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Shop Class as Soulcraft
September 7, 2006 7:53 PM   Subscribe

Much of the “jobs of the future” rhetoric surrounding the eagerness to end shop class and get every warm body into college, thence into a cubicle, implicitly assumes that we are heading to a “post-industrial” economy in which everyone will deal only in abstractions. Yet trafficking in abstractions is not the same as thinking...
posted by Kwantsar (54 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't read the whole article but if it is relevant.... i took apart the dashboard of my 626 mazda to replace the gauge bulbs and saved myself a few hundred dollars. I only acheved this with guidance from groups/messageboards on the net.

So what I am saying is, my ability to be a cuicle-monkey was translated into practical workday stuff...
posted by Frasermoo at 8:14 PM on September 7, 2006


I just got in under the wire for machine shop training before my community college dropped the course. The contempt that administration had for the whole range of industrial arts was sad. Some of us are just work with our hands (and my tiny mind) kind of guys and we are kicked to the curb.
posted by Iron Rat at 8:14 PM on September 7, 2006


Wow am I glad I read that. There was real thought, and real life, in it. Thanks.
posted by facetious at 8:17 PM on September 7, 2006


I first noticed this trend when I went to my local community college looking for a class in auto repair, electronics, or welding and came away with nothing. I was genuinely surprised - aren't those courses the staple of community colleges everywhere?
posted by lekvar at 8:21 PM on September 7, 2006


That was a good read. Thanks.

As it happens, I just read Teddy Roosevelt's autobiography and Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, and the same themes were really prominent throughout both.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:22 PM on September 7, 2006


double, no?
It's a good article, thought, which I didn't look very closely at the first time around.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:28 PM on September 7, 2006


I think the lack of manual education is related to the push in public schools for all students to attend college. I'm not sure why we have this push; maybe some of the higher-ups are confused or corrupt, but the explaination seems to be that people who attend college make a million more dollars in their lifetimes than those who don't. Of course, I'm sure that number doesn't include those people who drop out and are left paying off student loans...
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:29 PM on September 7, 2006


I've had to constantly go back and teach myself skills related to the physical world that I should have learned during formal schooling, but they were not offered. Thanks for this, Kwantsar, very interesting.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:31 PM on September 7, 2006


Even PBS is no help anymore. For guidance we have on the one hand Norm Abrams, who shows that anyone with enormous skill, a half-million dollars worth of stationary shop gear and a 3,000 sq. foot shop to put it in can make fine furniture, with the further proviso that you have an unlimited budget for costly and/or sacrificial materials.

For balance they have The Woodwright's Shop, which shows you how to make ordinary things with no capital outlay on tools at all: rather, you are expected to mine and smelt the ores to forge the tools yourself...

In both cases they are depicted as hobbies for the well-to-do, or in the latter case at least those with a lot of leisure time. Neither of them could be called practical for any ordinary person who wishes to accomplish practical aims in a time and materials efficient manner.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:36 PM on September 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Even PBS is no help anymore

To be fair, Norm is a metacraftsman, who makes furniture to help make more furniture. I doubt many watch his show to learn how to make things; anyone skilled enough to emulate him never needed to tune in the first place. I get joy out of watching the process unfold.

Also, America's Test Kitchens does test various food products, from generic to gourmet, to gauge some level of objective quality.

I remember when Bob Vila used to run This Old House, when it really was about home improvement and not about showcasing million-dollar homes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:49 PM on September 7, 2006


Blaze, I thought they fired Bob because he took the show away from its home restoration roots and was building suburban houses from the ground up and turned the whole thing into one long Owens-Corning commercial. I loathed the show during his tenure, and so apparently did a lot of other people.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:53 PM on September 7, 2006


The push to get kids into college in the US is largely because in industry (and govt.) the basic qualification for any decent technical/scientific job is a BS. There are diplomas, certifications and degrees oft times more suited to the work - but the BS has been the gold standard for at least 40 years.
To compound this we figure that if a BS is good then an MS is better and a PhD is better yet - no matter that these are research oriented degrees and the vast majority having them will never see research again after they leave school.
More attention to technical diplomas and manual education might produce a more effective work force and more job satisfaction - but in the US the degree is your ticket to the show...
posted by speug at 8:55 PM on September 7, 2006


I think the degree was your ticket to the show, but I know I'd be making a shitload more money right now if I had learned to be an electrician, plumber or auto mechanic (life choices notwithstanding). I saw some bullshit on network tv last year about the dearth of skilled tradesmen and some dude was offering 50k a year and two months vacation to kids out of high school to come and work at his landscaping business.

This, btw, rings pretty true to me, even for being a little overwrought:

Being able to think materially about material goods, hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story intimated through associations, the point of which is to exaggerate minor differences between brands. Knowing the production narrative, or at least being able to plausibly imagine it, renders the social narrative of the advertisement less potent.

I've been reading a brace of books about people living in the wilds of Alaska recently and they all obsess about tools, I'm reading this one called Cache Lake Country right now and it's 300 pages of how I carved this and I made a fishing lure out of that and what kind of river clay you use to bake fish, but not a damn brand in sight anywhere, just "you best have a very sharp axe."


The tradesman has an impoverished fantasy life compared to the ideal consumer; he is more utilitarian and less given to soaring hopes. But he is also more autonomous.


This is a wild oversimplification I think, rather I would say that the "tradesman" (or really technically, physically, mechanically, competent person) has a wild sense of wonder about the the little nuts and bolts of life. I like wild flights of fancy quite a bit but I'm almost always at my happiest building a fire or fixing a hinge or cooking or just making something work again
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:38 PM on September 7, 2006


One of my biggest regrets is not letting my father teach me that kind of stuff when I was growing up.

Very nice piece.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:45 PM on September 7, 2006


If I knew how to cold chisel cold fusion I'd knock off a the in my last comment.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:56 PM on September 7, 2006


Ok, I'm really taken with this article, last one:


Skilled manual labor entails a systematic encounter with the material world, precisely the kind of encounter that gives rise to natural science. From its earliest practice, craft knowledge has entailed knowledge of the “ways” of one’s materials—that is, knowledge of their nature, acquired through disciplined perception and a systematic approach to problems. And in fact, in areas of well-developed craft, technological developments typically preceded and gave rise to advances in scientific understanding, not vice versa.

I think this is a very right statement, I experience it every day and I try to encourage this kind of hands on knowledge in my step-daughter and others around me all the time.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:02 PM on September 7, 2006


wee bit o' Pirsig in that, no?

anyhoo, it's nice to find something here that would never make it to Fark, or any of the other sites I hit daily like a rat in a drug behavioral trial.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:35 PM on September 7, 2006


I am a college and professional school grad with a white collar career (although no one actually wears the white collars anymore - yay - thank you internet boom). My fondest memories of 7 through 12 were of shop class. Yes, I took six years of shop. It was just the right break from all the academics and it was an incredible shop. Just because I don't make fine furniture for a living doesn't mean it wasn't a valuable skill to learn. I thank my school for that life enriching experience. Music and art serve the same purpose. Thankfully they have not disappeared from most high schools, although budget pressures always seem to threaten here too.
posted by caddis at 11:05 PM on September 7, 2006


How woodworking made one man, one very cool and interesting man.
posted by caddis at 11:11 PM on September 7, 2006


One more problem with the disappearance of shop instruction is having engineers who do not understand that there are standard sizes for drills, that you do not countersink a hole for a hex-head bolt, that there are 360 degrees of arc in a circle, and that calling out every damn tolerance to .002 is a waste of time and money.
posted by Iron Rat at 11:18 PM on September 7, 2006


Schools tend to take guidance from employers, and in the U.S., there are fewer and fewer employers who need machinists, welders, and related skilled labor. I used to work as an electrician, a maintenance technician in a plastics extrusion operation, a mold maker, and a machinist. Then I got some education and became a broadcast engineer, a salesman, a sales manager, a business owner, and lately, an IT consultant. I can still bend conduit, or MIG weld, or align a motor coupling so it won't break or vibrate, but opportunities don't come up all that regularly in life these days.

I used to evangelize for skilled hands, and explain my large, scarred mitts extensively when people asked. But people just don't ask that much anymore.

Good post.
posted by paulsc at 11:24 PM on September 7, 2006


We've been living in a post-industrial age since at least 1978. Welcome to it!
posted by raysmj at 1:07 AM on September 8, 2006


New and yet not so new—for fifty years now we’ve been assured that we are headed for a “post-industrial economy.” While manufacturing jobs have certainly left our shores to a disturbing degree, the manual trades have not.

So why does he put that line in there. We're in a post-industrial age! Sure, that doesn't mean manual trades are gone. But the idea of "post-industrial society" doesn't imply as much. What he's talking about are services of another sort. Why the sneering at what were essentially Daniel Bell's predictions?
posted by raysmj at 1:14 AM on September 8, 2006


Scanning the job ads in my little neck of the woods, the vast majority of the openings are for machine operators and tradesmen.
The local community college long ago transitioned from teaching machine and manual trades to "computer technology"...i.e. churning out MCSE's.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:35 AM on September 8, 2006


... one that insistently steers young people toward the most ghostly kinds of work.

I am struck by the similarity between the ever increasing push to herd more and more bodies into both college and prisons, as they are both organizations that are less about their purported reason for existence, and more about self-perpetuating profitability. What we end up with is too many "educations" that are merely "the ticket to the show". The BS has been the gold standard for at least 40 years, as speug noted, and in many cases, BS it is.

Iron Rat : One more problem with the disappearance of shop instruction is having engineers who do not understand...

I wonder what percentage of Mefi readers actually understood the specifics of what you said, and why it is important?

When I was growing up, we lived in a 70 year old house which needed continuous repair and refurbishing. My dad was a tool and die maker, so I grew up with a drill press, metal lathe, humongous work bench and an extensive wall-of-tools in the basement. The article makes me remember how lucky I was to have him teach me to do all the stuff necessary to fix just about anything. I think I'll go tell him thanks.

Metafilter: Trafficking in abstractions is not the same as thinking...
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:45 AM on September 8, 2006


This is quite an ordinary argument of discussion for me and the others friend of mine who WANT to learn how to "make" things. Definitely if you like "making" you will find pleasure in glancing at Make magazine , an initiative simlar to the Woodworking Caddis indicated above.

From a relationship point of view this scarcity becomes soon problematic and badly felt : we don't find many new "possible friends" that share our mindset, which soon brings inefficiency in communication because of the lack of common experiences and discussion topics. While this difference certainly is a social treasure ,as the side effects of having uniformed mindsets are sometime scary, deep differences translate into problems at workplace in which socializing isn't the primary concern.

Schools sometime get directions or are inspired by demands of industry, also because parents sometime are more satisfied when they find their kids are learning something "good for job". What they often don't know is that the skills they may learn will be quickly valued as "outdated" by industries. Some industry segments are not willing to invest in people preparation and continued education : by maintaining their productin model flexible they sometime try to do without formation, favouring formalization of highly specialized skills that almost doesn't need manhunting.

In other words many of today production industries want the closest approximation to an human 'function' , produced in mass and replaceable. Sometime even creative industries want "creative humans" ; no wonder that the demand in flexibility is met by artificially reducing workers security by shifting most of the risk to them
posted by elpapacito at 5:21 AM on September 8, 2006


i think it is possible that in some cases community college is not as well suited to training some manual trades as an apprenticeship model would be. i spent a summer doing construction after high school and i learned a lot about carpentry and such from people who knew what they were doing. plus we turned an old bank into a buffalo wings restaurant.

of course, i think classrooms should be redesigned to use cubicles, starting with tiny little cubicles for kindergarteners.
posted by snofoam at 5:27 AM on September 8, 2006


I'm only part way through the article, but I like it so far. This runs parallel to a feeling I've had lately about music. I've come to play a few instruments late in life and I've often had that feeling of "why didn't I get my dad to teach me this?" But of all the little kids I meet spending time with my niece and nephew, I don't see any of them learning how to make music. All they are learning to play are ipods, CD players and the radio. I think the craftsman versus consumer ethic which the article applies to the creation of physical objects can easily be applied to the creation of music or art.
posted by peeedro at 5:47 AM on September 8, 2006


From its earliest practice, craft knowledge has entailed knowledge of the “ways” of one’s materials—that is, knowledge of their nature, acquired through disciplined perception and a systematic approach to problems.

This hints at another quality of such work -- zero bullshit. So much "white collar" work is obscured in crap. Bad ideas are chosen because of good presentations. In the real world, bad ideas don't work. Period. We could learn a lot from working in the natural world a bit more.
posted by dreamsign at 6:06 AM on September 8, 2006


The school in Massachusetts where I used to teach removed its shop classes and replaced them with "technology", which I taught. The state had yet to create any kind of reasonable guidelines for the class and from the certification exam, which could also be called "Obsolete Drafting Terminology", it looked like it was a discipline created for shop teachers who had their body-maiming, lawsuit-generating power tools taken away from them. After I met some of the other technology teachers, that supposition was confirmed.

Basically, litigation has taken away shop.

Naturally, I taught my class as an engineering/physics class and did everything around building things. I thought of it this way: when the students reflect on the class, I hope that some will remember the academic material, for example, how a camera actually functions, but that most will remember that we made functioning 35mm cameras from cardboard.
posted by plinth at 6:07 AM on September 8, 2006


Perhaps the problem stems from the belief that shop class was for dummies. The Vocational High School was for the short bus crowd. Things won't change until we get over that and start treating the trades as valued vocations.

I don't know of many plumbers or mechanics on the unemployment line...
posted by Gungho at 6:33 AM on September 8, 2006


Agreed, gungho.

Post-industrial?

Considering the huge demand for tradespeople, around these parts at least, I'm going to have to disagree. It's partly that type of thinking('The future is now! Computers, baby!') that's responsible for the shortage, and like gungho says, a certain amount of snobbery regarding labour.

/Lays back and dreams of Eloi with BAs being dragged underground by a bunch of hardhat-sporting Morlocks.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:49 AM on September 8, 2006


I feel rather caught in the middle of this skill vs. economics vice. If I make $40/hr as a "knowledge worker" it simply make no sense for me to do my own home-improvement projects. I can hire TWO skilled workers at $20/hr apiece and just work a few extra hours at my day job? Each of these guys can hang drywall / weld plumbing / etc at least twice as fast as me, because that's what they DO, day in and day out. Certainly, I lose out on the manual skills acquisition and pride-of-a-job-well-done, but I've quadrupled my home improvement productivity by declining the manual task and maintaining my status as a "knowledge worker".

... i think classrooms should be redesigned to use cubicles, starting with tiny little cubicles for kindergarteners.

This is simultaneously adorable and utterly soul-crushing.
posted by LordSludge at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2006


Well, if you make $40/hr after taxes, then yes, your argument has validity. OTOH, I cannot simply add hours to my work schedule to earn enough to pay skilled tradesmen; I have to pay them out of my regular income. Also, If you're getting an hour of skilled labor for $20, you don't live anywhere near me.

I saved over $300 on Saturday by cutting up a tree with a rented chainsaw, instead of hiring the job out. At $40/hr, I'd have to work essentially a whole day to make the cost of having a tree service remove the tree. As it was, it took me three hours, including establishing that the first chainsaw I got wouldn't cut straight and exchanging it for one that would. I have no doubt that the tree service would have got it done faster, but it still would have cost me far more than my time is worth.

Since I know how to take a drain apart, I won't be paying a plumber the hundred bucks he'd charge just to show up, should my sink drain get clogged.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:43 AM on September 8, 2006


"but I've quadrupled my home improvement productivity by declining the manual task and maintaining my status as a "knowledge worker"."


Therein lies the rub, society is pushing all of it's children to be "knowledge workers", so who will be left to hang the drywall?
Illegal aliens I guess but I was kinda saving that line for Fark.
posted by MikeMc at 9:48 AM on September 8, 2006


I like the article a lot more than I thought I would from the discussion. I find myself in a funny position: I don't particularly care how things work and don't have any inclination to doing things with my hands. But I certainly want the people who build and fix things to love them the way the author and others here seem to. At the same time, I dislike the dismissal of people who like working with their brains the same way other people like working with their hands. It kinda reminds me of the food article from a few days ago: people who like doing things with their hands think it is so human, so connected, because they like it. But then they take the step to imply brain things are less real or less capable of evoking certain feelings, and that sucks.
posted by dame at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2006


At the same time, I dislike the dismissal of people who like working with their brains the same way other people like working with their hands.

This is a false dichotomy. Most skilled labor requires lots of brain work. Have you unwittingly fallen into disparaging people who work with their hands? For instance, a machinist uses trigonometry daily. If people with manual skills feel superior to those without, it's because of what the latter don't know how to use, not because of what they do use.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:07 AM on September 8, 2006


Doing the necessary things of life with your own physical body as much as you can is an end in itself. LordSludge makes a valid point, but you don't have to go much farther along that road to find yourself arguing that it makes more sense to hire a professional to have sex with your mate-- after all, he or she will probably be more skilled and better looking, as well as cheaper-- and then another professional to raise any children that may result, than it does to try to do those things yourself in your own clumsy and poorly remunerated way.
posted by jamjam at 10:14 AM on September 8, 2006


I'm pretty sure you knew what I meant. Work that is just knowledge production. I am aware that doing shit with your hands is hard and involves information. The prime difference between the two types of work, however, is hands and not hands. So you can call it hands and "pure mind" if it makes you feel better. But thanks for missing my actual point about disparaging people who don't find joy what you do.
posted by dame at 10:16 AM on September 8, 2006


I agree with what Citizen Premier and speug and Gungho said.

I often think I would have been better off if I went to a votech instead of college, or if I had done the part time high school/part time votech thing. Then I would have a skill that is useful and tangible, not abstract like the skills I have now.

But, unfortunately, since I didn't have any vocational training, I don't have skills. And since I don't have skills, I had to get a college degree, which also didn't give me usefull or tangible skills.

The people I know who are 'blue collar' make more money than I do. They like their jobs more. They can see the result of their work, and so can anyone who walks by the building/stadium/highway they helped create. And I have a helluva lot more respect for them, who ride the bus with me, in their dirty clothes and toolbelts, than for the fancy suits I see waiting for their Jags at the valet garage.

I get more pleasure out of putting together a bookcase and mounting shelves on a wall than I do sitting in my cube all day. I wish I had been more interested in this kind of stuff when my dad was available to teach it to me. If I'd been open to it, I'd now know how to wire a house, hang drywall, fix cracks in walls, build furniture, and fix the plumbing. But I was too busy being an angsty kid.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:22 AM on September 8, 2006


But thanks for missing my actual point about disparaging people who don't find joy what you do.

You mean this:
If people with manual skills feel superior to those without, it's because of what the latter don't know how to use, not because of what they do use. didn't address that point? Maybe there needs to be more explanation of that point, because I'm pretty sure now that I don't know what you meant.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:37 AM on September 8, 2006


No, it didn't address that point, it simply is a reiteration of what I was objecting to (poorly, it appears). So let me try again. (Sorry it's kinda long.)

If people with manual skills feel superior to those without, it's because of what the latter don't know how to use, not because of what they do use.

That assumes that being able to use a particular thing is inherently superior, and usually people arguing this superiority (particularly when the argument is about doing something manual--cooking, construction, whatever) argue it by suggesting that only by using your hands can you be truly in touch with something deeply human or with some better impulse.

For instance in the article:

Because craftsmanship refers to objective standards that do not issue from the self and its desires, it poses a challenge to the ethic of consumerism, as the sociologist Richard Sennett has recently argued. The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new.

or above:

The people I know who are 'blue collar' make more money than I do. They like their jobs more. They can see the result of their work, and so can anyone who walks by the building/stadium/highway they helped create. And I have a helluva lot more respect for them, who ride the bus with me, in their dirty clothes and toolbelts, than for the fancy suits I see waiting for their Jags at the valet garage.

I get more pleasure out of putting together a bookcase and mounting shelves on a wall than I do sitting in my cube all day.


or above that:

Doing the necessary things of life with your own physical body as much as you can is an end in itself. LordSludge makes a valid point, but you don't have to go much farther along that road to find yourself arguing that it makes more sense to hire a professional to have sex with your mate-- after all, he or she will probably be more skilled and better looking, as well as cheaper-- and then another professional to raise any children that may result, than it does to try to do those things yourself in your own clumsy and poorly remunerated way.

And I think it's all crap. Not because I think there is no value in manual labor or that you don't use your mind doing it--believe me, I've hung drywall and tried to make an empty industrial space into an apartment, and I know how freaking hard that is and have the imagination to extrapolate considering that a lot of manual laborers do much more complicated work--but because I think that other people find the same value, the same connection, the same lessons other places.

It's a shame that often people disparage manual competence merely on the grounds that it's manual or because they don't understand it. But that doesn't seem to me a good reason to turn around and widely dismiss people who find little or no personal value in cultivating that skill.
posted by dame at 11:12 AM on September 8, 2006


when i read this article, the voice in my head speaking the words is that of the guy who did the voiceovers for those errol morris miller commercials... and that makes it totally awesome.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 11:20 AM on September 8, 2006


OK, I see that you're objecting to a kind of ennobling of physical work as being closer to god or whatever, and I don't buy that either. However, the people who frequent the hardware store probably aren't going to use that argument if they tell you manual skills are better to have than 'knowledge' skills. That's because manual skills really do seem inherently superior to those people. It's an extension of the old saw that "those who can't, teach." Valid or not, the hardware-store denizens believe that knowing how to do things makes them better humans, and they don't count knowing how to format a FrameMaker document as one of those things.

I worked as a machinst for over ten years, and at other manual work for longer than that. Now I write manuals. It pays better, and my mistakes now don't require days to fix. To me, there's something wrong with that last sentence being true. I spent far longer becoming a reasonably competent machinist than I did becoming a good tech writer. Every time I clamped a piece of metal to a machine, there was the chance that I would misread the drawing and have to redo hours or days worth of work. Why do tech writers make more than machinists? Seems like the reverse should be true. (No, I am not volunteering for a pay cut.) Maybe it's so tech writers will be able to pay the plumber.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:49 AM on September 8, 2006


MikeMc: Therein lies the rub, society is pushing all of it's children to be "knowledge workers", so who will be left to hang the drywall?

Of course there's an economics of supply in play here. If drywall hangers become rare, they will cost more, making it both a more attractive profession and a less attractive out-sourcing proposition.

(Golly, if we accept homosexuals in our society, what happens when EVERYBODY is homosexual??)

jamjam: ...but you don't have to go much farther along that road to find yourself arguing that it makes more sense to hire a professional to have sex with your mate...

No thanks, I rather enjoy fucking.

But I do have friends that would save a TON of money by hiring $1000 hookers rather than chase after this girl or that girl, catching her, then giving her half his money in the inevitable divorce. Sadly, however, while you can outsource sex, you can't outsource love. Awwwwwwwwwwww..!!

I suppose the "rub", then, is whether you enjoy handiwork or not; is it a hobby or a chore? And then you have degrees of hobbiness/choreness -- do you sorta-kinda enjoy mowing the lawn, but would *really* rather go for a bike ride? How much does it cost to have someone else do it? $20? $200? How much is your time worth? It's an equation, something like:

If cost-of-outsourcing < value-of-time - enjoyment, then outsource it. (Of course, "enjoyment" is a hard thing to quantify...)

Also, while I certainly respect and envy the skill it takes to create & manipulate a one-off physical object (painting, furniture, auto engine..), I, as a software developer and musician, really love being able to create software or a music recording once and effortlessly "mass-produce" the fruits of my labor (via exact electronic copies) and share them with friends, businesses, etc.. This replication and magnification of effort is nearly trivial in the information/knowledge world but may be impossible in the physical world. (If, on the other hand, I could, say, carve a wooden bowl once and then give one to anybody who wanted one, then I'd probably be more of a handiwork kinda guy!) For me, there's a real element of less effort --> more results.
posted by LordSludge at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2006


"Of course there's an economics of supply in play here. If drywall hangers become rare, they will cost more, making it both a more attractive profession and a less attractive out-sourcing proposition."

It's not just about wages, it's about respect. A highly experienced tool and die maker can pull down a six figure income but society still seems to show greater respect to the degreed desk jockey making half as much. The whole attitude seems to be that if you didn't go to college you can be neither smart nor successful. Even if the money is good people that *gasp* get their hands dirty earning a living just don't measure up and who wants their kid to grow up and be a grubby "Joe Sixpack" (even if he is making a damn good living) ?
posted by MikeMc at 12:22 PM on September 8, 2006


Valid or not, the hardware-store denizens believe that knowing how to do things makes them better humans, and they don't count knowing how to format a FrameMaker document as one of those things.

Well, my point is that it isn't valid. They are wrong. And it's a shame because it just compounds the lack of respect they bemoan.

And it's funny that you mention FrameMaker and mistakes. I too work with FrameMaker (sometimes). But if I make a mistake, it often gets into the printed book and is totally unfixable. Should I be paid more than the machinist whose mistake can be rectified? No, because that's a silly basis to decide pay on. Pretty much every basis we use is silly. That sucks, but any basis is going to have some whimsy and some unfairness.

It's an extension of the old saw that "those who can't, teach."

Which is totally moronic. And both are wrong. That makes me a bit sad. But anyway, there are books to be made and I must be off! (OMG, I don't do manual labor and yet I still have finished products to show. Shock!)
posted by dame at 1:01 PM on September 8, 2006


Perhaps the problem stems from the belief that shop class was for dummies. The Vocational High School was for the short bus crowd. Things won't change until we get over that and start treating the trades as valued vocations. - Gungho

Yes! In my city there is one good vocationally foccussed high school. It's where they send drop-outs, kids with behavioural problems and the some of the higher functioning kids with lower IQs etc. I know of an astute kid that was doing well in school and who wanted to go to that school to get ther work experience and pre-trade training offered. They wouldn't let him go, because he wasn't in the target group. That is a bunch of bunk.
posted by raedyn at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2006


"But anyway, there are books to be made and I must be off! (OMG, I don't do manual labor and yet I still have finished products to show. Shock!)"

Actually...if you're in the book business it's the pressmen and bindery workers that create the finished product. You are (I'm assuming a bit here) what's known in manufacturing as a "Non Value Added" employee and are considered part of the overhead (but again that's from a manufacturing POV).
posted by MikeMc at 1:45 PM on September 8, 2006


Well, if I didn't do my job, there would be no book. Just like if the author didn't write, the bindery would be binding blanks. But I don't know how you define value-added in this case. I just mean that even the assumption that "knowledge work" or whatever doesn't result in something tangible is incorrect.
posted by dame at 1:56 PM on September 8, 2006


But if I make a mistake, it often gets into the printed book and is totally unfixable.
But only after it gets into the hard copy. Up to that point, fixing it is usually trivial, and even with the mistake the book is usable. A machined part is usually junk the moment a mistake is made on it. If it's a complex part, that can be very expensive. As a prototype machinist, I sometimes spent days working on one piece of metal. It was imperative that I not make any mistakes. As a writer, I can make multiple mistakes in a book, and fix them easily. Even if some are missed, nobody makes me rewrite the book from scratch.

Should I be paid more than the machinist whose mistake can be rectified? No, because that's a silly basis to decide pay on. Pretty much every basis we use is silly.
I disagree that it's silly. When my employer pays me X dollars to produce something, whether it's a book or a piston, they are expecting it to be useful for its intended purpose. If I screw up the piston, the employer has to pay me (or my replacement) all the money again, to make another piston. If I make mistakes in the book, I only have to be paid to edit them. The employer ought to pay more for the expertise that saves him more money, and that carries a higher stress level.

Oddly enough, my first full-time job was in a book bindery.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:05 PM on September 8, 2006


"But I don't know how you define value-added in this case."

From a strictly manufacturing angle adding value would be taking raw materials (in this case paper,ink etc...) and converting them into a more valuable product. Knowledge work contributes to the creation of a salable product but it is the actual manufacturing that creates the salable item.

"I just mean that even the assumption that "knowledge work" or whatever doesn't result in something tangible is incorrect."

To start with nothing and end with a finished product requires both knowledge work and manual labor. I used to work in a "blue collar" manufacturing job but moved into product development/marketing and I'm well aware of the tons of work that has to be done before the physical production of an end item can begin. People often think "working in the office" is so much easier than working in the plant but it's just as hard (but in a different way).
posted by MikeMc at 2:13 PM on September 8, 2006


"Oddly enough, my first full-time job was in a book bindery."

Oddly enough mine was too. Seriously.
posted by MikeMc at 2:15 PM on September 8, 2006


What did you do there? I was a pilot.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:34 PM on September 8, 2006


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