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Shop Class as “Soulcraft”

By Sean Cavanagh — July 27, 2009 1 min read
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In our rush to prepare students for the “knowledge” economy, are we ignoring the tangible and intangible benefits of providing them with basic, manual skills? That question is at the heart of a new book by Matt Crawford, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” which has appeared on the bestseller list. The author is the subject of a good profile in the Washington Post.

Crawford, 43, is the former executive director of the George C. Marshall Institute, and he holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Chicago. Today, in addition to writing, he runs a garage in Richmond. He sees a general turn away from the cultivation of manual skills in American society, and in our schools, as embodied by the replacement of shop classes with computer labs and the general de-emphasis on hands-on know-how, the article explains.

“There’s this false dichotomy out there between intellectual work and manual work,” he tells the Post. Students and adults today want to be “knowledge workers,” Crawford says. As the article notes, Crawford is not in any way calling for an abandonment these knowledge-based pursuits, but simply arguing for preserving a society in which people can perform basic tasks under the hood, as well as at the computer terminal.

Crawford’s book seems to be resonating among at least one segment of the American population, judging by book sales. Do his arguments have any relevance for schools and the career-and-technical education classes found in U.S. high schools?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.