Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford
The title of this book sums it up very well. This is a well written, deeply researched look into why shop classes are important. Me reading it is a bit like preaching to the choir but there is great research quoted and the author really walked the walk. He struggled through school, got a job in an office and then realized that he hated it. He now owns his own motorcycle repair/restoration shop and has taken the time to look into why he is so much happier now.
Crawford attributes his happiness to three main points. First is job satisfaction, which has two components. At his current job he actually has a relationship to the customer and at the end of the day he can see what he has done and knows why he has done it. Second, working with your hands changes you cognitively. You think about everything. When you hold something in your hands you ask yourself, "how was this made". You appreciate craftsmanship in everyday objects. Third working with your hands requires creativity, problem solving and critical thinking that are rarely used in a profession where you do the same thing every day.
His argument is that we are doing our kids a disservice (especially the ones that are going to college) by not providing them with this exposure to the industrial arts classes (insert whichever one you want here: wood shop, welding, auto shop etc.) One reason we have such a problem is that there are fewer and fewer do it yourself. Dad's no longer pass knowledge and skills down to their kids (either becasue they are always at work or because the dad's did not learn the skills because they were specializing in another are). There are fewer and fewer programs in schools that offer this sort of knowledge and training and the programs that exist need to cater to a lower and lower skill set because kids do not come with any prior knowledge.
This is a quick summary and really on gives a feeling for the book. It is a good read because it was an interesting life story and had compelling argument for shop classes. I always knew shop classes were a good thing but this book creates a well thought and legitimate argument for why they are so necessary for society, for each person individually and for our own happiness. Everyone should take some sort of class in skilled labor no matter if it is cooking, sewing, welding or wood shop. The old adage "Idle hands are the work of the devil" actually has substance behind it.
Further exploration of this topic can be found in The Hand: How Its Use Shapes The Brain, Language and Human Culture a book by Frank R. Wilson. There is also an interview with Wilson on NPR that is worth a look.