I am fortunate to live in a beautiful house in a beautiful town in rural New South Wales. Although my access to the internet is constrained by living in a rural community, I can access the internet.
A post by Audrey Watters affirmed just how fortunate I am. Audrey used a Lewis Hine photograph as the image at the head of her post. It was this photograph:
The picture was taken at a cotton mill in North Carolina and is one of many Lewis Hine photographs held by the Library of Congress and shared on Flickr with no known copyright restrictions.
Audrey’s post discusses the Pew Research Center’s survey on “Lifelong Learning and Technology” published last week. She suggests this survey:
provides an important counter to the sweeping pronouncements we often hear about Internet technologies and the coming democratization and de-institutionalization of education.
Her post introduced me to Tressie McMillan Cottom and her thinking about “the roaming autodidact” as:
a self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, culture, history, and markets.
Audrey mentions “untethered entrepreneurial learners” too.
She discusses the mythologising of these learners in conversations about continuing learning and points out that according to the Pew survey “the majority of adults are unfamiliar with online learning platforms”.
when education technology and “future of work” proponents say that it’s increasingly up to the worker to become more “entrepreneurial,” to become a lifelong learner, we should interrogate exactly who that imagined worker might be.
This final sentence connected me back to the image of the ten year old spinner in North Carolina.
This is another of Lewis Hine’s photographs:
The photograph was taken in 1911. Manuel had been working since the age of four at Biloxi, Mississippi. He was five when this photograph was taken by Lewis Hine.
Audrey’s post helped me think about good fortune and Lewis’s photographs are testimonies to others with different fortunes. Manuel was younger than my granddaughter, Ivy, when the picture was taken. Ivy goes to a wonderful school and is taught by a charismatic teacher.
Audrey’s disturbance took me back to my first day at school and meeting teachers there who changed my life chances. In my community, education was seen as an opportunity to ‘get on’ and move beyond the clay pits, brick works, coal mines and steel works that offered employment to young people who left school before their fourteenth birthday.
My experiences from my earliest days of schooling have made me a voracious learner. I have thought, naively, that personal learning is about intrinsic motivation and the resilient quest for opportunities to learn. I take Audrey’s argument forcefully about how my own experience leads me to assumptions about lifelong learning.
Whilst I was writing this post, my daughter, Beth, shared a link to the Australian Labor Party’s policy agenda for tackling inequality that starts to address the structural inequalities in access to learning that are at the heart of Audrey’s post.
The discussion of quality education across life in the policy document includes this quote:
many Australians lack the language, literacy and numeracy skills to participate in training and work. Only just over half of Australians aged 15 to 74 years have been assessed as having the prose literacy skills needed to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work
The document reports that 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line.
This left me wondering about what Lewis’s record of poverty might look like in present day Australia.
It is a profound regret that I only became aware of Lewis Hine today through an image shared by Audrey.
There is an outline of his life in Wikipedia. I need now to learn more about him. I like the idea that sociology was an important part of his learning journey and am keen to find out more about his move from teacher to visual ethnographer and his recording of child labour in the United States.
I need to find out more about how such a selfless person could end up in the poverty he chronicled.
His story is interwoven with Audrey’s narrative about learning. I am delighted I have found him. I think his story will help me clarify my own unequivocal commitment to supporting personal learning opportunities in a grounded way.
I am going to explore Tressie’s ideas too in the context of my work for the OERu.
Rhodes Mfg. Co, Linconton, NC. Spinner (Lewis Hine, no known copyright restrictions.)
Manuel, the young shrimp-picker (Lewis Hine, no known copyright restrictions.)