Work of the Hand Is Not Exclusive of the Mind

Marc’s post on education and “dirty jobs” — the entire recent discussion about college and the necessity thereof — brings to mind this passage from Walter Rose’s wonderful book The Village Carpenter, which reflects on Rose’s family business as the era of the automobile and the machine came on strong:

These words are not to the old who, like myself, have passed the years of prime, but to the youth, whose years of promise lie before him. He seeks to acquire a personal knowledge of the craft, the ability to achieve as others have done and still do. Is he prepared to pay the price, in time and study of the principles of the craft, and the details of its execution? In my father’s day seven years of apprenticeship was not thought too long to obtain this knowledge. When I was a youth the term had become reduced to four or five years. To-day there is a general disinclination for any apprenticeship at all, and a sad misconception as to the amount that has to be learned. But all the quickening processes of science have failed to train the human mind at a more rapid pace, and those who have studied woodcraft for half a century find themselves still learning and quite unable to pack all their knowledge into a nutshell for the convenience of a beginner. The training is not that of the university; it is, however, quite as exacting in its own way and so merits equal recognition and respect, and it is encouraging to note that this idea is slowly gaining ground.

Slowly,indeed. The Village Carpenter was originally published in 1937.

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14 years ago

If you have not yet watched Mike Rowe’s TED presentation, linked at Marc’s post, please set aside 20 minutes to do so.
I paid my way through Brown, well 80%+, working as a roofer and siding applicator. Nothing, but nothing, steamed me more than when it became apparent that an instructor mailed in a lecture. Each class was an hour on the roof, dehydrated, covered in sweat and the dust of ages raised during tear-off, verging towards the headache telling me it was time to get down before becoming badly overheated. In truth, I didn’t have many of those and only then in non-engineering classes. Real work has been so devalued that, today, each lecture would cost three hours on the roof.
It took me a while to appreciate the character of some of the guys I worked with, like Cliff. He was married to the same woman all his life and had a dozen kids with her. He was on unemployment during the western NY winters, but still did OK by his family pre-Food Stamps. Shot anything that came by any time of year, butchered and froze it. His kids had a roof over their heads, clothes on their bodies, behaved themselves, went to school and didn’t go hungry. How many of the chattering classes could accomplish so much with so few resources?

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