Monday, June 15, 2009

Whose Soulcraft?

"The truth is that some would not have the physical and cognitive ability to do skilled blue-collar work, and that others, could do it only if they invested 20 years of their life learning a trade."

Francis Fukumaya, "Making Things Work," book review of Shop Class as Soulcraft, New York Times Book Review, June 7, 2009.

I guess I'm one of the "some"-- "highly educated people"...who dabble with shop class but frequently create more problems than soulcraft. My specialty seems to be demolition of all kinds -- walls, grass, trees. But even here I sometimes overreach.

I like this book a lot, especially its understanding and reflection upon the arts of "knowing and doing." I also think everyone should have a good dose of shop,cooking, and gardening at an early age. The closest I come to Crawford's kind of soulcraft is baking and growing organic vegetables.

My central problem with Crawford's book is the "straw" he sets up of the universal knowledge worker. I've worked in the nonprofit sector for 30-plus years (see: Nonprofit Leadership) and have found the work cognitively engaging and challenging for most of the time. It's not rule driven, nor a Dilbert stage set. A kind of republican virtue permeates the nonprofit sector. I suspect this is true for many small businesses as well.

Think of someone trying to start a charter school? What about a weatherization program scaling up to meet the future? What about a early childhood center working with kids and parents? I suspect that many of these social entrepreneurs and their teams couldn't change the oil in their own car much less a motorcyle. Yet, aren't they engaged in soulcraft?

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