When I was in high school, my shop teacher was this grizzled old blue-collar guy who seemed genuinely resentful to have to be a shop teacher. Moreover, as a college-bound student who was interested in physics and math, he didn’t have much interest in me, other than letting me check off the vocational credit requirement for graduation. He did brighten up a bit for the handful of students who showed interest in becoming a plumber or mechanic after high school.
For me, however, the only thing that came out of shop was the sense that I couldn’t seem to cut wood in a straight line or nail anything together square.
Fast forward 20 years. I finished college and went on get a masters and (hopefully soon) a PhD. At the same time, I’ve found a real joy in being able to make things that, from the perspective of the high school shop, would have seemed out of my range: a sweater chest, loft beds for my kids, a toy workbench, and a toy kitchen, among other things. I found that I could learn the skills on my own through experimentation. I’ve tried not only carpentry, but also sewing and electronics; I’ve learned to use a laser engraver and now hope to try my hand at 3D printing. I only wish that my experiences in shop class had sparked this interest sooner.
I imagine that most shop classes, if they still exist, are still heavily oriented on woodworking or other traditional trades, and continue to be avoided by the continually growing population of college-bound students. While I don’t want to dis vocational training, what those classes ought to be doing is showing all kids that making your own things is both possible and a worthwhile endeavor, for many reasons: that the way you learn how to do new things is to try them, make mistakes and try again. That iPhones and TVs and furniture and cars don’t grow on trees but somebody somewhere makes them. That we don’t have sit idly by and be content with what the world hands us but that we can solve problems by taking actions with our own two hands.
I want to introduce Bob Clagett from the Youtube channel I Like To Make Stuff. I only learned about Bob’s channel about 6 months ago, but when I look at him I see the man I wish was my shop teacher. He’s not afraid to admit his mistakes and that he’s still learning. He’s inspired people across the country to get up off their couches a try to make something. Give his channel a watch, you won’t regret it.