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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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

Posted By on Wed, Jul 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

When was the last time you met a kid in middle or high school in shop class? I can’t remember either, and I have a 15-year-old sister. Information technology is at the forefront of our education, but those jobs are sent overseas, so where does that leave the office worker? And what would you say to your 16-year-old relative if he told you he wanted to opt out of college to seek an apprenticeship as, say, a plumber, mechanic or electrician? Would your reaction be any different if you knew he could charge $70 an hour? And what about personal judgment in the work place? How often do those in the ever-expanding cubicle community get to call the shots without "checking first?" Also, did you know that new luxury vehicles don’t even have a dipstick to check the oil?

In Shopclass as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, ex-Washington think-tank dynamo turned vintage bike shop owner Matthew B. Crawford calls out the trend in America’s displacement of values pertaining to manual trades while questioning the misguided future of would-be "knowledge workers." His story is interesting enough — how a guy with a handful of degrees goes from a West Coast commune to Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C., to wrenching on café racers in the woods of Richmond, Va. It surely makes for an interesting backdrop. And one can’t help but raise a glass to the way Crawford stuck it to the man after 11 months working for the Bush administration.

But he’s way better at raising questions than he is answering them. It’s almost as if he proposes we all give up our jobs and follow his lead.

For a book that’s sure to capture the attention of blue-collar ratchet workers, Crawford definitely goes out of his way to pull from the "I have a Ph.D. in political theory" lexicon. And maybe it was me, but he tends to talk down on his reader, assuming they have no skilled trade from the get-go. Then again, this book is meant to light a fire under the butts of those who sit in a chair and stare at a screen eight hours a day. Did it? Almost, but Crawford’s an unapologetic prick who thinks just a bit too much of himself. Soulcraft has moments of real philosophical spark, but it’s pretty much a self-help book where the author puts himself on the pedestal and says, "Look: I did it, and maybe you could too … if you weren’t so pathetic."

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