A friend who teaches classes on food preservation and "house holding" believes in the power of the plumber. Even before Joe became famous for the work, she was arguing that this economy called for our youth to learn trades, not technology. She has been urging her son to skip college and do something with his hands.

So, too, does author Matthew B. Crawford in an illuminating piece in this weekend's New York Times Sunday Magazine. He argues that "real" work, with one's hands, can be far more rewarding, more respectable, better for your soul, and even more mentally challenging than the newly prestigious "knowledge" work (which often, he points out, includes a "real stupidification" -- in other words, you're asked to think in a prescripted way, to make arguments you "don't fully buy" yourself, in the name of something you may or may not believe in).His belief is that "gifted students" should often be taught to work with their hands, in old-fashioned shop classes or other trades, instead of taught to be the next lords and ladies of Wall Street.

Implicit in this excerpt of his book is the idea that children shouldn't spend so much time in class, but should instead be learning how to fix engines or solder pipe; to grow potatoes or to make furniture. And perhaps college, with its prestigious gatekeepers and its high price tag, should return to being a refuge for only the snottiest of the leisure class. (He's a PhD, so he doesn't quite say this.)

In more and more middle-class backyards and dinner parties, more and more of us are wondering if it's not better to do "real" work than (as I call it) slowly destroying shareholder value or (as Crawford calls it) "estranged labor" or "the walking wounded." More and more of us are answering "yes" (I, an Ivy League MBA, am writing, digging up my entire yard to plant a mini-urban farm, and fermenting my own wine and baking my own bread from live-caught yeasts -- other friends have given up careers at Intel and Nike to become chicken farmers or cheesemakers).

Getting your hands dirty is an ideal antidote to the dirty pool played by so many of today's corporate bigwigs. What's more, it's cheaper, and probably will save you oodles in therapy. I can't recommend it enough, and predict you'll be seeing more and more of this in mainstream media in the coming years.

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