Thursday, September 3, 2009

The obligatory back to school post

So yeah, back to school and all that -- fun times.

Rachel went back on Tuesday, and reports that this semester's offerings include French, English, History, and Construction. (I know -- only four courses per semester seems weird to me, too. But it's the New Way of Doing Things, apparently. Go figure.)

What's "Construction," you ask? Well, you know -- like, constructing things. Houses, buildings, furniture, and so forth. Last year's woodworking course got her seriously interested, and this year she'll be learning such esoterica as electrical wiring, drywalling, wood frame construction, trim....we're talking serious construction here, not like the wooden ducky recipe holder I made on a jigsaw in Grade 7, which graced the back of my parents' stove for about 40 years before I finally pitched it.

I've noticed something interesting: when people ask Rachel what she's taking in school, the whole "Construction" thing seems to stump them. They pause, as if there's a question they want to ask, but can't without seeming impolite. Then, some of them clear their throats and spit it out: "But...aren't you in an academic program?" Translation: "Aren't you too smart to be wasting school time on learning to build stuff?"

(Another, slightly less frequent reaction is, "But you're a girl -- why would you want to learn that?" Fortunately, most people are wise enough to keep this question to themselves. Rachel is 6'1" and doesn't generally accept much shit. Can't think where she got that trait.)

Yes, Rachel's a bright kid. Her academic average hovers in the high 80s (might I add that this is far better than my high school average, which pretty much reflected my amazing ability to procrastinate and ignore deadlines), and she's good-to-excellent at pretty much all her courses. Most of her teachers adore her, with good reason. They describe her as "responsible," "independent," "articulate," "opinionated," "hard-working," "a self-starter" . . . all words to warm a parent's soul.

The sniffy, "why waste valuable academic time learning a trade" attitude gets my back up. It seems to presuppose either that intelligent people don't work with their hands, or that the trades are somehow less worthy than learning how to conjugate irregular verbs or find the square of the hypoteneuse.

And it reflects a not-terribly-subtle middle class bias against work that takes place anywhere other than in the realm of the mind. When I was a teen, our high school was divided into segments: the academic and art classes were on the upper two floors, except for one wing that housed the "business" classes -- typing, accounting, and a bunch of other office-y stuff; on the ground floor were the music rooms; and in the basement, where no one but the serious stoners and hard-core tech afficionados hung out, was an area we knew as Shop. I never knew anyone who actually took Shop, but word was that it was a course reserved for the kids who couldn't hack it upstairs, where the school's real learning took place.

Funny thing is, I suspect that most of the kids who took Shop back then went out into the world armed with a great deal more practical information than I ever had. And judging by what we've paid contractors who've repaired and/or remodelled various parts of our house over the years, I'd be willing to bet that the Shop kids -- the marginalized ones no one wanted to know -- probably make a great deal more money than I have since we all left high school.

(Interesting parallel: when I talk to people about my job as an editor, most seem impressed. After all, editors work with their brains, right? But when I talk about my avocation, knitting, eyes glaze over and yawns are stifled. Because everyone knows that if you can do it with your hands, it's not important work.)

Maybe it's time for some rethinking here. And for anyone who doesn't want their kid wasting time taking Construction, or Shop, or whatever they're calling it where you live, consider this: when my kid graduates high school, I will never have to pay another drywaller, furniture repair-person, or electrician again.


Mary Keenan said...

Everybody should should be so lucky as to get a working knowledge of what goes into making the places in which we live and work! In school I mean, rather than when you're a mortgage-paying adult with a major fixer-upper on your hands. Not that I'm speaking from experience (said Mary, who also didn't know why exactly it's wise to wear a mask while sanding drywall. Until later.)

Stacy said...

I wish I could take a class like that right now. Sounds like fun... good for Rachel.

Geek Knitter said...

Always assuming she'll work for free. Which, now I think it, she probably will. My mom gets free computer support... all other freelance clients pay $40/hr.

Sidenote: word verification is 'periogre'... is that the closest you can get to an ogre, or how to go around an ogre?

momdlux said...

AMEN!!! I was one of the "upper floor" students - taking "college-y" courses, so I assumed that my children would love school as much as I had - HA!! They are, however, extremely intelligent; with spatial relationships, figuring out complex mechanical workings, and doing many things I couldn't even imagine. The thing that gripes me the most, though, is that the educational system has a deliberate and quite annoying bias toward the book learning style of teaching. I watched my smart, but not round pegs, being pounded mercilessly into square holes. I broke my heart to have to tell them over and over to do what the system says and play the game their way with no hope for them to enjoy their experience. Thanks for speaking up for the "lower" level!

Kathleen Taylor said...

[insert Standing Ovation]
My husband hated school, but he can build a house from a hastily drawn sketch on a napkin. He's the smartest person I know. Good carpenters, contractors, plumbers, electricians, painters, bakers, cooks, babysitters, waitresses, store clerks, janitors, and mechanics are worth their weight in gold.

northmoon said...

I would have loved to take shop when I was in high school, but girls weren't even allowed in that wing of the school.

However, I did help my father build our house, repair cars and generally do pracitical things at home. So I've done my own drywall, built decks, stairs, minor plumbing etc. Mostly it's common sense, but I get a great feeling of accomplishment from these projects.

Good for your daughter taking Construction. No matter what career she ends up with, the practical knowledge will stand her in good stead.

Leslie said...

She is lucky... I wish I'd been offered some kind of practical courses like shop/construction in my high school. I had great classes for getting into university (and I won't lie, I loved those six years of Latin), but these days I really wish I could've taken something that would've given me even basic repair/building skills.