From 1880 classes and courses in the industrial arts such as woodworking, mechanics, drafting and printing, became a common educational right of passage for young students and stayed that way for the next century. By the end of the 1980s woodworking classes began to be removed from secondary curriculums.
This was brought about by a decrease in educational funding and the increase and emphasis on standardized testing. Schools began to remove electives, courses that the student could select from among alternatives and focus more on college prep academics and subjects necessary for passing state exams.
No Money or Time for Woodworking
It seemed there wasn’t any money or time to maintain woodworking, mechanical engineering or home economic workshops, filled with tools and equipment and one by one, secondary schools dropped their shop classes, deciding that students who wished to pursue any trade skills could do so later at a vocational college.
The dropping of these shop classes has been really unfortunate as they were never about preparing students for taking up employment in any trade. Rather, they taught all young men and women much needed manual skills that they could use and enjoy throughout their lives, whether they became a carpenter lawyer or a doctor. These skills were always considered part of becoming a well-rounded adult one able to use both their hands and their mind.
Woodworking is the most missed, out of all classes
In my opinion, arguably the industrial arts class that is most missed must be the woodworking class. As learning to work with wood is not only practical, allowing you to fix and make thing around the house,
but allows anyone wishing to, satisfyingly connect with the long history of craftsmanship and old skills.
One of the earliest skills mankind developed was woodworking and the pre-industrial world was largely made of wood. Everything from building construction, transportation (carts, coaches and ships) to everyday items such as eating utensils, bowls, beds and stools to name a few and was like this for thousands of years.
In fact most men had the rudimentary understanding of how to shape and manipulate wood. Right up to the second half of the last century, tradesmen and professionals alike all had the confidence and know how to be able to build wooden shelves, cabinets, or even chairs for their family.
Woodwork provides experiences more important than valuable practical skills
Apart from these valuable practical skills a quality woodworking class or program provides experiences far more important than those typically associated with woodwork.
Working with wood where inevitably students use their hands will build confidence, strength of character, and problem solving capabilities useful in all careers and in every educational experience.
Furthermore, working with a natural material in a creative manner assists students in connecting the relevance of other subject material to their daily lives like assisting students in communicating and understanding ideas non-verbally, through sketches and technical drawings.
Working in this way enhances the skills of spatial visualization, which is required for geometry, trigonometry and algebra, thereby helping students to prepare for careers in engineering, architecture and science.
This also gives the student the opportunity to execute precise work and to produce useful products, and become “self-assessors” using measuring tools, squares, etc. and then the fit of things and to self-assess the quality of their work.
Working with wood also increasing hand and eye co-ordination training the eye to see accurately and the hand to feel the sense of beauty in form and inculcates the habits of attention, perseverance and patience.
Is it Time to bring woodworking classes back?
Woodworking classes in secondary education offered opportunities for students to go where their hearts demanded by selecting designs and projects that motivate them, not only as a woodworker but also as a student with the added bonus of making projects that provided students with take-home, physical evidence of their mastery of skills and instilled a pride of accomplishment and self-esteem.
Is it time to bring woodworking classes back into our educational system, and provide a much-needed break from oppressive classroom routine, and may be it is time to help students to better understand the sources and process of all this technological change around us by placing human development in historical context.