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"Two Degrees of Separation?" by Jane Lancaster

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Vol. II No. 4 Winter 1998-99

Two Degrees of Separation?
by Jane Lancaster

It is often said that you can connect with just about anyone in five steps; well, I'm finding during my work on Lillian Gilbreth that there are only two degrees of separation. Let me give you an example. I was in England last summer, and while visiting my elderly mother I did a little work in the Cadbury archives, as Lillian Gilbreth had trained one of their people in 1930. It became clear to me that Mr. Sanderson's trip to the motion study school in Montclair came about after a meeting between LMG and Dorothy Cadbury, who was one of the very few female directors in England at that time, albeit of a family firm. As I suspected, they were part of an old girls' network. One morning I was chatting with my mother's home care assistant. She asked me what I was doing and I mentioned Dorothy Cadbury. "Oh, I knew Dorothy Cadbury" said Wendy, "I looked after her for about five years."

One of my mother's friends also has a Gilbreth connection, as her father was head of a Canadian engineering society where he met both Gilbreths. Once I was interviewing an elderly black woman about something else entirely when she told me she remembered seeing Mrs. Gilbreth striding down the road in Providence, perhaps to collect one of her children from school. The Gilbreths moved away from Providence almost seventy years ago, but whenever I give a talk someone will come up to me afterwards with an anecdote about the family. And it's not even safe to vote. Yesterday, when I was entering the polling station I chatted to a friend about my recent visit to California, where I had talked to Ernestine Gilbreth Carey at some length. Two steps nearer the voting booth a woman came up to me and said 'I couldn't help overhearing you talking to Pam-I'm so excited you're working on the Gilbreths-that was my favorite book." After several minutes I had to tell her that I needed to get home to write some more, or else I might have been there still!

by Dave Ferguson

The year 1998 has ended, and what a ride. The Chinese have been credited with a saying, a curse on their enemies: "May you live in interesting times." I had always wondered how the word "interesting" could be considered a curse; that is, until this past year. Now, I suppose, the entire country knows that "interesting" can be a curse.

On the other hand, interesting, does have another, important meaning in the aspect of learning and education. Keeping the students interested or simply choosing interesting subjects makes all the difference in how the child will feel about education and how much he/she will learn. The Gilbreths, whose work together, was contemporary with some of the great builders of modern education like Thorndike or the Montessori School system, were in their own right, pioneers in the art of education.

Two things occurred these past weeks, which drove this home.

Dan Gilbreth had forwarded a request he received for a further reading list of Gilbreth books a la "Cheaper... and Belles" as well as Dr. Gilbreth's apple cake recipe; this from a family in Monterey, California. This family had recently shared the two Carey/Gilbreth books, by reading them aloud, in lieu of watching television. They simply want to know if there were more, similar books. I pointed out some books they might enjoy, but suggested that they could partake in a very popular Gilbreth family activity, which was education, made interesting, by making it a family activity.

Frank and Lillian believed that if the children were going to be the best that they could be, education couldn't stop at the schoolhouse door. But they also recognized that they had to have both interesting subjects and enjoyable ways of learning.

Anyway, I suggested that this family consider some of the examples in the books and try to create their own after-school education for their children. Besides, even though Morse Code is now considered antiquated by the military, knowing it might still come in handy someday (in our current genre, if the Y2K Bug or a giant asteroid wipes out communications, Morse Code might be a handy thing to know).
Now, the second thing that really drove home the need for the Gilbreth's style and approach to education happened in our office last week.

Our office fell prey to the national obsession last week and all our desks and files were moved to another location. This constant shifting of office location is designed on the theory that "it's hard to hit a moving target."

Of course, this current move was only temporary, as we would be moving to a different floor in two weeks (if anyone has a son or daughter unsure of a career choice, tell them to get into the field of office furniture moving; they'll never be out of work). Anyway, the point of this was that, for the first time in many years of knowing a particular, fellow employee, I had never sat near her until now. This person is a very educated and experienced professional, whose work I respect. She is also one of the most talented people I've ever known at sucking up to the boss, no matter how idiotic a statement the boss spouts; bat I digress.

As we were both doing some work, after a staff meeting, I had the chance to glance over at her desk and saw her typing on her computer. Here was the talented professional (and part-time obnoxious, teacher's pet), in a contorted posture, bent over the keyboard, typing at a rapid "hunt and peck" pace.

Yes, she was fast; almost as fast as the average, touch system typist, but oh, was she going to pay someday for that poor posture and those herky-jerky motions. Indeed, she was already complaining about an occasional sore neck. I can't imagine why. Everyone bends their neck in the shape of a cane handle.

The point to this long story is this. There are both skills and knowledge we need in this world, in order to function or simply to live life to its fullest. Learning to touch type is one of these skills.

The Gilbreths recognized the vast need for a typing skill in both their sons and daughters