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Schools Lament Sharp Decline in Shop Teachers, Students in '80s

April 27, 1986|PAMELA MORELAND | Times Staff Writer

When the electric shop teacher at James Madison Junior High School in North Hollywood retired five years ago, Principal Marvin Starer could not find a qualified replacement. So he discontinued the program.

After a fruitless search in 1981 to replace the retiring drafting teacher, who taught five classes each semester, Starer saved the program only after the metal shop teacher offered to teach one drafting class a semester.

"I've had to oversee the devastation of one of our school's most popular programs. It hasn't been pleasant," Starer said gloomily.

Shop classes--the wood, drafting, print, metal and other industrial arts courses that served as a rite of passage for several generations of men--are fast disappearing from the curricula of junior and senior high schools.

Class Offerings Whittled

Although at one time all 27 junior highs in the San Fernando Valley offered electric shop classes, now only five do. And, whereas all Valley junior highs once offered metal, print and wood shops, now only 13 have metal shops, 16 have wood shops and 17 have print shops.

All the 17 Valley high schools are equipped to offer six industrial education programs: auto, drafting, electronics, graphic arts, metal and wood. But few still offer a complete curriculum.

El Camino Real in Woodland Hills and Polytechnic in Sun Valley each offer only four shop classes. Kennedy High in Granada Hills has the smallest industrial arts program in the Valley with only three offerings: drafting, graphic arts and wood.

According to a state Board of Education report, California has lost one-third of its secondary-school shop courses since 1978.

Nationwide Decline

The decline in shop classes can also be seen nationwide, as can the shortage of shop teachers. Public schools in Dade County, Fla., which has the nation's fourth-largest school district, are so desperate for teachers that this year recruiters traveled to New York looking for applicants. Tiny Carmel Central School District in southwest New York is offering bonuses to industrial arts teachers who join the district before September.

A "critical shortage" of industrial arts teachers exists in Georgia, Alabama, the Southwest and parts of the West Coast, according to John G. Nee, secretary of the National Assn. of Industrial and Technical Teachers Educators. In the North and Northeast, Nee added, secondary schools are shutting down their shop programs at an alarming rate.

There is a variety of reasons for the decline of shop courses. The average age of the nation's 48,000 shop teachers is 55, with many nearing retirement, according to the Journal of Industrial Education. And only a few graduates of the nation's education schools are trained to teach shop classes, according to the trade journal.

The national education reform movement of the 1980s added a host of academic courses to graduation requirements, leaving little room for students to take electives. Because shop classes are usually electives, even students who want the classes have discovered they do not have the time.

Seen as Relics

Finally, shop courses have gained the reputation of being the dumping ground for students who are not academically oriented. And, in a technologically complicated world, some educators and parents consider wood and metal shops relics of a bygone era.

"If my son has a choice between a computer programming class and wood shop, I would naturally steer him to the computer class," said David Levine, an Encino attorney. "He has to be prepared for the future, not the past."

Industrial education classes were introduced to U.S. secondary schools in the 1880s amid a flurry of controversy. Two rival camps wanted the curriculum added to secondary schools, but for different reasons.

One group wanted "manual training," courses in which the basics of trades would be taught as a way to round out the education of college-bound students.

The other camp advocated "vocational education" as a way to ensure that every student left high school with a marketable skill.

Neither faction won. Instead, most secondary schools adopted a compromise. In junior high, boys were required to take introductory shop classes so they would have some basic trade skills. The more advanced high school classes were for those who wanted to graduate with employable skills.

Nearly a century later, in the early 1970s, shop classes became controversial once again as adolescent feminists demanded equal access to the male bastions. Fearing lawsuits, school districts quickly acquiesced. It is now common to see girls in shop classes.

California educators point to the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, the tax-cutting initiative, as the beginning of the decline in industrial arts classes. When school funding dwindled, the first cuts many school boards made were the electives. Shop classes were among the first to go.

'Hurt Four Major Areas'

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