“Shop Class as Soulcraft,” by Matthew B. Crawford, is a homage to the dignity of labor, the joy of being able to work with one’s hands, of tasks that require physically engagement. There is a deep satisfaction in being able to touch and feel and see the results of one’s efforts. “Shop Class” reminds us that the trades are vital to the success of our society, that college is not for everyone, maybe not for many.
“Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into ‘college prep’ and ‘vocational ed’ is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined.” “…any high school principal who doesn’t claim as his goal one hundred percent college attendance is likely to be accused of harboring low expectations and run out of town by indigent parents. This indignation is hard to stand against, since it carries all the moral weight of egalitarianism. Yet it is also snobbish, since it evidently regards the trades as something ‘low’.”
My father was an engineer and when something broke, he taught me to take it apart and see if I could fix it. As a teenager, I was a “shade tree mechanic.” I replaced the rings and valves on my ancient MG Midget and replaced the brake shoes as well. My dad taught me basic plumbing and electrical, the kind of do-it-yourself skills that I grew up thinking all kids learned from their dads and every homeowner should know. That apprenticeship served me well in the first decade of my real estate business when I was a one man operation, bootstrapping for capital, and keeping costs down by doing a lot of my own maintenance work.
I have always believed no honest task was beneath the dignity of anyone. I am the chair of The Collier Companies, which owns and manages almost 10,000 apartments, and to this day I pick up litter when I am on site.
America would be well served to end its infatuation with “college degrees for all,” which has resulted in significant degree inflation. Instead, we should more deeply value and appreciate the training and education based on the practical know-how that keeps the vital infrastructure of our country operating. Once lost, the tacit knowledge that comes from years of hands-on experience and decades of tinkering will be difficult to recover.
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. Any necessary work that pays an honest wage carries its own honor and dignity.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We all do everything, share the work——there’s no room around here for someone to think they are above others. You’re expected to pitch in on whatever needs doing. Nothing is beneath your dignity. But on the other hand, nothing is beyond your reach.” — Frances Hesselbein, former CEO, Girls Scouts of America
“Let me tell you in 1980 a CEO made 40 times the average worker; today CEOs make about 400 times. This is wrong.” — Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)