Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shop Class as Soulcraft

I just finished a very interesting book called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Matthew Crawford has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and serves as a fellow at the Institute for Advance Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. However, Crawford spends most of his time operating an independent motorcycle repair shop called Shockoe Moto in Richmond, VA.

Crawford's basic claim is that at some point the "useful arts," i.e. manual work, became demoted to a "place" below that of intellectual thought, that "thinking" became elevated above "doing." One consequence of this way of thinking is that Shop Class has been cut from school curricula and shown to be less important than other disciplines. Another consequence is that for a very long time now, it has been thought that an academic degree is more important than a technical degree. So many of our young people have had it drilled into their heads, "you must go to college to be successful." Still we find that many college graduates now find themselves with a specialized degree in computer science, for example, but also can only find work for $8/hr. at places like Best Buy. On the other hand, because of a vacuum of those who are now able to serve as quality and skilled manual laborers, i.e. plumbers, mechanics and electricians, means that individuals in such trades are able to command $80/hr. or even more as their services have become highly sought after, as a result of this push away from the "useful arts." Of course Crawford's point isn't to elevate manual service above that of "white collar" work, rather to make a case for why the application of knowledge ought to be joined to the knowledge itself and why manual trades provide opportunities for intellectually-challenging and integrated work, the potential for stimulating thought and usefulness to our fellow humans as well. As Crawford says on p. 32, "My purpose in this book is to elaborate the potential for human flourishing in the manual trades- their rich cognitive challenges and psychic nourishment...."

It's definitely a book worth reading. In my next post, though this is rather self-serving I admit, I will share some regarding what Crawford says about the goodness of the "kingly sport" of motorcycle riding.

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