An Education in Woodworking

Paradise Lost 

When Rob encouraged you to support woodworking programs in schools, it opened a floodgate of responses from shop teachers, former shop students and concerned woodworkers. – Editor 

“I am a woodworking teacher at a small public high school in Stafford, Kansas. You hit the nail on the head, so to speak. It seems like more requirements are added to students’ schedules all the time, which pushes electives by the wayside. It’s too bad, really. I love watching my students learn woodworking skills and create. They are so proud of the projects they produce, and their
academic skills are being reinforced. I could go on forever about the benefits of taking a woodworking vocational class.” – Jason Channell

“I am saddened by your story about fewer kid projects at your state fair. I am an old wood shop teacher. My degree is in Industrial Arts. In Texas, we witnessed this decline years ago. I, like you, was amazed at the projects kids brought to the state Industrial Arts project competition in Waco every year, at every level. Now that’s gone forever. I understand the need to keep up with the times, with computers and such, but there is something to be said for the courses lost.” – Jack Mayer

“I’ve been with Boy Scouts for about 10 years now and, for a while, I would have 10 to 12 boys want to earn the woodwork or woodcarving badge. The numbers started dwindling, and for the past two years no has wanted the badges. The school system has told the kids that blue collar trade jobs are for uneducated people and go to college to get a real job.” – Ed Ghiglieri

I read your column about woodshop. It brought back a lot of memories of when I took it in junior high and what it meant to me. My dad still has the nightstand lamp I made. I am overjoyed to read your encouragement of us to lend our skill to the young ones who need a lot of encouragement in a world where techies seem to rule. The skills of working with the wood and cooperating with the nature of the medium teaches precision, creativity and, perhaps above all, patience. These are talents that will never go out of style and for which there will always be a need. Thanks again for reminding me of this worthy task. I am going to call the local [independent school district] right now and ask if there is still woodshop. And if not, maybe I’ll volunteer to teach it.” – Jim McGill

“I also am concerned with the loss of woodworking shops in the public schools. Our district just began a multi-million renovation and addition to the middle school/high school campus. The wood shop, the remaining skills class that used to include an auto shop and a metal shop, was the first to go. Now the school is offering a pre-engineering class that is, fortunately, to be taught by the shop teacher. Hopefully he’ll be able to teach the use of the shop equipment in building models for the engineering class.” – Tom Chadwick

“I am from Wisconsin, where I teach high school woodworking, and am very active in the fairs as well. As far as teaching woodworking, I love it. The greatest reward with high school students is hearing them say, ‘I can’t build that’ at the start of a project, then after encouraging them and teaching them how to do techniques needed to build the project, they construct a beautiful piece of work. I watch them stand back and say, ‘Wow, I built that!’ That keeps me teaching. I certainly hope they will cherish their work for many years to come, as well as continue working with wood as a hobby.” – Harvey Menn

“I wanted to thank you for flying the flag for woodshop programs in the high schools. Industrial Arts has all but disappeared from the educational landscape, and I think that society is poorer for it. I’ll admit my bias: I teach high school woodshop. Wood and metal shop are the only classes where students learn to use tools, create with their hands, make mistakes that add to their learning, and maybe pick up a bit of insight and common sense as to how things work.  All of those seem to be pretty rare commodities in the real world these days. Young people need to know basic construction tools, how things work and how to train themselves to solve real world problems, and shop classes contribute to those skills. There does seem to be a bit of institutional bias in education against training for the trades, and I think that it is short-sighted.” – John Moorhead

“As a self-taught woodworker and trustee for a private Christian academy, I was presented with the opportunity to co-teach middle and high school students. The course will encompass many fix-it projects for these future homeowners. Such projects shall include basic electricity, painting, drywall repairs, basic plumbing repairs, and there will be a sizable portion on woodworking. We are excited, as are the students, but we need an assortment of simple, basic, interesting woodworking projects. Could you please assist in providing these?” – James F Harris, PhD

Keep an eye on the free plans we offer in each issue of this eZine, and take a look at the many plans available for very reasonable prices at our online store. – Editor 

“I’m a high school teacher from Australia. I teach woodshop to boys up to 16 years of age. I agree it is sad to see the decline in wood classes, yet we are experiencing occupational health and safety issues restricting the kids from using a wide variety of tools, and hence inhibiting their project ideas. I am finding it increasingly hard to find project ideas that can be made with a tenon saw, drill, hammer, a try square and a marking gauge that can be made by novices in 30 class hours. If you could include more 100 percent hand tool projects for teenagers, I would love to pass on that knowledge and help reinvigorate an interest in taking up shop.” – Selina Giles

“As a high school woodworking and carpentry teacher, I can attest to the fact that every year we have to fight to save our programs. Our district cut one position last year, but the community saved the wood portion – for at least one more year. One thing that your magazine could do to help us is with resources. Do you think Woodworkers’ Journal would consider donating a subscription?” – Trish O’Loughlin

This eZine is, and has always been, free. All you need do is sign up for it and it will come to your email box every two weeks. Pass the word among your students, too. – Editor 

“Thank you for your article. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. Our education system seems to think that there is only one purpose in life, and that is higher education. That does not fit all, and many good programs in our schools have been victim of misguided educators who think only about what might be best for them, and not what is best for the general populace.” – Bill Whitbread

“I am a long-time shop teacher from Texas. I am sad to report that there are very few shop classes. The Industrial Arts departments in the various colleges are now Technology departments. It is a shame that in high school, a student is required to take four years of English, math, science and social studies, two years of foreign language, a year of fine art and a semester of communications, but nowhere is any practical art required. Technology is a wonderful thing, but true craftsmanship is achieved through manipulative skills, and those skills cannot be developed at a keyboard.” – Denney Harris

“We are doing an injustice to our young students by virtually eliminating all hands-on experiences from the curriculum so they can prepare for some snapshot test scheme of evaluating our schools in place today. This pendulum has got to shift before we destroy any possibility of offering students real and meaningful curricula that provides a balance between the pure academia and the real world of where things get done.” – Gary L. Gauldin

The news was not all bad. There was a glimmer of hope from at least a couple of contributors. – Editor 

“Thank you for noticing the decline of woodshop programs in public schools. One of the major reasons for the decline is the unintended effects of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. NCLB has put enormous pressure on public schools to produce students who can pass exams in English, math and science. There are many positive aspects of this legislation. However, it has created an overemphasis on test scores. In the race to produce the required statistics, many schools have dropped their woods programs to use the teacher allocation for another math, English, or science position. However, there is some hope. In Nevada the statistics for children enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs is very promising. They are more likely to stay in school, more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to attend college, and also more likely to graduate from college. We all know there is a lot of math, language arts and science involved in the woodshop.  Let your local school district officials know you want your children able to apply academics in the real world, not just on the test.” – Terry Fowler

“Woodturning in this county is alive and well. Here at the county fair in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, our AAW [American Association of Woodturners] chapter turners have been offering woodturning demos and teaching youth. There has been huge interest, and it has grown each year. This was our fourth year. As an outgrowth of that, I organized a community woodturning experience that takes place in the local high school woodshop teaching turning to both children and adults. This year we are starting up in September and will do more of an organized format with more practice time and simpler projects that kids can accomplish using their skills. If we could muster enough helpers, it looks like the experience could grow even more. It looks like some high school kids will be joining in on the fun, too.” – Robert Schweitzer

Face to Facebook

“I love the eZine, and really enjoyed your column about reaching the next generation of woodworkers. If you really want to reach the next generation, you have to be on Facebook and Twitter.” – Matt Comings

We are on Facebook, as Woodworker’s Journal Magazine, and as of this writing, we have over 1777 fans. If you are a Facebook user, join us. We can also be found on Twitter here.– Editor

Posted in: