Is Craft Dying? Quit Kidding Yourself.
In Episode 4 of Teach With Your Hands, Kip Christensen expressed his strong belief that the decline of middle and high school shop programs has mostly to do with a decline in the number of shop teachers, (meaning, programs disappear when school’s can’t find teachers, not the other way around).
Kip is a professor at BYU, where he teaches in the Technology and Engineering Education program (training future shop teachers) and by way of evidence, he told me stories about phone calls and emails that he gets regularly from administrators and retiring teachers who are looking for replacements. These administrators want to keep their healthy, productive shop classes going, but often, Kip doesn’t have any recommendations to give them because all of his students are already employed and running classrooms of their own.
In other words, there’s a shop teacher shortage. Not a funding shortage or a student interest shortage. There just aren’t enough people who are passionate about both woodworking and teaching.
Or maybe, even worse, there are plenty of people who could be passionate about those things, who would be out there taking the craft to the future in a heartbeat, but they’ve bought into the story we tell each other.
That shop classes are disappearing.
That being a shop teacher is a risky, unstable choice of profession.
That the things we care about are dying and we don’t have any control over the situation.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.
In talking to Brandy Clements in Episode 5, we took a moment to ask ourselves, only half jokingly: “What kind of satisfaction do certain older people get from believing that young people don’t care about craft?”
I personally believe a lot of that is a form of scapegoating. You don’t have young people joining your woodworking club? Must be because they don’t care about woodworking (because obviously you haven’t failed to create an environment young people would like to be a part of). Your favorite magazine went out of business? Must be because nobody cares about craft anymore (because obviously the company didn’t fail to adapt to modern media consumption trends, or succumb to some other kind of mismanagement).
Some people have bought into the craft-is-dying story so hard that they can look me, a 24 year old female maker with what’s essentially a woodworking degree of all things, making and selling turnings and joinery projects out of the shop that’s in my bedroom, going to meetups (with other people just like me!), podcasting and blogging (with guests and an audience from around the country!), and organizing workshops near my home—they can look me in the eye and say that millennials don’t care about craft, that traditional knowledge is dying, that in the next 20 years, a table saw in a high school will be an anachronism.
Want a different story? Let me tell you one.
There is a big, hungry group of people, some my age, some older; people who spend 80% of their time on a computer or phone at work and home and crave physicality; people who are passionate about sustainability, slow living, minimalism, Chris Schwarz’s anarchism, and self-reliance; people who care more about quality of life than quantity of dollars; people who are done with consumerism, inhuman work cultures, social disconnect, and more.
And a lot of those people? They care about craft. Deeply. Craft work, whether done as a profession or a hobby, solves human problems that an entire generation is facing. It’s physical, it’s respectable, it’s human, it’s rewarding, it’s sustainable, it connects us.
You mark my words, craft is dawning on a second Renaissance in this century. It might not be popular for the same reasons it was 50 years ago. People certainly aren’t going to find it or pursue it in the same ways.
But they’re coming. You better be ready.