Thursday, 15 July 2010

David Willetts maiden ministerial speech

I like this a lot....pointed out to me by Amanda Jones of the Crafts Council.

"This great city and this excellent university matter to me for many reasons. My family comes from here. Many members of my family worked in the craft jobs – as silversmiths, gun barrel makers, and glaziers – which made Birmingham the city of a thousand trades. And a few weeks ago you hosted the third of the leaders' debates in the great hall of this university, a key moment in the Election campaign. Like so many people I was of course following the debate closely, but not so closely that my eyes did not wander to the backdrop of the massive stained-glass windows of the hall; I reflected that my great-grandfather was one of the glaziers who installed them. Indeed my grandfather remembered being taken as a boy to the grand opening because Joe Chamberlain, the university’s first Chancellor, believed that the working men who helped build it should have a role at the event. That confident celebration of the craftsman, as well as the academic, is one of the values I associate with this city....."

"There is another trap I wish to avoid as well – privileging theoretical over applied, cerebral over manual. Rigour and excellence are not confined to intellectual pursuits. They're just as evident and necessary in craftsmanship, in technical spheres, in manufacturing. In fact they require many of the same qualities, which is why they so often flourish together. This argument is put most beautifully by the great David Hume – one of my heroes – in his essay "Of Refinement in the Arts". Forgive me for quoting him at some length.

"An advantage of industry and of refinements in the mechanical arts is that they commonly produce some refinements in the liberal; nor can one be carried to perfection without being accompanied, in some degree, with the other. The same age, which produces great philosophers and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with skilful weavers and ship-carpenters. We cannot reasonably expect that a piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation which is ignorant of astronomy or where ethics are neglected."

When you go to the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge, you can see historic exhibits which celebrate the great physicists who have contributed so much to our understanding of the world and still do. They have preserved there the finely made cloud chambers which made the early physics experiments possible. That depended on highly skilled glass blowers. I am told that glass blowers are still at work on this campus.

Another reason such distinctions are artificial is because we know that learning and practice of any kind – and at any age – makes us healthier and happier. Learning – be it studying a subject or mastering a physical craft – promotes personal fulfillment and well being. Richard Sennett's excellent book, The Craftsman, makes this clear, as does the exciting new book by Matthew Crawford, The Case For Working With Your Hands, which has had such an impact in America."

You can rest assured HCA will be attempting to get a meeting with David Willetts to talk about craft training in universities an area where most of the news over the past months has been bad.

full text here

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