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OPINION Soul of Shop Class

AS EDUCATORS PREPARE STUDENTS to become "knowledge workers," manual competence is out of favor. Hard-headed economists point out the opportunity costs of making what can be bought, and hard-headed educators say it is irresponsible to educate the young for the trades, identified as jobs of the past. But how hard-headed are the presumptions that steer young people toward the most ghostly kinds of work? Haven't "jobs of tomorrow" become wedded to virtual-ism: a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy?

Consider: While manufacturing jobs have mostly left our shores, the manual trades have not. If you need a deck built, or your car fixed, the Chinese are of no help. Because they are in China. Yet the trades and manufacturing are lumped together in the minds of the pundit class as fading "blue collar."

The well founded pride of the tradesman is far from the gratuitous "self esteem" many educators would impart to students. He or she can simply point: the deck stands, the car now runs. The craftman's deference is not to the New, but to the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way—a disinterested, articulable idea of the good too rare in contemporary life.

Excerpted with permission from "Shop Class as Soulcraft," by Matthew B. Crawford, which originally appeared in The New Atlantis, a Journal of Technology & Society, Summer, 2006.

Watch for new Flashcards every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a creative lifestyle.


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