Shopcraft as Soulcraft

My thoughts after a quick read of Shopcraft as Soulcraft, the online version.

Three decades ago, Canadians were told we were going to stop basing our economy on natural resources, and become knowledge-based.

What happened? We destroyed our old-growth forests anyways. We also built houses over half our good farmland, so we need to import more food.

The little countries without natural resources also became knowledge-based, so there’s more competition. Supply and demand, people.

We do need knowledge, but we need a more than one type of knowledge. Books and theories can only do so much. We need practical skills.

We need advanced shop classes. Not the bird class that the under-achievers can’t fail. We need kids who can see how things fit together and have experienced levers and screws, who can hold three things at once while setting a fourth in place. I don’t care if my mechanic can spell or write a thousand word essay. I do care that he can listen to a funny noise, narrow it down to three suspected problems, then to one, and fix it — without replacing the entire car while he does it. That sort of skill takes just as much hard work to develop as a university degree, but a good chunk of it needs to be done in the shop.

We need welders who know when to use which technique. Which rods and methods work for which materials. Whether to do it differently if there will be a post-weld heat treat. When to go fast, when to be gentle. Yes, some materials work better one way, some the other.

We need nurses who can assess patients by how they talk and feel. Who know when to question their instructions. Sometimes doctors are wrong. Sometimes the condition changes.

We need landscapers who can choose the right plant for the environment, which includes the type of owner. Coming home to a yard that makes you smile, that requires enough energy that you are proud of it but not enough that you hate it, has value.

I see the shift in my own family. Dad’s a ground-up engineer. Smart as whip, with degrees and patents to prove it. He started with old vacuum tube radios, a manual, and a solder-iron. The engineering ed8cation reinforced and quantified concepts he already knew. He wired several houses. He repaired the car until it became impractical. Dtr’s Dora Cash Register, which we finally bought of EBay a year after it was discontinued (she really, really wanted it) died after two days. Grandpa took it apart. He resoldered a connection and cleaned off a solvent that, while advertised as “no cleaning needed” (which is why the factory used it), in his experience usually should be cleaned off. (I can see why they discontinued it — great design, stupid manufacturing decisions, and likely way too many unhappy kids.) He’s a hero!

I used to do more “big” work, like wiring and carpentry. I should do more. Last time I tried to adjust a bike seat the wrenches spent more time falling on the pavement than on the nuts. It would be good for my muscles and brain. Instead, I do fancy crafts, especially knitting. Lace isn’t easy on the brain, but it’s worth the pride when you finish.

I don’t know when they’ll cram that all in, but it’s necessary. Give the kids who excel at it a chance to excel. Give the rest of us an appreciation for it.


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