Why Everyone Should Take Shop Class

Why Everyone Should Take Shop Class

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Updated on Aug 27, 2013

Shop class, once a staple of American high schools, has been nearly decimated by the digital age. High school students have little time for electives, and when they do, they often choose technology classes. Schools are selling off their circular saws to buy computer labs, and trading in their welding tools for web-cams. After all, why do our kids need to know how to build a birdhouse when they can buy one at Home Depot for $9.99?

Some are calling for the return of shop class. In his 2009 book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, Mathew Crawford praises the benefits of learning how to do manual work. In a time where most of our work is intangible, working with our hands can bring a sense of satisfaction that is lacking in our virtual lives. Even if one doesn’t go into a manual trade, the ability to make and fix the utilities we need can help us “live concretely in an abstract world.”

Mark Leeper was a Civil Engineer before deciding to become a math teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School. Once he got there, he found more personal reward in the hands-on nature of teaching woodshop. After two decades of helping kids learn woodworking, he has seen every type of student benefit from the lessons of practical experience. Here is a list of reasons why every student should consider taking shop class:

Become Self-Reliant

The generation before us sewed their own clothes, changed their own oil, and built their own fences. But now, Crawford writes, “What ordinary people once made, they buy, and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair.” This leads to a feeling of dependence, of being unable to navigate the world on one’s own. Leeper has seen his students learn to be practical by acquiring the know-how they’ll need to survive. Once they’ve designed and created their own step stool, they’re more willing to look at a broken faucet and think, I can fix that. This not only saves money, but helps people feel more in control of their own lives.

Understand the Principals of Math and Science

“Project-based learning” is a buzz phrase in education. Students learn better, it is proposed, when learning grows organically out of an interesting project. Shop class, says Leeper, is the original project-based laboratory. Students must learn math and physics if their projects are to succeed. The Pythagorean theorem, fractions, and geometry all come to life when it’s time to build an octagonal end table.

Learn the Value of Persistence

Most classes in school emphasize getting the right answer the first time. Students become fearful of doing things the wrong way, and may become discouraged about trying at all. But in shop class, persistence is encouraged. There’s more than one way to get something done. And if something goes wrong, it can be undone and fixed. Shop class teaches our children to persevere, to look beyond the first failure and keep trying until they succeed.

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