Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Talkin 'bout the Good Old Days

At the time of this post, I'm 52 years old. I'm not one to reminisce about the good old days. In most cases, they weren't that good. However, two recent conversations and the Miranda Lambert song ‘Automatic’ (link below) have me thinking about some skills and knowledge that kids are missing out on these days.

When I went to Junior High, in the mid 70's, we had a choice of 6 shop classes. In the basement of the school we had 4 shops: electronics, metal, print, and wood. On the second floor we had a kitchen and a sewing room.

In Electronics, you learned the basics of power supply and home circuits. We would repair cassette decks or stereo receivers. Everyone built a crystal radio. You learned basics of batteries, fuses, circuit breakers, transistors, resistors, and capacitors. You understood the difference between series and parallel circuits. That means 13 year olds could figure the size and number of batteries to power an off grid system for one day.

In Print shop, you learned kerning of different fonts; you built a document to be printed from moveable type. Building one 8 x 11 sheet gives you a greater understanding of the process of printing a book after Gutenberg until the advent of computers. We carved designs in print blocks, inked them, and made art work. We cut stencils to silk screen T-shirts.

In Metal shop, we folded sheet metal into boxes with sealed seams that would hold water. We cold pounded bars into wall hooks. We made sand castings and poured molten metal into the form.

In Wood shop, we learned safety around saws. Band saws, table saws, and drill presses were all common hazards. We built wall shelfs and stools; fine wood working and utilitarian work.

In the Kitchen, we'd whip up recipe after recipe. From simple chocolate chip cookies to decorated cakes, we tried it all. Yes, it was the mid-70's so I was the only boy in my home ec class. (Back then, home economics was a woman's domain.)

I didn't take sewing, so I can't comment on the school course. I learned that at home. And yes, I can replace a button or sew a whole shirt from a pattern.

All of that is what we lose when we move to teaching the test and stop worrying about the whole person. One shouldn't need to be an electrician to understand how your home electricity works. Everyone should be comparing electricity needs when they are buying a new refrigerator, washer, dryer, etc.

Building something yourself gives you a better understanding of what is involved in the products you buy from the store. It also makes you self sufficient if there isn't a store nearby. I built my own three level cat tree when stationed in Germany because the locals didn't have anything like it. Just plywood, fence pole, carpeting, and tree branches, but it lasted 15 years and two major moves.

There is a basic core of knowledge and skills one should have to live on your own in this society. Forty years ago you learned both in school.