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Building. Making. Learning.

My son wrote an essay this week on Dante’s Inferno. It was a well-argued indictment of the concept of sin and punishment. He also made his first weld. It is not what you would call a good weld. It is lumpy. It’s wavy. My son probably has no future as a welder. Quite a contrast to the skilled work I had been watching in footage from our suppliers this week.

I see a lot of posts about making sure every child learns to code. It is an admirable goal that would help students across their schooling as it teaches organized thinking. It would also meet the goal of helping more children be job ready when they leave school. But I also think there is something to be said for adding traditional vocational skills back into the curriculum across the board.

Vocational Education. The term smacks of schools in the 1950s streaming students according to perceived ability. Those deemed unable to go to college being shunted into a nether world of shop class. In many cases it was probably more based on class and social standing than actual ability. This isn’t just an argument that everyone should be able to change a car tire and not be helpless around the house when things break. All of that is true but on a broader basis, it is useful to learn by doing, touching and feeling the materials that surround us. Chemistry and biology could be taught entirely on iPads but there is no replacement for mixing chemicals and watching the reaction or breeding fruit flies to understand mutation. Seeing isn’t doing.

Adding physical skills back into the classroom has as much value to job readiness as coding. You can read about radio waves or you can build a crystal radio. The difference isn’t just in the understanding but in the feeling of accomplishment and the joy of creation. And that is the real benefit. Inspiring children to explore the world around them and create will makes the leap back from testing and teaching to education. It will manifest in people who can think their way through a problem, not merely fill in an oval. People who can try something and fail then diagnose what they did wrong so they can try again. It will make them better designers, architects, and entrepreneurs because they know the joy of creation.

I am far prouder of my son’s weld than the essay. More importantly, he was delighted with it because he applied his knowledge of materials and process to do it and at the end he had created something. He also now has a better basis for working on the design project he has to do for class. Learning. Making. Building.


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