Bring back shop class!

Bring back shop class!

Woodmere Jr. High South Shop Class – Nov. 15, 1974 courtesy Flickr user scarlatti2004.

I was one of a generation of American secondary school students who didn’t even have the option to take “industrial arts” classes. Fortunately, I got plenty of hands-on how-to training at home, from Dad, who had a workbench and a garage full of tools that he was patient enough to let me borrow, break, and/or lose while I figured out how to use them.

From Linda Matchan’s great article at

It’s been a discouraging time for teachers. Recently they got the news that 15-year-olds in the United States are lagging seriously behind their global counterparts: An international assessment found they ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries in math and just average in science and reading.

While there’s no quick fix, many woodworking teachers are convinced that getting students to work with their hands and not just their heads would help. They believe that shuttering the shops was irresponsible and shortsighted, a mistake that has helped create a dependent generation of young people who don’t know how to fix things and lack even the most basic manual competence.

[Thanks, Alan Dove!]

26 thoughts on “Bring back shop class!

  1. migpics says:

    This is a new generation we’re dealing with. Shop class needs to be revamped, brought up to speed but done in such a way that kids can still get their hands dirty.
    Gone are the days of cutting out a simple piggy bank on a band saw(I still have the one my brother made), now that piggy bank needs to have a motion sensor that will send a tweet out whenever your sibling is trying to break into it, that book shelf needs to keep up with the times too and be light, modular and able to fly.
    Bring back shop class I completely agree, but bring it into the 21st century while you’re at it!
    Don’t get me wrong, I love all the basic stuff and you need to learn that, but I think educators, policy makers etc. will be more motivated to put funds into classes like that when you add some technology to it.

  2. jpersonna says:

    All else being equal, I’d support shop class. Unfortunately in states with busted budgets and low reading and math scores, I think the money has to go with core.

    On the other hand, this is the internet age, and there is a Maker movement. That’s all we need.

    1. Phlamingo says:

      I agree that reading, writing, math, and history are core skills, but there is mounting evidence that manual work (such as wood/metal/auto shop, cooking, and sewing) increase the effectiveness of the abstract/intellectual learning.

      In other words, one of the best things you could do for the core learning is to offer and require some dirty-hands time.

      1. tonyv says:

        I agree!

        Taking shop class in middle school influenced my later decision to become an engineer more than any science or math class.

        MIT’s motto is ‘Mind AND Hands’, and its laboratory-based learnung strategy is the reason for its success, and the success of its alumni.

        We need to teach our kids to be creators, not consumers, and Shop class is an essential part of that training.

  3. Alan says:

    I actually went to a middle school where we didn’t have the option not to take shop class. It was a requirement. So was home economics. The key was that this was middle school, which is ordinarily an educational wasteland (geometry will never be able to compete with puberty).

    I can’t tell you anything that I learned in the traditional classroom settings during those three years, but I still remember how to cut a straight line with a handsaw, set type, operate a sewing machine, and plan a nutritious meal. In fact, I still find all of those skills useful. Yes, even the typesetting, though these days I do it digitally.

    Leave the Arduinos for the high school students, who have a better grasp of abstractions. Give middle schoolers something useful to do with their hands, and show them how to get by in the physical world.

    1. Shadyman says:

      Yep. In middle school, we had a class that was split 1/3 of the year between Home Ec, Music, and Wood Shop.

      In wood shop, we made the wood-block racers and our own clocks (ie, Here’s a 1 sq-ft piece of wood with a hole in the middle and a slight dip in the back for the clock movement. Scroll saw, sand, paint, install the movement, and make a clock out of it.) We also made model rockets and got to launch them off.

      Grade 7 for music we had the choice of guitar or piano lessons, and in Grade 8 we had an honest-to-goodness band class.

      Grade 7 Home Ec we learned (with swatches) what each type of fabric felt like, how to plan a meal, and sewing by hand. Grade 8 we learned sewing machine skills, we took turns baking cookies in groups (so everyone got a cookie at the end of class. WIN!), and did room floorplans (ie, the little cutouts representing a bed, dresser, desk, floor lamp, etc, and a grid representing a room) and fashion design.

      These classes really helped get kids involved, and tried to steer them in a direction that was of interest to them. If wood shop was your thing, you could enroll in wood shop in high school, or band, auto repair, etc.

      1. Shadyman says:

        Middle school was ’97-98 for me, just for reference. they’ve long-since canned the 7/8 Wood Shop.

  4. Adam E says:

    I went to a high school where shop was a major component of assigned classes in your first two years. There were sheet metal, electronics, foundry, print, wood, and auto and they provided a good learning environment that was not the same with math, literature, etc. There was a movement to eliminate the shops as a requirement for college-bound students and I believed that was taking things too seriously. Some students don’t know what they like to do and exposure to shop gives more ideas for careers.

  5. MadRat says:

    I took shop class in middle-school/junior-high. We did some drafting, woodworking and metal working. Even though I haven’t used those skills much in my life they gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that I could make something nice out of wood. After making Diana Eng’s, 2 meter, radio antenna I found I had a few brazing rods left over. I’ve been studying brazing and getting interested in relearning and using the skills I learned all those years ago. I can’t say this about other blogs but Make has made a real difference in my life.

  6. Iceman086 says:

    Back in High School (which was only 6 years ago) I learned more than I ever though I would by simply working in our shop. A few years ago I heard about what happened to all of the shop classes though. It was deemed necessary to sell off all of the shop tools and convert the shop room into several small class rooms. Additionally, the school board got rid of the Drafting classes (both hand and Auto CAD) and turned them into more English class rooms. Learning how to draft and work with tools in the shop in my High School helped me to decide on a career path. I wish that schools could understand that kids need more than just the basics, they need classes that let them try new things to see what they are good at, or to discover a new love of doing something.

    *shakes an angry fist at the local school board*

  7. woodshopcowboy says:

    I absolutely believe in the premise of this article (though I will take issue with the “no research” part. I’m doing a master’s thesis in technology and the classroom, and yes, there is research. Mainly in the British system, which has a stronger (read: unified) curriculum. It’s there though.) I do have some different ideas on the “Why” we should have woodshops. I think the essence of my work is less in the applications of the hands (though I truly have a great respect for that part) but int hte application of the mind to a problem. Woodshop is a little like life: it presents you with a problem (making an end table) and you must decide the paramaters you wish to pursue, evaluate your abilities, plan a method of achieving that end and then executing. My students struggle with planning and execution and my job is to provide a safe place to practice those skills. So for me, it’s more about the real-life application of the mind during a project than the actual wood itself. If studying English or Math lent themselves as easily to this concept, I would give up my classroom woodshop, but they don’t. So I’ll keep on making sawdust.

    For (yet) another blog on that subject:

    — PW

  8. MauiMaker says:

    I’ve been following the FIRST Robotics Competition for years and finally have time/opportunity to be a mentor for a local school. This is one school related activity that absolutely requires access to a shop. Students need to weld, cut, bend metal and wood, as well as design and program. The schools I saw back in SoCal still had a full shop and taught at least woodshop to middle schoolers. Here on Maui, one of the schools even has a small CNC mill.

    Its a pity that with the NoChildLeftBehind has become NoChildAllowedToExcell in our mainstream education. Project based learning is a great way to learn. Fortunately there seems to be recognition of this growing around the country. Locally U.Hawaii has a pilot program with charter schools to setup them up with a “Makery” ( – basically a mini-FabLab/MakerSpace.
    Additionally it is great to see programs like getting mentors involved with kids to Make things – and bring them to the Maker Faire.

    I encourage the various hackerspaces around the country (world) to reach out to kids – with legal/insurance issues addressed.

  9. Maloch says:

    In shop classes, I learned woodworking,  carpentry, cement forms, sand molds, sheet metal work, wiring, and diverse other skills that have never left me. I became, eventually, a college professor. I look sadly upon my sons, who don’t know which end of a hammer to use and who run to a mechanic every time their cars fart.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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