Today, I taught four women how to knit with two colors at once — a technique known as stranded knitting. The elephant hat above was our class project, though they all rebelled and did their hats with other motifs. (Three Longhorns and one Gryffindor crest. That’s Austin for you.)
I came home feeling elated, and it made me think about my two teaching lives. By day, I teach history to college undergraduates. By night, I teach knitting to people of all ages. They both have their own great rewards. But I felt something different today, and I realized it was that I felt a special satisfaction from teaching something that I really, really know.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t go through six years of graduate education and a decade of teaching just to confess that I know nothing about history. The funny thing is, though, that with ideas you never know when you have reached the bottom. To a certain extent, you always feel like a fraud — someday someone will expose that you don’t really know that much about the Thirty Years War or some such nonsense.
I recently read with my first-year seminar students an essay called “A Case for Working with Your Hands.” The author, Matthew Crawford, is best known for his book Shop as Soulcraft. He has a PhD in political philosophy but now repairs motorcycles for a living. When he’s working in his shop, he says, he either fixes the motorcycle or he doesn’t. (As Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”) In Crawford’s earlier office jobs, however, failure could always be re-packaged as success.
I felt a special thrill today when I watched these four women begin to knit their own stranded garments. For once I really, really felt like I knew what I was talking about. This is how you do it. There are other ways, but this is one, and it works. It’s that simple.