In Nina Lerman's "The Uses of Useful Knowledge: Science, Technology, and Social Boundaries in an Industrializing City,"  please provide a summary. She makes a lot of critical points as it...

In Nina Lerman's "The Uses of Useful Knowledge: Science, Technology, and Social Boundaries in an Industrializing City,"  please provide a summary. She makes a lot of critical points as it relates to her topic; women, gender and science and I need to know what could be the most important point to take away from the article.


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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Nina Lerman's essay on The Uses of Useful Knowledge: Science, Technology, and Social Boundaries in an Industrializing Cityseeks to explain women's positions in terms of "technology" and the different implications and interpretations of the word. In the 1820s, women acquired technological skills in terms of straw plaiting but it would hardly be comparable to a modern understanding of this skill. Science, a domain of "white, male, middle-class identity- a badge and cognitive authority," is being questioned. "Making and doing things" mean different things in different contexts and, by studying childhood education, Lerman sets out to qualify how "gender, race and class" can be used as a measure of how science has been utilized, understood and adapted. She uses Philadelphia in the nineteenth century to make her point.  

Lerman makes the distinction between a growing "upwardly mobile" class in the pursuit of science and a typical artisan- a man who can learn a trade and be a respectable member of society. She also notes how, when women are permitted to attend certain lectures, their improved knowledge is not for the furtherance of their own education but to enable them to bear sons who will then benefit from their mothers' knowledge and also because their presence ensures that the men behave better at lectures. "Rational amusement" is found to be suitable for "ladies."

The poor classes (whites only until the 1850s), boys in particular, are accommodated and, if boys or girls are found to be "juvenile delinquents," they are educated appropriately in a"House of Refuge" to ensure their usefulness to society. Technical education is most important and children are essentially put to work. Girls are especially busy as all housework is done by them and all the clothes are made by them. Housework, when these centers first opened took priority over school work because women in the nineteenth century had limited "independence" so, poorer girls with little education are not thought to suffer because of it. These policies ensure that, at the very least, men have basic artisanal skills and the capacity- if their status in society allows- for scientific development and women have enough knowledge to run the domestic duties in their own households or someone else's or - if their status allows - to further their own son's scientific development. 

By the mid-nineteenth century, men have a new "independence" due to industrialization and there is a "Colored Department' in the Houses of Refuge. Whilst the boys are all educated to a similar level - although not educated together- when they leave the home, their racial differences mean the "colored" boys become, like all the girls, more like "valuable servants' than anything. Distinctions in technological understanding becomes more pronounced as the century proceeds and white, middle-class males acquire their scientific knowledge in the interests of progress while poor men, colored men and women gain their education for "moral or vocational purposes." Cooking becomes a popular pursuit for girls but again it is taught according to social class and only those girls with enough social standing are taught the science of cooking; for others, it is deemed unnecessary.  

It has become clear, by this point that "technological knowledge" exists within a social context and that differences in class, race and gender cause different types and levels of education. Lerman makes the distinction between "science" and "the useful arts," suggesting that, even a modern interpretation is affected by social issues and "prestige," or the expectation of it. To understand science completely, Lerman stresses that, in the modern era, there needs to be a newly defined science; otherwise we are restricted by the past and its prejudices. Crossing "boundaries" becomes a crucial part of development and advancement.