Bookmarks Issue: 
Mike Rose

Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker

A-MindatWorkIn the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Studs Terkel’s Working, The Mind at Work is an illuminating reassessment of American labor. Integrating personal stories of his own working-class family with interviews, vivid snapshots of people on the job, and current research in social science and cognitive psychology, Rose draws an original portrait of America at work. As he probes the countless decisions, computations, and subtle judgments made daily by welders and plumbers, waitresses and electricians, Rose redefines the nature of important work and overturns the misconceptions which blind many to the real abilities of skilled labor.
Viking. 249 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670032824

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The Mind at Work is simultaneously a celebration of blue-collar, usually lower-paid, laborers; a family memoir; and a learned treatise about different kinds of intelligence. ... perhaps no author before Rose has integrated the documentation and the theory so well in such an accessible manner." Steve Weinberg

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Mike Rose provides an excellent corrective to the limited way that many of us understand intelligence. ... Having so deftly shown the pleasure and satisfaction people derive from the cognitive aspects of work, The Mind at Work invites us to consider that people have intellectual as well as material needs." Liza Featherstone

Orlando Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"... written in an engaging style that doesn’t have the faintest aroma of a textbook. ... Rose’s book will open your eyes, entertain you and inspire you." William McKeen

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"[Rose] wants access to higher education for all but also to expand our understanding of intelligence so that blue-collar workers can get the respect and paycheck they deserve. It’s a tough problem, one requiring the tact of a hairdresser and the analytical skills of a carpenter, but The Mind at Work takes a respectable jab at it." Ashley Saveau

St. Petersburg Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Rose presents a contrary vision that has stirring implications for education, social policy and democracy itself. What’s so disappointing is that he presents this vision in such a ponderous, inaccessible way …" Tom Valeo

Critical Summary

Through in-depth research, Rose, a member of the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, demonstrates that cultural stereotyping has invariably underestimated blue-collar workers’ intelligence and accomplishments. Rose quotes a policy analyst: "How do you honor a student’s construction worker father while creating the conditions for his child to not be a construction worker?" Combining memoir (his mother was a waitress) with case studies, he also provides an excellent overview of the academic-vocational divide, though at times his overly scholarly descriptions of the work environment reflect this division. Generally fast paced and never dogmatic, however, Rose has certainly drawn an original portrait of America at work.

Supplemental Reading

Possible Lives The Promise of Public Education in America | Mike Rose (1995): Rose visits public schools across the country to successful classrooms and teachers.

Working People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do | Studs Terkel (1974): The Pulitzer Prize-winning author interviews more than 130 American workers—a classic book.