THE BLOG

Three Cheers for Shop Class

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Esther J. Cepeda Opinion journalist and an expert on the issues of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos

Auto shop, wood shop, metal shop - all horrors of a certain segment of the high school population. Let's face it, shop class never got much respect.

So, when I read Rosalind Rossi's story "Shop Class shake-up" in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times I was near giddy. In it, Rossi details a new Chicago Public Schools push to elevate shop classes from the second-tier electives most people recall to high-tech, certified vocational education programs that will put kids into decent-paying 21st century careers the day they walk out of high school.

It's about time.

We live in a world where the corridors of the educational industrial complex are clogged with academics and starry-eyed teachers who truly believe that every single student in the United States must be prepared and routed straight to a four-year college. They believe that to expect anything less is to doom a child to a life of destitution.

I'm not making this stuff up. You need only spend about 15 minutes with the average teacher or teaching professor at any educational facility in this country; if you were to opine that hey, maybe not every Susie and Tommie should be encouraged to strive for Harvard or Princeton, you'd get looked at like you were a monster. A bad one. The kind of monster that did not, in fact, believe that every single human in the world must study Jane Austen - sans zombies - or Greek philosophy to experience a happy, productive or healthy life.

(I dare you to try this next time you come across a professional educator, sucker! Dare you not to roll your eyes when the words "I believe the children are our future..." come rolling out.)

Don't get me wrong: we are indeed operating in a 21st century knowledge economy and every single student who wants to go to college should get every bit of assistance humanly possible to do so, but college prep shouldn't be the sole focus of schools as it currently stands. When my washing machine spewed soapy water all over my basement a few weeks back I did not consult a mechanical engineer. I also didn't call one of my many brilliant PhD friends. Nope, I called up my local appliance repairman, thanking him with a nearly unnatural ferocity after he showed up at my house on a Sunday morning. Then, with a great big smile, I happily paid him a lot of money when my machine was working again.

It takes all kinds to make this world go 'round: doctors and car mechanics, lawyers and magnificent sous chefs, accountants and creative, talented construction workers. Starting next year, CPS' new "College and Career Academy" programs will be a living testament to that by training kids to walk out of senior year with the expertise to begin work in so-called "middle-skill" careers such as electricians, medical technicians, welders, and computer support services. And don't worry, this is not some fairy-tale CPS lark, many many school districts across the country and in Illinois already have similar, and successful programs (Lake County, IL's High School Technology Campus is one notable example).

So three cheers to the CPS shop rats of tomorrow from someone who knows she'll soon be shelling out major dollars to the furnace repair woman - they'll be laughing all the way to the bank as I make my thousand-dollar student loan payment every month.

Esther J. Cepeda writes about high school, broken washing machines and much, much more on www.600words.com