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High School Shop Classes Soon May Be Thing of Past

Times Staff Writers

Shop classes--the wood, drafting, print, metal and other industrial arts courses that served as a rite of passage for several generations of men--are fast disappearing from the high school curricula.

Buffeted by budget cuts, outdated by modern technology and put on low priority because of stricter academic graduation requirements, shop classes are becoming a luxury elective that few students can afford to take.

“It’s a shame what’s happening to these shops,” said Louis Malinowski, a print shop teacher at Glendale High School. “I believe everybody should have a semester of shop. But a lot of students can’t,” he said, because “they just don’t have the room” in the school day.

When Malinowski started teaching shop classes at Glendale High in 1942, about 40 shop classes were being taught. Now there are half that many.

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Fewer Teachers

Besides the dwindling numbers of shop classes, teachers with vocational backgrounds are not graduating from colleges and universities in the numbers they did in previous decades.

“It is very difficult to get instructors in shop classes,” said Lupe Sonnie, principal at Abraham Lincoln High School in Northeast Los Angeles. “The students are still interested in taking shop courses, but we just don’t have the time or the teachers.”

Similar complaints are heard nationwide. Public schools in Dade County, Fla., which has the nation’s fourth-largest school district, are so desperate for industrial arts teachers that this year recruiters traveled to New York looking for applicants. Tiny Carmel Central School District in southwest New York is offering bonuses to industrial arts teachers who join the district before September.

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There is a “critical shortage” of industrial arts teachers in Georgia, Alabama, the Southwest and parts of the West Coast, according to John G. Nee, secretary of the National Assn. of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators.

Programs Being Shut Down

In the North and Northeast, Nee added, secondary schools are shutting down shop programs at what he called an alarming rate.

There is a variety of reasons for the decline of shop courses. The average age of the nation’s 48,000 shop teachers is 55, with many nearing retirement, according to the Journal of Industrial Education. And only a few graduates of the nation’s schools are trained to teach shop, according to the trade journal.

The national education reform movement of the 1980s added a host of academic courses to graduation requirements, leaving little room for students to take electives.

Finally, shop courses have gained the reputation of being the dumping ground for students who are not academically oriented. And, in a technologically complicated world, some educators and parents consider wood and metal shops relics of a bygone era.

Fewer Shops at Glendale

Glendale High is perhaps a barometer of what is happening to shop classes across the country.

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The school offers 21 classes, ranging from the traditional shops--wood, printing, drafting and metal--to electronics and auto shop.

Doug Burgener, wood shop instructor, taught six full classes daily as recently as seven years ago, but now has four.

“It’s the graduation requirements and the push from the parents for students to go to college that has led to the decrease,” Burgener said.

Dwindling Enrollment

Malinowski, too, is coping with dwindling enrollment. Five years ago, he taught five drafting classes daily. Now he is teaching two and he predicts drafting will be eliminated from the curriculum before the end of the decade.

Malinowski and other shop teachers in Los Angeles County also are finding themselves teaching on outdated equipment. Malinowski said at least two of the printing machines in his classroom are more than 20 years old.

At a recent meeting of the Glendale School Board, member Jane M. Whitaker quipped that the machines at Eleanor J. Toll Junior High School are so ancient that the board ought to consider raising money by selling them as antiques.

The board is now considering spending more than $200,000 to buy auto diagnostic machines and a dust collection system for the wood shop, as well as upgrading print and tool shops.

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New Name

“It is very frustrating for us in education to realize the world goes so much faster in technology than we can keep up with financially,” Whitaker said in an interview.

Curriculum designers nationwide are trying to make the course more analytical by bringing in more math and science concepts. To show the change, some districts are renaming the discipline “technological education.”

More shop teachers are creating courses on robotics. But the wave of the future is computerized industrial shops.

Using computers to design some of the simple wood and metal projects includes building a rudimentary robot and writing the computer program that governs the robot’s movement.

Courses Introduced in 1880s

This year, the Glendale Unified School District spent $212,500 to upgrade and expand Glendale High’s computer-aided design and manufacturing program, which already has an advanced system.

Industrial education classes were introduced to U. S. secondary schools in the 1880s amid a flurry of controversy. Two rival camps wanted the curriculum added to secondary schools, but for different reasons.

One group wanted “manual training,” courses in which the basics of trades would be taught as a way to round out the education of college-bound students.

The other camp advocated “vocational education” as a way to ensure that every student left high school with a marketable skill.

Compromise Adopted

Neither faction won. Instead, most secondary schools adopted a compromise. In junior high, boys were required to take introductory shop classes so they would have some basic trade skills. The more advanced high school classes were for those who wanted to graduate with employable skills.

Nearly a century later, in the early 1970s, shop classes became controversial once again as feminists demanded equal access for high school girls to the male bastions. Fearing lawsuits, school districts quickly acquiesced. It is now common to see girls in shop classes.

“There is still a need for skills taught in industrial arts courses, especially for our academically oriented students,” said Terence Garner, assistant superintendent of personnel for Dade County Public Schools.

“Any person who owns a home should be able to repair a molding, fix an electrical plug or refinish a piece of furniture,” Garner said.

Proposition 13 Blamed

California educators point to the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, the tax-cutting initiative, as the beginning of decline in industrial arts classes. When school funding dwindled, the first cuts many school boards made were the elective classes. Shop was among the first to go.

The reason is the increase in academic classes students must take to graduate. For example, in 1983, California increased its graduation requirements. Now every student must complete three years of English, three years of social science, two years each of math and science, one year of either a foreign language or a fine art and two years of physical education.

Nee, of the National Assn. of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators, said new academic requirements such as those in California “are eliminating a student’s chances for exploration of different fields and making good career decisions.”

In spite of the increased requirements, many students say they still want the option to explore shop classes.

Useful Life Skills

“Shops give you skills you can use later in life,” said Tim J. Toton, a sophomore at Glendale High. Toton said he had to try twice before he was able to secure a spot in wood shop.

Pedro Martinez, a Glendale High senior, concurred.

“If you have the skills and show the interest, it can help you get a job in the future,” Martinez said. “I think there should be more shops so more students can have the chance to see if they like them.”

At Lincoln High in Northeast Los Angeles, about 1,600 students took academic courses in summer school. Many did so to clear their schedule for shop and other electives, Sonnie said.

Arranging Time for Electives

Similarly, students at Eagle Rock High School, also in Northeast Los Angeles, can attend shop classes on Saturday or after school through a regional occupational program, said Principal Gloria Webster.

In California, there is a movement to increase the academic content of shop courses so they can be substituted for some graduation requirements.

A task force of Glendale school officials has recommended that the district allow students to take some occupational education courses as substitutes for mathematics and English credits needed for graduation.

The task force also asked that students be allowed to add a seventh period to the normal six-period daily schedule in order to take industrial arts classes. The recommendations were submitted to the school board earlier this month.

No Longer Useful

A growing segment of the education community, however, believes that industrial arts programs have outlived their usefulness and that it is better that students--even those not bound for college--have the strongest possible academic background.

Last year, Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, appointed a committee of educators to examine problems in vocational programs.

Committee recommendations included a call for teaching students skills needed by business and industry in the current job market; eliminating duplication between schools and other agencies that provide occupational training; developing new funding sources and training of new vocational education teachers.

Some schools have tried to fill the teacher gap by bringing in professionals from private industry. But that experiment, by most accounts, has not worked.

“The industry person doesn’t know how to administer discipline, doesn’t know how to work with younger students,” said Gene Lew, an industrial education specialist with the Los Angeles Unified School District.


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