Why can't mechanics read?
Last week I made an unscheduled visit to the repair center - University Health Services - to get my ear fixed. After removing a large object – said to be wax and hair – from my ear, the nurse practitioner and I chatted for a few minutes. Knowing I write about how we think, she asked me some questions. One of them surprised me.
Why can’t mechanics read?
I have been asked many things, but that one was new to me. My first thought was, Is this one of those “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” questions. I quickly concluded it wasn’t. She was genuinely curious. I asked her to elaborate.
The little wheels in my head began spinning as she described the mechanics she knows, her cars, and her friend at Caterpillar Diesel School.
I was able to define the parameters of her question a little better over the next few minutes:
First of all, she was referring to males in the auto trade. Either she didn’t know any female mechanics or those she does know, read.
Second, all the mechanics in question are extraordinarily talented with machines. They fix things for love, not just a job that pays more than Burger King. She wasn’t referring to the kids at the quick lube.
Third, it’s not that these mechanics can’t read. It’s what they read. They read Popular Mechanics but won’t read a novel like Jane Austen. They won’t read instructions on a computer monitor but can learn anything by standing next to a master.
Fourth, by their own admission, many of these mechanics have some kind of learning disability, like dyslexia or even Asperger’s.
Taken together, those points led to her question, why can’t mechanics read? She explained that a friend teaches at the Caterpillar School. According to him, when they moved from hands-on instruction in the shop to on-screen instruction in the classroom, the class foundered. Half the students dropped out, and those that remained did less well, in terms of acquiring real-world skills.
She took that to mean that a weakness in reading comprehension or ability was part and parcel of having a great “mechanic brain.” Could she be right? I really have no idea. I hope a decent number of mechanics will chime in with their thoughts on the matter.
I do know that I am a mechanic, I have Asperger’s, and I learn best by experimentation rather than by studying textbooks. And I read technical stuff and nonfiction almost exclusively. I don’t read novels for entertainment.
If I were choosing an auto shop class, I am sure I’d pick the hands-on one over the computer based one. In fact, until she talked about it, I never even thought there was any other way to teach mechanics.
There may well be some neurological tie here. Perhaps the brain wiring that makes a natural mechanic and the wiring that makes a lover of literature are indeed mutually exclusive. I don’t know. Does anyone?
Some of us – like me - are primarily visual learners. We learn best by picking a thing up, twisting it, studying it, and even taking it apart. That’s a key skill for a top mechanic. If that’s how we are, it does not mean we can’t read; it just means we learn by doing when it comes to solid mechanical things.
Do our schools accommodate learners like that? I don’t think they do.
Our schools tend to focus on learning from the pages of a book or off a computer screen. That may be fine for learning calculus or figuring out how to trade stocks, but it won’t get your car fixed, nor will it clear your clogged drain.
I think our educational system has essentially abandoned a whole class of hands-on learners in pursuit of a white-collar-everyone dream where all the learning comes from books and every graduate goes to work at a computer screen. In pursuit of that goal, we have essentially lost a whole generation of kids from the trade workforce.
If they are forced into the white-collar book-learning world, they suffer. And meanwhile, there’s no one new to wire the house, fix the drain, or repair the car.
Can our schools embrace hands-on learning alongside paper learning? I think there’s a place for both, and society desperately needs those young people with hands on skills and a love of machines.
I never before considered that dilemma in this light.
Interesting post! Woof!
There sorely needs to be hands-on courses in school for those of us who learn better by doing instead of reading. I'm thankful that at least Aspergers is on the forefront now, hopefully young people who live with our diagnosis can get steered to courses where they will thrive, instead of "what's good for us". Another great blog, John, thank you.
Quite interesting, and true. I'm an aspie, a female aspie, and I'm pretty sure that if it wasn't for my obsession with fantasy, music and art, that I'd be tinkering with computer hardware. I loved computer engineering in high school, loved putting together circuit boards and working with my hands.
My entire family is pretty much aspie, and we're all mostly like that.
There's hope though, I think. At least, here in Canada. I've heard that there's a big push in schools for kids that are recognized as being hands-on visual learners to go into the trades. I also know that the government of Canada will pay for the classes of women who take college trade courses.
I think now it's a social issue, that people need to realize that we need tradespeople. Cause honestly, I have no clue how to fix my car or my drain.
My name is Sarah, I am not an Aspergian, but am a lover of fiction and graduated as an English Major from UMASS. My husband, daughter and son are all Aspergians. They are farmers. musicians,and chemists. They adore non-fiction for the information they can gleam on their areas of special interest and the rest? Well, let's just say that Mommy is known around here as "the fiction pusher.
When I was in college my husband used to tease
me non stop about the uselessness of my analyzing
people and situations that weren't even real. For a man who was so literal, and knowing what I know now about Aspergers, I can see why it drove him CRAZY. Can't you? How do you explain the value of analyzing the emotions and the inner workings of human relationships and their outcomes OF MADE UP CHARACTERS IN A BOOK? How to you go about explaining how those emotinal realtionships may affect a reader individually or society as a whole to a person who struggles to read the emotions of the living breathing human next to him? HONESTLY. you want him to figure out someone IN A BOOK? When there's a car to fix? A bug to learn about? A lab to explore? a new Pokemon game for Nintento DSI?
Is there a link?
This fiction pusher thinks so.
re: my aspie son: like you, if he doesn't experience it hands-on himself, he won't learn it. oh he'll have the facts, but it's taking him a darn long time to put the parts together experiencially. for things like balancing a bicycle or tying his shoes. too many steps, read about, watched us do it, still just not quite putting all the parts in the proper sequence as he pushes 11 years. he can't listen to too many steps of instructions or read too many steps of instructions without doing it himself. i was reminded of this just tonight in his taekwando class. new defensive moves, long sequences to flip someone off of you, and he's excited to learn it, but then he gets 2 moves in and doesn't know what to do next until his master walks him through it a few times.
I never thought about the fact that aspergians may prefer to read non fiction. My aspie daughter usually just wants to read her astronomy books, and gets upset when she is forced to read a fiction book for school. Usually though if the fiction is a fantasy or has something to do with space, she likes the book.
I thought the vocational schools handled the 'hands-on' technical training (called 'shop' back in my school days). In fact, I was the lone voice championing my step-daughter, ten years ago or so,to attend a voca school so she would have a trade for her live on. I was out-voted, because college (which I believe is over-rated and not for everyone) was what was decided as best for her. She did eventually get her degree, after a year break (multiple meanings in that word) and lots of support. Afterward, she ended up taking the home health aide program thru the Red Cross and lived-in w/an elderly woman for 3 years and excelled at it.
Another question: isn't hands-on, interactive learning better for most everyone? isn't that why most museums have changed their displays/exhibits to interactive?
As for myself, I enjoy reading, but it is normally about things I am passionate about. Automobiles, History, or Historic Wars.
I stumbled threw High School, stumbled threw College but could handle sitting and reading if it was about things Mechanical. Not to learn about them to to just enjoy them more.
Oh, and in grade school my parents where told I had ADD. Same for my middle Brother. We both have gone threw life not worrying about treating it.
people certainly have vastly different learning styles, but i think that all of us can benefit from actual hands on experimentation. and you're right, it's slowly disappearing from our schools.
I did horribly in school. I'd completely ignore the books we were assigned. Don't get me wrong, I'm very literate, in fact, I quite like to read...
non-ficiton, reference materials, manuals. I'm no mechanic, still, When I get an idea for a project (even something the likes of which I've never tried before) my prefered method is to dive right in and try it for myself. It's how I learned taxidermy, it's how I built my bicycle, it's how I set a bird's broken leg, it's how I designed and built my pigeon's coop. Frequently I'll gather preliminary knowledge of a subject from various sources to get a rough idea of what's required, but I definitely learn more by doing!
I DO remember the first "real" non-ficiton book I got my hands on. It was about sleep and sleep cycles. I couldn't put it down.(This was in 1977. I was 17.)
Although I liked fiction, I DID sometimes find it hard to read due to spending an inordinate amount of time slicing and dicing the characters...trying to understand their motives and feelings.
Literature...the really old stuff...was easier for some reason. When reading it, I'd keep lists of words I didn't know to look up, memorize and try to use. I particularly liked Emily Dickinson's poetry.
After reading "Love in the Western World"(a non-fiction)during college, I pretty much gave up fiction. I miss fiction but am just out of the habit of reading it I guess.
I LOVE my non-fiction. My faves are fashion, vintage fashion, sewing, organic foods and alternative medicine, jewlery making(lately interested in soldering and metal work), recipe books, drawing techniques, crafting, writing, home business, the brain/mind/emotions(psychology, psychiatry, philosophy/religion), etc.
When it comes to learning how to perform a task, I do MUCH better by watching. I can pick it up almost instantly that way. Takes me forever to figure it out by reading. I try to buy how-to books with LOTS of pics.
As a 48 year old female Aspie, I've wasted nearly a lifetime trying to figure out what I'm good at, due to trying to follow the NT path to success. Obtaining a B.S. and an MSSW got me nowhere.
I like to create, make things, take in information, read, write, be quiet and think. I never could work very well in an office or buisness setting. I was made to work on my own I suppose. Wish I'd figured that out sooner.
A shame we can't do more to help kids find their unique gifts and excel in those areas rather than doing cookie cutter education.
i actually feel lucky to be aspie... esp hands-on this way... right now i m doing a research postgrad degree in music and artistic integration in live expression... sounds very academic, but actually, even tho my brain can handle the academia, i feel most happy just doing stuff with my own hands... like daddy...
hoorah for all the hands-on pple out there... yes i do wish there was more emphasise on this talent in schools...
My son, going into second grade this fall, is ADHD with significant handwriting issues. However, he is brilliant in math and can spend hours creating with legos. If he could tell a story by building it instead of writing it, he would be doing great in school.
I just disovered you blog, by the way, from http:canmombcalm.blogspot.com. YOu are a very talented writer and photographer and I am really going to enjoy your blog and your book.
Thanks for sharing your life with us.
Until then I'll do what I can to help these students prepare for the future that will make them happy and successful members of our society. (Success defined by the person, not society).
Thanks for your blog post. :)
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