I am a glassblower.
More accurately a scientific glassblower.
I have just been on a course to learn what it takes to pass the exams which entitle me to become a master-glassblower. Or glassblowing master. Or glassblowing mistress I suppose.
Whatever. The point is that I was there. And now I’m back.
And I’m not verily impressed.
I like learning.
That’s probably not a cool thing to say, but since very little of what I do or wear or am is particularly cool in the popular sense, I shall say it anyway.
I actually really do like learning things. New things, interesting things, exciting things. I’m not that big on learning what it feels like to have your bed collapse under you, or how to break up with people, or just how much it hurts to have people cut you up without properly anethetising you first (yup, all things I learnt at one time or another (or am learning ;))) but those are things you learn because you have to and not because you want to..
I like learning the things I WANT to learn.
And some of the things life wants me to learn and which I wouldn’t’ve thought about learning by myself.
I CHOSE to sit on a train across Germany for 8 hours*, in order to drag the ankle-biting-suitcase across town and up a hill, in order to sleep in a semi-beaten-up-room in semi-beaten-up-halls, in order to be within walking distance of the glass-school, in order to sit in a classroom, in order to be taught things that with be useful to me, and therefore also useful to the people I make Glass Things for.
I CHOSE to willingly pay someone (some oneS) to share their knowledge with me.
What I didn’t choose, is for the teachers to be useless, unprepared or absent. I didn’t choose to learn about irrelevant things that will very likely never benefit me. Ever. I didn’t choose to have to transcribe hours and hours of dull teacher-talk to save him having to type it up and print it out for me. I didn’t choose to be taught/told the same things I learned while becoming a glassblower the first time round.
[Side Note: I am even more incredibly grateful to the-teachers-that-taught-me-the-first-time-round, than I was the first time round ;). It made translating the complicated jumble of chaos I was fed least week marginally easier…]
I didn’t choose to pay for people-more-chaotic-than-I-am to tell me they didn’t have time to go though the-maths-problems-they-wanted-us-to-solve BEFORE writing them on the board. I didn’t choose for metal workers to teach me about gear changes or about how fast cogs turn. I didn’t choose to learn how the 57 varieties of glass-melting ovens are built or exchanged. I think I am beyond needing to learn how to calculate the area of squares and rectangles and even circles for that matter. Despite, or maybe because of, already being capable of working out the hypotenuse of a triangle given the length of both the other sides, I don’t see why it should be skipped because of being ‘far too complicated’. If anything it should be skipped because there’s no need to dwell on things people can already do. Having decided not to skip it after all, I would have been more forgiving if they’d explained it CORRECTLY to the few people who needed the explanation. If they’d also labelled the sides and corners properly I would have been tempted to give them a bonus gold star. I would have also appreciated it if they’d had any understanding of what brackets mean when written in mathematical equations. It is probably better to be momentarily confused by a textbook which uses a different letter for the same thing, than to try and work out why you need both terms in one equation [for anyone wondering what I mean, try this for size: “a x b x c(h)” where c is the side that make a square into a cube and is referred to as height in some literature..].
I am a scientific glassblower.
I work with ready-made tubing and a super-snazzy bunsen burner. Or I would if mine was less than 40 years old. Let’s stick with snazzy. (I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard that used by anyone under about 50 and not at all in the last 15 years. Told you I wasn’t all that cool ;))
Anyway. What I mean is I don’t have anything to do with melting-ovens. Or gears. Or cogs.
I admit that it’s interesting to know all these things. I could be thankful for knowing them if I wasn’t so aware that knowing them means I spend time not learning about the things I actually wanted to know. The course is a total of 4 weeks spread over 9 months. Last week was the second week. So far we have learned
- how to get iron out of rocks and how to recycle it when you don’t need it anymore
- how to calculate the area of very simple shapes (triangles are way too hard) and the volume of only slightly less simple ones
- how not to work out the speed of cogs going round and making other cogs turn
- how not to work out the volume of glass in a wineglass (“the answersheet is 100% right!” “um.. the question said 4 mm on each side… the answers assume 4mm total” “oh..”)
- the history of glass from 7000 BC to now, including a lot of names of people who did incredible things which unfortunately have nothing to do with scientific apparatus
- how glass is melted (from scratch), what the ovens look like, how they are replaced, what the advantages of oven X over oven Y are (except if you have to cope with problem A or B in which case oven Z would be better)
- how not to translate Pascals into deciPascals
- and gone over some of what we learned at baby-glasblower-school about what glass is made of and what it’s good at
None of which was particularly well taught.
On a positive note, and to stay on the fair side of the truth, we did learn what to do after getting hydrofluoric acid on your skin (No panic, none of us did 🙂 It was just the only really useful thing we learned).
I would have liked to have learned about vacuum. Not vacuum cleaners, but the sort of vacuum chemistry students need in order to carry out experiments with things that explode if they make contact with air. I would have liked to learn about ventiles and taps and the methods of making them vacuum tight. I would have liked to learn about how pressure works, and how to work out how to make Glass Things that withstand 9 Bar pressure without breaking. I would like to know who’s responsible for things if/when they break, and how to protect oneself if They place the blame on one. I would have liked to learn about what the apparatus are used for and how to better advise my customers what’s possible and what’s just fantastical. I would like to know about how to place orders and calculate how much my finished Glass Things should cost. I would like to know about air-conditioning units and how to work out how strong they need to be in order not to gas oneself while working. I would have liked to learn how to handle the reflective silver coating used on/in evacuated Glass Things and the brown coating used to protect the contents of the Glass Things from UV rays. I would have liked to learn about joining metal to glass. I would have liked to have watched a video about how glass-tubing is made (okay so I know a little bit of theory, but we’ve seen so many videos of ovens it would be nice to see one about something relevant ;)). I would like to know about electrodes and glass-glue and making glass frit and Glass-welding and grinding and polishing and …
There are so many things I want to know I won’t continue with this list, because I want to get some sleep tonight.. Also, not having been taught all the things a master glassblower is supposed to know, I don’t know what else there is out there.
More than all the separate things on that list though, I think I would have liked to have teachers who cared about what they taught and about their students. I would have liked them to be prepared for their lessons and to have correct workings and answers to their questions. I would have liked them to know what they were talking about and be able to explain it to the people who don’t. Knowing that the teachers write the exams and that they are likely to be easy since we haven’t done anything hard yet isn’t really adequate compensation. I wasn’t there [just] for the title, I was there for the knowledge.
I had great expectations.
I was disappointed.
I still am disappointed.
I wasn’t sure where to go with my disappointment, and to be honest, I’m still not sure where to go with my disappointment.
I’m working on it.
In the meantime I went skiing. But that will have to wait for a new post.
* actually, I chose to sit on one for 6 hours, the powers-that-be chose to make it longer.