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.
Buffeted by budget cuts, outdated by modern technology and put on low priority because of stricter academic graduation requirements, shop classes are fast becoming a luxury elective that few students can afford to take in the Glendale and Northeast Los Angeles area--or the rest of the nation.
"It's a shame what's happening to these shops," said Louis Malinowski, a print shop teacher at Glendale High School. "I believe everybody should have a semester of shop. But a lot of students can't," he said, because "they just don't have the room" in the school day.
When Malinowski started teaching shop classes at Glendale High in 1942, about 40 shop classes were being taught. Now there are half that many.
Besides the dwindling numbers of shop classes, teachers with vocational backgrounds are not graduating from colleges and universities in the numbers they did in previous decades.
"It is very difficult to get instructors in shop classes. The students are still interested in taking shop courses, but we just don't have the time or the teachers," said Lupe Sonnie, principal at Abraham Lincoln High School in Northeast Los Angeles.
Similar complaints are heard nationwide. Public schools in Dade County, Fla., which has the nation's fourth-largest school district, are so desperate for industrial arts 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 shop programs at what he called 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.
Fewer Shops at Glendale
Glendale High is perhaps a barometer of what is happening to shop classes across the country.
The school offers the traditional shops--wood, printing, drafting and metal--as well as electronics and auto shop. All told, there are 21 classes available, contrasted with 40 just over a decade ago.
Doug Burgener, wood shop instructor, taught six full classes daily as recently as seven years ago, but now has four. "It's the graduation requirements and the push from the parents for students to go to college that has led to the decrease," Burgener said.
Malinowski, too, is coping with dwindling enrollment. Five years ago, he taught five drafting classes daily. Now he is teaching two and he predicts drafting will be eliminated from the curriculum before the end of the decade.
Malinowski and other shop teachers in Los Angeles County also are finding themselves teaching on outdated equipment. Malinowski said at least two of the printing machines in his classroom are more than 20 years old.
At a recent meeting of the Glendale School Board, member Jane M. Whitaker quipped that the machines at Eleanor J. Toll Junior High School are so ancient that the board ought to consider raising money by selling them as antiques.
The board is now considering spending more than $200,000 to buy auto diagnostic machines and a dust collection system for the wood shop, as well as upgrading print and tool shops.
"It is very frustrating for us in education to realize the world goes so much faster in technology than we can keep up with financially," Whitaker said in an interview.
Curriculum designers nationwide are trying to make the course more analytical by bringing in more math and science concepts. To show the change, some districts are renaming the discipline "technological education."
More shop teachers are creating courses on robotics. But the wave of the future is computerized industrial shops. Using computers to design some of the simple wood and metal projects includes building a rudimentary robot and writing the computer program that governs the robot's movement.