Friday, June 17, 2011

prejudice against hands-on learning...

This article explains the obstacles faced by hands-on learning in our nation's schooling: Vocational education advocates battle ‘enormous’ prejudices. Mike Rowe from the TV program Dirty Jobs, explains:
"We've elevated the importance of 'higher education' to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled 'alternative,'" he said. "Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as vocational consolation prizes, best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of 'shovel ready' jobs for a society that doesn't encourage people to pick up a shovel."
Fortunately, Mike is finding many educational experts in agreement, and his view has been supported by the recent Harvard report.
"We don't encourage our kids to pursue those careers--we don't aspire to those things," he says. "It's the first thing we'll portray in a negative or typical way on TV. There's the plumber: He's 300 pounds and his butt crack's hanging out."

The new crop of advocates behind Rowe's cause argue that good vocational education doesn't mean kids have to choose between college and a career. They point out that some of the best new vocational programs combine rigorous academic standards with career-focused, real-world curricula and offer the opportunity for students to earn certificates in high-earning fields while they're still teenagers.
We've become a nation of knuckleheads through our failure to include the hands in our nation's schooling. Best is when the hands and brain are challenged to work together in the development of skill, character and intelligence. Turn every school into a workshop/laboratory engaging science through the making of tools for educational exploration and we will see more intelligent results. Give students the hands-on opportunity to discern that which is real from that which is not, and we will discover wisdom in our nation's youth. My thanks to Richard Bazeley, for the link.

In the photo at left, you can see some of the finished boxes from my Kansas City Woodworker's Guild Box Making Class. Students! Great work!
Make, fix and create...


  1. It seems that the phrase "alternative" has become a popular phrase for categorizing solutions to problems that conventional means cannot solve. Our food, medicine, energy and educational institutions use this phrase to describe solutions for problems that, for the most part, make more sense. So, why not just replace the phrase "alternative" with "makes more sense"? Then again, try to explain this idea to someone who equates how smart they are to their grades, class rank, degree or test scores.

  2. Prejudice against hands-on-learning, careers, and working styles is not a new thing. When I was a senior in college in 1972, majoring in Industrial Arts, Secondary Education, it was clear to me that the teaching of actual hands-on-skills was virtually gone in MD public schools. I never did get a teaching certificate. I became a non-degreed, hands-on-Electrical Engineer and started by repairing electronic equipment and then spent the remainder of my career designing medical electronics, which I do to this day. I have had many mentors and heroes. A particular hero of mine just passed away recently. He was a self-taught engineer who was universally highly regarded. His name was Jim Williams and he was a strong promoter of hands-on design work. Read more here:

  3. Chris and David, thanks for adding your observations. I don't think of hands-on learning as being unusual or alternative, but essential and far more effective.

    In nearly every case prejudice is extremely difficult to overcome. College has been held up as being the ONLY measure for successful children, but in far too many cases, graduates ask, "Do you want fries with that?" My belief is that there are many ways in which we can each make contribution to human culture that should be valued and deserve respect.

  4. Kevin Thomas11:05 PM

    Doug, I thank you for your comments. At the Kansas City Woodworkers' Guild, we have stressed education. Last year, we even offered a woodworking class for home-schooled kids, 14 and older. We recently learned that due to liability issues we will be unable to offer that class in the future. It's a shame because our membership had really gotten on board with the idea and the kids were excited as well. Now thanks to some bureaucrat, for some insurance company, we can't teach to those that want to learn. At least not till they're 18, if it's not to late then. It's hard if you can't teach them when you first get them hooked.

  5. Kevin, I had followed your youth classes with interest in your club newsletter, and I am disappointed by the outcome. What a shame that minor bureaucrats with too little understanding and experience can squelch such an ambitious and meaningful program. I have seen injuries far more serious on the basketball court, but the fear of lawsuit has been hammered in over the years. In the meantime, there are very real dangers in having children grow up without creative capacity in the use of tools. And we put texting devices in their hands and send them driving on down the road. This morning I read that the CPSA is coming closer to requiring sawstop technology on all saws, but it would do far more for safety if we were to stop text messages from being sent or received from cars. But then we've become a nation of knuckleheads, and what can we do about it?

  6. Anonymous4:46 PM

    My plumber makes much more money than I ever did, and earns it. He's also close to 70. The shortage of competent people in trades is scary.