Killing a little time here waiting for the Colts game.
The thread about getting started in woodworking got me reminiscing and
thinking about what's happened to high school wood shop. Back in the
60's and 70's, my school in rural Missouri had a killer industrial arts
program. It was small, there where about 80 kids in my graduating
class. The high school had moved to a new building and the three story
building was converted (via grants from major machine manufacturer's)
into a wonderland. The first floor contained a wood shop stocked with
Rockwell iron and tool cabinets overflowing with handtools. There was
also a metal shop complete with foundry.
The 2nd floor contained the electric and power mechanics shops. The
third floor contained the drafting room and classrooms for each of the
lower level shops.
Every male child was required to take one class here during their 4 year
high school stint. You had to maintain a decent GPA in traditional
studies and complete the state mandated curriculum, but that left plenty
of time for shop classes.
We had great instructors there who took an honest interest in their
function as mentors. You where constantly challenged to do more...and
felt good about yourself when you did. I know a lot of this had to do
with the small number of students they had to deal with. But these guys
made you feel like they cared. They would make you build upon what you
knew. They made you think outside the box before thinking outside the
box was cool...or even a common expression =:~0
I took drafting and wood shop the first semester of my freshman year.
These where very basic classes and you did what was dictated to you. In
wood shop, the power tools where just to look at. You did everything by
hand and to the plan. You had to show that you could tune and sharpen
the tools before you began any project...and grading was tough.
Second semester I took Wood II and Metal Shop. In Wood II we where
introduced to a few of the machines. Metal Shop was just cool. The
first project there was a hand forged cold chisel and a few brass
castings and a sheet metal tool box.
Sophomore year was Wood III and Electricity first semester, Wood IV and
Power Mechanics for the second. Electricity was a lot of theory and
putting together some basic circuits, Power Mech. you had to tear down a
3 HP Briggs & Straton engine then put it back together. You passed if
it ran. In Wood III you where allowed to pick any plan from the
school's library to build. Wood IV, you build what you wished so long as
plan existed and it was approved by the instructor. I made a turned
salad bowl set complete with serving utensils.
Once you completed 4 classes in any of the offered areas, you became
eligible to take a class just called Industrial Arts. That's where the
real fun came in. You started you project in the drafting room and
carried through to completion. It was loosely structured and you pretty
much had run of the building for making your project. Guys made some
awesome stuff. I was able to take this class 2 hours a day in both my
Jr. and Sr. year. I made a crossbow with walnut stock. I made the
aluminum bow and trigger assembly in the metal shop. Also made a long
bow with zebrawood riser. (Bet they don't allow kids to make them
anymore in high school.)
I was back in Elsberry two years ago for the first time in about 20
years. I wanted to see how the program has evolved (if not faded away).
I was there to bury my mom next to dad and not in the really in the
mood to follow up at the time.
I'm not sure how unique this set-up was in the early 70's. Since then
I've lived in Memphis, Virginia Beach and Indianapolis. I'm amazed when
I talk to kids and find out how pitiful wood shop classes have
become...if the school even offers them. Damn lawyers.
Are there any good programs left out there for the kids?
Sorry for rambling on.
Larry G. Laminger
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