Ditching Shop Class: How Educators Feed the Achievement Gap

Within public education, Shop Class, what we once called Vocational Education, has mostly been eliminated, but wonder why kids exit public school with no job-worthy skills. From the perspective of a STEM/CTE educator, a rationale for why we (educators) disposed of Technical/Vocational Ed and teaching of skills leading to middle class lifestyle, and how this feeds expansion of the Achievement Gap. More

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About Joe Petito

Visualize a platoon of wanna-be Marines being marched by a Drill Instructor at someplace like MCRD * San Diego: sixty people or so in order and step, going down the street with cadence called by the DI. They come to some obstacle: a vehicle, a maintenance crew trimming trees, whatever. The DI gives an order: "To the left (or right) oblique; March!" The whole platoon, in unison, swivels on a 45 degree angle, continuing to march, until given the command to return to the original direction. They then continue on as before the "oblique" command.

*Marine Corps Recruit Depot (boot camp)

I've come to the teaching profession from an oblique angle, having navigated a number of what some would call obstacles before arriving front and center to the chairs and desks:

After a parochial elementary education in Wilmington, CA, I processed through two LA Unified schools- Stephen M. White Junior High, and Carson High School, both in Carson, CA. This was the era when something called Vocational Education still existed, and I am a product of that education, having spent several years at the secondary level pursuing specialized studies for a career in the professional trades.

Having never intended to go to college, I joined the United States Marines, and was regularly sent on special ocean cruises and all-expenses-paid excursions to exotic Asian islands, as well as other ports of call in the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention lonely places in the continental US. It was all a most humbling experience, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty as well as lessers, and afterwards got myself off to the university for a degree in Religion (capital R) at what is now known as Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA.

As part of the degree process, two summers were spent in the Middle East doing archaeological fieldwork at the city of Dan, in Israel, just below the minefields and prickly wire of the Golan. A most fascinating time and place, full of conundrums and fubars. You have not seen dark until you've traversed Hezikiah's Tunnel. You should go sometime. The next three years were spent working for the university in plant operations, a series of educational experiences guided by craftsmen with expert skill learned in a huge variety of trades.

After came a year in the desert hamlet of Landers, CA. doing odd welding jobs and service of electric vehicles, and then a stint at a "wind park," farming the San Gorgonio Pass for green electricity. My wife and I spent our time in a remote one-room homestead place sans electricity and running water, and made a fine life for ourselves listening to the wind and the quail and operating on propane and firewood.

The next ten years or so were spent in Torrance, CA., owning and operating my own iron contracting business until I got tired of just chasing money and started looking about for something meaningful to do (I mean, life is only so long; what's left when you're gone?). Having taught in various capacities over the years, I began the State of California credentialing process, teaching meanwhile as a substitute teacher for Torrance Unified School District in California. One thing led to another the way it usually does, and in the fall of 1999 I came on at Richardson Middle School, and have been here since. They say in the research literature on teaching that it takes four to six years to make a competent teacher, so as of this writing (July 2014) I consider myself mostly competent.

So what do I have to offer the teaching profession and to students in general? Mostly, I think, it has to do with outlook, or perspective. I began teaching at the age of 42, and before that had twenty-five years-worth of a varied set of experiences, from jumping out of flying helicopters to digging up ancient civilizations to the raw experience of living with next to nothing in the middle of the desert to convincing cold customers that I could bring in the job on time and on budget. If the literature on expertise in work claims it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert in whatever, I've put in multiple expert sessions on differing things than the education profession, providing an oblique view to the status quo. I am not average. I don't claim though to be a better or more talented teacher than the other outstanding and immensely dedicated teachers at our little school or the wider teaching profession. I am merely different, like everyone else, and my oblique perspective on life and education offers a divergent interpretation they might not get from the other teachers or staff or from you.

If I can inspire a student to learn how to learn, or create the motivation to learn how to learn, I will have done my job, because when school is finished, they will not need me. Or any other teacher for that matter. If they can direct themselves and their lives and decide and motivate themselves in whatever they do, they can then do anything under any circumstance. How this all happens seems mysterious, and sometimes it doesn't happen, but it takes place in the context of our classroom with the projects and materials and the tools and digital gear and other stuff. Stop by for a visit sometime. You are always welcome.


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