Shop Class as Soulcraft and Intergenerational Lost and Found

Shop Class as Soulcraft


Harry Van Belle is a retired professor of psychology who has taught at both Redeemer University College in Ontario and The King’s University College in Alberta. His latest book is a heart-felt plea to bridge a deep chasm between two generations: emerging adults and their parents’ generation. If you have never heard of “emerging adults” or “hipsters,” then this book serves as a lively and brief introduction to the work of researchers such as Jeffery J. Arnett, who sees people in their twenties as occupying a stage of life that is both post-adolescent and pre-adult. Unlike their boomer parents, some emerging adults tend to settle down much later and are much more at home in the digital world, often preferring to surf the net and communicate online rather than read books and develop face-to-face relationships. According to Van Belle, one way to bridge the gap is to develop mentoring relationships between members of both generations. Enfolded within a larger community of support, such mentoring offers the hope that each can learn from the other. What can emerging adults teach the boomers? Van Belle’s answer shows how hopeful he is about these young people: like Socrates of old, emerging adults value the integrity of questioning over the certainty of knowing. I recommend this book as a discussion starter for intergenerational dialogue.

Shop Class as Soulcraft addresses another deep divide in our culture: the widening split between thinking and doing. Matthew Crawford is a rare breed—an intellectual who can work with his hands. Trained as a political philosopher, Crawford left his position as the executive director of a Washington think tank to open up a motorcycle repair shop because he found solving concrete problems to be more intellectually challenging than working in academia. As he puts it, “trafficking in abstractions is not the same as thinking” (44). Crawford is a living bridge between blue collar and white collar, between the trades and the professions. He speaks with integrity into both worlds. The separation between thinking and doing impoverishes both thinking and doing: thought without a practical challenge can easily devolve into unrealistic dreaming or worse, while working at a job that entails little thought easily devolves into drudgery. Besides making a case for the trades as a viable and worthwhile career goal for young people—guidance counsellors take note—Crawford issues a challenge to educators. How can we reconceive our understanding of schooling in way that keeps thinking and doing connected?