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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

Patricia Silvey

Patricia Silvey
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations, MSHA

John Dewey, Democracy and Education(1916). Teachers have always played a big part in my life. My parents were my first teachers. My early formal education was from two teachers in a two-room schoolhouse (that serviced nine grades) in Coatopa, Ala. These individuals were wonderful, albeit teaching primarily through a rote method. They had such a profound impact on me that I wanted to follow that path, and ultimately I was trained to be a history teacher. Dewey’s theories from Democracy and Education influenced that training, as he believed that education should reflect experience and involvement in learning. This type of education, according to Dewey, would promote a better, more active person and lead to more active and informed citizenship. Not only did Dewey’s theories impact my formal education, they have impacted my work, life experiences and continuous learning. Democracy and Education still plays a role in teaching and learning today, as education is more focused on students’ interests and engagements, rather than on rote learning.

Andrew Morton, Nine for Nine: The Pennsylvania Mine Rescue Miracle (2002). Catastrophic mine disasters rarely have happy endings. This one did. And it’s riveting not only for its subject matter and location (just miles from the site where United Flight 93 crashed in 2001), but also because it chronicles the rescue and recovery efforts undertaken by personnel from our own Mine Safety and Health Administration, an agency where I have worked for more than 30 years. On July 24, 2002, nine Pennsylvania coal miners became trapped underground when they breached the wall of an adjoining abandoned mine and unleashed millions of gallons of water. An all-out rescue effort was launched and, 77 hours later, all nine men were transported safely by a rescue capsule from 240 feet beneath the earth’s surface. There is no more noble profession than first responders—those who face constant danger to save their fellow worker, neighbor or someone they may not know. Everyone involved in the Quecreek rescue showed incredible skill, courage and persistence. We owe them a debt of gratitude each and every day.

Barbara Angle, Those That Mattered (1994). The pervading folklore in the early days of mining in the United States suggested it was bad luck for a woman to go underground; in fact, many people felt that such action would result in the death of a miner. That sentiment existed well into the 20th century, when some women attempted to sidestep tradition and seek employment in the male-dominated industry. In Angle’s novel, Those That Mattered, the author explores the obstacles one woman faced as she became one of the first female coal miners in Appalachia, the harassment she was subjected to by her male counterparts and the dangers inherent to the job. Although a fictional account of life in a small mining town, Angle pulls from her own experiences growing up in the coalfields of Maryland and eventually losing the use of her right arm in a mining accident in West Virginia. The book is eloquently written and will resonate with both men and women who have struggled to overcome challenges in their lives.

Patricia Silvey is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations in the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

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