Sunday, January 27, 2008

apprentices: get it in writing

My thoughts on apprenticeship, let me show you them.

Warning: the following is very specifically SCA-related. If you're not familiar with (or interested in) historic re-enactment or re-creation, it may be somewhat baffling.

The Society for Creative Anachronism, as the name suggests, isn't really about history. One of the tag-lines is 'the Middle Ages, not as it was, but as it should have been', usually taken to mean 'without the plagues, pogroms, persecutions and general dirt, but with the ideals of chivalry, courtesy and honour, and fun.'
Sometimes it's an Arthurian dream come true. Sometimes it's the worst parts of high school.
Anyway, within the SCA I'm a Laurel of the Kingdom of An Tir. Laurels are theoretically like Knights, except for doing art-type stuff instead of fighting, and Pelicans are theoretically like Knights, except for doing service instead of fighting.
I use Knights as the model because they were established first. And I say 'theoretically like Knights' because Knights are the sexy ones, or rather the concept of knighthood is sexy. Individual knights may not bear out this concept. Knights can become Prince or King, which has all the fairy-tale / LOTR cachet possible (again, individual kings may not match model shown here).
Knights, naturally, take squires. Since Laurels and Pelicans were modelled on Knights, they should have something like squires to mentor and teach and encourage. Since Laurels, if you squint through one eye, are vaguely like Masters of a trade, their squire-equivalents are called apprentices. Pelicans' objects of mentorage are called proteges.
Side note: a good many medieval knights were bureaucrats and officers of state, so Pelicans are probably considerably closer to medieval knights than Knights are, but let's not get into that.
The ability to take apprentices and to be addressed as Mistress instead of My Lady were the things that reconciled me to becoming a Laurel. Otherwise, the main perk of Laurelness is the right to go to meetings where we discuss who else should be allowed into our meetings.
It's possible to do an extensive compare-and-contrast between the SCA and high school. I will only say that if the Knights are the jocks and the Ladies of the Noble Estate are the cheerleaders, then the SCA is a high school where people scheme and become bitter about not getting into the AV Club or the Yearbook Club.

Disclaimer, often said through gritted teeth: The laurel-apprentice relationship is a very personal and individual one.
Some model it closely on the knight-squire personal fealty model--I should mention that SCA fealty is rather more idealised and less negotiated and contractual than medieval fealty might be--others are more like business contracts, and some don't seem to be thought out at all.
Because I'm a geek and actually like history and research, not to mention having somewhat William-Morris-Socialist ideals, I favour a contract. A contract that allows for negotiation, re-negotiation, and ideally, recourse for either party should they be unsatisfied or feel there is breach of the contract.
Which means the contract should be specific about the important things. How long a term does it cover? What is expected from each party? How much contact between the parties, since the modern apprentice isn't likely to be sleeping on the master's shop-floor and opening the shutters in the morning. Without expectations made clear, it's impossible to tell whether the contract is being fulfilled.
Sometimes I twitch, hearing dramatic and fervent oaths sworn, and wondering if there's any substance behind them. One of the most dramatic apprenticeship ceremonies I've witnessed ended in a fizzled-out relationship, with the apprentice coerced into fulfilling the laurel's commitments while the laurel went off to have a nervous breakdown.
Knight-squire oaths tend to sound damn good, with promises to raise arms against enemies, defend to the death, and lots of mentions of honour. Which is appropriate for that kind of game.
But I'm portraying, mostly, a middle-class artisan. If one of my apprentices or servants needs defending, I'm not going to rummage through the longswords and rush out there. I'm going to hire a lawyer and call in some favours.
It lacks drama, I grant you.

What I believe I can do for my apprentices: I can teach them in certain crafts, but mostly I can help them research and improve their research. I can help them understand how to look at other's work and assess it. I can find resources for them, both people and materials. I can encourage them to display their work or enter it in competition as suits their temperament, and I can provide honest feedback to make that work more accurate and documentation more thorough. I can bring them into a loose network of people who care about research and accuracy and who have fun doing it. I can speak for them if they aren't being heard--at least as far as my own reputation and standing will take me.
What I won't do for my apprentices: allow them to claim the relationship as any sort of rank, such as signing themselves 'apprentice to Linnet'; bring their names up in Laurel council before other Laurels do.

Aspects of the SCA laurel-apprentice relationship that bother me (see gritted-teeth disclaimer above) are that first, there is no baseline minimum standard, and second, that there is no regulatory body.
A medieval apprentice whose master was not fulfilling the contract could complain to the guild (I have a transcript of one such complaint) but if an SCA laurel drops out of sight without warning, or uses an apprentice as unpaid general drudge, or never gets around to teaching anything, there is no recourse for the apprentice after the immediate measure of trying repeatedly to talk things over with the Laurel.
Sidenote: yes, the apprentice can be at fault, but it's considerably easier for the Laurel to drop an apprentice (it usually involves posting a note on the Laurel's email list) than for the apprentice to be heard at all.
A contract won't fix this situation. But if hopeful apprentices and Laurels talk about what they'd have in a contract, they would at least have thought about what they each wanted, and have the practice of talking about uncomfortable issues. Plus a little bit of heads-up on how well the other party handled talking about how things might go wrong.
Taking a longish road-trip with each other is a good indicator of how each handles stress, as well. I try to include that in the lead-up to formal apprenticeship.

Can I make this into a coherent bullet-point sort of thing?
* You should be able to talk to each other, including expressing disappointment or changed expectations.
* You should be able to at least tolerate the people associated with the other person, ideally to find those people interesting and helpful.
* You should be able to make a road-trip without the urge to leave the other person at a rest area.
* You should each be bringing in something that the other person values.
* You should be able to claim the other person with pleasure and pride.
* You should be able to admit the other person's faults without defensiveness or shame.

There's a first draft. I'll see whether it still looks rational after I've had dinner. And perhaps post a sample contract.


Lulu said...

Splendid post!

I don't have a lot of opportunity to put "Apprentice to Linnet Kestrel" after my name(s), but I *have* done it: shall I stop? In my case, it's less of a status thing, and more of a "Direct Complaints Here" tool.

And I think my contract is up for renewal.

Perhaps you could expand on your reasons for not bringing Apprentices up before Laurel's Council before other Laurels do. I'm not fishing, honestly, I'm just curious as to your reasons. And is this a common attitude amongst Laurels (outside of Avacal)?

batgirl said...

It's reasonable to do it if it's germane to the subject of the post - just as I would have used 'Kingdom Minister of Arts & Sciences' if I were speaking, ahem, ex cathedra. For instance if you were in an online discussion of apprenticeship or of the sins of Laurels, it would be relevant to where you were 'coming from'.
And yeah, to indicate who people should complain to ;)

Oh, yes - May Crown, isn't it? Um. That's in Medford. What events are you likely to be at this spring-summer?

The other - briefly, it's because if someone is ready to be laurelled, they should be having enough of an impact on the kingdom that other laurels have noticed them without my prompting.
Now, I might (and have) asked local laurels to keep an eye on a faraway apprentice, and let me know which way they think I should be guiding or encouraging her - not quite the same thing.
The reason I make a point of it is that some Laurels say their role is 'to be a voice for the apprentice in Council' and frankly I don't understand that. It's not as if the Laurels have time to be conspiring against some hapless apprentice (or anyone, really), but I suppose some people feel more embattled than others.
'Being a voice' or advocate may also indicate that Laurel is more set on turning apprentices into Laurels than I am. (Which doesn't mean I'm against someone wanting to be a Laurel, only that I think focussing on it can mess things up.)
Hm. I'll do another post, with a sample contract, and expand on this a bit, maybe.

Lulu said...

It's kind of hard to say where we'll be this Spring/Summer: obviously, the Scholars in Skunk Hollow at the end of June. We're also going to try and make Golden Swan in October. It depends on how much time I can get off work, and how my holidays do or do not conflict with the other people in my department.

Of course, those are perfectly excellent reasons for not bringing up one's Apprentices in Laurel's council. Your whole approach is very level-headed, and I would certainly say that you fulfill your end of the contract splendidly.

I look forward to further thoughts on the subject.

batgirl said...

End of June? Bugger, that's FRH. Oh, maybe not. I think we're starting with the Canada Day weekend this year. I'll check.
And I'll get my comments back on your documentation, but seriously there's very little to say other than it looks sound.