The Prejudice Against Manual Labor

There’s a regrettable dynamic in our modern education system - we praise rote learning and prepare our best students to enter the corporate environment, prioritizing and perpetuating the idea that white collar employment is superior to blue collar (or manual) employment. Shop class is reserved for the lower-performing students while advanced English is reserved for the higher-performing students. Why does our educational system devalue manual labor, tracking students to manual careers based on things like grades, behavior problems, family history, or the side of the tracks on which they live?

There is a prejudice against manual labor in this country, and it starts in the educational system. But is there a case to be made that manual labor is more rewarding than white collar corporate labor? Honestly, I think it’s hard to make this argument or its opposite, that white collar employment is more rewarding than blue collar employment.

On the one side: manual labor is more rewarding.

Manual laborers have the satisfaction of working with their hands, of fixing and repairing things, of creating things, of having a physical component to their work. White collar workers are merely cogs in a machine; they’re replaceable; their work is unfulfilling; and much of their daily toil is pencil pushing and paperwork.

On the other side: white collar corporate employment is more rewarding.

White collar employment generally provides a better living with a higher salary, good benefits, indoor work that is safer and not at the whim of the elements. Blue collar employment often pays less, is often more dangerous due to heavy machinery or outdoor working conditions, and in many cases the benefits aren’t as good – salary is based on clocking in and out, missed work days may mean termination, and society tends to look down on manual laborers.

I’m not suggesting there is a winning side to the argument here. In fact, there are benefits and detriments to both types of employment. But I do worry that the recent revival of the term “craftsmanship” (which we are guilty of using), is simply a way of middle- and upper-class white collar workers who have eschewed the corporate environment to pursue manual work to remedy their own prejudices against manual labor. (For example, I’m leaving my corporate position to start a craft brewing coffee company but need to assuage my own prejudices against leaving the corporate sector so I’ll call myself a coffee craftsman….) Listen, I don’t know what the answer is. But I do think we need to place value on manual labor in this country; we need to value both blue and white collar employment and quit looking down on manual laborers. Our country and economy is dependent on both.

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