Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Craft Consciousness

"The visceral experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the career trajectories of gifted students. It stands to reason, then, that those who end up making big decisions that affect all of us don't seem to have much sense of their own fallibility."

Matthew B. Crawford,"The Case for Working With Your Hands," The New York Times Magazine, May 24, 2009.

I have great sympathy for this point of view but am skeptical that "shop class" is the only way to experience the learning opportunities of "visceral failure." How about sports? Or trying to fit in? Starter jobs? And even gifted students write bad drafts and get occasional "C's" on tests.

And, of course, Crawford's line of thinking begs the question about learning styles and what to do with some of us who don't have mechanical skills. I would argue that baking and and gardening offer similar learning opportunities -- and they are recession proof.

Matthew Crawford has a bigger argument to make in his just-released Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. Working in place, like in a motorcycle repair shop,is more resilient than "wire-based" knowledge work that can be outsourced anywhere. Moreover, being your own boss means that you can avoid the screw ups and boredom of corporate management.

Crawford concludes: "For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open."

This is a great question; I look forward to reading the entire book. As of the moment,as I prepare for my journey to an office to think about the creative uses of mistakes, I hope Crawford can disentangle practical wisdom, craft, physical work, careers, and economic survival.

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