This is a topic which has weighed heavily on my mind since recently finishing “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Matthew B. Crawford’s eye-opening philosophical treatise. The author holds a PhD in political philosophy and served as the head of a beltway think tank before winding up working as a motorcycle mechanic. While many would view such a career arc as a disastrous failure, Crawford took that path by intent and finds time to share revelations on what he regards as the “useful arts.”
He notes that many of today’s small metalwork and carpentry shops are equipped with machinery — ranging from lathes to band saws and beyond — which was purchased on the cheap at auctions held by public schools. Many of today’s younger readers will have no experience with this, but at one time nearly every public school offered shop classes as part of their standard curriculum. (At least for the boys. Girls took home economics.)
The trades, as they were called, increasingly became a target of derision. Comics of all stripes would refer to seemingly slow-witted children as being destined for “a job with their name on their shirt.” If the child was not headed toward a career in medicine, the legal professions, Wall Street, or advanced design engineering, they were somehow seen as second-class citizens. Similar disdain was heaped upon youths seeking a career in the military rather than advanced studies in the ivy-covered halls of academia.
A tremendous amount of mental gymnastics is required for people of this mindset when their toilet backs up and the plumber they summon to restore one of the fundamental requirements of civilization charges them fifty dollars per hour in labor.