Godfather of DIY

February 25, 2013 |  by

Before there was DIY, there was apprenticeship.

French historian Hippolyte Taine sang the praises of apprenticeship in The Modern Regime, 1894:

Ideas are only formed in their natural and normal surroundings; the promotion of the growth is effected by the innumerable impressions appealing to the senses which a [young person] receives daily in the workshop, the mine, the law court, the study, the builder’s yard, the hospital; at the sight of tools, materials, and operations; in the presence of customers, workers, and labour.

In such a way are obtained those trifling perceptions of detail of the eyes, the ear, the hands, and even the sense of smell, which, picked up involuntarily, and silently elaborated, take shape within the learner, and suggest to him sooner or, later this or that new combination, simplification, economy, improvement, or invention.

[Young people are] deprived, and precisely at the age when they are most fruitful, of all these precious contacts, of all these indispensable elements of assimilation. For seven or eight years on end [they are] shut up in a school, cut off from that direct personal experience which would give [them] a keen and exact notion of men and things and of the various ways of handling them.

Seventy-three years later, Alan Watts added:

Our educational system, in its entirety, does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don’t learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses, how to make love, or to do any of the absolutely fundamental things of life. The whole education that we get for our children in school is entirely in terms of abstractions. It trains you to be an insurance salesman or a bureaucrat, or some kind of cerebral character.

Now in 2013, neuroscience contributes its two cents. Learning-by-doing works, scientists say, because the repetition of actions makes deep imprints on our neural pathways. Christian Keysers writes:

If you truly want to understand particular action of other individuals, don’t just study, but acquire their skills, and you will understand them much better.


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