Few girls take shop: Is it a problem?

A “shop stigma” is keeping girls out of traditionally male vocational courses, NPR worries.

Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX, which said no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from any education program or activity. Vocational education courses that barred girls — such as auto mechanics, carpentry and plumbing — became available for everyone. But it’s still hard to find girls in classes once viewed as “for boys only.”

Zoe Shipley, 15, is also the only girl in her high school’s auto tech course. Her parents are pressuring her to switch to engineering, which they see as less greasy.

Her high school’s construction management courses attract only a few girls, NPR adds.

It’s up to schools to “take extra steps” to recruit girls to “courses that lead to higher-paying careers in technology and trades,” instead of low-paying fields, such as child care and cosmetology, says Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center.

I think schools should make sure students know how much they’re likely to earn if they pursue auto mechanics, carpentry, child care or cosmetology. But the low female enrollment in auto shop isn’t really about bias — or parental pressure.

Update: In praising Title IX in a Newsweek commentary, President Obama said it’s a “great accomplishment” for America that “more women , , , now graduate from college than men.”  I know he didn’t really write it, but he should have read it before he let it be sent out. Far too many males are doing poorly in school, failing in college and — because they didn’t learn vocational skills such as auto mechanics — struggling in the workforce. This is a serious problem for America — and for the young women who’d like to marry a guy with a decent job.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Joanne, did you truncate this message?I think it is an important message. For a few years I enjoyed the services of a female auto mechanic; she was a rare bird.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    Of course it is a problem! Any field where women don’t make up at least 50% of the membership is a problem 🙂

  3. When I attended junior high (known as middle school now), when a student reached 8th grade, industrial arts (aka shop) was a required course for all students, as was home economics.

    If you make a course a requirement, you don’t have the issue of gender creeping in (at least that’s what I’ve seen) 🙂

    • We were also required to take home economics and industrial arts in junior high. I think that this was a great idea…it opened up new horizons and certainly showed me where my talents were! Is this still done today?

      • Genevieve says:

        Many home ec and industrial tech classes have been cut. They cost money and you have to make room in student’s schedules for double period reading and math.

    • I vote for fewer requirements, particularly in the non-academic areas (fine arts, shop, home ec, PE). Why should kids who already know how to cook, iron clothes and do hems, buttons etc. – like mine – be required to take home ec? Why should gymnasts or swimmers or any full-time athletes be required to take PE? Why should a kid who spends large amounts of time working with his dad in their home woodworking shop – like a friend of my oldest – be required to take shop? Why should a kid who has already had one-person art shows – like another kid I knew – be required to take art? Time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted; the oone-size-fits-all approach is one of my biggest beefs with the ed establishment.

      • SuperSub says:

        There will never be a perfect education for every child. Ultimately, the purpose of public education is to provide as many children as possible a broad education to enable them to become productive citizens.
        The “need” argument that you described has a few flaws.

        First, it relies upon the ability of a school district to accurately measure a student’s ability in these areas to excuse them from various courses. Current assessment is framed around the school’s curriculum, and asking them to give placement tests in every non-core subject would be cost and time prohibitive.

        Secondly, many non-core courses are very broad in scope, so even if a student comes in having mastered one unit the course teaches, nothing guarantees that they have any knowledge of other units. Many home ec courses cover bookkeeping and even allow students to design or participate in running a business besides teaching cooking and sewing. Perhaps the artist you know is skilled at painting but has little experience with creating sculptures? Even PE can improve a star football player’s ability to swim.

        Finally, the slippery-slope argument. If the requirement to take a course is based upon the individual need of that student, then the “need” argument could be used to excuse student’s from courses that they have no experience in, assuming they have chosen a path that would not require it. What do hairstylists need geometry for, for example?

  4. I suppose that we could also look at things from the opposite point of view – why is the number of males so low in home economics courses? I am for equality and believe that girls should be encouraged to branch out into areas that have been traditionally dominated by men – as well as vice versa. All students should be encouraged to break traditional barriers should they wish to do so. However, the students, themselves, have to want to pursue these ‘untraditional’ paths. They don’t need to be recruited but, instead, should be encouraged to pursue their passions, the things that they are talented at – for this is the foundation for any successful career in any field. With talent, careers in cosmetology and childcare can provide opportunity, both of the personal and financial kind. If you try to pursue a career without the drive, interest or talent to do it…and only possess the will to earn more…failure seems pre-programed.

    • BadaBing says:

      Of course, you’re right, but shouldn’t girls be willing to sacrifice themselves for the higher cause of gender equality, for the sake of the National Women’s Law Center and other progressive groups like it?

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    As has been noted above, any difference in group participation, however defined, is grist for the grievance mill.
    I can see a version of Title Nine applied here. You have to cut home ec courses until….. No, that won’t do it. Cut shop courses….. Assign women by random selection to shop until the count is even up. The same for guys to home ec.
    Or, presumng the grievance folks think shop is too macho, we could take out those nasty, big machines and not work on chainsaws and cars and such. We could make the guys learn how to fix hairdryers. That’ll pull in the women, by golly. Or, if not…..
    Boy, if we continue to think of this as a free country, this is a toughie. Well, there’s a solution. The Constitution is really old and was written by white men. So forget it. That way, we can solve the shop class discrimination.

  6. We had to take both industrial arts and home ec. in middle school. Those IA classes were some of the most useful classes I’ve ever had. We had actual applications for all that math we were supposed to be learning and had a product to show for it at the end. I still use some of the things I learned today. They have nothing to do with my career, but everything to do with a high quality of life (and not having to call a repair person every time something breaks).

    I think that everyone should learn how to do a few hands-on skills that will get you through life. It wouldn’t hurt to throw some personal finance into the mix. Everyone should know how to sew on a button, sand rough edges off splintered wood, and balance a checkbook. All those 21st century skills won’t help a darn if we forget how to keep our houses from falling down on top of us.

    There was just an article in our paper today about businesses having to train skilled workers themselves rather than relying on the job pool. We’re talking about welders, electricians, and so forth. The problem business have is that many of the folks who apply to their training programs don’t have the basic math or science skills necessary. Companies might be willing to train someone how to work with sheet metal, but they aren’t going to train someone how to do the measurements and addition to cut things to the right size. That’s what grade school is for.

  7. Everyone should know how to drive a nail, drive a screw, change out a broken light switch, free a sticky door, change a tire, fix a leaky faucet, cook a meal, do a load of laundry, put a new battery in the smoke detector and so on. These are basics of life in the twenty-first century and, if you don’t know how to do them, someone with the skills is going to make you pay for your ignorance.

    That said, these are probably the things your parents can and should teach you in the normal course of growing up. I wasn’t much of a carpenter as a kid, but when I had to help my father build a room onto the house, my skills improved. My mother drilled me on a handful of basic meals before I went off to college. The electricity merit badge got me through changing a fuse/resetting a breaker/not overloading an outlet.

    • I agree that such skills are useful, but just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean that schools should do it. In almost all countries in the world, they don’t. My kids learned those skills at home and, as elite full-time athletes (separate from school), they could have benefited more from a study hall than from being forced to deal with a home ec teacher telling them how to cook seriously unhealthy food (which they would never eat) from canned soups and box mixes or with the shop teacher having them make birdhouses from a kit which required no measurement or cutting – glue and paint only.

      • Supersub says:

        It seems that your arguments have more to do with the quality of education than the content.