Shop Class as Soulcraft

The college track shouldn’t be the only path through school, says Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, in an interview with Popular Mechanics. Crawford spent a year teaching Latin in high school to students who were trying to boost their SAT scores to get into college, which they’d been told was obligatory for everyone.

MC:  . . .  Half of them were jacked up on Ritalin just trying to stay awake. I felt like if I had been able to take some of these kids aside, and say “Hey, let’s build a deck,” or “Let’s overhaul an engine,” they would have perked right up.

PM: The obverse of that is that now it’s very difficult for car dealerships and independent repair shops to find the type of people who have the math and computer and diagnostic skills to fix anything, because it’s a profession that’s not respected.

MC: That’s right, I think. And the truth is that some kids who are very smart would rather be learning to build things and fix things, but they’re being hustled off into office work. . . .

PM: The kid who can’t pass algebra and get into college, who gets shunted into the Voc-Ed track, won’t have the math and computer and diagnostic skills to fix a modern car.

MC: And a lot of schools don’t even have an auto shop any more. I heard from an educator in Oregon that one of the fastest growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and go back to get a trade skill because it’s more marketable.

When I remodeled my kitchen, I was struck by the fact that all the workmen were immigrants. I had Mexicans, Israelis, Russians, a wonderful Ethiopian carpenter, you name it. But only the bosses — some of them — were American born and raised.

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  1. Amen. And two additional comments: 1) what in the world are some school reform commenters thinking when they say that those “not smart enough” for college can go and be plumbers and carpenters? My relatives who are tradespeople are very smart, and many college grads I know could not even remotely qualify for those trades. 2) why don’t we see that it’s the height of arrogance to tell young people who are interested in occupations that don’t require a 4-year degree, that they aren’t aiming high enough? Why do we tell that it’s obligatory to want to spend four more years studying how to analyze a novel or a historical event (which they should have learned how to do in high school anyway) as opposed to studying how to frame a house or modify an electrical device or administer treatment to sick people?

  2. conversely, height of arrogance to lock kids to a vocation track when their interests might change … or to assume that carpenters aren’t interested in history or literature.

  3. Didn’t say “lock.” The solution is options, not forced uniformity.