Scraps and Ramblings–The Wood shop

Last night at the annual Fourth of July Celebration party that we attend I was asked if I missed teaching. That question comes with more frequency than you would expect. Over the past nine years of retirement the answer has changed.

Nothing quiet explains  that change as well as an event that happened past weekend.

My cousin Eric is a woodworker... an artist with wood working. He has made some pieces of furniture and other items that are simply extraordinary.  Last weekend his dear wife Amanda, discovered a sale in Ellettsville where the woodworking equipment from schools wood shop would be auctioned. Eric took the day off and with a neighbor came home with some incredible bargains. Several truckloads of equipment-- workbenches and cabinets and tools that were previously used by  generations of boys--usually in middle school,  have found a  new home in Eric's barn.

If you were a male student in the pre ISTEP era..the era before high stakes testing, you likely took "wood shop" or as we called it, just "shop." Generally, it was in middle school but sometimes extended to the upper grades. Boys took "shop" and girls took "Home Ec"...sewing and cooking and such....a rather practical curriculum...a lifelong learning curriculum.

I was not then nor am I now a woodworker , but as I reflect on my woodshop experience it brings to light the changes that we have made in K-12 education ... or perhaps more likely , endured in K-12 education. 
I recall two "projects" that I made in junior high shop... a tie rack for my dad and bookends for my mother.  Of all my memories of middle school.....junior high... those of the woodshop lingers most strongly and dear. ...especially those of the tie rack construction. I did not do too badly at the designing and the cutting and sanding ..even the clamping and the gluing, drilling and screwing  were accomplished  without out exceeding amounts of frustration.. but the finish...oh, the finish. The staining was fun. but for some reason the varnish or whatever it was... it would not get hard... stayed tacky...and tacky...and tacky... I could see my grade plummeting. I would go in during my lunch hour and see if it was hardening and then   finding it still sticky, worry the afternoon away. Not only would my grade take a hit..and that really did not concern me so much...but how could I give dad this tacky tie rack... I was a failure at the simple... ah yes,  failure...a cursed feeling of a junior high kid where the girls and grown about a foot taller and  had developed  nicely while  I was a shrimp,  still had a squeaky voice..and glasses...and for several months a leg brace that kept my leg straight because of "Osgood Slater"(whatever happened to that affliction?)  Imagine the feeling of walking into a gym, hobbled by a straight leg, dorky glasses, shrimpish in size... and...scads, a zit....and then having a tacky tie rack to boot.

Enter  C. Austin Pritchett, a large bear of a man and my shop teacher.  I learned some practical knowledge from the man including two that were not in the curriculum... compassion and kindness.  With his gentle instruction and know how, together  we were able to resurrect the tie rack...   give it a good rock hard finish -- something that I could proudly give to dad. I wonder now if he had knew the significance of his caring instruction. I hope he does or did. Now, 55 years after his instruction--his compassionate teaching, the memory lingers as vividly as if it was last week. 

Yes the woodshops are gone...and with them the male could actually talk in class... the creativity, the wonderful sense of accomplishment... making something with your hands. Yes and mom and dad are gone. I do not know the fate of the tie rack but I still have the oak bookends with the fancy ""A" all banged out on the side...not really very fancy...but she had them...and  I made them.. proudly I made the-- with the gentle guidance of C. Austin Pritchett.

I would guess that if you ask any man that took woodshop when in middle school, they will tell you what they made... and likely still have it... and enjoyed making it... You might then ask them it they still know the quadratic equation or what a dangling participle is... that will tell you what has changed in school... and also it  tell you if I miss teaching school these days.  You might also ask a teacher today if they like teaching...or if they like it as much as they did 10 or 20 years ago...back in the days of wood shops and home ec and no exit nor ISTEP exams...and no locked doors...and long lunch hours... and well, fun. I don't think the answer will surprise you....


Don--July 4, 2012