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December 9th, 2014

If you are over 40, you may recall industrial arts classes in school. Sometimes referred to as “shop.” Industrial arts classes were part of what is now called career and technical education. Industrial arts was not primarily intended to develop skill for employment, but to develop technological literacy with the tools and materials of daily life. Industrial arts classes were often criticized as “birdhouse” making classes. In fact, technological literacy was the overall goal of industrial arts.

Today, technological literacy is primarily keyboarding and posting on social media. During the early 1980’s, the USA saw an explosion of big-box home improvement stores. That trend is no more. In both the USA and Britain, do-it-yourself is in steep decline. This situation provides good opportunity for those going into the building trades! However, in a time of stagnant income and rising costs, not being able to “do-it-yourself” can lower a person’s standard of living. Not being self-sufficient can put home ownership at risk.

The decline of do-it-yourself has been attributed to several causes. The rise of single-family households is one; government regulation and permitting are another. I believe the elimination of school experiences in industrial arts classes is also a cause. Though industrial arts classes for all will never return, career and technical education is available today to enrich the lives of students who choose the opportunity. Much emphasis is now placed on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)–and rightly so, but that focus is not in conflict with participation in career and technical education. For example, “book engineers” are not well regarded. Engineering educators have told me that “farm kids” often make the best engineering students. Those farm kids bring experience with tools and materials that creates a foundation in practical experience for their engineering instruction.

There is hope to revive technological literacy beyond computer applications. That hope is the rapid expansion of an electronic performance support system that can instantly provide instruction for a growing array of practical applications in daily life. That system is YouTube. With a smartphone in hand, a growing array of detailed information (job aides) for tasks in daily life is readily available. In the past week, I twice turned to YouTube on my smartphone to carry out maintenance tasks on a family vehicle. Read the manual? Not when it’s a lot faster to ask my smartphone, and see a demonstration.

Life experience with tools and materials probably helps. My first teaching role after university was teaching industrial arts. Parental examples of the use of tools and materials are on the decline, bit career and technical education can help overcome that social change. Why is this important? Track the price of hiring a plumber!

Interesting facts from YouTube:

by Robert G. Ketchum, Ph.D.

Previously published in the North Idaho Business Journal

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