We can do better than Shop Class
I really didn’t like shop class.
Looking back, there’s so much that I could have enjoyed about it, but as a 7th grader in the early 90s I dreaded that room. It was school without reading or writing, my two “good” school skills. To my adolescent self, wood shop was just a math class where all that mattered was small fraction accuracy and penmanship. All of the hooks and interest that now drive me to Nova-Labs, or into my father’s garage, found no purchase there. I took a semester of cooking and sewing the same year, and in retrospect I feel fortunate for my access to the last gasp of practical education in the California public schools. But even in the moment it was clear that these classes were outside what really “mattered” in school. Arts were already a world apart from the academic classes, and these were extra filler for those kids who couldn’t sing or draw. When I arrived at a similar middle school as a teacher in 2004, there was an entire wing of shop rooms sitting dark and idle, with padlocks across the doors.
I shudder when the Maker movement is described as 21st Century Shop Class. I’m sure there’s a positive aim behind the phrase, but to me it speaks of a compartmentalized existence, fighting for minutes and a spot on the “mandatory electives” list. Shop Class suggests that maker culture is something that fits comfortably in 50 minute periods, sliced up by semester. ***
The Maker movement isn’t defined by tools or materials, although its been fueled by rapid expansion and commodification of certain tools. Nova Labs’ schedule is packed with classes and project groups, but no single program is absolutely essential. ** What makes them a vibrant space is the abundance and diversity of those offerings, and how quickly new ideas migrate from the mailing list to the calendar to an active project.
That’s what Maker Culture has to offer schools, teachers and students. A Maker Space should be the incubator for new fascinations, not just certification program for expensive hardware. I don’t pretend that I know how to marry that flexibility and discovery with design thinking in an adolescent friendly package. But U know that it’s worlds apart from what I saw in Shop Class
** Yeah, I know. Art/music/french doesn’t fit well in 50 minute periods either. That’s pretty much my point,.
*** Except safety orientation. Knowing how to use the table saw is pretty crucial, if you’re going to have a table saw.