The Corner

Why Johnny Can’t Figure Out Which End of the Hammer to Hold

I see that the president, in a spirit of bipartisan compromise, is proposing this time round to toss a mere third of a trillion dollars into the Potomac and watch it float out to sea, all in the interests of what the Associated Press calls “jump-starting” jobs.

David Espo and Jim Kuhnhenn are using “jump-start” metaphorically. In fact, I would be interested to know whether Barack Obama has ever in his life jump-started anything in a non-metaphorical sense. Or whether Messrs Espo and Kuhnhenn have. In my (ahem) new book, I have a little section on how so much of our language has decayed from the practical to the metaphorical — a somewhat predictable by-product of an age which values six-and-a-half years of a leisurely Bachelor’s in Whatever Studies over the ability actually to do anything. So I was interested to see this piece from my pals at Maclean’s up in Canada on how our present generation is “mechanically challenged“:

Shop classes are all but a memory in most schools—a result of liability fears, budget cuts and an obsession with academics. Still, even in vocational high schools where shop classes endure, a skills decline is evident. One auto shop teacher says he’s teaching his Grade 12 students what, 10 years ago, he taught Grade Nines. “We would take apart a transmission, now I teach what it is.” Remarkably, most of his Grade 11 students arrive not knowing which way to turn a screwdriver to tighten a screw. If he introduces a nut threaded counterclockwise, they have trouble conceptualizing the need to turn the screwdriver the opposite way. That’s because, he says, “They are texting non-stop; they don’t care about anything else. It’s like they’re possessed.”

At home, spare time is no longer spent doing things like dismantling gadgets, building model airplanes or taking apart old appliances with dad; there’s no tinkering with cars, which are so computerized now you couldn’t tinker if you wanted to. A 2009 poll showed one-third of teens spend zero time per week doing anything hands-on at all.

Even if we avoid total societal collapse and/or an Iranian nuclear strike and so will not be required to build a rude dwelling in the wilds, in a post-prosperity America a lot of us will have to figure out how to make stuff last longer. Doesn’t sound like we’re up to it.

Beyond that, almost all the great transformative breakthroughs of the last half-millennium were made not by eminent scientists but by tinkerers. (Derb is very good on this stuff, so I hope he’ll take it from here.) But nobody tinkers any more, and we are ruled by thinkers. Who think the answer is to dump another third of a trillion bucks into trying to jump-start seized-up metaphors. 

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.


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