I've recently been enjoying reruns of Laverne and Shirley, a 1970s tv show about two women who work in a beer factory in Milwaukee. The two lead characters are roommates, and the show centres on their lives, friends, neighbours and families.
I enjoy the show because it's about working people, and the best episodes include a lot of word play and physical comedy. Until the show Charmed debuted in 2006, Laverne and Shirley was the longest-running series featuring women as the lead characters.
What does this have to do with adult basic education? This week I saw an episode from the 5th season (1979-1980) called "Testing Testing". It included several moments that spoke to our current reality.
The premise of "Testing, Testing" is that all employees must undergo a psychological test. They aren't told the reason for the test or what the test is meant to measure. All they know is that they've been asked to draw a house, and they will each be interviewed individually by the psychiatrist. Laverne, Shirley, Lenny and Squiggy are worried. They hate tests.
Laverne is worried about her drawing, because both her hands are swaddled in bandages...earlier that day she got cut when she took an unsafe bottle off the assembly line. She didn't report the injury, but she explains how it happened to her friends. As she recounts the accident, her friends remind her of the workplace jargon she should use instead of her vivid descriptions.
In the interviews with the psychiatrist, each character tells their life story and how they came to be doing the kind of work they are doing. Each is heartbreaking in its own way. Laverne lacks confidence. Lenny and Squiggy drive trucks because they don't have a lot of other choices.
At the end, the psychiatrist reports what he has observed...that we should respect and value the work that common folk do. While his 'research' has been completely unethical, the episode was worth watching for the fact that it showed so much about education, power and working lives. Check it out if you get a chance...