Transcendence through art and a soldering iron

If one shining example of everything going right can redeem an awful couple of weeks, this is it.  You have to read the whole story and watch the video.  Just go do it and come back here (or not; what I have to say about it will be at best a few flowers strewn before its triumphant progress).

There is so much to like about this story, I don’t know where to start.  Black is personable, not full of himself, self-aware, smart.  He presents himself as a musician, and a reflective, critical, attentive one who knows why this speaks to him and that does not.  But because no-one successfully told him he couldn’t do these things, he also blithely (but not insouciantly) undertakes to be a luthier and a first-person journalist, not to mention figuring out how to push through his hero’s entourage protection without being a jerk or whining.   And he writes beautifully, at large and small scale (I’m dying to know how much copyediting his piece needed); the article  is a textbook demonstration of how to write personally without being arrogant or egotistical, and technically without showing off or making the reader feel ignorant. (Post-posting afterthought: Icing on this cake for me is that Black fired up a soldering iron and used his hands to actually make something. )

If you get out of their way, provide the kind of stuff they can’t get for themselves – whether it’s ice time, a workbench and some tools, an obedience course in the back yard for the dog, or an allowance to buy guitar parts with – kids this age will reach higher than you think they can and accomplish wonders that will stay with them all their lives. Campbell gets props here, too; he welcomes Black as a member of his guild, trades chops, gives encouragement, doesn’t head-pat or condescend, and plays out the whole story without upstaging Black.

I hope Black turns up in my class down the line, but he’s already reminded me to be extra-careful to give my own students (older, but no less capable of stuff they and I don’t realize they can do until they try it) space,  complements to their own latent talents, and the balance of encouragement and tough feedback Black’s parents and teachers obviously got right.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

6 thoughts on “Transcendence through art and a soldering iron”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. You forgot to credit the Washington Post for running it.(their editorial judgment does have some redeeming qualities.)

    Wondering about your phrase: "complements to their own latent talents", I suppose this literally is a teacher's role as well as giving compliments to their own latent talents!

  2. Exactly. Though I think it's better to reserve the compliments for accomplishments: there's no merit in having a trait, it's what you do with it that counts.

  3. I"ll chime in with thanks – both the kid and Campbell are nice antidotes to the sinking feeling that way more than half the people are stupider and meaner than average. Few things are better than not knowing what you're not supposed to be able to do.

  4. Wonderful article, wonderful story. Although my musical ability could be written in large type on my left little finger, I have enough musician friends to really get the 'feel' of the event, and it brought a few tears to my eyes.

  5. My son's about the same age, and since he was 11 or so he has taken bass guitar lessons (he also plays trumpet in school bands). I play a bit of guitar, at the "more enthusiasm than skill" level of amateurism, and my son and I have talked about music and respective tastes; sometimes I gave recommendations and other times (these are becoming more frequent) I refrain from offering recommendations or suggestions. Over the past year, he has also started noodling with the guitar, and I guess my bit of payback or intense satisfaction for the past few years of lessons and what not is now, from another room, hearing him playing through something he worked out or learned, very much lost in his musical world. I'm not sure what my point is, other than to say that there is something very unique about music and its ability to help a person inhabit a life.

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