Let’s Hear it for the Trades!

Camille Paglia is a liberal Democrat, but I often find myself agreeing with her. This is one of those times. In a recent column, Paglia made the case for “revalorizing” the trades. I wish more people were talking about this. We have a bunch of eggheads in Washington, DC telling us a college education is a “right”, but not mentioning that it’s a “right” that leaves a lot of young people in massive debt with few job opportunities.

The Chronicle: Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense. The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics. They bear little relationship to the liberal arts of broad perspective and profound erudition that I was lucky enough to experience in college in the 1960s.

Having taught in art schools for most of my four decades in the classroom, I am used to having students who work with their hands—ceramicists, weavers, woodworkers, metal smiths, jazz drummers. There is a calm, centered, Zen-like engagement with the physical world in their lives. In contrast, I see glib, cynical, neurotic elite-school graduates roiling everywhere in journalism and the media. They have been ill-served by their trendy, word-centered educations.

Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.

My kids are lucky, they can go to The School of Dad. They can work with him and learn a trade as a way to pay for college, or they can make a career out of it. It’s up to them. But at least they’ll know they have options. Too many of today’s “leaders” leave the kids believing they have only one path to future success, and that’s a shame. Every individual is different. It’s about time people start recognizing that.