There was an excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday: “The case for working with your hands.” It begins with the demise of things like shop programs in public schools, shifting students to preparation for working in a knowledge economy.
It’s a long, thoughtful piece that makes for excellent reading on a day when many have a day off.
There has been some discussion of this phenomenon even in Oak Ridge, where an overwhelming majority of our graduates do go on to college. Although we have five career academies at the high school (preparing students either to continue studies in college, or to begin working in the field right out of high school), there is a sense in the community that we don’t do enough for the non-college bound.
Reading “The case for working with your hands,” a couple of things struck me: one, he’s right. There is a level of satisfaction, challenge, and use of intellect in working with one’s hands, whether creating something, or fixing something. It’s why I like to sew, or to take things apart and repair them. But the second point that stuck with me was, the author’s attainment of a PhD and subsequent studies enabled him to sample a variety of professions, including high school teacher, executive director of a policy organization in DC, and a writer of abstracts of academic journal articles before settling on his life’s calling in motorcycle repair.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that one must get a PhD to be successful in motorcycle repair (or any other such field that is typically thought not to require any college degree). But to be good at it requires critical thinking skills that are honed through education. And quite possibly, he derives greater satisfaction from his work because he has other things to compare it to.
The plumber I most often use once told me that he enrolled in medical school, but dropped out after realizing that’s not what he wanted to spend his life doing. He likes being a plumber; he solves problems, and gets a feeling of having accomplished something tangible each day.
This meandering train of thought continued as I spent the afternoon playing mechanic’s assistant (we’re still working on it). What I want for the kids graduating from our high school is to be sufficiently prepared to have options after graduation: the option to work doing something meaningful and fulfilling, the option to pursue higher education, the option to succeed in a technical school, which might lead to either work or more education. Or both.
A satisfying life is one where learning never stops, even after the end of formal schooling.