Thursday, August 28, 2014

Practical skills? You better shop around.

I went to an all-girls high school in the 1960’s, so of course there were no shop classes. There were no home ec courses offered, either.

Not that we needed them.

Most of us came from large families, and, as the first wave of baby boomers, most of us were somewhere up near the front of the pack. So we got to learn how to do plenty, domestic-wise.  My sister Kath and I learned how to cook  - well, at least she did: I learned how to bake. We learned how to hem a skirt and sew a button on. We learned how to knit – Kath became a wiz, while I pretty much got stuck in knit-purl. We learned how to crochet. We learned how to embroider. (Talk about a lost art…) We learned how to make all sorts of crafts. (Contact me if you want to know how to make a piggy bank out of a plastic Clorox bottle.) We learned how to clean. We learned how to change diapers, give a bottle, and pace around with a colicky baby.

What could we possibly learn from a nun in a home ed class that we weren’t getting via on the job training at home? (On second thought, on the job implies you were being paid. We learned all this stuff through the indenture system known as childhood.)

As for shop, there was less opportunity to learn at home, at least in our house.

My father liked to wash the car and care for the lawn, but he wasn’t the home handyman type, one of those dads with the basement workbench.

So we all, of course, learned how to wash a car and care for a lawn.

But I don’t recall him doing anything but the most rudimentary of home repairs. (My mother rewired the lamps…)

But somewhere along the line, I learned how to hammer a nail in straight, use an electric drill, change the gizmos in the toilet tank, and rewire a lamp.

My husband was actually pretty handy, but he, unfortunately, didn’t give a damn what any of his handyman specials looked like.. As long as it worked, it didn’t really matter that the air vent in the bedroom was partially covered up by a piece of cardboard held in place with an alligator clip.

But  I do know how to use the phone to call someone to take care of the home repairs that need getting done. And one of these days, I’m actually going to put that know-how into practice.

Sadly, though, actually knowing how to do things that don’t get done via app on a mobile device is becoming an all-round thing of the past.

Sure, the doomsday preppers know how to make raccoon stew and stitch together a coonskin cap, but the rest of us, especially the young folks, don’t know squat. Everyone’s gotten so hell-bent on getting a college degree that they look down their noses at learning shoppish things.

Which is too bad, because those shoppish things are where some of the good jobs are, as I read in a recent article on Bloomberg.

With schools focused on preparing kids for college, shop class has gone the way of stenography class in much of the U.S. Companies from Toyota Motor Corp. to Siemens AG and International Business Machines Corp. are pushing high schools to graduate students with the real-world skills business needs.

The message is getting through. This year, for the first time in a decade, the U.S. government boosted funding for high school and college vocational education, though the $1.125 billion war chest is $188 million smaller than it was in 2004.  (Source: Bloomberg)

Kids with practical skills are earning a good living, thank you. And, as the article points out, vocational education can be a gateway to a middle class life: buy a car, start a family, build a home. Without having it set you back $200K in student loans taken out so that your could major in general studies at Whatsamatta U.

Proponents say re-emphasizing vocational education will help reverse the hollowing out of America’s middle class and combat rising inequality. Wage growth since 2009 has been the weakest since World War II even as the rich get richer.

There are 29 million “middle-education” jobs that pay more than $35,000 a year, considered a threshold to the middle class, according to Georgetown University research. Of those, 22.9 million require only high school or some post high-school training.

Even some of the college bound kids are figuring out that it helps to have some hands-on experience that doesn’t involve rapid thumb movement alone.

Seth Bates, who teaches applied engineering at San Jose State University, started a remedial shop class for aspiring engineers who can’t use a power drill properly.

Come on. Even I can use a power drill properly (sort of).

“By 1995, a student who came to us who had actually worked with tools was exceedingly rare, and now it’s almost unheard of,” he said. “Maybe it’s one out of 50 today. Most of them come in without a clue.”

And while it’s important for engineering students, it might not be a bad idea for all kids to learn how to make a bookcase.

Come on, kids, you better shop around!

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