Shop Class

I was just reading in one of my motorcycle magazines about a shop teacher who is able to keep his shop program alive by putting out a quarterly newsletter, “Quarter Inch Drive” (I love the title). He does this  by gaining support from his community to promote an integrated industrial arts program that combines computer skills with the more traditional “shop class.” Based on this, his students learn both the soft sciences of computers and the hard experience of the material world. My hat is off to him for his tireless efforts!

I can only suspect the difficult chore of gaining support from his community who already pay taxes, particularly in these difficult economic times. Tom Hull has overcome the idea of value in our society that has been so overwhelmingly focused on money and brought to light the truly fundamental measures of what is important and worthy. So many of these kind of efforts have been shuttered, stilted, and severely limited to the singular and myopic gauge–the almighty ‘green.’ In this instance, the notion of value and the desperate need for young people to have some sense of self not tied directly to money, is dramatically offset by a man willing to bring his creative juices to bear promoting programs and opportunities for young people that our whole society will benefit from for generations to come.

The notion that a man can be dedicated to a purpose other than making money is suspect in our society. Particularly if that purpose needs our support. When we are asked to give a dollar, lend a hand, or speak out in support of something intrinsically important there is a hesitation, a question that arises as to the “value” of such an endeavor (of course measured in resource–namely money). In the case of the shop teacher, his efforts cannot be judged in the fiscal cycle so fondly touted by the media and the economist. Rather, his efforts can only be measured in the hearts and minds of his students, their parents, friends of family, future spouses, employers, sons and daughters to come, the communities they will live in, and the lives these young students will touch in the years ahead. In other words, the measure is paltry when considering the small amount of money it takes to keep this shop program open (tongue-in-cheek bit of irony).

On another level, a man or woman supporting something that does not immediately benefit them personally is suspected of having ulterior motives. There must be something wrong with this person to choose to do something that does not include making lots of money. The surprising thing about this perspective is that it is one typically held by an aloof population–the newspaper readers and the shock-radio listeners (of which we are all guilty to some degree or another). Those who actually know Mr. Shop Teacher, understand the profound importance he has in the lives of the young students studying with him. These people support him (and themselves and their community) by giving money and time when needed. Meanwhile, in the next town over, the next street over, this very same person is held in doubt. Decisions are made and lives impacted because there are uncomfortable questions about this man’s motives.  And, this is a problem.

The relationship our society has with money contains a clear disconnect between the facts of life and the perceived capital that is available. There is an abstraction that exists between money and reality that causes separation and isolation, allowing the segregating forces at work in our society to insidiously find their way into our collective psyche. We often make choices radically opposed to our best interest. The ability to choose when and how we expend our efforts and resources based on a well founded understanding of self and place in the cosmos is successfully assaulted every day by separating forces that we are often not fully aware of. This is not to say that economic interests are of little importance, rather I am suggesting that an uninformed population (again, all of us) makes for an easy victim of these isolating influences. For example, a young man of 22 is often encouraged to purchase a brand new car or truck to the tune of $40+ thousand dollars while that same young man is harried over the expense of an education, and is railed against at this terrible burden. On the one hand, the resources spent on the vehicle depreciate dramatically each and every day, while those same resources spent on an education do nothing but increase in value for the life of the individual AND the community he lives in. In the end, the educated young man will likely purchase a vehicle, however, he is likely to purchase one that he actually can use, at a reasonable price, and when he can properly afford it. The economy continues, but its detrimental aspects are mitigated (hopefully) to some degree. This is only one aspect of a responsible education.

I know that there are many who discount the idea that an education is of any real benefit. I would argue that those people with the desire to learn, and the encouragement to do so, are better able to be creative and adaptable members of our community. And certainly there are may ways to obtain an education: school, apprenticeship, self-motivated inquiry, experience, and more. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, “Outliers” suggests that there is a clear association with families of modest income, education, and subsequent success when those younger members are encouraged to learn. Naturally, education comes in many forms, University is not the only place to learn. Travel, work, sports, apprenticeship, and more are just some of the ways in which young people are encouraged to learn about the world.

There is an old axiom oft found on bumper stickers, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” There are a myriad of opportunities to help young people learn, grow, gain experience, and know themselves. And, by virtue of an informed and creative population, those opportunities help each of us in many and subtle ways. To see a “thumbs-up” to the shop teacher in a motorcycle magazine is just one reminder of the importance of recognizing those opportunities. The creative part is to find our own way.

About Ben

Mythologist, Fire Fighter
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