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Green Job Training: Tasks or Thinking?

Green job training programs often focus on teaching students how to do certain tasks related to sustainability. The goal is to fill the student’s mind with facts and memorized behavior- and after passing a standardized test, we have a certified worker capable of being deployed in the workforce. Really?

Socrates saw the process of education as drawing out instead of filling up the mind. In an essay on education written in 1673, Obadiah Walker laid out the notion that learning isn’t about memory but the ability to understand, discern, and solve problems.

In the late 1800’s, William James developed a theory that education is “the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior.” He believed that the key to retaining knowledge was to form diverse and multiple associations around facts by thinking about them, discovering their hidden similarities and distinctions, and their “causal sequences”. He opposed simple verbal recitation, preferring varied statements and practically testing the student’s conceptions.

It is amazing to me that we see an industrialized approach (training to the lowest common need) taken when dealing with green job training- or frankly, any kind of vocational training. The idea that a tradesman or craftsman need only be concerned with completing sequenced tasks without regard to the work of others, or the impact of the quality of their work on the final product, is ridiculous.

This is especially true when dealing with green job training. Sustainability is effectively using our resources today to meet our needs, while preserving resources for future generations.

Simply teaching someone how to robotically perform tasks related to sustainability without teaching them how their work fits into a bigger picture, or how to think about their work so they can perform it in the most efficient way, minimizing wasted resources while meeting the goals of their work is unconscionable.
Yet that is precisely what we do with most of our so-called “green job” training.
We teach them how to push caulk into a hole, which type of caulk to use for different holes, how to install insulation correctly and where it goes, how to install and seal ductwork, how to test for leaky ducts and leaky homes, even how to describe a home using software- but rarely do we teach them how to think about WHAT they are doing and WHY they are doing it.

How can we label a process as “green job training” when what we are teaching is inherently unsustainable?

The airsealing guy is taught to put sealant in specific holes or places- but what happens when the plumber puts a hole in a different place? Or the framing detail of some angled walls creates a new hole open to the attic? Now they have to make another trip, wasting time, fuel, and employer’s money.

What about the duct tester who realizes it is more efficient time-wise to place a large piece of duct board with a hole in it over the return box at rough-in testing- so they don’t waste tape- but the hole in the duct board is smaller than the diameter of the flexible air connector connected to the duct testing fan? The fan pressure is going to be higher, which will make the duct leakage test results different…possibly affecting the outcome of the HERS Index! When this poor practice gets discovered, the duct system will have to be re-tested, again wasting time and money- all because they weren’t thinking about their job.

Green job training should be more than teaching tasks- it should teach the student HOW to think about those tasks.

John Stuart Mill wrote in 1867: “Education makes a man a more intelligent shoemaker, but not by teaching him how to make shoes: it does so by the mental exercise it gives.”

Shouldn’t green job training do the same?

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