Just back from Chicago where Sara and I spent three days visiting and working with the students at Deerpath Middle School. Our first day was the day after Halloween so I think there was a bit of a blood sugar spike that we were contending with during our assembly and subsequent workshops – but we still got some great work done and I think the kids came away with some ideas to improve their public speaking and to make their writing more concise and precise.
The teachers had our book Outspoken (which we learned upon arriving home has gone into its fourth printing) and we worked from this and our new one High Definition. Sara and I took the divide and conquer approach – here seeing students in a lecture hall and me seeing the other half for workshops in the library where we wrote definition poems.
Between sessions the technology teacher grabbed me and asked if I had any ideas on how he could incorporate poetry into his classes. How cool is that? Coming from a manufacturing and engineering background myself I was happy to talk to him about how to do just that, writing vocabulary poems, infomercials, obituaries and other text types to teach the terms behind the physics of making a two liter bottle powered rocket or a gravity powered Lego car.
While chatting with this teacher I learned that he once had taught woodshop. Now the community of Lake Forest is a more than fairly upscale suburb north of Chicago proper. It seems that the woodshop class was discontinued because as one parent had explained to this teacher, “We hire people to do work like this.”
This teacher wasn’t complaining to me – we were just shooting the breeze but I’m afraid that perhaps this parent had missed the point and coming from a family that has never been afraid to get their hands dirty, bends or cut metal, dig a ditch, or do their own brake jobs I was a bit worried by the inference.
Would this parent ever walk into a board, court-room or onto the trading floor without a plan, a blueprint perhaps? Would he or she not make sure she had all the tools necessary to complete whatever project they were working on readily at hand? Would they not measure twice and cut once? It seems one of alums of this school, a Mr. Dave Eggers, understands the lessons he learned back in the day when woodworking class was still offered. Returning recently for a classmate’s 40th birthday party also attended by the tech teacher – he let said teacher know that the lessons of working from an outline, understanding the need to sequence steps to conserve materials and to work toward a finished project even when the end was still far off in the distance all lessons learned or made practical by the now defunct woodworking class had helped construct the writer/person into which Eggers had grown up .
Now I know there are no ovals on the standardized tests that ask the difference between a crosscut saw and a bastard file, just as there are no essay questions about how to make a reed for a bassoon. But aren’t these talents transferrable into the “real world” of finance and law? I’ve heard parents defend their schools athletic departments because of the life lessons learned by the participants – don’t hands on trade classes offer at least as many experience points as a lacrosse field?
By the way – one of the best woodworkers I have ever met, a hobbyist who made beautiful grandfather clocks, tables, chairs, and china hutches was a guy I used to house sit for. Of course his day job did require him to work with his hands so maybe he already had a proclivity for manual labor – he was the chief surgeon and head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic.