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Why Practical Skills Are Still King (And How To Learn Them)

When my parents’ lawnmower broke recently, my father took apart the engine and found the problem: a broken governor shaft. While the part for that lawnmower was no longer made, if it were, my dad would have been able to singlehandedly repair the mower.

Similarly, I have memories of my grandmother canning peaches and pickles in a steamy kitchen during the summer. She also used to pack the freezer with blueberries she grew herself. These are still tasks she undertakes on occasion.

While freezers and riding lawnmowers didn’t exist at America’s founding, the hands-on, practical skills involved in the above activities represent the sort of American know-how and independent attitude that built the country. However, this mastery of the practical is fading with each generation.

In the best of times, most people don’t need these skills. In the West, typically, garments no longer need to be mended repeatedly, food can easily be delivered to many places, and roadside services can help change a flat tire. And as trades decline, with many students opting for college by default, it’s no wonder that many of these life skills are on the outs.

But in a time when shortages are common, recession looms, and inflation is sky high, these skillsets seem increasingly relevant. So where can we start?

Traditionally, these various tasks have been divided between the sexes. That doesn’t mean that young women shouldn’t learn to repair a tire or that young men shouldn’t learn to cook. Yet, as a starting place, this split can be helpful.

 

Skills for Young Women to Learn

For the young ladies out there, saving garments from the trash pile is an easy and rewarding task to start with. A sweater with a hole or a shirt with a missing button are projects for an afternoon that only require some thread, a needle, scissors, and perhaps a replacement button.

Personally, I’m trying to learn canning and preserving. As I mentioned, it’s something my grandmother did for many years, and my great-grandmother was known for her amazing pickles.

A project with a more everyday application is cooking or baking. Ample free recipes and cooking tutorials are available online to follow along with. Eventually, the recipes will accumulate to a repertoire of meals fit for all occasions.

 

Skills for Young Men to Learn

For men, a practical, yet simple, task to start with is changing a car’s oil. Not only will this save money, it’s also a job that can be done in an hour or two, and the only needed supplies are a bin to catch the dirty oil, some rags, and the correct kind of clean oil for the car.

Reading up on how internal combustion engines work will offer troves of information that can be applied the next time the lawnmower breaks. Or learning to replace a broken light switch could serve as an introduction to basic electrical work.

And just like the skills for young women, these tasks are very rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction from hands-on work and a job well done.

 

How Can We Learn These Skills?

Today’s age is filled with ways to learn new skills. There is a plethora of online tutorials on how to mend clothing, change a car’s oil, or cook a simple recipe. Plus, a local library likely contains books on cooking, engines, or home repair.

But perhaps the best way is to find someone who can teach. Not only is this the perfect opportunity to learn something new, it’s also a great way to connect with parents, grandparents, or some older people from the community.

My father started learning his mechanic skills growing up by watching my grandfather in the garage, though neither of them is a mechanic by trade. Meanwhile, both my grandmothers are competent sewers, and I learned to sew by working on projects with each of them.

If you have a hands-on skill or know a trade, offer to teach someone who may be interested. Show your friends and family how to fix something around the house, cook your signature dish, or replace that button.

And for those of us ready to pick up these skills, let’s pick one to start with and find a way to learn it. Once, nearly every American knew at least a few of these. Along the way, we’ll not only brace for hard times and save some money but also impress our friends and family and live up to the tradition of American know-how.

Image credit: Flickr-Paul Englefield, CC BY 2.0

ITO

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  • Avatar
    MM
    November 22, 2022, 7:43 pm

    Nice article but would have been much better without the male/female division. Very arbitrary and not very useful whether you have a hole in your jeans or a hole in your tire.

    REPLY
    • Avatar
      Mike@MM
      November 23, 2022, 12:04 am

      I can’t help but wonder what color the sky is in your world. Men and women tend towards certain skills, most would not think to cross the line but, some do to great effect. My mother taught me to do some basic cooking, clothes mending and ironing. Dad showed me the basics of auto repair as well as behaving in a manly civilized manner. All have served me well for seventy plus years. They were great parents, a man and woman. Bless them.

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      November 27, 2022, 11:54 am

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  • Avatar
    Richard
    November 23, 2022, 1:58 am

    I am now a grandfather. My father taught and helped me work on cars and I was able to pass that skill and knowledge on to my two boys. This included pulling and rebuilding engines, doing body work and painting the cars. An 18 year old friend of the family spun a rod bearing in his older Dodge pickup truck. He never handled mechanics tools until he accepted my challenge to teach him how to pull the engine, rebuild it and reinstall it. It’s amazing the self confidence he acquired and how he is now helping his brothers and sisters making repairs on their cars.

    REPLY
  • Avatar
    Kalikiano Kalei
    November 23, 2022, 2:49 am

    A thoughtful commentary, Jordan. Unfortunately, the ‘imp’ within got out of his corked bottle and prompted me to observe that we in California also have a ‘broken Governor’ and no skill-set yet devised appears to be adequate to make the necessary repairs (I will refrain from making any scurrilous remarks about how Californians keep getting ‘shafted’, as a direct result, or that any required parts necessary to make gubernatorial repairs appear to be in short supply, due to pet pork-barrel budgetary excesses…).

    But seriously, your observations are quite salient and thought-provoking, as well. As a tie-in the failing American educational system (in which ‘Every child needs to go to college’, whether they have the capabilities required or not), I always reflect at such moments on the time-honored European system (part of that ‘evil white culture’, of course) in which two separate career tracks are made available to all students early-on in their initial schooling: that of pursuing academia (and higher degrees) or apprenticing to become a respected and accomplished master craftsman. It has worked admirably for many decades, but it includes comprehensive testing and assessments that would probably make all who think Charles Murray (the SPLC, for example, as well as social justice warriors) is the devil incarnate, spontaneously combust! In fact, this ‘dual-track’ approach both fosters and supports extremely high levels of achievement and competence among academicians and master craftsmen in those nations it exists in (Germany, Austria, et al). But of course, it is anathema to those of the ‘woke’ persuasion, since it is purely a ‘merit-based’ system.

    As I have mentioned before (on other occasions), I lost a father when I was a very small child. Despite this lack of that all important paternal mentor all children need (most especially boys), I most fortunately found a whole range of mentors in the American Boy Scout movement. The learning experiences, character-building and practical, hands-on wherewithal to mature all came from the BSA, and to this day I am eternally grateful for all that scouting equipped me with.

    Sadly, given the social changes that have swept our nation, the former ‘Boy’ Scouts are now a dysfunctional PC parody of what they were back in the 50s. The recent, egregious child-molestation scandals also rocked that organisation to its very core, as well, but back in the 50s our scout leaders were all strong, determined ex-combat soldiers who had had their mettle tested under fire and were able to pass that personal competence on to us kids. Child molesters were (back then) unimaginably heinous deviants; today, they’re probably lauded as good, upstanding ‘alternative’ members of society…

    There is grave concern in Xi Jinping’s China today over what the CCP regards as a growing lack of ‘hardness’, resolve and masculine strength in the PRC among its young men. If China’s ‘problem’ in that respect is noticeable, ours must be screamingly obvious. In fact, if things continue as they have, any future resolute clash between our two nations would odds-on, unequivocally favor the rise of Chinese hegemony as ascendant over our increasingly emasculated USA.

    So yes, by all means let’s focus intently on restoring the know-how, skill-sets and ‘do-it-yourself’ handiness in American youth (note: boys AND girls) before the game is lost forever!

    REPLY
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    Ana
    November 23, 2022, 3:39 am

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    • Avatar
      JK@Sarah May
      November 25, 2022, 6:55 pm

      Great topic!
      I understand why you may have included that traditional “dividing line” for roles and tasks for the sexes.
      We cannot individually learn and master every skill. Becoming more of an expert or at least modestly efficient in some areas over others is important.
      Division of labor is really the only practical solution to accomplishing the many chores that accompany traditional lifestyles, farming, homesteading, or “living from scratch.”
      Thank you for your boldness in writing from this time honored tradition.
      Developing “experts” within families can help keep a house or homestead running more smoothly than if everyone takes turns at everything.
      This is certainly timely!
      Let’s all try to pass along skills we have mastered (or can at the least muddle through) to the next generations.
      The bonus is the building of relationships and community!

      REPLY

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