[Another in an occasional series of stories from a substitute teacher.]
In the days prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and for many years after, really), in our district every 7th grade male took wood shop, and every female took home economics. The wood shop course included a half year of drafting. Shop courses continued annually after that for anyone so inclined, and a lot of people were.
In our not-yet-suburban community, the skills of using high power tools were highly prized. Every male was expected to know how to bend metal, use a torch or electric welder. Farm kids were expected to know how to castrate sheep, turn a calf that started down the birth canal the wrong way, put crude shoe on a horse in an emergency when the farrier was too far away.
Houses came with as few as two bedrooms. Every man was expected to be able to plan out the additions as the babies came, and build the things – laying out the plans, getting the permits, calculating the lumber required, laying the foundation, wiring and plumbing as necessary, putting up the lath and plaster, or later, dry wall, making the trim, laying carpet or tile, painting and finishing.
Kids in Texas can take a shop course or two in high school, but especially under the scheme of the No Child Left Behind Act, the skills of drawing up plans for a room or a chest of drawers, and executing the plans, are skills of little regard.
Drafting was always fun, though. The architect’s rule, protractor and S-curve were exotic tools, and we took great pride in mastering their use. Shop instructors usually had story or two about George Washington as a surveyor, and Thomas Jefferson as inventor.
Drafting is still fun, but it’s a different course completely. The course is all electronic. The drafting room is cool to keep the computers cool, and the software is fantastic. Drawings are printed out on 3-foot-wide sheets of paper by large ink-jet printers that make a graphic display-oriented teacher salivate. When I lamented the lack of the tools we had used, the kids said that they had spent several weeks using them at the start of the year – and then they switched to computers. They said it was the difference between horse and buggy and jet airplanes.
About half-way through the first block, a student came in with a note from another class. His teacher said he’d finished his work there, and he was free to do drafting. He booted up a machine, spent about 20 minutes in furious action completing a blueprint for a building. With about 15 minutes left in the class, he hollered to another student across the room that the student had pulled a dirty move. Immediately five or six others commented on it – and it became clear they were deep into a group role play game. Hard work, then hard play.
As with the basketball class, discipline was no problem. The students, with savvy that made it look easy, took care of the class details. Their own discipline got them through work they claimed to be fun, and then they moved on to what would be distracting frivolity, had they not completed everything else first.
A lesson in motivation is buried there, somewhere.