Hello, my name is Jennifer and I can barely change a light bulb.
In fact, I think that’s about the high-water mark of my trades skills. Can I lay a foundation? Nope. Build a birdhouse? Know the theory. Change a tire? Does it count if my dad once gave me a demonstration?
It’s not that I don’t like tools. Actually, I’m fascinated by them. It’s just that I have no idea how to make them work. I’m lucky if I can hang a picture without causing permanent bodily harm.
I wasn’t always like this. Back in my middle-school days (Lincoln Junior High-renamed-Middle-School, represent!) we had this fantastic class called Occupational Versatility, or O.V. for short.
It was required of everybody. You spent the year rotating through stations: home economics, shop class, art. You didn’t have to take any particular thing in any of the stations, but you did have to choose something at each station you were in. Cooking, sewing and latchhook projects were among the possibilities in home ec, I remember. Making your own candles, especially the ones that looked like root beer floats (remember whipping the wax?) were all the rage in art. I particularly loved the woodshop, where you could make wood, metal or even glass projects. I still have a stained-glass dolphin I made there, and a little wooden jewelry box with a stained-glass motif on the lid.
Man, those were the days. I could discuss metal etching. I could use a bandsaw. I knew about different types of solder. I don’t know that I ever bothered to give even a come-hither look to the idea of someday being a general contractor, but I know if I’d been asked to be on a building project, I would have jumped at the chance.
I would have loved to continue learning about vocational trades, but I couldn’t do the required time commitment. In high school, I was interested in taking a class in auto mechanics. I really was. I had no desire to build a Corvette from scratch or anything, I just figured it would be a good idea to learn how to change my own spark plugs or figure out whether my clutch might be going bad.
Problem was, most high schools don’t offer One-Period Auto Mechanics for Dummies, even as an after-school club. I would have had to give up a three-period block for an entire year, blowing all my chances at any other electives, including other stuff I was interested in trying out, such as choir, computers and journalism. I wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice.
(Yeah, yeah, just think what my life could have been like if I had never taken journalism. You wouldn’t be reading this drivel! I might have actually had a real salary! I’m not bitter!)
That brings me to the new Linn County Regional Trades Academy, which is an amazing opportunity. Kids who enroll in this will get to spend three hours a day learning all that stuff I never did, from wiring a circuit to reading a blueprint to building a set of cabinets. They may or may not come out ready to become general contractors, but at the very least, they’ll be able to change their own spark plugs.
It’s fantastic. But my point here, and I do have one, is that I wish little pieces of that learning were made available to everyone. I wish K-12 schools offered classes like, “Basic Home Repair 101,” or “Masonry for Non-Masonry Majors,” or “How To Diagnose That Weird Sound In Your Car Without Spending a Fortune.”
There’s not a thing wrong with wanting a career as a full-time welder (see “could have had a real job,” above), but there are folks like me, who know they’re not going that route, who still could greatly benefit from a class that offers just a small taste of that kind of skill. I’d offer my suggested classes maybe one period a day for one semester, with the option for signing up for the real thing. I’d make it mandatory, but even a single elective opportunity would be better than nothing.
That’s how it should start, so you don’t lose out on kids like me who believe they can land only on one side or the other of a (well-crafted) concrete barrier between Trade School and Liberal Arts.
And if someone listens to this plea and decides to break down the six-discipline Trades Academy into bite-sized forms for folks like me, please add plumbing to the course list ASAP. My shower knob keeps falling off and duct tape will take you only so far.