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As an English teacher, there are some very embarrassing moments for me when I try to work on my cars. It is even embarrassing sometimes to take a car in for service. The visits to the parts store or, even worse, the frantic calls to professional mechanics in search of non-judgmental advice often make me feel like my vocational education is lacking. I often get the feeling that I am asking something I should already know about and that the veteran mechanic is laughing a bit under his hard-earned grime.

I try to act cool and confident when I saunter into the repair shop or the parts store, even though I feel dumb. I suppose I just haven't watched enough episodes of "Tool Time." This cool look includes knowing to hit the duck-taped radio as I come in the door of the shop to make it start up again on the only station it gets. Only the real mechanics that frequent the place know to hit the radio.I described the acceleration problem and was told that it was either a fuel filter, fuel pump or carburetor, in that order. The fuel filter I found easily and replaced without solving the problem. The fuel pump was another problem. It would cost big bucks. I knew that it would take either a co-signer on my loan or my youngest daughter as collateral. For a second I also wondered if I really wanted to purchase a devise that pumped gas. It is expensive stuff.

I rationalized that the $27 a year I will save with the gas tax rollback might as well go on a gas pump. Aside from the expense, installation would be easy. I'd take the old one off and put the new one on. But it wasn't that easy. "What kind of pump is it?"

"Just a normal one" was my brilliant and informed answer. English teachers are good with words. How was I to know that there are mechanical pumps that are turned as the engine turns and vacuum fuel pumps that run off the vacuum of the engine like the old windshield wipers that would slow down while the car lugs up a hill. There are also electric fuel pumps. Some electric pumps are in line on the fuel line and a few are in the fuel tank. Was I really expected to know this?

"You English teachers really ought to learn something about mechanics along the way. People ought to have some idea about how cars work. General education just doesn't seem to include practical knowledge."

I think I agree that general education could sometimes be more practical, but I am not convinced that every student needs to know about the different kinds of fuel pumps. It may be that all education is vocational education and that every course or experience could help prepare more productive workers.

Even if my mechanic friend would buy this broad definition of vocational education, he may still think that everyone that drives should understand fuel pumps. Perhaps he would consider a less specific option and say that everyone who uses technology of any kind ought to understand the effects of the technology on our society.

Karl Marx has pointed out at least two effects of technology, if not capitalistic technology, that we should probably all understand as part of a general education. He pointed out that the worker has become alienated from the product that is produced. The worker that makes fuel pumps doesn't see the beginning of the process nor the use of the pump. The product is used by strangers never met and comes from raw materials never seen by the worker. Yet the worker is expected to have some vested interest in the quality of the product. It is easy to see why a worker would make lousy fuel pumps and feel alienated.

Another effect of technology may be a passion for greed. These are the words of Marx in the Paris Manuscripts:

"The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go the theater, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save - the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour - your capital. The less you are the more you have."

Perhaps the issues of greed and alienation are the real issues of technology and would be more important for a general education than knowing about fuel pumps. Perhaps trying to understand why people are greedy and examining the causes and effects of greed should be in everyone's curriculum. Perhaps none of us really understand the extent to which technology can cause alienation from other people. Perhaps we need to understand why some regard the computer as a best friend at the expense of human relationship.

If this is so then I will have to learn to live with the embarrassment of visits to the mechanic because my general education won't include fuel pumps. It may help to know that the mechanic may be embarrassed when I read his writing. Auto mechanics and writing are, after all, vocations even though the mechanic and the writer must learn to live with technology.