The Case for Working with Your Hands

If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things. One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work. [...]

An economy that is more entrepreneurial, less managerial, would be less subject to the kind of distortions that occur when corporate managers’ compensation is tied to the short-term profit of distant shareholders. For most entrepreneurs, profit is at once a more capacious and a more concrete thing than this. It is a calculation in which the intrinsic satisfactions of work count — not least, the exercise of your own powers of reason.

Ultimately it is enlightened self-interest, then, not a harangue about humility or public-spiritedness, that will compel us to take a fresh look at the trades. The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. 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.

New York Times: The Case for Working With Your Hands

(via OVO)

The problem described here cuts both ways: young people with no interest in aptitude in academics are not only being deprived useful training in the trades in the public schools system, but are dragging down their more academically oriented peers. The result is a large population of mediocre high school graduates, who have learned next to nothing when they enter college or trade schools.

I, for one, have never been good at nor enjoyed “working with my hands.” And it’s not for lack of trying. But I certainly relate to the problem of the overly abstracted, disconnected work place.

1 Comment

  1. Damn fine argument for reading the Times. Well written, well reasoned, saying something of import. I consider myself immeasurably better off for what little experience I have doing ‘real work’. That being said, goddamn I hate it. You can do real honest work for a living if you want to, and I truly hope you enjoy the rewards of accomplishing something tangible and character-building. No, for me, let me sit in meetings all day talking bullshit and soaking up the attention of social climbers while getting paid ten thousand bucks a day, just so I can blow off steam every night by snorting coke out of a seriously goddamn hot call girl’s ass crack. I’ll do that instead. That’s the dream right there, isn’t it? That’s what everyone’s struggling to achieve, fucking corporate climbing drones, that’s the life they’re pushing themselves so hard for, if they even have an end goal in mind; and they don’t, most of them.

    Boy, it’s a good thing I’m a lazy pothead, or I’d actually be one of those self-righteous rich pricks myself, instead of a damn self-righteous slacker who snarks off on the internet at 3:30 in the morning.

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