Friday, August 28, 2009

Six By Two by Soulcraft

The best book I read this summer was Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, written by a former technical writer and think-tank participant who decided to leave the groves of academe for the more soul-satisfying surroundings of the motorcycle shop.

He makes a thoughtful and well-grounded case for engaging ourselves, and our students, in physical work as well as the more abstract ideational and social competencies that are now broadly endorsed as “21st Century Skills.”

He argues that one of the benefits of engagement with the real world of material objects is that it is both educative and chastening; by way of illustration, he says, “The musicians power of expression is founded upon a prior obedience; her musical agency is built up from on ongoing submission… to the mechanical realities of her instrument… I believe the example of the musician sheds light on the basic character of human agency, namely, that it arises only within concrete limits which are not of our own making.”

He points out that the hard-edged realities of the physical world demand of the craftsman, “a certain disposition toward the thing you are trying to fix. This disposition is at once cognitive and moral. Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration. I believe the mechanical arts have a special significance for our time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness. Things need fixing and tending to no less than creating.”

The book is thought-provoking, good-humored, erudite, and very well written. If you’re interested in a taste, there’s an article by Crawford derived from the book here.

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