Thursday, February 07, 2013

About learning to make things........................

Sometimes my days follow one another in a simple, ordinary, uncomplicated way with nothing momentous happening. I get up, do a little tidying - I was going to say cleaning, but that would be a slight exaggeration - I read things here on the computer, I may go to gym, I may take a walk. I may do a little food shopping, of go to appointments. I cook food for our evening meal. I fall asleep in the rocking chair watching TV, or I fall asleep on the couch crocheting while I watch TV. I may pull up a couple of weeds in the garden. I may not. I may just sit.

And so my days can be ordinary ones. I happen to like ordinary. Quiet. Simple.

Actually, I am getting perilously close to the stage where I would prefer to stay home and never go out, and so, with that in mind, I am making myself plan things so I do indeed leave the house.

Ordinary simple days are never boring. My mind goes off on its travels and thoughts flitter through it, one settling for a while now and then for me to mull over.

I love being at home. I have always loved being at home. I love having a warm and welcoming house, where people feel comfortable popping in. There is so much to do here. I just love having the potential - the possibility of making whatever I think of, because I have supplies or stocks of so much crafty wonderfulness here. And good heavens, I still have Glynis's 60th birthday present to finish and she will soon be 61. Memo to self - DROP EVERYTHING AND FINISH IT!!

Sandra wrote a post yesterday about Home Economics. And she wondered why it is not taught any more.

I do not know about the rest of the world, but I have first hand experience of what has happened to the more non-academic subjects in our schools. I taught in that department, remember.

So I will tell you what has replaced those good old fashioned PRACTICAL lessons which have been a real blessing to most of us of a certain age. Even those of us who didn't like them at the time. I do remember my cinnamon roll biscuits. They were amazing. I also remember making a handmade pleated skirt to fit me in Standard 4. I would have turned 11 that year. We were taught to knit and sew and do embroidery and everything was handmade, and really totally impressive in retrospect.

So what has happened?

Once upon a time, all children learned practical things at school. For example, all through my schooling  (I was at a girls only school), there were extra classes - art classes, singing classes, and some years, sewing and domestic science .  None of these classes had exams. They were a practical addition to the timetable to round out our education. In some cases, the children who were never going to be academic stars, found something they could outshine their classmates at, and they became stars in another sphere. There was drama, gym, sport as well. Winter and summer. None of them had exams. In junior school, there were eurythmics (a sort of wave the arms gym)  and library classes too. Most of the sewing stuff was in the junior school, now I come to think about it. The bar was high. We did not make rubbish.

Once you got to the last 2 years of school, you could elect to take a subject like art as an examination subject - and a few others I think.

So, no matter who you were, you learned a great deal about a great many things.

Fast forward to 2006 when I started working in secondary schools here, and you get a vastly different scenario. Secondary school starts when you are 11. GCSEs are written when you are 16, and a great many children leave after GCSEs. Then there are A levels for 2 years. And you leave school at 18. From 11 - 13, you do rotations of "design" in 6 week lots. That includes Graphic Design, Resistant Materials, Textiles and Food Technology. In 6 weeks you can teach almost nothing, especially if you are only seeing the little darlings once a week. And EVERYTHING starts with composing a "design brief". Move on to the 13-16 year olds and I nearly lost the will to live. Now we have examinations ahead. Not in how good you are at making something, but the entire 2 year period is taken up with identifying need, design briefs, cost analysis, consumer surveys, prototypes, product reviews, marketing etc etc etc. And those 30+ girls did not know how to thread a sewing machine. So I had to teach them from scratch, and then the rest was all about academic acumen. And the exams reflected this. We are training generations of children to draw up design briefs to send to China to have things made by a foreign workforce, because so help me, our own do not have a clue how to make anything any more. The end product is not the goal. It is the master plan and all those details that is.

So, all the kids I taught somehow fell in love with making things. And there was no time in class for them to make anything, so every single lunch time, I had upwards of 40 boys and girls barrelling through my doors so that "Miss - please teach me how to make a bag/cushion/hat etc etc" could happen. They loved making things. I loved teaching them to make things. And this is OUTSIDE the curriculum. My time. There is nowhere left for a lad to excel at woodwork, or metalwork. Nowhere for a budding chef to excel, unless they also shine academically, because that paperwork and cost analysis stuff is more important than the skills needed to make things.

I tell you, it is a total tragedy. I just wanted to teach them all to make and fix and be proud of their talents and abilities as they discovered them. They LOVED doing something as simple as making pompoms. Most had never made one. Couching - even the boys loved that. I taught the boys to use the machines by referring to boy racers, and accelerators and steering - they loved that. Other teachers used to send the troublemakers down to me, and I made them finish the work they were supposed to do before I let them loose on the machines - they worked for me.

One of the 12 year old prima donnas was a real challenge. There were a few screaming matches - I won. And then one day, she came in at lunch and fell in love with the embroidery machine. A week later, I put her in charge of teaching the rest of the kids - some older and some younger - how to use it. "Seriously, Miss? You want ME to teach them?" "Sure", I said - "you know more than any of them." That child grew 3 feet as I looked at her with a grin. A couple of months later, after endless lunches with the crowded room and excited kids all over the place making things, she had never missed a day. As the bell went, she and I were heading out across the courtyard, when she yelled to me "Hey Miss - I am not such a bad kid, am I?" "No, sweetie, you are not such a bad kid after all".

And that was the day I resigned. It nearly broke my heart. I didn't have a choice. But you know, I loved every minute of the lunch times. Not so much the teaching of the academic stuff, but the lunchtimes were a magical time. For me, and, I think, for them.

And now? That school no longer teaches textiles, or resistant materials. I don't know if it teaches graphics either. Art. Food technology. Such a waste. A total and utter waste.

Children need lessons in life - in the growing of food, the preparation of it, the sewing and fixing and mending and budgeting. In woodwork, art, singing, drama. reading, dancing, in playing sport together, learning to win and to lose. In being creative, in daring to try new things. In being messy and in DOING.

When I was at my last school and teaching "Design" - they told me to think up a plan for something interesting as a rotation because they had too many children and so I invented a 6 week course. Hmmm. Anyway. On the last day, I copied one of my colleagues from my first school's brilliant idea. I divided the class into 4, and each team had a bin bag of cardboard boxes, yoghurt pots, cotton reels, paper, glue, string, elastic etc. They had 30 minutes to make a land yacht, and then we raced them along the desks, propelled by a fan. The winners got a prize. You have NO IDEA how much fun that was. They loved it. They had to think, to build, to test and hopefully try to win. They even had their team cheerleaders.

Kids like making things. I love making things. Everyone loves the satisfaction of creating something. And I worry that the generation growing up now will never have the opportunity to learn how to make or do things, with so many parents having to work full time, and with schools missing out on the creative side in favour of making those subjects academic

Just look at the rising popularity of knit and natter clubs/gatherings. Of crocheting, and thank the Good Lord for the internet. There is hope! Maybe the rising number of homeschooled children here too means the tide will turn. And in the  meantime, I can always teach a child myself, can't I.......


Carol Prosser said...

What a brllant message. I agree with you on every level. I loved art classes which were taught in the lower grades and became electives after age 12 in my area. From ages 13 to 18 we could elect to take sewing, cooking, nutrition as well as how to budget in classes we called Home Economics. Those lessons from oh so many years ago still serve me well.

Crystal said...

Oh, Linds - you are so right! We are not quite as bad off here in Canada - yet! The Industrial Arts teacher at 'my' school is doing great things and has an in with the Institute of Technology in Edmonton so he's acquired some awesome metal-bending type machines. He's a carpenter himself so the woodworking projects are wonderful - and the kids are so proud of them. In Foods the units are modular now so students can move along quickly, if they complete things. Recently when I subbed in the lab the high school students were doing Ethnic Foods(perogies that day - from scratch!) and double crust pies. It was wonderful to see them wielding those rolling pins and they were so proud of the products as they left. Textiles is another story - 6 weeks seeing them twice a week does not give enough time to learn and to create much of a project. But I see them using the zippered pouches and carrying their pillows home.

I too wish it were different for all the reasons you write of and for all the kids I see. Music programs past elementary school are rare. We have an amazing drama teacher who gives the kids such wonderful opportunities. She's taking 30 of them to New York City on the May long weekend - lucky kids! It really takes a passionate teacher to plead/beg/donate his or her life to keep some programs going.

May I link to your post in my Five on Friday? I want my readers to think about this topic too.

Stripeyspots said...

I loved all my Academic subjects (sort of) but nobody knew how I envied the Home Economics classes. How badly I wanted to be in there with them...

Chris said...

Once again you have come up with a BRILLIANT post!

I wonder what all the kids in China (who will be eventually making everything for the world) actually learn in school? Do they have classes to teach them how to live the practical aspects of life?

In all our cost-cutting fervor, we have severely shortchanged the children of today. We'll be lucky if they learn how to tie their own shoes without someone cutting that out of the budget!

Chris said...

Once again you have come up with a BRILLIANT post!

I wonder what all the kids in China (who will be eventually making everything for the world) actually learn in school? Do they have classes to teach them how to live the practical aspects of life?

In all our cost-cutting fervor, we have severely shortchanged the children of today. We'll be lucky if they learn how to tie their own shoes without someone cutting that out of the budget!

Run Quilt Knit Write said...

I couldn't agree more - you are a very wise woman!

Lu said...

l could not agree with you more, as a none academic, it was a great help in later life. While at school l hated needle work, but that was mainly a personality thing, not helped by my left handedness. My mother was always knitting but l learnt to knit from my father. l understand that he knitted me a bonnet before l was born. How many men could do that nowadays?

Anonymous said...

The trouble is that these subjects are gender stereotyped. How many mothers teach their sons to sew?

Needled Mom said...

I LOVE this post, Linds. You are absolutely right on every point and there is truly nothing better for their self esteem than having them create something on their own. The homeschoolers are doing it right and hopefully, we will see the resurgence of the talents.

Kelli said...

Kati has asked me to teach her to crochet. Me? Can you believe it?

I found out today that my mom taught her to knit when she was younger. I never knew she could knit, and do not remember ever seeing her knit.

I was stunned.

So, I guess I will teach my daughter the 4 stitches I know and see where it leads us.

BTW, I am now done with 8 of the 72 squares I need for the baby's quilt. Again, I am stunned.

And every. single. word you have written above is so unfortunately true everywhere. Especially here in the States.

Olson Family said...

Here! Here! Again another well phrased discourse and oh, that these skills were still respected and taught. It teaches us to be self-reliant, resourceful and proud of creative accomplishment - definitely lacking in current curriculum(at least in our kids school).