Sunday, April 01, 2018

Poor pay in gardening? Blame Aristotle.

I couldn’t make a living from gardening. There are many reasons for this, the main one being that I’m a bit too slap-dash, not taking quite enough time and care to do things properly and, importantly, tidy up properly afterwards. However, there’s also another reason. Money.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a high flier with a huge salary. I work part-time, term time and my salary reflects that. It doesn’t really reflect the experience and qualifications I’ve got, but it does me fine and lets me have school holidays off for looking after (not so) small child. But look at the pay of something like the National Trust. A head gardener can expect £27,000 pa. Not bad, but that head gardener has to have experience not just in all aspects of gardening, but also managing staff and volunteers, balancing budgets, delivering activities to visitors, managing contracts and ensuring the health and safety of staff and visitors. A gardener can earn £18,700 and an assistant gardener £8.46/hour (£16,500 if it weren’t a 6 month fixed term contract). For the assistant gardener role, you need qualifications, equipment use certificates and experience, so not exactly a job for an unqualified new starter.


So why is gardening so poorly paid? Well, I blame Aristotle.

You see, Aristotle believed there were five types of knowledge. I’ll talk about two. First, and what Aristotle considered the highest form of knowledge, is episteme – true (theoretical) knowledge. The sort you go off to university to study. Then there’s techne – skill. Over the approximately 2300 years since Aristotle, theoretical knowledge has always been privileged over technical knowledge. As much as we can’t live without builders, plumbers, and other skills-based jobs, including gardening, we really don’t value them. Just think how we categorise education – A levels good, BTECs bad. ‘Proper’ (academic) degrees good, vocational degrees are categorised as ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’ (the exceptions being things like medicine, which are vocational but, as Aristotle stressed, also involved theory and so were a ‘good thing’). So gardening? Bah, just techne, skills, to be looked down upon and paid poorly. Yes, yes, there’s a lot of knowledge in something like gardening (especially if we call it horticulture) but, you see, for those in power and who make up the rules, it’s the fact that at some point you get your hands dirty. It’s a skill. It’s manual. So, it has a lowly position and lowly pay.

That Aristotle, eh? What a card.

(Be thankful you haven't received the full 8,000 word exploration of forms of knowledge in relation to perception of academic roles...)