A good education prepares you for a promising life. The idea that the toil of completing each overly-complicated math equation or memorizing the names of long-dead bewigged gentlemen will help you have a great life can make study sessions feel more purposeful. However, as the years outside of the classroom begin to outnumber the ones in it, the classes that stick with you are not necessarily the basics. For me, some of the strangest offerings are the ones that made a lasting impact on my daily life.
In junior high, my fellow tweens and I shuffled into a musty garage-like space attached to the end of our school building. This space wasn’t much to look at, but it was the place where our very calm instructor took us through the basics of woodworking. In small clusters of borderline terrified mini-adults, we crafted penny hockey games and paper towel holders, and learned how to feel confident around tools of all shapes and sizes. The projects didn’t always go exactly as planned—my parents still have the singed key holder that I accidently lit on fire—but no one lost any limbs or did any permanent damage. Years later, when I walked into the basement where my husband was working on constructing a custom coffee table, I was able to assist him with the cuts. The confidence we established as middle-schoolers in woodshop expanded beyond gender norms and provided my classmates and me with a practical skill.
I should preface this next memory by saying that my school was in a rural setting, surrounded by vast amounts of farmland. Because of this locale, we picked up a lot of practical skills along the way. One of these skills was meant to help us put food on the table—bow hunting. Many people in my community hunted and filled their freezers with hard-won meat. Because of the practicality of this skill, it only makes sense that it was on our curriculum. However, I have heard from teachers of the subject—one of which was my father for part of his career—that there is nothing more terrifying than a large group of 12- and 13-year-olds all pointing loaded bows at you. Once we all stopped aiming at our teachers, we worked with basic bullseyes and fake deer mannequins with specific targets on them. I even became efficient with a crossbow. The only hunting I do now for food is on the shelves of a grocery store. But as television and pop culture constantly tell me, bow and arrow skills would be really useful in a post-apocalyptic world. So, come doomsday I am ready.
My practical education continued in high school where we learned how to secure a tree stand—once again helpful if you are hunting for your food—how to drive a tractor and all of the information you could ever want to know about caring for farm animals. We even had a barn on the school property with a whole host of animals residing there. Managing these animals was delegated to teens in the ag department, except when they would escape. On one such occasion, our football team’s day of conditioning turned into an exercise in recapturing and securing all missing sheep. The guys mastered their defensive skills right there in that cornfield versus the wily sheep.
Whatever the specific course, there are a lot of things to learn during your formative years. Students pick up skills they will constantly put to use in their everyday lives. This month, we spoke to five students at five different area schools about a unique class they enjoy. These kids are learning and exploring topics that do not necessarily fit into the STEM mold. They are playing games, learning “dead” languages and smashing pumpkins for science. The skills they are picking up are different than those I gained in school, but this is a different time.
Unlike young Lincoln Reeling, most of us didn’t know a lot about computers in the 2nd grade. He, and many children like him, are getting this amazing head-start on understanding technology. When young learners get the opportunity to develop their skills and talents, technological advances will surely follow.
Education is a constantly evolving field, and it is amazing to see these unique and interesting classes in The 330. I can only hope that as the years go by, students who experience these courses can feel the value of them in their everyday lives. After all, even the most random skillset could one day help you out of a jam—hopefully it won’t involve a crossbow.