Speaking with others #hardiefellowship

Last weekend I had breakfast with friends. It was our first proper catch up since my return from the USA. Apart from the fact that it was really nice to sit and chat and have breakfast extend to a couple of hours, it also made me aware of how I distill the learning for different contexts/people. When asked what I got out of the year I spoke more broadly of the experience, focussing on culture, which then looked at broad policy impacts.

One of the things that struck me, as a result of having the opportunity to spend time with others in the space of Ohio University, was that there were people there who had not learnt how to cook. It had not been part of their high school experience. When I asked one person what reasoning sat behind this, as classes that involved cooking did exist once, I was told that (in the Cincinnati area where she came from) it was deemed to be a gender issue so it was removed. Hm… I am still pondering this reasoning. Having attended high school in the 80’s in Tasmania I remember the significant change made in the high school I attended regarding Home Economics and MDT (known as Shop in the USA). Suddenly we went from girl only classes in Home Economics to mixed classes and the reverse for MDT – was this a good or a bad thing? What impact did such a decision have 20 years down the track? Has it had some impact on the fabric of our society? The impact is the most important question to consider. We can’t necessarily understand or foresee all the outcomes/impacts that will occur as a result of policy change, but careful consideration is needed. What are the health impacts? What are the gender role impacts? What impacts exists around the importance of jobs in these areas?

The USA is a big place, it’s land mass is not that different to Australia, but its population is significantly larger. The way that it is governed is different too, not to mention the governing of schools is somewhat different. As a result not all high schools are in the position mentioned by my friend who went to a school in Cincinnati. Yet when I do a quick google search, it appears that Shop is still an area that is being phased out as noted here in an article written for Forbes in 2012.

As a result some people are raising the issue:

As shop teachers around California retire, high schools aren’t replacing them and shop classes are closing. There is no training for teachers going through university to learn how to teach shop. This trend isn’t limited to California, according to John Chocholak who has testified in front of California State Assembly and Congress on the subject of shop class, he is seeing shop class killed in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and many other states. Shop class is dead and so are the potential trades people that would be born out of that early exposure to a tool or machine (http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarabrown/2012/05/30/the-death-of-shop-class-and-americas-high-skilled-workforce/).

A later article via the CNN website in 2013 starts to identify a change:

In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama talked about redesigning schools for a high-tech future. He gave a shout-out to a technical high school in Brooklyn, and to 3-D printing. In a moment of seeming agreement, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio mentioned incentives for schools to add vocational and career training.

But long gone are the days of shop class, or even “vocational training,” said Stephen DeWitt, the senior director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education. For many years, he saw career and technical education cut by shrunken budgets or “literally and figuratively left in the back of the school, separate from academics.”

What’s emerging in schools now is something tougher to pin down. In one district, it might be a fancy new school dedicated to teaching tech. In another, an apprenticeship program. Some schools design career and technical classes to line up with college-prep courses that guide students to become engineers, chefs, CEOs or doctors. Almost 80% of high school students who concentrated on career and technical studies pursued some type of postsecondary education within two years of finishing high school, the U.S. Department of Education reported in 2011.

“We’re hearing policy makers talk about it more often. Certain districts are looking at career and technical education as a way to reform schools,” DeWitt said. “The focus on project-based learning, how to get students engaged more, is something that’s caught on.”

That might mean more maker spaces sprouting up at schools, too.

The thing I find that is often forgotten in many of the discussions around this topic is what Shop, TAS, Tech, Home Ec, MDT really offer our young people. There is more to the this broad learning area than a means to gain a job and support the economy. The subjects housed in this learning space help support the development of the whole child, one who grows up to be an active member of our society.

It is for this reason that policy implementation needs careful consideration. It still gob-smacks me to know that there are people, even a whole generation in particular areas, who lack the confidence to cook for themselves. But it gets worse they miss out on the benefits of being able to cook and make informed decisions around food. One has to consider the micro and macro impacts on society resulting from this lack of confidence and awareness.

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