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.

Shop is not a four-letter word

Shop is Not a Four-Letter Word, writes Jim Berman on Edutopia. “Technical education is the foundation that can work for many of our students.” Berman started his teaching career at a technical high school.

On my very first day, my supervisor, Mr. Wells, walked me through the halls. He introduced me to Mr. Davis, Automotive Technology instructor. Davis explained that his students are almost always in demand, often securing good employment before making the big walk in June.

I saw students working beneath the undercarriage of cars, suspended with myriad of diagnostic cables, wires and hoses that made a surgical suite look plebian.

I saw the Carpentry classroom, complete with a house being built from the foundation, wired by the Electrical Trades students and run with pipe by the Plumbing crew. Mr. Wells hustled me off to Medical Assisting where a patient was splayed out on gurney with all the requisite needles and beeping monitors you would see at Cedars-Sinai or the Mayo Clinic. The Welding room was glowing with the azure, electric-white glow from plasma torches ripping through metal. The din from the Automotive Body Repair garage was deafening. Mr. Wells explained that we were witnessing a team on a hard deadline to finish the repair and paint work on a ’77 Corvette that was heading to a car show the following week.

Berman plans a three-part series.

College students need practical skills as well as liberal arts, writes Scott Carlson in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Students learn about “sustainability” in class, but don’t know how to cook their own food, much less grow it, he writes. They can’t install a thermostat that conserves electricity.

Even science and engineering students lack “a serious enough regard for the way things get made and the way that things arrive on our kitchen table to eat in the morning,” says Robert Forrant, a professor of labor and industrial history at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and a former factory-floor machinist.

Instead his students see themselves as designers, divorced from the dirty work of making. “Somehow we have this notion that we are going to be this country that has all the idea people—that all the Steve Jobses of the world will live in the United States,” Forrant says. “To somehow think that you can dream something up without really understanding what it takes to make it flies in the face of reality.”

My husband, who grew up tinkering in the basement workshop, understands how things work. As an electrical engineer, he holds 30-odd patents.

Camp Make-It-Yourself

Gadget Camp — a week of band saws and factory field trips — is trying to interest kids in manufacturing careers, reports the New York Times.

Manufacturers . . . complain that few applicants can operate computerized equipment, read blueprints and solve production problems. And with the baby boomers starting to retire, these and other employers worry there will be few young workers willing or able to replace them.

Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, a foundation affiliated with the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association,  is financing 10 Gadget camps this summer, including one in Illinois for girls only.

Across the country, a handful of companies, nonprofit groups, public educational agencies and even science museums are trying to make manufacturing seem, well, fun. Focusing mainly on children aged 10 to 17, organizations including the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pa.; and Stihl, a maker of chain saws and other outdoor power equipment in Virginia Beach, Va., run camps that let students operate basic machinery, meet workers and make things.

Antigone Sharris, who came up with the idea for the all-girls Gadget camp, worked  in manufacturing before becoming an instructor in electronics, welding and computer-aided machinery at Triton College, a community college that hosted the camp.

 “Girls don’t naturally gravitate toward engineering,” said Ms. Sharris, a jolly and patient instructor who interspersed practical tips on using a band saw or a drill press with casual explanations of fractions, the concept of leverage and Newton’s laws.

. . .  16 girls aged 11 to 15 designed and constructed a cat feeder, a candy dispenser and various pieces of jewelry and music boxes, using foam board, wood, metal, fiberglass and PVC pipe.

“Not letting your children learn the hands-on component of the theory of science is killing us as a nation,” Ms. Sharris said. “You have to stop giving kids books and start giving them tools.”

Girls learned about manufacturing salaries, which start at $40,000 in the area, and visited nearby factories.

Stop giving kids books? I hope not. But I do think children need more opportunities to make things — real things, not virtual representations.

I took shop in fourth, fifth and sixth grade. We all learned to use a band saw. I made a set of shelves, a lamp and an inadvertently Dali-esque checkerboard, though my fiberglass ring was sucked into the buffer and never seen again. We did technical drawing too. I don’t know if it produced any engineers or carpenters, but we were very proud of our creations.

 

College shouldn’t be only K-12 goal

Higher education shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of K-12 education, writes “edu-traitor” Cathy Davidson, an English professor, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

Higher education is incredibly valuable, even precious, for many. But it is bad for individuals and society to be retrofitting learning all the way back to preschool, as if the only skills valuable, vital, necessary in the world are the ones that earn you a B.S., BA, or a graduate and professional degree.

Many jobs require specialized knowledge, intelligence and skills, but not a college education, Davidson notes.  Yet our educational system “defines learning so narrowly that whole swaths of human intelligence, skill, talent, creativity, imagination, and accomplishment do not count.”

Schools are cutting art, music, P.E. and shop to focus on college prep, Davidson complains. (I’d say schools are cutting electives — especially shop — to focus on basic reading and math skills.)

. . . many brilliant, talented young people are dropping out of high school because they see high school as implicitly “college prep” and they cannot imagine anything more dreary than spending four more years bored in a classroom when they could be out actually experiencing and perfecting their skills in the trades and the careers that inspire them.

We need value “the full range of intellectual possibility and potential for everyone,” Davidson writes.

The brilliant, talented kid who drops out to pursue a passion for art, carpentry or cosmetology is a rare bird, I think. But Davidson is right about the college-or-bust mentality in K-12 education. Many students who are bored by academics could be motivated — maybe even inspired — by a chance to develop marketable skills.

Some 80 percent of new community college students say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree. They sign up for remedial or general education courses.  Few succeed.  Students who pursue vocational goals — a welding certificate, an associate degree in medical technology — are far more likely to graduate.