The ‘death’ of shop class?

I wasn’t raised in the USA’s educational system, so many aspects of it seem strange to me – getting academic credit for learning to drive, civics classes, stuff like that.  Nevertheless, one thing I’ve often heard mentioned by my local contemporaries-in-age is the fun they had in ‘shop class‘ – a catch-all phrase covering vehicle maintenance, welding, woodwork, simple home and farm repairs, and anything else covered in a practical, ‘this-is-how-you-do-it’ manner using tools and basic materials.  It sounded similar to (although more comprehensive than) the woodwork classes I took in the equivalent of the eighth, ninth and tenth grade, teaching us to work safely with the tools associated with carpentry.  I wish there’d been some vehicle maintenance, welding and other useful skills thrown in, but in South Africa those weren’t on the standard school curriculum.  (If you went to a technical high school, on the other hand, you got a lot more of that sort of thing.)

I’m therefore both saddened and infuriated to read that in many states, ‘shop class’ is going away because of the time demanded to teach more politically correct subjects.  Forbes has an interesting article on the subject.  Here’s an excerpt.

Shop classes are being eliminated from California schools due to the University of California/California State ‘a-g’ requirements. ‘The intent of the ‘a-g’ subject requirements is to ensure that students can participate fully in the first-year program at the University in a wide variety of fields of study.’  (a) History/Social Science (b) English (c) Mathematics (d) Laboratory Science (e) Language other than English (f) Visual and Performing Arts (g) College Preparatory Elective Courses … Shop class is not included in the requirements, thereby not valued and schools consider the class a burden to support.

. . .

The UC/CA State system focuses on theory and not applied skills; a belief that learning how to swing a hammer or understand the difference between a good joint from a bad joint is part of a by-gone era, and as a society these skills are not something to strive for – something people resort to when they are out of options.

. . .

75% of the students in California are not going to attend university yet they are taking classes that will help them get into UC and CA State schools. Just like there are people who are not inclined to become welders or machinists, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a football star.

. . .

As shop teachers around California retire, high schools aren’t replacing them and shop classes are closing. There is no training for teachers going through university to learn how to teach shop. This trend isn’t limited to California, according to John Chocholak who has testified in front of California State Assembly and Congress on the subject of shop class, he is seeing shop class killed in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and many other states. Shop class is dead and so are the potential trades people that would be born out of that early exposure to a tool or machine.

What is America going to do without skilled workers who can build and fix things?

There’s more at the link.

This ties in with Mike Rowe’s efforts to promote apprenticeships and the trades, most recently on his Profoundly Disconnected Web site.  If young people are to graduate high school without even the basic proficiencies required to get into a trade school or qualify for an apprenticeship, what’s that going to do to American industry?  (I note the existence of the Association for Career & Technical Education.  It appears to operate in many of the technical trade fields that are most in demand by industry;  but even there, I note that a number of non-technical fields such as HR, marketing, finance and administration have crept into its mission.  I’d have preferred to see it more strictly focused on technical trades as such, where the problem is most acute.  Still, it’s their business, and I wish them every success at it.)

Of course, there’s always the risk that automation and computerization might eliminate even technical jobs.  Taki’s Magazine recently argued that ‘Whatever blue-collar American jobs haven’t already been shipped overseas are rapidly being supplanted by embarrassingly more efficient hi-tech gizmos, thingamabobs, and doodads’.  However, I think such gizmos are more likely to be encountered on the assembly line than maintaining vehicles in the field, solving plumbing problems, and repairing electrical installations.  It would be cost-prohibitive to make and have on standby enough automated assistants to do all the day-to-day jobs currently undertaken by technicians and specialists – and then, who (or what) would maintain them in their turn?

I have to agree with the author of the Forbes article.  Without skilled workers, where are we going to find people who can fix things?  And if shop class goes away, what will that do to the already greatly diminished supply of candidates who want to learn to be skilled workers?



  1. I'm convinced a person could make a good side business repairing appliances and hand held electronics which have gone on the blink and are tossed out rather than repaired. The only lack is a place to display them for sale – any ideas on how to fix that ?

    Its pretty easy to do – I'm not mechanically inclined at all and was able to diagnose and fix a pair of VHS players that went out on us. The conventional wisdom is toss them out and replace with a cheap unit, but no – its really easy to fix, at least enough to try.

  2. I suspect that liability is another reason for closing down shop classes – it's pretty hard to lose a finger in a computer class.

  3. "You MUST have a college degree to get-" etc., blah blah. And they don't care if there are no jobs for the 'career' your degree is in, or if you can actually DO anything, you MUST get that degree. And go into horrendous debt doing it. Because actually working with your hands and getting dirty is to be discouraged.

    While mechanics and plumbers and machinists and on and on make damn good money, and good ones often have waiting lists of customers, and wish they could hire someone who can count, read and write, and is willing to work, to train.

  4. Now 70, I've used the skills learned in shop classes far more times than the "knowledge" learned in college classes.

  5. As someone who's in their 40's, perfectly willing to learn a trade and has at least 20 years of working left in them…

    Nope. Too old, don't apply.

    Nope. You've got a degree already, don't apply.

    Apparently there's not so much shortage that they're willing to take anyone who applies.

  6. The most troubling thing I see about is that it is yet another step in removing kids for having to interact with the natural world, working with their hands and bodies and where making mistakes have instant and painful reminders that do not depend on written rules or an observing seeing you, noting it, and prosecuting the infraction.

    That, over and above any specific skills learned, will do the most damage, particularly to boys who are not academically inclined. Going from a nation of "can do anything" to "outsource everything."

  7. Big +1 to what Rolf said.

    I grew up in an "outsource everything" family. Since becoming a machinist some ten years ago, my attitude has gone from "call the handyman" to "I'll take a swing at it". It's saved me thousands upon thousands of dollars by taking the DIY approach, and every new project I undertake and learn skills to complete reinforces my resiliency in the impending crisis.

    The educational cartel benefits from shipping every single child into expensive, watered down, brainwashing "higher education" that leeches billions of dollars from Joe Taxpayer in the form of federal student aid and hands it to the Gramscian, Alinskyite cultural Marxists of our universities.

    Which to you think our rulers prefer? Strong, capable, resilient men with a "can-do" attitude, or weak, emasculated, "oh gosh I can't do that I need an expert" effete males?

  8. In the light of this analysis Carlyle's rhapsody on tools becomes a prosaic fact, and his conclusion—that man without tools is nothing, with tools all—points the way to the discovery of the philosopher's stone in education. For if man without tools is nothing, to be unable to use tools is to be destitute of power; and if with tools he is all, to be able to use tools is to be all-powerful. And this power in the concrete, the power to do some useful thing for man—this is the last analysis of educational truth. Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand: manual training, the chief factor in education (1900)

    That has become one of my favorite quotes. The book was advocating the creation of schools that trained both the mind and the hand. It has several chapters laying out the school, which wouldn't be bad today, although not directly vocational since there is little call for blacksmithing, pattern making, casting, etc. It was a movement that MIT came out of and MIT still has mind and hand in their motto. Most of the book, it's been scanned online, is a discussion of education, the value of the useful arts and the historical denigration of those who can do create something useful with their hands.

    Sadly, the loss of "shop" class, a poor substitute for a school of the mind and hand, has been happening since the mid-1970s. When I entered high school way back then, they'd just shut down the classes on campus and you had to give up half your day travel way up county to the vocational school, which, unofficially, was for the non-college material. I never could get my schedule set up to take a class, well until my senior year when it was to late, so I just worked and came to school late for the classes I had to have to graduate. Oh, and drank.

    Now the more critical part these days is that most kids don't get exposed to tools and tool skills by fathers (or mothers) anymore. Few repair their own lawnmower or swap out their own outlets. Much less weld or make things. Grandpas do some woodworking but they are learning themselves not having learned the skills just 30 years ago.

    And while vocational training in a particular area isn't necessarily what is needed, teaching all kids, college-bound or not, tool skills would be beneficial. If only so they have some comprehension of what is being described in their literature reading or the travails in their history books.

    As an aside, with the denigration of the Bible in schools, students really can't comprehend most of the Medieval literature, music, art, etc. from the Western Civilization. The "educators" were so focused on their indoctrination schemes they missed that their beloved courses required an underpinning of what they denigrated.

  9. I had a need for an electrician recently and called a guy whom we know who runs a small shop. He was saying they are so desperate for electrical trainees that they started a program at the local community college and give it away! They are literally giving away free tuition to get training for a job that makes considerably more than minimum wage.

  10. The very sad thing about the demise of the shop program is that people don't learn how things work. After High school I fished and worked in processing plants for about 90+ years, In my mid thirties I went back to school and worked as a surveyor until i had to quit because of an injury to my knee. During this time I also worked odd jobs, built boats and kayaks, did this, that, and the other. At the present I get up at OMFGWTTII to bake in my wife's cafe. I am 67 years old, most of the income I've generated in my life falls back on learning how things worked in 9th and 10th grade shop class. The math certainly comes in handy, knowing what to do with it counts for more.

  11. The dumbing down of America continues. First, they decided to stop teaching cursive writing, and now apparently it's out the door with shop class. Common Core will ensure that kids don't understand math. You couldn't destroy education better if you were acting purposely to do it. Wait…

  12. I've seen it as a cost problem. Large shop tools: lathes and mills are expensive to buy, feed and house. As in the electricity, tooling and stock. Not to mention a skilled instructor.

    If you have a room that can hold 30 lathes, it'll hold 200 seats. The school can teach some inane "studies" class to 200 tuition payers per hour as opposed to 30 tuition payers in the shop. It's simple math. And how many kids want to use their hands for anything but texting now? They are trained to want the high paying, white collar-type job, where they don't have to do anything physical.

    Universities are in the business of making money. Whether they are public or private. When the government got in the tuition racket, the cost of tuition went up by at least as much as .gov contributed.

    If you have kids and are looking for a good place to learn, look at the lab portion of the engineering programs. I took a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology at LetU back in the late 80's. I had to take intro to welding with a lab, intro machine tools with a lab and other practical courses…. for an electronics degree. Best money I ever spent. I found skills that I didn't know I was capable of.

  13. Another incentive for getting rid of shop classes is political.

    The trades are generally intolerant of bullshit, and thus tend conservative. Plumbing either leaks or it doesn't. Walls and floors are plumb, square, and level or not. Electricity either flows safely, or starts a fire. Carpenters, electricians, and plumbers want to solve problems, and make things WORK! After a while, anybody can see that Liberals don't want to solve problems – they want to milk them for votes (and graft).

    Joe the Plumber is not a fan of the socialists, and the socialists hate him for it.

  14. One of my sons recently landed a job as a diesel engine mechanic at a local truck stop. Good for him!

    When he came over to share his news with us, another young man was also visiting. That young man absolutely could not wrap his head around my son's new job.

    Son: [shares his news]

    Friend: Working on trucks, huh? Well, I guess someone has to do it.

    Son: I like working with my hands. And the pay is really good.

    Friend: So you majored in mechanical work?

    Son: ??

    Friend: Like, did you get your bachelor's degree in fixing engines?

    Son: No, I didn't go to college.

    Friend: You mean, you didn't go to college for working on engines, right? Of course you went to college.

    Son: No. I didn't go to college.

    Friend: But how can you know how to fix an engine if you didn't go to college?

    Son: [points out the window to the cars in the driveway] I've been wrenching on cars since I was 10 years old. You know this.

    Friend: That's not the same thing! How can you get a job if you don't go to college?

    Son: I managed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *