I wasn't raised in the USA's educational system, so many aspects of it seem strange to me - getting academic credit for learning to drive, civics classes, stuff like that. Nevertheless, one thing I've often heard mentioned by my local contemporaries-in-age is the fun they had in 'shop class' - a catch-all phrase covering vehicle maintenance, welding, woodwork, simple home and farm repairs, and anything else covered in a practical, 'this-is-how-you-do-it' manner using tools and basic materials. It sounded similar to (although more comprehensive than) the woodwork classes I took in the equivalent of the eighth, ninth and tenth grade, teaching us to work safely with the tools associated with carpentry. I wish there'd been some vehicle maintenance, welding and other useful skills thrown in, but in South Africa those weren't on the standard school curriculum. (If you went to a technical high school, on the other hand, you got a lot more of that sort of thing.)
I'm therefore both saddened and infuriated to read that in many states, 'shop class' is going away because of the time demanded to teach more politically correct subjects. Forbes has an interesting article on the subject. Here's an excerpt.
Shop classes are being eliminated from California schools due to the University of California/California State ‘a-g’ requirements. ‘The intent of the ‘a-g’ subject requirements is to ensure that students can participate fully in the first-year program at the University in a wide variety of fields of study.’ (a) History/Social Science (b) English (c) Mathematics (d) Laboratory Science (e) Language other than English (f) Visual and Performing Arts (g) College Preparatory Elective Courses ... Shop class is not included in the requirements, thereby not valued and schools consider the class a burden to support.
. . .
The UC/CA State system focuses on theory and not applied skills; a belief that learning how to swing a hammer or understand the difference between a good joint from a bad joint is part of a by-gone era, and as a society these skills are not something to strive for – something people resort to when they are out of options.
. . .
75% of the students in California are not going to attend university yet they are taking classes that will help them get into UC and CA State schools. Just like there are people who are not inclined to become welders or machinists, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a football star.
. . .
As shop teachers around California retire, high schools aren’t replacing them and shop classes are closing. There is no training for teachers going through university to learn how to teach shop. This trend isn’t limited to California, according to John Chocholak who has testified in front of California State Assembly and Congress on the subject of shop class, he is seeing shop class killed in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and many other states. Shop class is dead and so are the potential trades people that would be born out of that early exposure to a tool or machine.
What is America going to do without skilled workers who can build and fix things?
There's more at the link.
This ties in with Mike Rowe's efforts to promote apprenticeships and the trades, most recently on his Profoundly Disconnected Web site. If young people are to graduate high school without even the basic proficiencies required to get into a trade school or qualify for an apprenticeship, what's that going to do to American industry? (I note the existence of the Association for Career & Technical Education. It appears to operate in many of the technical trade fields that are most in demand by industry; but even there, I note that a number of non-technical fields such as HR, marketing, finance and administration have crept into its mission. I'd have preferred to see it more strictly focused on technical trades as such, where the problem is most acute. Still, it's their business, and I wish them every success at it.)
Of course, there's always the risk that automation and computerization might eliminate even technical jobs. Taki's Magazine recently argued that 'Whatever blue-collar American jobs haven’t already been shipped overseas are rapidly being supplanted by embarrassingly more efficient hi-tech gizmos, thingamabobs, and doodads'. However, I think such gizmos are more likely to be encountered on the assembly line than maintaining vehicles in the field, solving plumbing problems, and repairing electrical installations. It would be cost-prohibitive to make and have on standby enough automated assistants to do all the day-to-day jobs currently undertaken by technicians and specialists - and then, who (or what) would maintain them in their turn?
I have to agree with the author of the Forbes article. Without skilled workers, where are we going to find people who can fix things? And if shop class goes away, what will that do to the already greatly diminished supply of candidates who want to learn to be skilled workers?