Schools: Bring Back Shop!

It could be, if St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve, are amateur night at the local pub, that the week before Halloween is Amateur Week at the local fabric store.  IMG_6319

I was in the store the other day.  The place was utterly overrun with ‘kids’ from the local colleges and universities, trying to figure out their costumes for their upcoming party weekend.  I hope their parties are all toga parties, because if you wanted to make a good costume — you probably should have started two weeks ago.

The overworked staff was answering important questions like, “How much is a yard?”

THAT is a ‘kid’ — excuse me, a 19-year-old — who never took shop or home economics.  Who never had to actually measure anything with a tape measure or a yardstick. Who never built her own bookcase, or sewed her own prom dress.  She’s also got a posse in tow with her, three other young women, who also don’t know.  That’s four people that have been utterly failed by the American school system — smart enough to go to college, well-off enough to buy fabric for a Halloween costume — and no idea how to measure it, much less shape it into a costume.

These young women bought four yards. For four costumes.

*face palm*

On the other side of the store, a young woman was desperately trying to talk to her mom, another three clueless friends in tow, trying to get coaching on how much fabric they needed to make costumes. No patterns.  No plan. No idea how to read the pattern book.  A store clerk (and me) trying to ask questions of her, of her friends, trying to get a sense of what they were trying to do.  They were totally unwilling to accept help — all four of them utterly dependent on this one phone call to one mom…

Let’s assume they graduated from high school last spring. They’re four years out from middle school.  They’ve managed to make it to college without working with cloth (one of the most fundamental materials of human history!), or measurements with actual yards.

Let me be clear — I don’t care if it’s yards or meters. Measurement is the critical skill here, measurement with actual tools and measurement with geometry and patterns. And here’s eight young people who have no idea. None at all, apparently, how to do any of this on their own.

That’s a failure of the American school system.  You can’t tell me that these eight kids are unusual — American schools scrapped shop and home economics programs decades ago. (They haven’t even had effective computer programming classes in most of that time, either — so they don’t have that going for them, either.)

So, if you want to increase the effectiveness of American schools — to train designers and Makers, to create the next round of fashion designers and furniture makers — then you should clear a few classrooms of the cobwebs of abstract thinking, and start doing some more concrete work.

Bring back shop classes.


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