I keep referring back to that Bill Bennett book -- it really was that good. (If you're interested, you can get in on Amazon here.) In a couple chapters, he refers to one Matthew Crawford, an author who wrote Shop Class as Soulcraft and "The Case for Working with your Hands". Crawford says,
It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work . . . Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things.
Can I get an "Amen", brothers and sisters?? He continues:
One shop teacher suggested to me that 'in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.'"
Reading these passages, I remembered Booker T. Washington's autobiography where he described how every student at the negro college he founded was required to learn a skilled trade along with their academic book learning. And I increasingly see the value of that.
What would it look like if every student had to learn the basics of a skilled trade before they could graduate from high school? Something physical and concrete -- something they do with their hands. That could be auto maintenance, hair styling, carpentry, sewing, plumbing . . . there are so many possibilities. I see tremendous benefits to this requirement.
For one, no more issues with kids graduating and not having the basic skills to make a living. Have you had a plumber in to work on your pipes lately? They make a darn good living.
Also, the skilled trades would have their dignity restored to them, as would the students who excel in those trades. I remember the kids in my English classes who were outshone all day long by the honors brats -- but who, if given the chance, could have put the brats to shame in the industrial arts department. I always kind of longed for them to know what it felt like to excel over their peers for once.
But even more so, I think it would do everyone some good to have to work with their hands. I'm a perfect example of this. I live in my head; I'm an academic nerd. The few opportunities I get to do something physical and concrete (like take care of the lawn, snow-blow the driveway, or try to figure out how to repair something in the house) can be very aggravating, but they are also fulfilling in a way. I wish I had the skills to do stuff like that. I can imagine what my friends experience when they say that going out and working on the car they're fixing up in the garage is very relaxing to them.
Yeah . . . let's do that. Add that to graduation requirements. I think I need to start my own school . . .