to push students towards AP classes to increase the school’s ranking.  He has some very strong opinions, and quite warranted, regarding the topic.  During our interview, he picked up the phone and called a former colleague who still teaches photography at the school where he worked.  Her and I talked at length about the school system’s structure now and the cutting of her classes as well.  They eliminated the photography class she teaches.  How sad.  I often credit my high school photography teacher for starting me along my path towards professional photography and showing me what a darkroom is and how it works.

She stated that her school was ranked first in the nation recently because so many students were taking AP classes.  But in order to do this, the school cut the classes on Shakespeare, philosophy and arts. She was hopeful that some of the students were taking a stand and still seeking the non-AP liberal arts classes and arts in general.

“That’s what makes you creative, your art.”  The young artist stated. And she’s right.  She’s also lucky that she had parents who looked outside the box- from inside of it- and said no, there’s a different path for you.

This topic isn’t finished and neither are the interviews for this story.  I’m curious where this story will lead.  A photo essay about a Gem and Mineral Club is now morphing into an article about art programs in the public schools and teaching our children to use their creativity and their critical thinking skills- not merely memorization and regurgitation.  Stay tuned.

A sunset on Main Street in Quartzsite.

A sunset on Main Street in Quartzsite.


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