Not too many years ago even the most awkward, clumsy public school students suffered through industrial arts (for boys), and home economics (for girls). Looking beyond the embedded sexism for a moment, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of good came from bringing a trainload of bad pencil holders and hotpads into the world. By working with their hands, learning process, steps, and some principals of physical processes, a tiny but vital part of the brain was stimulated. These poor teachers tried valiantly to instill the crudest principles of craftsmanship.
When it was proclaimed that we collectively no longer needed craftsmen and everyone should become a computer programmer, school districts were quick to disassemble their home ec kitchens and shop class workshops. This happened at the same time schools boxed up cafeteria kitchens serving students foodservice fare made warm in microwaves, a poor substitute for an era when cooks actually cooked.
Thanks must go to the steady faithful who refused to cry “uncle,” toss in their toolbelts, and head off to Walmart to shop. The incredible teachers at Boston’s North Bennet Street School, for example, are nothing less than saints.
A New Generation of Makers, a New Level of Craftsmanship
Meanwhile an new generation has sprung forth, one so at home with computer technology (having maneuvered a mouse since learning to walk), they are not enamored by it. It is a tool. That’s all. Not the end-all, be-all, salvation of the world. And those archaic devices found in great-uncles’ attics spawn intrigue. Hence the birth of a movement of makers.
Thankfully, the wisdom of elder craftspeople has not been lost. Old books, new books, videos, hands-on instruction all point the way for the new crop of innovators to build upon beautiful old ways with new, vital, innovative techniques and technologies. Concurrent with this is a reigniting of food traditions from farm to kitchen. It is an exciting time to be alive. The result is a higher level of quality in craftsmanship than ever.
Hopefully more and more people will discover and rediscover the deep joy and meaningful results which come from working with one’s hands. Go make some sawdust, start stitching, strike a spark with the welder, fire up the stove, build something. And know that a willing and knowing bank of teachers ─ living and gone ─ stand ready for you to stand upon their shoulders and reach new levels.