Return of shop

Schools are rebuilding shop classes that were abandoned years ago. Not everyone wants to go to college, it turns out.

Around the country, high schools are being transformed into career academies or adding smaller vocational schools within their buildings. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley recently announced an initiative that will let high school students become qualified to work in particular industries. Students would then use their certificates to find high-skill, high-paying jobs.

In California, three-quarters of high school technology programs have folded since 1980. Most tech-ed teachers are near retirement or already retired.

The story blames the rise of standardized tests for the decline of shop, but the transition started decades ago with the elimination of tracking. The idea was that all students would take the same courses and go on to college.

I’ve got a vocational ed (“career technology”) meeting today in my temp editorial writer guise.

Update: In Santa Clara County, the Building Trade Council, contractors, East Side High School District, San Jose-Evergreen Community College District and some other players have formed a non-profit to encourage young people to consider careers in construction. As I understand it — and they weren’t very clear — the idea is to create programs within high schools that would teach regular academic subjects with an emphasis on applying skills (especially in math and science) to construction jobs; students also would get experience with carpentry and other trades. Some would qualify for apprenticeships when they leave high school; others might choose to go to college to study to become architects, engineers, project managers and the like. They seemed very reluctant to pitch the program as an alternative to college. Apparently, no program can be sold these days without a college component.

News you can use: Apprentices earn $16 to $21 an hour in this part of California, less than half of what they’ll learn as journeymen in as little as three years.

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  1. Mr. Davis says:

    Shop is good for all students, not just those for whom it is career training.

    All those academic people are going to live in a house and own a car. Even if they hire someone else to fix things, they should learn how they work. That’s one of the things I learned in shop.

    Shop teaches people how to manipulate physical objects and gives them confidence to safely operate complex, intimidating machinery. This is valuable experience regardless of career path.

    Shop is one of the few classes that should not be tracked. With the end of the draft it is one of the few places in school where a variety of students representing the full spectrum of the citizenry learns to work in very small groups together.

    I have used more of what I learned in shop in the real world than in all the high school SAT preparation sessions disguised as English classes combined. Students need to have more time spent preparing them for the real world in classes like shop, home-ec, and personal finance.

  2. I don’t think it’s accurate to blame the decline of shop on testing; however, it’s not surprising, since everything else is blamed on testing, too.

    See my post The Suppression of Shop for more thoughts on the factors involved. Also, Peter Drucker, on what he got out of shop, in the 4th grade in Austria.

  3. There is value, real value, in learning a “trade” – and that can start in shop class.

    I needed a minor repair to my heating/ac system. It took over a MONTH to effect it…several appontments I made with the company were cancelled due to other emergencies. When I called to complain, part of the explanation I got was that it was very hard to find good workers.

    And that’s the case with EVERYTHING in the small town where I live – plumbers, car-repair, electricians. I’d be willing to pay extra for someone who showed up on time.

    For that matter: shop (or better yet: Basic Plumbing Repair and What You Can Rewire Yourself Without Burning Down Your House or Electrocuting Yourself) would be tremendously useful for us academic/ white collar types when we say “Bag it – I can’t take any more days off work for repair people who never show up. I’m going to try to do it myself.”

    We all – guys and girls – took wood shop, metal shop, cooking, sewing, art, and computers on a rotation in junior high school. Cooking was not that helpful to me (I had already progressed beyond what the class was teaching at home) but shop – especially metal shop with the scary spot-welder and the cool sandblasting set-up – was pretty fascinating.

  4. Indigo Warrior says:

    I agree with most of the comments here.

    One exception: shop can’t be mandatory. It should be an option open to all. To make it mandatory is the same mistake as eliminating it. Not everyone has mechanical talent.

    Another idea would be trade-based charter schools.

  5. We had to take shop, and girls had to take home ec; if you wanted to take more of either, than you were put in vocational track courses. Of course, that was back when high schools still offered two years of Latin.

  6. I love this line:

    Vocational education classes, once commonplace, began to languish as standardized tests started to determine success and failure and college became a singular goal.

    I’m beginning to wonder if there are any unwholesome trends that don’t result from standardized testing.

    Shop classes have been taking a beating for at least fifteen years, probably longer in some areas. Their demise doesn’t come as the result of standardized testing unless the closing down of shop classes was done in preparation for the arrival of standardized testing. Yeah, that must be it.

    Utilizing Allen’s Theory of Public Education Dynamics, the reason for the demise of shop classes results from their inherently “standardized testing” nature – cutting your thumb off probably means you didn’t learn much in woodshop no matter what part of the country you took shop – , the lack of an institutional constituency and the willingness of community colleges to pick up the slack.

    Some functions of public education are inherently “standardized” in that they have an inescapable competitive component. If you’ve got a school band then there’s a magnetic attraction to being the best band in the state. Parents want it, kids are willing to work for it and it brings enough glory to reward the employees involved. If you don’t do that well, there’s always next year.

    Shop classes aren’t that high-profiled. You can have the best shop class in the state and it means, pretty much, bupkus. So, no bake sales, Christmas wrapping-paper sales, car washes and all the rest of the foofaraw that seems to be an inevitable part of a school band.

    Community colleges have to dangle bait to get the little fishies to bite so if shop classes sell then shop classes go on the schedule. Shop classes do sell and so they’re on the schedule which takes any pressure off the high schools.

    But it’s the lack of internal constituency that guarenteed the steady erosion of shop classes.

    No shop teacher can delude themselves into believing that learning how to pull a cylinder head will result in anything other then a kid who knows how to pull a cylinder head. No contribution to social justice in that. No glorious displays of pedagogical creativity. No transcendental connections to higher realities that’s prevented by mere rote learning. No teaching someone how to learn to learn. In short, it’s teaching without the attractive, but contentless, illusions provided by edu-crap.

    You don’t have legions of ed school doctorates flogging their particular version of educational heaven just a room full of tools. What’s the fun in that? You also don’t have the pressure brought by local acolytes of the edu-crap – teachers, administrators and school board members – flavor-du-jour an advantage enjoyed, it seems, by every hare-brained scheme to pop out of an ed school. No internal constituency.

    Without some change to help keep shop classes afloat, over time they’re cut back and cut back until one day they’re simply gone.

  7. Shop used to be tracked at my high school, back when two years of Latin was offered (altho boys with restaurant ambition did take home ec). I was denied access to it because I was “college material” which I have always felt was more harmful than giving me a trigonometry teacher who barely knew how to read from the textbook.

  8. Eric Akawie says:

    I wonder how much of the decline of Shop can be attributed to insurance rates.

    15-20 teenagers, one adult and half-a-dozen powertools? I understand the value, but your average actuary is going to flip out.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I wish every day I had taken typing.