The Case For Industrial Arts In LAUSD Is Stronger Than Ever


In the United States, the total capacity of all colleges and universities is only 40% of high school graduates. A relatively successful high school in LAUSD like Palisades Charter has only 30% of its graduates finishing a four-year college degree. It goes without saying that this rate is significantly lower in the vast majority of other LAUSD high schools. So why has LAUSD continued to tout going to college as the sole measure of success in high school?

As a product of LAUSD before it decided to systematically close its industrial arts program, I was able to pay for my undergraduate degree at UCLA and my law degree with the skills I developed starting at Northridge Junior High School and James Monroe High School. Woodshop, metal shop, drafting, print shop, and auto shop gave me the skills to not only pay for my own higher education, but created a long-term living bond between myself and the working class of this country, the empathy of which is at the root of what has been in marked opposition to the divisive class structure that exists in other countries.

The misguided decision to close the majority of LAUSD's once vibrant industrial arts program was made under the false assumptions that it would be too expensive to retrofit them to modern standards and that the existing industrial arts programs were used as a dumping ground for mostly minority students. Ironically, these assumptions were made by school board members, the vast majority of whom had never held a blue collar job.

In France, the cost of constantly retrofitting their industrial arts program is borne by private industrial in a longstanding public/private partnership that is a win-win scenario for both public education -- which avoids prohibitive expense -- and private industry, which finds it far cheaper to subsidize these programs then to take mechanics off the shop floor and send them back for retraining. What they have created is an constant supply of well-trained technicians.

As for the allegation of racism by tracking minorities into industrial arts instead of academic classes, there is definitely some truth to this. However, it would seem far more reasonable in the era of increased college tuition to make sure that minorities and low-income students  have the foundational skills to do well academically and industrial arts skills to ultimately pay for their own higher education -- it is not either or -- since long term de jure and de facto segregation make it more likely that these students parents do not have the disposable income to send their children to college like their more affluent white and Asian counterparts. A viable industrial arts program would address many factors that account for the poor levels of academic success in high school and would translate into significantly higher levels of achievement by our students: 

1. It would offer both academic and non-academic skills to the vast majority of our students who are not going to college. This would be done in a real-life non-theoretical context that they are more likely to understand. 

2. It would give skills training that would almost immediately translate into better jobs in a well-paid trade or the ability to pay for college in the present reality of rising higher education costs. Students are more amenable to education in high school or college, if they are not overly concerned with their personal financial stability.

3.There are critical shortages in the skilled labor market for mechanics, welders, carpenters, and electricians with starting salaries of over $40,000 that are going unfilled in our society. 

4. LAUSD's earlier decision to phase out industrial arts education was made on the false assumption that the costs of upgrading the existing shops would be prohibitively expensive. The private sector is more than willing to incur these costs of retrofitting our existing shops and establishing new programs, because to do so would be far less expensive than taking their existing employees off the shop floor and incurring the total cost of their initial and continued training. 

5. There is a significant cost to our society when we fail to educate all our citizens with at least a minimum understanding of industrial arts that can facilitate the dialogue between blue and white collar Americans to significantly raise the overall productive capability of our society as a whole. 

6. Stores like Home Depot are unable to find enough qualified employees from our present graduates that are able to last in their stores for the 90 days probationary period. Businesses like this would be natural partners for a program that would ground education in the real-life context it is ultimately applied to. In addition, the cost of building out a program in industrial arts could be either shared or totally incurred by such businesses which would find such costs a cheap investment in lieu of the continuing high costs of a transient workforce that is constantly turning over. In addition, many such businesses offer financial assistance with continuing education and rapid upward mobility in their organizations for highly qualified and motivated students. 

7. This training might also be used in allowing public schools to supply much of their own needs. In Japan, schools have no custodians. When I was at Northridge Junior High our agriculture classes did much of the maintenance of the schools flora, while winning the L.A. Beautification Contest many years in a row. Everything from painting, carpentry, mechanics, plumbing, electrical, culinary arts and clerical skills could significantly lower the cost of running and maintaining a school campus. In order not to displace the present work force that handles these functions, the transition could be brought in gradually as the present staff retired. 

The continuity of a viable school to work program in the varied industrial arts is a win-win program that will enhance both our students' educational success and the working reality they apply it in.




01 2010

1 Comment

I also took industrial arts classes in jr high and high school also going to Monroe High School in Sepulveda in early 80s I have Made a career out of using my hands and tools . It saddens me to see that the kids growing up now don't have classes teaching them how to use tools giving them basic hand eye coordination.They can't figure out how to take basic things apart and put them together again. It's a shame, they end up as fumble finger adults that can't fix a sink or a light fixture. I have tried teaching my own son these things and am having limited success. He is 13 and would rather push video game or computer buttons than learn to work on a bicycle , quad runner or car. I hope he is very successful, so he can pay someone to repair everything in life that breaks, because he won't be able to. I believe the schools are letting all of us down by not trying to get our kids interested in these things and giving them a chance to discover and apply some of these skills .

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