Editor’s note: This is part of our series featuring some of our favorite columns from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward” years, along with a few sentences about why these particular columns hit the mark.
This column from 1942 speaks to the need to pass on our hard-earned skills, and as a teacher (and a member of the human race), that’s of utmost importance to me. What also strikes a chord is Hayward’s discussion in the opening paragraph of today’s work being divorced from creativity. While his “today” is more than half a century ago, I don’t think it’s changed much…except perhaps for the worse. I built a fair number of projects for Popular Woodworking (and for myself) before I became editor. After I was promoted, I spent all my time in meetings or at my desk. Editing involves some creativity – but it’s not the same as designing and building a tangible thing. And I missed sharing my own tangible work with others. I shouldn’t have let the long hours and employee reviews stop me.
Now, I’m happy to be back in the shop – and happier still when there are six to 10 others in there learning alongside me. But I think Hayward was wrong in saying kids today aren’t interested. Or maybe that was true in 1942. Now, almost every class I teach has “kids” in it. But the point is to teach – to pass it on. Woodworking is an art, but it shouldn’t be a mystery.
We have often discussed here that aspect of modern industrial life which has tended to divorce the work of many men from anything that is intelligently creative, because so much is done by machinery. Compensation comes in the increase of leisure which this allows, a leisure that does at least give a man an opportunity of finding his own interests or hobbies. But at the same time have come the counter-attractions of cinema and radio, offering an easy way of entertainment without effort to a man who is tired after his day’s work. So that, in spite of the increase of opportunity, he has every inducement to allow himself to drift. The older man usually knows how to strike the balance. Things were not so easy when he was a boy, he had to learn to amuse himself, and he grew up with all sorts of hobbies and enthusiasms, and learned to be a handy sort of fellow. If he is, say, a keen woodworker, or a keen gardener, there are times when nothing will tempt him away from the job in hand.
But for the younger generation it is different. They were born into the state of affairs where entertainment, like everything else, was made easy. And some of our Youth Leaders are now finding it difficult to get boys really doing things—boys in their teens with no particular hobbies, no particular interests, who simply want to be entertained, and that at a time when a boy should be so full of interests that no day is long enough to cram them all in. “I do not complain of growing old,” says John Buchan, “but I like to keep my faith that at one stage in our mortal existence nothing is impossible.” We feel that that should be so in youth, and yet here is the problem in our midst. “It gives you absolutely nothing to work on,” said one of their Leaders to me recently, a man who numbers photography, book-binding, carpentry and music among his own hobbies, and does them all extremely well. “They’ve no conception of taking the initiative themselves or doing a spot of work for the pleasure of it.”
What are we going to do about it? The gospel of “work for the pleasure of it” isn’t an easy gospel to preach to the young. You have got somehow to kindle the spark of enthusiasm in their minds first, that enthusiasm which can make everything seem well worth doing, even the hard bits, for the sake of the end in view. And it is the enthusiasm of the Youth Leaders from which the boys have got to catch their own tiny spark which, once alight, may well kindle into a flame. And it will be worth it. For they can learn more from intelligently working at a hobby than from almost anything else. It develops patience, ingenuity, alertness, self-mastery, helps them to discover their own hidden powers, teaches them the satisfaction of a good job done, widens their knowledge in a thoroughly practical way.
But we have no business to leave it all to the Youth Leaders. There is no easy time ahead for the boys of this generation and it is every man’s job to lend a hand where he can. The best place is in the home. If you are a keen woodworker, then try to interest your boy as well. Don’t just hustle him out of the way because you are in the middle of a job and don’t want to be interrupted, or are afraid he will meddle with your tools. Teach him how to use them; help him with some little constructive job of his own, if it is only to make a “safe”—as a small boy of my acquaintance did recently—to keep his secrets in! Small boys are usually keen enough. It is the older ones who grow apathetic. And who knows if the blame can be put entirely on the pictures? Mayn’t it be that we have hustled them out of our way rather too often? Dared them to touch our tools when they were simply longing to try them? The impulse to do and to make things is there right enough. But these are days when it needs to be fostered.