Curbside

I was walking back from the bus stop and heard two city employees talking about the granite curb they were about to install at the corner.  I was surprised by what I heard, and then annoyed at my surprise.

“The thing I’m concerned about is…”

“Well, the worst that could happen is…”

I can’t finish the sentences, because I don’t know enough about granite-laying to have retained the content of their conversation.  But my surprise came from the fact that I don’t expect to hear city guys in Carhartts negotiating with each other in the course of their work.  Apparently I think they’re just out there doing manual tasks free of thought and interaction.

Of course, I know better, but it reminds me of Matthew Crawford’s book about the dying off of technical training in high schools.  We have a tremendous bias about what constitutes good work, and what’s enough to merit good pay and treatment, even though we need people to do this work, and do it thoughtfully and well. And there are young people who are smart in the right ways for that who get discouraged from doing it.  Crawford reminds us that “work that is straightforwardly useful can also be intellectually absorbing.”  (Not to mention lucrative, a point that, bafflingly, often gets lost in platforms about how kids need college degrees to have good jobs so they can earn a living.)

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