Are we educating our children to be computer users to the exclusion of everything else? Admittedly the ability to use a computer is as vital as the ability to read in modern society, but there are other things even more basic to preparing young adults for the real world. At least I recall a time when “preparing students for adult life” was actually part of what schools were for. I was inspired to write this article after reading about Angelo Trevelli who “could repair anything” and still had his favorite shop class project when he passed away at 88 years of age.
The education system in America (at least the part I live in) has taken some major strides forward in some things but is really failing to supply vital things at the same time. Isn’t the basic knowledge of working with your hands a valuable thing to have? I am not saying that we need to turn our children into master craftsmen but they should know some basic things like how to hold a hammer, change a tire, sand wood, do an oil change, connect your new doorbell, change an outlet, cook, etc.. Actually for the vast majority of us they are skills we will use far more than advanced math, science, social studies, and so on.
What happened to shop class? When I attended school we had wood shop, home economics, electronics shop, automotive shop, metal shop, printing shop, photography shop, and probably a few others I no longer recall. A certain amount of them were required by the curriculum.
My kids have taken many “computer” classes during their education and for those not in the know, that is just a fancy name for what us old folks used to call typing class for the most part. Not classes about operating systems, programming, web design, etc… - just typing practice essentially.
In the same time frame they have had one “Technology” class - the modern day replacement for shop class. Technology class basically is designing some pitiful project for months on end, then spending a week making it out of materials that don’t require using any “dangerous tools”. Thats right, because there is about a 1 in 800 million chance that any given student may be the next serial killer - we must protect them by not allowing anything that might be used as a weapon in our schools. For some reason they overlook the most obvious weapon - every student carries at least one pen and pens are as effective as knives if you want to kill someone. I guess they draw the line at going back to inkwells and writing with plumes.
So lets compare some basics:
My Son (16 years old now):
- Can type very well
- Can glue precut wood together
- Knows how to cut Styrofoam and plastic
- Probably cannot expect much more than this in final 2 years of high school but is lucky that he can learn this at home - unlike many of his fellow students
Myself At 16 (1974)
- Some, but poor typing skills (17 wpm)
- Skilled with the use of saws, hammers, planes, clamps, and other woodworking tools
- Skilled with electrical tools such as meters, soldering iron, etc… able to read electrical schematics (this turned into a career after college)
- Basic metalworking skills - bending, peening, riveting, etc…
- Basic typesetting and printing press usage
- In final 2 years of high school add automotive knowledge and photographic developing
After giving this some deep thought - I have my doubts that this is really about protecting the students. It looks more likely to be a matter of economics, wood is expensive but plastic is not. Styrofoam is a lot easier on the budget than sheet metal. Tools are a lot more expensive than a scissors and bottle of glue. The safety issue looks more to me like a smoke screen to hide the fact that yet another aspect of our children’s education is being shortchanged.
I still have the first woodworking project I ever made (6th grade shop class) and I am proud to say that it was part of what engendered a life long love of making things with my own hands. Sadly, I fear that I’ll be overhearing the guy at the home center explaining which end of the hammer you hold to many of today’s graduating high school students in coming years.