Shop Class Deserves a More Prominent Role in Schools

CC BY 2.0. Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

Last week I wrote for TreeHugger about how bringing back an updated version of Home Economics class in schools could benefit all children by teaching them important life skills. Similarly, I think that shop class for both boys and girls should have a more prominent role in the education system, since there are many advantages to knowing how to work with one’s hands. I’m not the only one who thinks this way. According to an article in the Boston Globe, “Some educators resist giving woodshop the chop,” some American schools are regretting their decision to get rid of woodshops in the 1990s in order to make room for new technology-based learning.

Shop class is wonderful for students who don’t learn well in traditional academic settings. It allows students to be active and to produce tangible, functional results. Doug Stowe, a woodworker and teacher from Arkansas, has a blog called “Wisdom the Hands,” dedicated to the concept that hands are essential to learning. “Does working with your hands make you smarter? Woodworking teachers have observed that effect for years.” Stowe points out on his blog that “students need to find ways to cope under difficult circumstances,” and shop class offers a unique setting for them to de-stress by working with their hands.

Shop class is a special place where theoretical knowledge converges with reality. Math becomes more interesting when it’s used to build something precise. The Globe article offers some interesting facts. A 2009 study from Purdue University showed that eighth-graders using hands-on engineering techniques learned more than students who learned from books and lectures. Another study by the Little Hoover Commission in California showed that students who did shop classes were likely to stay longer in the education system.

Our society has inadvertently created “a dependent generation of young people who don’t know how to fix things and lack even the most basic manual competence.” Putting girls and boys into shop class would combat that dependency, and challenge rampant consumerism, since a person is less inclined to throw out a piece of furniture and buy a replacement if they know how to fix it. With so many cheap imports flooding stores, it’s difficult for students to gain perspective on the resources and time required to create a piece of furniture, so shop class can teach students to appreciate long-lasting quality and its accompanying fair price tag. In this way, shop class is linked to sustainability and puts the “reuse” back into the three environmental Rs: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau once wrote, “Put a young man [or woman] in a workshop; his hands will work to the benefit of his brain and he will become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman.” Philosophy is always good, as are self-sufficiency, creativity, and productivity. There are countless wonderful gains to be had by adding shop class to school curricula.