Sunday, May 24, 2009

Office Work, Other Jobs

I just finished reading Matthew B. Crawford's essay "The Case for Working With Your Hands" in this week's NYT Magazine, adapted from his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work which comes out from Penguin this week.

As far as I can tell, the book--or at least the essay--is about Crawford accumulating too many degrees and feeling that he had to put them to use, then realizing that he preferred working on motorcycles, and starting his own repair shop. It's so much about the value and relevance of our jobs, and the impact that value and relevance or lack thereof can have on our lives.

"As I sat in my K Street office, Fred’s life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun."

"There probably aren’t many jobs that can be reduced to rule-following and still be done well. But in many jobs there is an attempt to do just this, and the perversity of it may go unnoticed by those who design the work process."

"In deciding how to proceed, there often comes a point where you have to step back and get a larger gestalt. Have a cigarette and walk around the lift. The gap between theory and practice stretches out in front of you, and this is where it gets interesting. What you need now is the kind of judgment that arises only from experience; hunches rather than rules."

He talks about metacognition, and examining your own thinking processes. I do this all the time as a teacher, and probably should do it much more often. It's one of the things I love about teaching: my students force me to think about my thinking, sometimes about a text we're reading, and often about the way I relate to them. Mine is an essentially, intrinsically social job.

"With stakes that are often high and immediate, the manual trades elicit heedful absorption in work. They are punctuated by moments of pleasure that take place against a darker backdrop: a keen awareness of catastrophe as an always-present possibility. The core experience is one of individual responsibility, supported by face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer."

"A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this."

I want to say more about each of these statements. But for now, here they are, with a link to the essay. I look forward to reading his book.

1 comment:

elka said...

I have been thinking about you lately. I wish I was in a good headspace for letter-writing, but I haven't been for years. Just poking my head in to say hi.