My brother-in-law (a dear fellow who we see far too infrequently) called today to let us know about an essay he'd just read. Shop Class as Soulcraft by Mathew B. Crawford was a slow read for me (tonight was the last night of term and I am tired) but I was glad to have taken the time to read it. In a nutshell, the author explores the devaluation of manual work over time.
A number of things came to mind as I read: all the times I've been happily knitting away in public, working on socks. Sweaters, scarves, and hats non-knitters get just fine. But socks? "You know, socks are pretty cheap and readily available. Why would you make your own?" Why indeed? Why make anything? Why make dinner when there's a supermarket down the street? Why plant a garden when there's a farmers' market every weekend? Why make boxers for my boys for Chanukah or chocolate truffles for my sweetie on Valentine's Day? Why the recycled sweater laptop sleeves or the chocolate drizzled candied orange slices with which I've been so busy of late? It's that I-made-it thrill and the ongoing delight of looking at something I made that works/fits/looks good. The extra special flavor of a meal well-cooked. Pride, accomplishment, competence--all those good things keep me happy.
This essay also made me think of my dad. Daddy, we all know, can fix anything. He understands how pretty much everything works and, while he's not the greatest at clear explanations, he'll fix it for you, guaranteed and all you really need to do is let him know that you're as tickled as he is about a job well done. I've always known this about him and until now just kind of thought it was one of many great things about my dad. Reading this article made me think about it differently--maybe Daddy's sense of competence is part of what makes him such a great guy in so many other ways. It's good for us to be good at things, not just from a fix-the-problem perspective but because it makes us feel good about ourselves. People who feel genuinely good about themselves usually manage to do good in the world.
At the end of the essay the author writes the following:
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.
I was tickled to read this because this was exactly the scenario I've long envisioned for my kids. Study whatever you want, develop passions and dig deep but also learn to do something useful because that skill may make be what allows all the rest to happen.