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Hardcover Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work Book

ISBN: 1594202230

ISBN13: 9781594202230

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

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Book Overview

A philosopher/mechanic's wise (and sometimes funny) look at the challenges and pleasures of working with one's hands

"This is a deep exploration of craftsmanship by someone with real, hands-on knowledge. The book is also quirky, surprising, and sometimes quite moving." --Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman

Called "the sleeper hit of the publishing season" by The Boston Globe, Shop Class as Soulcraft...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Professional Perspective

I connected with this book in several ways. First, while in Junior High (remember when it was called that) in the 60s I was told by my guidance counselor I couldn't take Shop II because I was on a college prep track and Shop 2 was for those kids who would be blue collar workers. The bias of those comments stuck with me all these years. Second, there is an option pursued by myself and many of my close friends. While I was a white collar worker my entire professional career my hobby was restoring and maintaining cars. I needed the satisfaction of that work so took it on as a hobby and developed mechanical proficiency many mechanical skills including engine and gearbox rebuilding. After reading this book I realized many of my close friends have the same approach. A teacher who built his own house. A doctor who hand builds kayaks. A CPA who welds, restores and works on cars. Somehow we all value working with our hands and while we don't do it to pay the bills we all do it to satisfy our souls to great success. Crawford explains why we all feel this way. All of these friends have now read the book and enjoyed it. Crawford nailed it.

"you can't hammer a nail over the Internet"

"Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into "college prep" and "vocational ed" is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one's life is determined." (19) "Occupations based on universal...knowledge are more prestigious, but they are also the kind that face competition from the whole world as book learning becomes more widely disseminated in the global economy. Practical know-how, on the other hand, is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can't be downloaded, it can only be lived." (162) These two quotes pretty much sum up the focus of this book, that we have lost value and appreciation for craftsmanship and hands on work in this country in favor of a ridiculous belief that somehow the only work that is to be valued is work that is performed "intellectually" in a shirt and tie. Crawford left a political think tank to start his own motorcycle repair shop and this book is his reflections on how our country has come to view work, the values and unstated labels we place on "white collar" vs. "blue collar" work, and how our schools and government are partly to blame for our unrealistic beliefs that everyone needs to go to college to have a "good life." As someone who lost more then $20,000 a year in a "blue collar" job to happily go into the "white collar" teaching profession, only to specialize in teaching a majority of future "blue collar" kids, I have a passionate interest in this debate. I have and will continue to advocate for a revision of these destructive and condescending educational beliefs. Crawford believes, and I agree, that we have turned our schools into "square holes" with no room for our "round" non-college bound kids to fit into by eliminating trade oriented classes such as wood and auto shop in favor of more (less expensive) college prep classes. Crawford reflects on the Catch-22 of addressing or changing this situation by stating: ...any high school principal who doesn't claim as his goal "one hundred percent college attendance" is likely to be accused of harboring "low expectations" and run out of town by indigent parents. This indignation is hard to strand against, since it carries all the moral weight of egalitarianism. Yet it is also snobbish, since it evidently regards the trades as something "low" (32). I deal with kids everyday in my high school intervention classes that exhibit what happens when years of passive aggressively telling kids through our educational actions that their interests and their skill sets are not as "good" or "valuable" to our community as those of the college bound kids. My kids repeatedly tell me that high school has absolutely no purpose or use for them and looking at what they are up against I can sympathize with their frustrations. When students believe this about school it only results in negative self images and frustration which then, over

A great book with so many useful lessons.

It's hard to put into words the message I got from this book. As a college graduate with dual degrees in economics and engineering who spends most of his day in a cubicle, pushing paper and feeling my soul drain out of my body, this book put into words a lot of the feelings and internal conflicts I struggle with daily. About a year ago, I grew tired of not working with my hands and using my creativity so I enrolled in a machinist training program at a local community college to satisfy my needs. I got so much out of working with my hands, it was almost therapy for me. The author writes about how much we can gain from working with our hands, stimulating creativity, problem solving, and a real connection with a tangible result from our work. Think of how many days you've spent at the office, making conference calls, sending emails and filling out spreadsheets, only to go home and wonder "What did I really do today? What is the proof of my work today?" Reading this book puts a lot into perspective and extolls the virtue of skilled trades, and the author urges a well-deserved re-examination of the skilled trades as a rewarding career option.

A Return to Common Sense!

Working with one's mind instead of one's hands has been considered "better" for as long as I can remember - increasingly so in recent years. Crawford's "Shop Class as Soulcraft" will hopefully help eliminate this prejudice. Crawford identifies two problems with this thinking. The first is that being able to fix things allows one some control over their life, instead of having to turn to a repair shop when eg. a "low oil pressure light" comes on in one's car. The second is that today's average worker is mired in an ill-defined world where it is often not possible to evaluate the quality of one's work, or to derive a sense of pride. Worse yet, he/she is often required to do a task incorrectly, to suit corporate biases - eg. employment in a "think tank." Worst of all, is being placed into a white-collar situation (managing, writing abstracts) without any area-specific knowledge, and being required to act guided only by a standard management outline. A third, not mentioned by Crawford, is that on-site working with one's hands is probably the occupation most protected from outsourcing. And a fourth is that it bypasses the increasingly exorbitant expenses of going to college. Crawford doesn't bring these insights down purely from an ivory-towered abstract academic world - he himself owns a motorcycle repair shop and has worked on an assembly-line and as a VW mechanic. He clearly enjoys being his own boss and the mental challenge of diagnosing motorcycle problems and selecting the best repair strategy. On the other hand, it is a bit too easy to see the book as an apology for the career choices he has made, rather than a tested thesis. (P.S.: This reviewer has sympathy for Crawford's conclusions, having worked as a college instructor, middle/upper manager in a sea of back-stabbing and political correctness, and a cross-country truck-driver.)

Radical, Timely, Moving.

This could easily be the most important book a parent or young adult reads this year. Matt Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft touched a chord with me. Both his life and his book are a rebuke to the assumptions which govern modern ideas about work, economics, self-worth, and happiness. Crawford would seem to have lived the American Dream right into his twenties. He finished his formal education (which, to judge by the breadth of references to literature and philosophy in the book, wasn't shabby) and was quickly hired by a Washington "think tank". Any young, aggressive climber would recognize this as a coveted place from which to launch of career. But where others would see a rapid ascent up the social pyramid, Crawford sensed emptiness. He left to work in a motorcycle repair shop, where he got his hands dirty, fixed bikes, and used his brain. Where others might see "mere" manual labor, he learned the value of a tangible skill. He now shares with readers his thoughts on this value, how it is vanishing from modern society, and the implications for us as a people. Crawford traces the evolution of shop class, its intended and unintended consequences, and its subsequent rapid retreat from our schools. He lays out the historical transition from individual craftsman to interchangeable piece of a human assembly line during the industrial revolution. Much more frighteningly, he reviews how the same approach is well underway in the "white collar" information economy. Whether one has lived the absurdities of cubicle farms first hand or only through Dilbert, it is not hard to see how the modern, homogenized college prep education and liberal arts degree leaves a modern worker predisposed to try to fit as a cog in a modern information assembly line. Crawford taps a fundamental part of the psyche as he reminds us of the inherent pride in being able to say "I fix bikes" when asked what he does for a living. Does a country really need every high school student to strive to attend college? Crawford makes the case that for many this will not only be a waste of time and money, but will ultimately land them in careers in which they have trouble seeing the value of what they do. Too many will, in the words my son once used to describe my job, "type on the computer and answer the phone". This advice may be coming at a perfect time. Although he claims it is not his goal to discuss the economics of working with one's hands, Crawford still makes a compelling case. As anyone who has called tech support can vouch, it is easy to transfer information economy jobs overseas. Helping someone deal with computer software can be done from India or the Philippines, but you can't hammer a nail over the internet. Crawford builds his case with anecdote, WSJ articles, and quotes from professors of economics. We may all make jokes about droopy overalls and plumber's crack, but there's a good chance that that plumber has better job prospects than many in the gra
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