Cronin: reviving the industrial arts
Most people understand the concept of “Renaissance man”. We use this term to refer to someone who demonstrates exceptional excellence across the spectrum of academic disciplines. We could describe this kind of person as “multi-talented”, maybe even “over-performing”. It is these remarkable people who always seem to excel, no matter what the task at hand. Many are undoubtedly true wonders. The rest are simply the product of comprehensive training and education.
In a recent edition of this journal, editor Elizabeth Marie Himchak wrote an informative article describing Tech Trek Summer Camp. For a week, five lucky grade eight girls were able to participate in a very demanding immersion program involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Sponsored by the American Association of University Women, the program is designed to expose young girls to potential careers in technical disciplines that they might not otherwise have considered.
Five pages later, Elizabeth wrote about another remarkable young teenager named Shruti Verma, who started a computer summer camp to help encourage other girls to “be computer savvy.” It is also a STEM initiative aimed at young girls.
Interestingly, the theme for this year’s MCAS Miramar air show will be “Celebrating 100 Years of Women in the Marine Corps”. Weekend activities include a STEM exhibit specifically aimed at women and girls. It seems that this movement is accelerating.
Even if a student ultimately cannot choose to pursue a career in technology, common sense tells us that we should encourage any initiative designed to expose more children to STEM disciplines. We live in a technological world. Their world will only be more so.
In addition to STEM, the current core curriculum of the California Department of Education emphasizes English, Science, History, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Physical and Health Education, Computer Science, languages of the world and the visual and performing arts. One would think that this should be enough to produce the next generation of fully skilled American workers.
Not so. Our schools have made a huge mistake in eliminating the industrial arts from our core curriculum. Affectionately known as the “Workshop Class”, this was the educational program where students learned to design and make all kinds of hands-on projects, using both wood and metal. We learned how to safely use hand, power and power tools, as well as basic carpentry and auto maintenance.
I cringe every time I see that TV commercial where two teenagers have a flat tire late at night and the “good old mum” has to call the tow truck because neither of them knows what a wrench is. ergot, and even less how to use it. Intended to be humorous, it seems almost pathetic. Boys who can’t even change a tire. How is that old saying still going? Is the truth in a lot of jokes?
It is not surprising that girls benefit as much as boys from exposure to the industrial arts. A modern-day American “Renaissance woman” should be just as comfortable running a business, raising a family, writing poetry, conversing in Spanish, or getting around in the dojo. No reason she shouldn’t also be able to use power tools, do an oil change, or hang drywall. Basic skills in the industrial arts greatly expand a woman’s overall repertoire, regardless of her ultimate life calling.
While we always need professional craftsmen for these major jobs, there is nevertheless something extremely rewarding about carrying out a large and complex project on our own. Why not reintroduce the industrial arts into the curriculum of our colleges and high schools, this time for boys and girls? The industrial arts are practical and enjoyable. Students today are deprived of much of what should be an indispensable part of everyone’s basic education. They must know how to work with their hands as well as with their minds.
Cronin is a retired resident of Poway.