a measuring stick for my journey
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Rod Dreher: The soft bigotry of high
As the cost of a college degree spirals upward, The Chronicle of Higher Education anticipates that fewer
young Americans will be going to universities, which have priced themselves out of the market. Write Joseph
M. Cronin and Howard E. Horton, "There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be
overpriced and under-delivering."
That's good news. The idea that everybody ought to go to college is misguided at best and damaging at worst.
It's a middle-class shibboleth that is overdue for debunking.
There's a practical case against the college push. Only about 60 percent of Americans who enter a four-year
college graduate with a degree within six years – a rate that has been consistent for three decades, according
to the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit reform group. The organization advocates for higher
graduation rates, which is admirable. But this assumes that everyone is equally capable of succeeding in
college and that college is the right choice for everyone.
Not so, says Tom Pauken, head of the Texas Workforce Commission, who thinks that given the dismal
college graduation rates, high school seniors who struggle academically should not allow themselves to be
pushed into college. Says Pauken: "They'd be better off trying to become more self-sufficient and developing
a skilled trade, something portable they can take with them but can also make a real living doing. As a
plumber, electrician and so forth, there's still a way to make a good living, even in tough economic times."
Matthew B. Crawford understands the protection that tradesmen have in the global market. "If you need a
deck built, or your car fixed, the Chinese are of no help," he writes. "Because they are in China."
Crawford makes a philosophical case for choosing the trades over college in his brilliant new book, Shop
Class as Soul Craft, which launches an intellectually formidable attack on the way our culture has come to
devalue manual labor. This bracingly countercultural book, written by a scholar who left white-collar work to
open a motorcycle repair shop, defiantly rejects received wisdom about the meaning of work in America
Crawford, a University of Chicago-trained philosopher, offers an account for why "work that is
straightforwardly useful can also be intellectually absorbing." He explains why work as a skilled manual
laborer is far more intellectually engaging than many may suppose because it entails "a systematic encounter
with the material world."
As its title suggests, the book is not really a career guide, but rather a philosophical inquiry into why so many
of us are dissatisfied with our work. We have come to see labor as something we do in exchange for money
and not as an expression of our intrinsic nature. Many a white-collar man works hard but lives in a world of
soul-killing abstraction, where what he does, what he feels and who he is have little to do with one another.
"The work cannot sustain him as a human being," Crawford writes. "Rather, it damages the best part of him,
and it become imperative to partition work off from the rest of life."
We have constructed an economy and a society based on the idea that work has no essential relation to
human nature, and thus to human flourishing and human happiness. A good society, says Crawford (after
Aristotle), is one in which men and women are free to pursue excellence, according to their individual
natures. It's not like that with us. Say that a particular high school senior might be happier and more
productive going to trade school than enrolling in college, and you risk being denounced for harboring the soft
bigotry of low expectations.
Crawford denounces this as false egalitarianism. "The best sort of democratic education is neither snobbish
nor egalitarian," he writes. "Rather, it accords a place of honor in our common life to whatever is best."
I have seen the truth of Crawford's observations lived out in my own family. My brother-in-law lasted one
semester in college. Classrooms bored him. He really wanted to be a firefighter. He entered a big-city fire
department, graduated at the top of his class and is now one of the finest firefighters in his city.
He could have, but did not, end up like my father, who is now a retiree. He's a mechanical genius who once
wanted above all things to work with his hands. But in the 1950s, his working-class parents pushed him hard
to go to college, to become upwardly mobile. Dad earned his degree, then spent decades stuck in a desk job
he despised. On the weekends, he came alive, sweating and hustling, building, welding, repairing – and in one
case, using his innate engineering intelligence to invent a hydraulic woodsplitter. This – not a desk jockey – is
who my father really was and was meant to be.
In the twilight of his life, my gifted father mourns the road he did not take into the trades because he allowed
himself to be cajoled by conformity into college. When I gave him a copy of Shop Class As Soulcraft, he
couldn't put it down. He felt deeply vindicated, which is the only comfort left to him, having had his true
vocation robbed by pushy parents in thrall to the college myth. But the same revolutionary book that's an old
man's vindication stands to be liberation for young men (and women) whose parents and educators have the
good sense to read it.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Proverbs 31:10-31 (The Message)
Hymn to a Good Wife
and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
all her life long.
She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
and enjoys knitting and sewing.
She's like a trading ship that sails to faraway places
and brings back exotic surprises.
She's up before dawn, preparing breakfast
for her family and organizing her day.
She looks over a field and buys it,
then, with money she's put aside, plants a garden.
First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,
rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.
She senses the worth of her work,
is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.
She's skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,
diligent in homemaking.
She's quick to assist anyone in need,
reaches out to help the poor.
She doesn't worry about her family when it snows;
their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.
She makes her own clothing,
and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
Her husband is greatly respected
when he deliberates with the city fathers.
She designs gowns and sells them,
brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops.
Her clothes are well-made and elegant,
and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
her husband joins in with words of praise:
"Many women have done wonderful things,
but you've outclassed them all!"
Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.
The woman to be admired and praised
is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.
Give her everything she deserves!
Festoon her life with praises!
- ▼ July (7)