The Corner

Learn a Trade

In the current (Summer ‘06) issue of The New Atlantis, a very essential journal that patrols the area where sociology meets technology, there is an excellent article by Matthew Crawford of the U. of Va., “The Death of Shop Class.”   Crawford works over some themes I’ve written about in this space:  the little-appreciated truth that office work isn’t for everybody, that “skilled manual labor is becoming one of the few sure paths to a good living” (that’s actually a quote from the Wall Street Journal), and that a lot of manual trades are more fun to pursue than are most white-collar trades, as well as more secure and better paid.  Sample quotes:

“While manufacturing jobs have certainly left our shores to a disturbing degree, 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. And in fact there are reported labor shortages in both construction and auto repair.”

“Much of the ‘jobs of the future’ rhetoric surrounding the eagerness to end shop class and get every warm body into college, thence into a cubicle, implicitly assumes that we are heading to a ‘post-industrial’ economy in which everyone will deal only in abstractions. Yet trafficking in abstractions is not the same as thinking. White collar professions, too, are subject to routinization and degradation, proceeding by the same process as befell manual fabrication a hundred years ago…”

“So what advice should one give to a young person? By all means, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. In the summers, learn a manual trade. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems. To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.”

[Derb]  If I could build tree houses and remodel attics for a living, I would.  And if I had my life to live over, I’d have got some training in the necessary skills, and made a career, and a nice little business, out of some such work.  Sitting in a cube manipulating symbols?  B–O–R–I–N–G.

But what am I saying?  Isn’t it beneath the dignity of true-born Americans to build decks and service automobiles?  Isn’t that why God created Mexicans?