Wednesday, February 2, 2011

thoughts on: Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as SoulcraftShop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

My husband picked this book up, and as he was reading it, read excerpts he liked to me.  Shop class was my favorite class in all of middle school, so I was inclined to like it by title alone, and the excerpts were interesting, so I decided to read it myself.

Crawford starts, and ends, by describing the rise and fall of shop class in American curricula. I found this the strongest part of the book, probably because I agree with his view that shop class was a valuable form of education and that not all students need or should go to college, and that this is not a reflection on intelligence.  He also discusses the false, but commonly held, assumption that tradesmen earn less and think less than "knowledge workers," and explores job security in different types of employment in today's market where so many jobs are outsourced.  Plumbers, he aptly points out, will never be outsourced.

Later he goes on to explore, philosophically, as he holds a PhD in philosophy, the nature of work, both manual and office.  Given the title, I expected him to favor manual labor, but I felt he went too far at times, suggesting a moral superiority to manual labor.  Not that he suggested that choosing to be a mechanic meant one was more ethical than being a clerk, but that labor itself contributed to one's moral development.  I think if he had used the word "character" instead of "moral" it would have made more sense and been less offensive to me.

Currently the owner of a motorcycle repair shop, Crawford's own work history is woven throughout.  Not being interested in automotive mechanics, I found the portions of the book where he gave detailed descriptions of them rather tedious.  My husband, to the contrary, found those the most engaging parts of the book.  However, Crawford's love for his chosen occupation was evident, and it did neatly illustrate his point that doing what you love brings a joy a large paycheck cannot.

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