By Jennifer Lugo – Collegiate Staff
The Diversity Lecture Series continued Wednesday with Matthew Crawford, author of “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in the Age of Distraction,” giving a lecture on the importance and value of work.
With a degree in physics, a Ph.D. in political philosophy, and specializing in ancient political thought, Crawford delivered a discussion that highlighted the ways in which American culture is cultivating learned helplessness.
Crawford said self-reliance is starting to become a thing of the past, and people in general are becoming more dependent on technology to fix things.
“There’s some weird cultural logic whereby idiocy, that is a lack of involvement, is recast as something desirable,” Crawford said, referencing newer cars that allow individuals to receive email messages when fluids are low, rather than checking themselves. “It’s a sign of technological progress.”
Crawford explained that in schools across America, shop classes have been cut and replaced by computer classes, stating that the action has had a negative impact on the hands-on learning environment.
“The modern personality is getting reformed in a direction of passivity and dependence,” Crawford said. “There are just fewer occasions to be directly responsible for your physical environment.”
Using video games, television and work behind a computer as examples, he said our culture is in danger of losing the individual responsibility needed to feel a sense of duty and self-worth. These technologies give people a sense of false reality, leaving them wanting more from life.
“I want to speak up for the skilled manual trades, and suggest that these might be a life worth choosing,” Crawford said. “We’ve developed a kind of educational monoculture in this country where just about every kid is pressured to go to four-year universities, get on a certain track, and end up working in an office.”
Speaking from his own experience in the automotive industry, he highlighted the need for mentors and apprenticeships He said mentors can be a great source of information, even when it seems like the mentees have nothing to offer in return.
Crawford explained the difference in the education systems of Germany and America, saying American youth are heading in a direction of learned helplessness, while over half of German youth desire apprenticeship, leading them into jobs that produce direct results they can physically see.
“A good job is one where you can put your best capacities to work and see a direct effect on the world,” Crawford said. “Educators that want to steer students towards work that has the kind of cognitive and social richness I tried to describe, can do that in part by rehabilitating the trades.”
The audience seemed to connect with what Crawford had to say.
“The speaker presented his ideas about hands on knowledge as a truth of the decline in education as being a basis for what a person actually knows versus what is expected of them to know,” said Andrea McColeman, 28, of Kentwood. “He used his own experience with motorcycle repair, but when you get to thinking about it, this works for any field.”