• TJ

What Happened To Shop Class?

Way back when in the ye olde 1980s and 90s, we used to get to take amazing classes in high school and even Middle School. I would rush from Math class to get to the school’s shop so we could get back to rebuilding a lawnmower engine that we had completely dismantled on day one of the class. It was like magic, we were finally doing what Dad did (with less expletives) and it felt so FREEING. The year prior instead of Small Engines class I took a metalworking course, where I built a scale model of Lars Ulrich’s (of Metallica fame) drum kit. It gave me an enormous sense of accomplishment. I never really had anything that I could bring home and brag to my dad about, but I could with these classes because we were doing real work. Not quite as fun as that one was the class called “everyday math” where we learned to balance a checkbook, fill out a 1040EZ form and all of the other things that we would see our parents doing every day but that were a mystery to us as kiddos.

Since the 1990’s, we have all but done away with these types of real skill-building classes. Some schools still offer it, but in my experience (having lived across 5 states and several school districts in each) they are nowhere to be found, at least not with the same panache that we once had when we bended wrenches and made Pasta Primavera after homeroom.

So why are they gone? Surfing the web to find out has proven a chore, but there are some answers out there. Brett Murphy of Brett E Murphy Tutoring & Consulting says “teaching to the test and metrics have never been more important, and sewing and cooking don’t qualify.”

It seems that most Americans simply believe that life skills, defined by Wikipedia as “abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life”, are just not as important as STEAM skills or even the Arts. In fact, in more than one source about the issue, the idea was posited that life skills are simply not as important as professional skills. Christopher K. Lee, the founder and career consultant at Purpose Redeemed says there is “a belief that professional work is more valuable than domestic work. Compound this with budget cuts, home economics is among the first classes to get eliminated.”


Well, the end of that conversation is that while that may make sense on paper, it is just simply not true in the real world with real students. A recent poll by High Point University (that you will aptly find on almost every page of the Educ8U site) states that the overwhelming attitude of hiring managers and corporations involved in the study is that technical competence, or the stuff you learn in “regular classes” in school or university is the least most wanted area of expertise. And this data is parroted across the internet.

Employers are begging for students to come out of the college pipeline with life skills, coachability, emotional intelligence, etc. These are the things that make our judgment sound. It helps us to get out of the jams that life finds us in. And just about every focus in a biopic about an underdog worker who changes the game is about emotional intelligence and critical thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with academic competence, it is necessary. But it’s not ALL that is necessary in today’s world.

Do me a favor. Go to google and type in “gen z critical thinking” and see what you come up with. I’ll wait.

What did you find? A lot of concern is what I found. Concern and cries for employers to provide critical thinking skills and cries for employers to outsource critical thinking to computer AI. What you don’t find anywhere (except by those of us in higher ed hoping upon hope that we can change the game and provide this type of life skills training) are answers to why Gen Z lacks these skills by and large, and a whole lot of blame that never really gets to rest anywhere.

Parents are partly to blame, of course, but you really don’t see that most places, because those same parents are writing the articles (giggle). Yes, as parents we need to do better, we need to teach our kids to change tires and balance checkbooks and not rely on Siri so much.

What seems glaringly obvious to us is that:

1. Primary schools need to bring back life skills and society needs to accept that it’s as important as standardized testing and metrics.

2. College is the OBVIOUS place that can really attack the meat of the problem, through direct, human contact.

GASP! Did I just suggest that our kids should have interpersonal interactions with other human beings?!? The nerve of this guy. Yes, we need to put our kids in front of people, not screens and allow them to hone skills that help them think on their feet, without the extra time to think between Twitter posts.

What kinds of classes am I suggesting that we maybe stop cramming down our college students’ throats instead of learning how to balance a checkbook, save for retirement or change their oil? Here ya go:

1. Tree Climbing – Cornell University (get it, Andy!)

2. Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame (not kidding) – Princeton University

3. The Game of Thrones - UVA

4. The Physics of Star Trek – University of Wisconsin/Madison


If you want some more of those funny courses, I’ll post a link at the end of this post for you to look at the rest. These aren’t even the worst of it. But here’s the thing: people are taking these classes, graduating and expecting professional organizations to take them seriously.

These are classes that students are paying THOUSANDS of dollars to take, and they could easily be ditched for some of these classes that sadly, don’t exist in traditional colleges (but they do at Educ8U!). Here are some of the things that we can help teach our students, regardless of where the school is; college, high school, middle school, etc.:

1. Personal Finance

2. Auto/Vehicle Maintenance

3. Cleaning Up After Yourself 101

4. Developing Relationships


So that’s a little of my thoughts on life skills, there’s a lot more to it and I encourage you to do some poking around the links I post at the bottom of the post. It really is pretty clear in hindsight that we should really be focusing on real life with these kids whose parents have charged us with their development. And those parents should be starting with them as well. We will get there, we just have to change the system a little bit.


Purpose Redeemed website, Christopher K Lee:

Why Home Ec isn’t taught anymore, Fox:

James G Martin “Students Aren’t Learning Life Skills”:

High Point University Study about life skills:

Gen Z Google search:

Funny college courses:

Brett E. Murphy Tutoring & Consulting, Inc.:

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