On work, trades, and non-traditionals

Listening to KUOW’s Weekday this morning, I was captivated by Steve Scher’s guest and what he had to say about manual labor. Matthew Crawford has a PhD in philosophy, runs a motorcycle repair shop, and has some intriguing and very relevant ideas about education, class, livelihood, work, craftsmanship, and the trades.

Crawford remarked on the “differences in disposition” that we (parents, educators, society) need to recognize in students–not everyone will be happy in an academic track, not everyone is cut out for college, and there are many people whose intelligence is better expressed through the trades. More than that, he makes the case that most everyone would benefit from knowing a trade and experiencing the immediacy of catastrophe or success and feeling utter responsibility for that outcome.

I’m lucky enough to know several people who are autodidacts or are otherwise non-traditionally brilliant–and I’m convinced that knowing how to work with one’s hands is an essential part of human expression and satisfaction. The philosophy of my friend M.O. in Okanogan comes to mind: part of rearing her children is training them in a trade–she grows and processes lavender; her husband tunes pianos. Whatever else the children study and go on to do, they will know something practical and useful.

On that note, look what I know how to use now:


I used it to cut cedar planks, then finished them with tung oil:


Basement stairway ceiling commenced:


6 thoughts on “On work, trades, and non-traditionals

  1. AMEN to the importance of having a skill. AMEN to the importance of recognizing and supporting all learning types. And BRAVO to your beautiful, handmade cedar ceiling!

  2. Hi Brooke! I think I’m preaching to the choir when it comes to you and supporting all sorts of dispositions and learning types–bravo right back!

  3. Oh that ceiling is absolutely gorgeous. I commend your efforts. That was quite an involed project to take on.
    I especially enjoyed that article you posted. I know every day my husband comes across people who degrade him and make him seem like an imbecile because he repairs appliances. Its interesting because my Dad being a dentist thought that Darrell was the most amazing person in the world because he could fix anything. My Dad could only do dentistry, and in his eyes was envious of Darrell’s talents. Luckily Darrell is secure with himself to not let other people affect him negatively. It bothers me more than him. Everyone has their own talents I guess. Obviously you have many with all the projects you think up and create.

  4. I hadn’t read your blog for awhile but just laughed…M.O. was my neighbor for a few years until they moved to their new place last fall. I agree wholeheartedly about your thoughts that not everyone is academically inclined and we should raise our children with a variety of skills. We did that with our own sons and they all are very successful in different fields from retail and farming to landscaping, and that’s all with at least two years of college for all of them. As an educator myself I always tell my kids (students) that there are many options and paths to find the right career — from trade school, to the military, to universities. Everyone just has to find what is right for them.

  5. Hi Amber! Thanks for the compliment on the ceiling. Too bad I can’t send the delicious cedar aroma through the internet to you.

    And Darrell is one of the people I’m lucky to know–he is exactly the sort of person I’m talking about: brilliant, witty, hard-working, creative, etc. Both of you are, for that matter.

    Hi Twigs! I love your quilts. Aww, you’re making me miss Okanogan! And it’s heartwarming to hear what you tell your students.

  6. I read that article too about manual labor. There’s just something rewarding about doing your own repairwork / handiwork.

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