Are we a nation of Makers?

A few days ago I was waiting for a mechanic to call back to let me know if he could attend to some scary-looking warning lights on my car dash, when I ran across this beautifully made interview short by Andrew David Watson entitled Handmade Portraits: Liberty Vintage Motorcycles.

In the film, narrator Adam Cramer lements:

The largest problem facing us is the deindustrialization of America. Our ‘can-do’ American spirit is being lost.

As a lover of the Maker movement and former TinkerLab founder, I had the need to push back against this perception. I began Googling around until I had identified the error message, removed my dashboard, and swapped out the part.

Even as most car manufacturers and gadget producers give us less ability to maintain and modify the products we produce, there are movements underfoot that resemble the world of “New Work” in Doctorow’s Makers.  I hope we are moving back towards a culture of do-it-yourself and personally work to cultivate curiosity with my students. Here are some encouraging stories to support this claim:

As a middle school teacher, my job is often to seed a set of boundaries in the hopes that students will encounter and then hack their way up/over/around them. Sometimes this is a student who, frustrated by iMovie’s single-title limitation, discovers that exporting and then reimporting projects allows her to create layers of words over a clip. On another occasion, a student misses a self-imposed project deadline and uploads an impassioned YouTube apology complete with live puppy (with really sad puppy eyes) requesting an extension.

What do you believe? Is Cramer right that “our children don’t know the difference between a flathead screwdriver and a Phillips” or do you align with Muren’s philosophies?

2 thoughts on “Are we a nation of Makers?

  1. Great juxtaposition. The first video refers specifically to hands-on vocations, whereas many of your examples rely on digital technology. Is this distinction important?

  2. Interesting point Kaleb, thanks for the comment.

    I’ve worked at several schools that are entirely comfortable with students hacking in a virtual sandbox or creating their own games. When it comes to cracking open an old printer or broken toy though, there is nervousness around sharp parts and solder.

    Lego seems to be the gateway to hands-on…every generation has an idea of what it is and what can be done with it. Super expensive though.

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