Scouting’s vitality springs from experiential, hands-on experience rather than academic abstraction. Scouts actually do things rather than study how they are done.
As an artist and tradesman I have had a long acquaintance with the benefits of working with your hands. I haven’t any formal education past high school and have had to find my own way. One of the things I most value about Scouting is the emphasis on learning by doing. I see this as increasingly important in an educational system that has dismantled most of the experiential opportunities that existed when I was in school.
Matthew B. Crawford lives in Richmond, Va. His book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,” will be published this week by Penguin Press. He writes intelligently about the visceral and important education afforded to those who work with their hands. Here is an excerpt from an essay published recently in the New York Times:
A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work …
There is good reason to suppose that responsibility has to be installed in the foundation of your mental equipment — at the level of perception and habit. There is an ethic of paying attention that develops in the trades through hard experience. It inflects your perception of the world and your habitual responses to it. This is due to the immediate feedback you get from material objects and to the fact that the work is typically situated in face-to-face interactions between tradesman and customer.