Ten years ago the wood shop at Artesia High School was closed when the teacher retired. Three years ago the Cerritos High School wood shop also closed when the teacher retired. The metal shop at Gahr High closed two years ago when the teacher there retired.
"When the wood shop teacher at Gahr leaves, we may not have it anymore," said Jack Profitt, supervisor of vocational education of the ABC Unified School District where the three high schools are located.
"We are not getting teachers in the pipeline with majors in industrial arts," Profitt said. The ABC district is not alone. Shop classes--the wood, drafting, print, metal and other industrial arts courses that served as a rite of passage for generations of men--are fast disappearing from the curricula of junior and senior high schools.
Warren High School in the Downey Unified School District can be used as of a sort of a barometer on how the industrial arts curriculum has changed in the Southeast area.
Fifteen years ago, there were three different drafting classes offered at the school, separate metal and wood classes, an electronics class and a graphic arts class. There was a teacher for each class. Today there is only one teacher who teaches three periods of wood shop and two periods of drafting at the 1,900-student school.
At Downey High School in the same district, graphic arts and machine shop were dropped more than four years ago.
Five years ago, all four of the Downey district's middle and junior high schools offered both metal and wood shop classes; today only wood shop is offered at each school.
Other districts have similar stories. According to a state Board of Education report, California has lost one-third of its secondary-school shop courses since 1978.
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 Teacher 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 schools are trained to teach shop, 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.
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.
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.
Need for Skills Exist
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.
"There is still a need for the skills taught in industrial arts courses, especially for our academically oriented students. Any person who owns a home should be able to repair a molding, fix an electrical plug or refinish a piece of furniture," said Terence Garner, assistant superintendent of personnel for Dade County Public Schools.
But 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.