Shop Class as Soulcraft


Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he [Crawford] called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one’s hands.

My husband, a former high school shop teacher, captivated from the first page — in which Crawford bemoans the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — insistently interrupted my reading to read aloud a paragraph. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband Curt (see photo below) can wield an ax, weld an axle and read Wendell Berry.)


Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical  musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.

Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.





5 thoughts on “Shop Class as Soulcraft

  1. Intelligence doesn’t limit people to obsessive memorization of ultimately useless information. Hell, most academics and science-types are hopelessly disconnected from the real world.

  2. Terry and I were discussing the subject of “work and humans” the other day. I referred to this Papal Encyclical by Pope John Paul II, which I read a few years ago. Your review of this book prompted me to look it up again and mark it for more in-depth reading soon. (It’s also high altitude.) It’s not long though and I think you and Curt might appreciate some of the ideas presented in it. “Work and humans” is a big topic in Catholic Social Justice teaching and sometimes has presented ideas which challenged my fiscal conservative upbringing. Here’s a link to Laborem Exercens, the JPII encyclical.

    I also think Wendell Berry discusses these ideas in his book of essays “What Are People For?” which I have read parts of and need to pick up again. Thanks for giving me so many good reading ideas, Carol!


  3. Certainly thought food. Presume I’m correct in thinking ‘shop’ teaching is what in Australian schools is called ‘technical’ training. Loved your comment about going out to dig your garden. If it wasn’t so chilly this afternoon I would’ve done likewise, to dig & muse.

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

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