Thursday, October 11, 2012

future of shop class?

Diane Rehm interviewed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and then two others, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, and the conversation turned to the role of shop classes in the future of American education. Sadly, none seemed to see much point in the return of woodworking classes in American Schools.
REHM 10:55:33 Do you think that high schools are likely to put more and more of that vocational training back into the curriculum?
FERGUSON 10:55:42 I think, yes, but I think it's going to look very different than what we saw in the past. This idea of working in a shop is probably not going to be what we're going to see.
FERGUSON 10:55:50 But seeing students being able to do medical training, perhaps, on-site at a lab near their school or have folks come in and teach them certain things, if they think that they're going to be interested in studying medicine or studying science or engaging in partnerships with local businesses who mutually support the school, I think that it's going to be innovations on this theme, perhaps, a career technical education for the 21st century is great.
REHM 10:56:12 Randi, I'll give you the last word.
WEINGARTEN 10:56:13 If we -- so I just -- I can't reiterate what Maria just said. If there was one thing -- if I could have one wish -- and this is as a former high school teacher -- this is about you have to take kids where they are, not where you want them to be.
WEINGARTEN 10:56:29 And I think if we figured out a way to have project-based learning so that every child, every student had a project that they had to focus on, whether it was art, whether it was music, whether it was vocational educational, things like that, we would actually find ways to create real relevance for kids because we have to connect them the way so that they see that education is key to their future.
Sadly, educators of nearly all stripes fail to understand the specific relationship between the hands and learning. I say yes to the internships, yes to the career and technical education. Yest to the project based learning. Each can engage the hands. But we also need opportunities for ALL students to engage the world creatively, making things of useful beauty in order to more fully understand the culture we have inherited from our grandparents. And for children to understand and appreciate their own creative potentials.

Today in the wood shop, Matt Kenney from Fine Woodworking will join me to photograph processes for two articles. My temporary assistant will be applying Danish oil to boxes.

Make, fix and create...


  1. I agree; the importance of hands on learning of the kind one gets in shop class is of the utmost importance. Kids get to take a project from design to completion, thinking, working with new tools, and feeling their project come together. The eye, hand, brain connection is exceptionally instrumental in the formation of a complete picture of what a project takes. The dropping of shop and music classes from American schools is what has harmed many children's learning abilities. Incomplete teaching, such as teaching answers for tests instead of presenting information an learning opportunities in real-world settings contributes to ADD and dysfunctional adults, socially and in the workplace. ☹

  2. Anonymous6:33 PM

    Project based learning in high school is very promising, but how are they preparing the students? If only the high schools change, then the typical curriculum of most elementary and middle schools only sets the students up to flounder with so much freedom. Their ability to flourish depends on the development of the whole person and the integration of all subjects.

    Does woodworking/handwork have a place? Yes, but it is hard to fight for the slacker class at the dark, dank, far end of the school with the instructor who has given up and just putting in time until he can retire. Woodworking or shop class should be centralized, used as a way to integrate all subjects and take lessons learned in the abstract to the concrete. This is just the tip of the iceberg for the benefits of woodworking and hands on learning. At its present (if there at all) it is seems like vocational training for a few, instead of a huge educational asset to all.

  3. I would like to see it in schools too, but at least this is something that can be done in many homes regardless of the school a student happens to attend.

    Non profit and charities such as after school programs, camp, and summer program groups can get involved too.


  4. Anonymous10:36 PM

    Woodworking at home, after school, summer camp, in the car, walking the dog, it's all good; but that's not the point. What would chemistry be without the lab? Students take the abstract to the concrete, it sticks with them, now they can relate. I can't think of a single subject which could not benefit from some shop time. A little interaction amongst the subjects, leading to an integration of ideas, now you have a whole education. Shop class, where the rubber hits the road.

    Elaborate shop classes with all of the fancy latest (soon to be out of date) technology are just a waste of money. A simple place where students are allowed to be creative, use their hands, make something and develop themselves in a way that sitting in a desk staring at a chalkboard or textbook can't.