Hooniverse Asks: Did you Take "Shop" in High School?

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It used to be that, once you got into high school, you pretty much knew what your career path was going to be. Some wold take honors classes and fret over SAT scores and college applications, while others would take shop.
Today, it seems like teaching a trade such as auto mechanics, woodworking or welding is a bygone goal of our public education process, at least here in the States. It never was the case that those who took shop were less intelligent than the other track kids. At one time, it was a viable path for those who may have needed to start a career right out of school. Now it seems, everybody is either on a path to college, pushed into the military, or are prime candidates for our nation’s commodious and accommodating penal system.
It’s a sad state of affairs that things like shop have been dropped from our kids’ curriculum because even if they do plan on going down another road, it’s important for all kids to learn how to get their hands a little dirty now and then. Did you get your hands dirty back in high school? Did your school offer a metal or auto shop program, and if so, is it a fond part of your adolescent memories?
Image: Claremont Courier

66 Comments

  1. Woodshop in junior high. Metal shop and small engine mechanics in high school.
    The first year metal shop projects were small, but a couple of students in the more advanced classes made trailers.

    1. The only power tool we weren’t allowed to use in what would roughly translate to junior high was the bigass plane.. Angle grinders, acetylene torch, drill press or bandsaw? Knock yourself out!

      1. Come to think of it, I do remember students making cue sticks on the lathes. I don’t remember the shop having any handheld power tools. The table saw was definitely off limits, though.

  2. Wood shop and Electric shop freshman year and Machine shop and Auto shop sophomore year. I went to a “technical” high school back in 77/81. Now it’s mostly computer labs. The foundry shops have been replaced with a big teachers lounge.
    Favorite memory was when I had to do a tuneup on my social studies teacher’s car. I was late for her class because we couldn’t figure out how to get to the spark plugs on her Firebird. As I walked in late she asked me where I was and I told her I was changing her freaking spark plugs. Everyone in class laughed except her.

  3. No, and I frequently think about how I regret it. I think the shop got turned into on-campus nursery/childcare after I left.

    1. I’m in the same camp. I chased GPA and SAT scores, and at the HS I went to, that meant that my elective classes had to be art or music. I did music.
      Everything I know about fiddling with cars, I’ve learned since graduating college.

  4. I was in high school in the dying days of shop class, late 80s/early 90s. I was much more concerned with AP classes, SAT, and doing as little at school as possible. I did take a wood shop class in middle school, everyone did. By the time that I got to high school I was able to pick my own elective classes. I did drafting, since I had decided that I was going to engineering school. I also did work study, which let me leave school early to go to my job as a clerk at a local pharmacy. The shop classes were probably taught at the same time as something else that I needed and were filled with reprobates that would just bully the fat nerdy kid. None of my friends took shop. I learned all my wrench skills at home working on my own cat.

  5. In my ‘burb, no one who paid attention to curriculum planning had any inkling that their offspring would do anything other than get a 4-year degree and most likely on to graduate studies of some kind. Auto shop would never have occurred to them to be of value, they hired people to do that sort of thing. It would be like taking calculus classes away to teach lawn mowing. Children don’t mow lawns!
    That said, working on cars with friends who were motivated to do so in that age range was a hit and miss affair, I can’t imagine the bureaucratized and dumbed down regimentation of the public school system when applied to the thicker knuckleheads would make the experience all that enjoyable.

  6. Unfortunately, my high school didn’t even offer any shop classes. They shut down all of them the year before I started, and I think, turned all the shops into computer labs.

  7. Yes. It was a friggin nightmare. Everyone hated the teacher but I secretly thought he was awesome because he drove a BMW 2002 that looked like it had been painted with a brush (which it had been).

    1. My HS had the shop class hero — He was named Johnny, he was a bit of a Ford savant, and drove a Ranger he’d assembled from at least 5 different 80s Rangers in various states of damage and disrepair. Johnny spent 6 years in High School.
      And it was painted with a brush and exterior latex house paint that wasn’t self-leveling. He got so angry when we would peel off huge chunks, but he’d just paint over them.
      I don’t think he graduated, but aged out. He had several ASE certs by the time he did so, though, and makes an okay living as a mechanic, though whomever he works for has to be ready to deal with the dichotomy of a room temperature IQ and absolutely zero social skill.

      1. That describes pretty much the entirety of my classes. The only useful things to come out of that shop were brass knuckles and pipes.

    2. The shop/art teachers at my High School were the coolest car guys. Mr. A drove bright orange 55 Shebby 4×4 sitting on a 70’s chassis. Mr. O had a well-preserved Maserati 3500 GT and Mr. Lafollete, the crusty art teacher, favored his Austin America.

  8. Machine shop and welding. We didn’t have auto shop in our small high school, but given that almost all of us “shop kids” were either farm kids or gear heads, probably wouldn’t have been anything more than class credit for test and tune sessions.
    Our machine shop however was/is one of the very best in the state. Every single year I was in school someone from here would win the state VICA title and several would make the national finals. (I spent too much time smelling the layout dye)

    1. VICA!!!
      …I competed in Quiz Bowl.
      But I remember seeing the guys that were competing as Diesel Engine Mechanics and they appeared to be the very embodiment of Hephaestus himself.

    2. This sounds exactly like my school, minus the welding.

      Like exactly, down to the farm kids/gearheads and best machine shop in state/province.

      I’m Canadian, though, so we have Skills Canada, instead of VICA (virtually the same thing, as VICA is apparently now called SkillsUSA).

      Also, layout fluid should definitely be classified as a mind altering substance. As should layout fluid remover.

  9. And Advanced Materials Design and Computer Aided Design.
    We went beyond “Shop” and actually did prototyping and studies in aerodynamics, fluid motion, thermodynamics, etc.
    It was a blast. And i made the teacher eat a hot dog warmed by my armpit.

      1. The class was based on challenges. One was to build a nosecone to stick on a block to improve its aerodynamics, another was to build a barge and one of my favorites was to design a launcher of shaving cream. The stipulations were wide open and open to interpretation, what did have to happen was accomplishing the goal of the challenge with winners then being based on completion and waste. So the tiebreaker was waste material. Whatever.
        A guy and i teamed up nearly every challenge, and we were both in AP calculus and physics, and we had both already taken CAD classwork, so it was a little unfair at times. We completed every challenge and often had results that were superior to the “redneck engineers” that would complete the challenge, but often had a lot of trial and error.
        So we had our A.
        The final challenge was a new take on the old classic. Cooking a hotdog. Waste material was thrown out. Our teacher wanted outlandish. The only rules, The hotdog had to cook fully and there was to be no electricity or fire. At the end of it the teacher and his buddy the golf coach would taste test each team’s end product.
        One team built a series of solar heated tubes that would use water to heat the hotdog. It involved shaping glass and making it into a mirror aiming it at the tubing in a sort of parabaloid, crazy. Another was using chemical reactions to generate heat and thus an oven.
        So I read the packaging of the hotdogs we were using and like most, it was pre-cooked. So really, just throwing it in a bun would have completed the challenge as the room was warmer than the fridge, thus warming it. Mike and I decided, since we had our A, we would have fun with Phil and Larry. So we warmed the hotdogs by sticking them under our arms and waiting.
        When Phil and Larry came around, we took them out, put them on a bun and explained why it fulfilled the challenge. Larry (the golf coach) being a good sport took a bite, said we were smartasses and moved on.
        The rules changed the next year to include provisions on what defined a cooking apparatus.

  10. My school’s vocational classes had a reputation of not being the most riveting. Not a big deal since my pop taught machine tool and CNC at the community college.
    I took a few years of drafting and CAD in highschool- Mr Hick was my teacher. The only teacher who ever swore at me.

  11. In communist times, wood shop, cooking and gardening were mandatory classes. Afternoon school included “mathematics for geniuses” on monday (entry exam) and model trains on wednesdays. I had a good start in school! The instant this system was dismantled, my school exlcusively offered academic courses, and afternoon school was closed – my grandmother quit her job to watch over my sister and me while my mother finished her working day. I then continued going to academic schools, university etc without thinking much over it for a long time.
    There’s a lot of regret in there though. My mechanical skills and thinking were grotesquely underdeveloped about ten years ago, and with a lot of struggle, I’ve now reached a level where I can compare myself to my peers. This is one educational and parental letdown that I try to avoid with my kids. I take them with me when I do wood work, they help me paint stuff and I generally try to encourage them to develop an interest in how things work. Only good can come of it.

  12. It’s a shame that many junior high and high schools no longer offer “manual arts” courses. Although I have a white collar occupation I also practice carpentry, electronics, mechanics and various artistic pursuits. All skills I was introduced to as a public school student. It’s also somewhat surprising to me how many of my contemporaries apparently did not take advantage of those opportunities, judging from how many of them need to hire out very basic repairs and maintenance.
    I have tried to teach my kids some of these skills, always advising them that these are things that can save them a ton of money and inconvenience over the long haul.

  13. Alternating wood-shop and home-ec in middle school was awesome. Make something, stain it, make something, eat it. In high school we had a weighted honors-GPA game that resulted in many ‘top’ students taking the maximum number of lunches, study halls, and student-aid periods. I already had a bad attitude and rejected that for a year of theater (intending to do debate but winding up in musicals. Something went very wrong there, can’t sing/can’t dance/can’t act, but it was fun.), three years of drafting (probably one of the last people to learn on a drafting board before transitioning to CAD), and one semester of auto shop sandwiched between orchestra (violist, 9 years) and AP English. I loved the auto shop, but that last English class is one of the best classes I ever had. Though I think my friends and I hastened that brilliant teacher’s retirement.

    1. I took Home-Ec in Jr. High! And I drafted with pencils in H.S.! I don’t remember cooking in home-ec, but we did a lot of sewing.

  14. Wood working, auto shop, electronics, circa 1970-1975. Wood shop teacher was the coolest. He had 2 “68 Vettes. Wrecked one( roll over) on a ski trip, but still drove it 300 miles home, and to school one day. Auto shop teacher was the only teacher I ever swore at, and didn’t even get in trouble. He pulled the driveshaft out while I was taking out the bolts on the trans crossmember. It was a Powerglide and I got hosed with ATF.. Had to go to the PE showers, then go home wearing gym shorts and t shirt. In December. In New England.

  15. To put in context how my high school sucked, I didn’t get to attend graduation because they held it on a Thursday in October, for the sake of kids who had to take summer school (to hell with those of us who finished on time and had left town for post-secondary).
    And yet, it opened the year I started high school, with all these plans about how it was going to be more technologically driven because that was the way of the future, so they didn’t even build it with an auto shop (that came with an expansion several years after I graduated). I still took a couple basic shop classes, and wasn’t very good, but I liked them.

  16. Metal shop freshman year, and small engines (pre-req for auto shop) the following semester.
    Auto shop (full year) as a sophomore.
    I’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that what I learned in shop has been an order of magnitude more valuable to my engineering career than calculus has been.

  17. I have to run to a meeting so I’ll expand on the state of shop classes later but for now I’ll say that I took metal shop and small engine repair in Junior High and welding and drafting in High School but did not take auto shop even though it was available. However it was clearly a career path oriented class that took up two periods so it was not conducive to many peoples schedules.
    In the school district that my children graduated from they do currently have a shop class in the Junior HS that combines wood, metal, welding and 3d printing. At the HS we still have an Auto Shop. With the new HS that is currently under construction and the resulting realignment of grades shop class will move to the HS and despite my fears they are building an auto shop at the new HS too. Currently HS is 10-12 Jr HS 8-9 Middle school 6-7 which will change to a 9-12 HS and 7-8 middle school.

  18. I live in rural Alberta, and still go to highschool.

    Our school of ~250 kids still has a shop (or will once the renovations on it finish in a few days).

    It is split into two sections, wood and machining. Auto has not been offered in close to ten years.

    The wood shop is bigger and better equipped than it should be for a school our size, but our machining course is fantastic. Just last year, students from my school placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, at a Provincial competition, and one of them went on to win Bronze at Nationals.

    All of this is do to a great Shop teacher, who does a lot of work acquiring machines and tools, and material. He even took three students, including me, to the local trade school (NAIT) every second Friday, to make sure our skills wouldn’t get rusty during the renos.

    So do I take shop? Of course! Even though I don’t plan on becoming a machinist, I still make it a priority to fit it into my schedule

    1. “It used to be that, once you got into high school, you pretty much knew what your career path was going to be. Some wold take honors classes and fret over SAT scores and college applications, while others would take shop.”

      My school is little bit different in that respect too, at least with machining.

      The three students who competed, and graduated last year had averages between 70%-95%.

      The three who are competing this year, including me have averages of 80%-96%.

      1. Any idea of the direction you want to go in after high school? Those shop skills will come in handy for anything Engineering related. Although I’m not sure there’s a Bachelor degree in tractor design… 😉

        1. My plan is to go a trade school, and train to become a mechanic, which shocks most of my teachers and peers.

          When I tire (pun intended) of contorting my body in weird positions to get that last bolt, breathing in toxic fumes on a daily basis, and trying to convince people who couldn’t care less about the importance of preventive maintenance, I’ll probably go back to school and take engineering.

          1. The scary part is that good mechanics are being crowded out by computer-diagnosing. Just hook up the car, and the computer will tell you which part to replace. Which in turn means a nicely paying job for experts is becoming a near-minimum-wage job. And it becomes difficult to find anybody who’s willing (let alone able) to work on pre-computer cars.
            But the good part is you won’t have to deal with people that need to learn about preventive maintenance: their car tells them when to have the mechanic change the oil (and may eventually force the issue by going into limp-home mode).
            I assume tractors, combines etcetera are going the same on-board diagnostics route?

          2. Tractors and combines are almost more so.

            They are becoming almost autonomous, with GPS systems that keep the tractor in a straight line, to within half an inch, IIRC.

            All a modern farmer has to do is sit in the seat and turn it at the corners.

            All of the new tractors also have infotainment screens, very similar to the ones you see in cars.

  19. Had it been offered I would’ve liked to. I’d lovingly traded it for music or drawing classes. But it wasn’t. It was only offered to whose at a much lower educational level, at a building our pre-college group was never housed at.

  20. Yes I did (Auto) and many could argue I was the one teaching the practical aspects of the class.
    The most hilarious event of my experience? When the auto shop teacher decided to disassemble my friend’s truck engine then kick the truck out of the shop because my friend was working on the brakes. (Functional brakes>Functional engine) This backfired on the teacher because while the truck was being pushed out of the shop it rolled down the slope into the teacher’s car. He never lived that one down.

  21. I, too,was a band geek and didn’t have time for shop. And our school had a very good automobile shop. But I was the envy of some of the car guys because I had a part-time job working at the local Gulf gas station where I learned how to do all sorts of car maintenance task from the owner. We had a lift bay where I changed oil and filters and lubed ball joints and tie rod ends. I learned how to clean and repack wheel bearings, change pinion seals, tune up cars using a tach and dwell meter. All good stuff and there was something different to do every day besides pump gas. I’ve used those skills on my own cars for the last 50 years.

  22. I wouldn’t have had time for shop even if my high school had it, between band (pep band for home basketball games, concert band for, well, concerts), choir, one-act play, the two years of foreign language I needed for some prospective colleges, etc.
    But, I grew up on a farm, so in a sense my summers were my shop class. It was good preparation for going on to graduate from college with an agricultural engineering degree and working in product design of construction equipment – I knew how things worked, how people used them and some of what to avoid to make something easier to service.

  23. Only had woodwork in my school in what I suppose would be the equivalent of junior high, I still have the slightly-crooked (ok, more than slightly crooked) tv stand I built. The project was supposed to be a coffee table but the teacher let us change things if we wanted. Can’t remember his name off the top of my head, but I do remember he drove a circa-1969 Holden ute.
    One good thing we had was small typing class, where if you were last in you got to use the old manual typewriters instead of electric ones. We used computers in other classes, but do schools teach kids to type these days? It is as necessary skill these days as writing.

    1. At the college prep school where I work in IT support typing/keyboard skills are taught beginning in kindergarten. The school clearly recognizes it as necessary.

  24. Yes. we made knives from scratch, i.e. there’s a 4mm sheet of carbon steel, here’s an angle grinder, now get to work!
    Our teacher listened to Thunderstruck in his little room and had a throwing knife; used a door as a target. Funny guy with great stories, I and some other lived on the way of his commute so we occasionally got rides home. Among other things he drove a blue Subaru Leone wagon with the turbo screw turned up to ludicrous; imagine four kids being driven home by a teacher after school. mostly sideways while listening to Manowar.
    If someone complained they had a headache and couldn’t work, he took out a hammer and offered to hit them in the leg so hard they forgot about their headache. good times!
    We also spent months making a wooden bird. That was with a different teacher.

  25. I took 1 year of CAD/CAM. Learned Autocad (super old school no mouse required AutoCAD), learned how to use both manual and CNC mills and lathes.
    Cut a number of my favorite shoe logos in sample tiles of Corean or plexiglass. Made a couple shifter knobs.
    Definitely helped in my engineering career. Knowing CAD, knowing shop basics, knowing that just because you want it shaped like “X” doesn’t mean you can actually get a cutter to the right spot.

  26. I took at least two years of auto shop in high school. It was great because it was twice as long as any of my other classes and I was actually interested in what I was supposed to be doing there. The last year we had a new teacher who was training to take over when the department head retired but I heard they closed the shop a year or two after I graduated.

  27. I took wood shop in junior high and high school, both had power tools put only high school had lathes. This probably a good thing, a classmate lost a finger tip while turning a bowl.
    The high school had discontinued metal shop but still had all the gear so my sculpture class included welding, casting and a little bit of lathe work. There was an auto shop but I never took that class, although I did take auto mechanics and auto body classes at night through the education services district later on. Considering what an affluent Ivy League focused school I went to, it’s surprising how much vocational stuff we still had in the 80s, then again we also had a rifle range and a shooting team.
    Sadly my son’s school didn’t have shop classes, although he did solder in electronics class and learn CAD and 3D printing. Since she is going to a different school I iwll encourage my daughter to get into a shop class at some point.

  28. Yes, I grew up in a small farming town were working with your hands was still a big deal. I had general industrial arts as a freshmen (it was mandatory for everyone and covered basic wood and metalworking as well as some CAD), woodshop my sophmore and senior years (which I was never really good at nor did I really enjoy it, but it didn’t require doing any homework, so I took it), autoshop (or as it should have been called “how to change your oil” class) my junior year, and welding as a senior.
    The one thing we didn’t have was any form of machining class, but my father was a machinist by trade and I had grown up around lathes and mills, so I already knew how to use those.

  29. Wood Shop and Metal Shop in Junior High (as well as computer programming, in BASIC!)
    Power Mechanics, Electronics, and Drafting in High School
    Even with all that, it would have been a better idea for me to go to Vocational / Technical School. In the sawmill turned yuppie paradise town I grew up in, though, going to Voc-Tec was something dropouts and reprobates did. I was too smart to get caught, so I never became a discipline case.
    Sad but true, many of the factories and shops I’ve worked in have had machinery bearing the property tags of a school district nearby, and not because the school bought a new one. Shop was dropped from the curriculum and the equipment liquidated. (The head tubes of all the expensive Seven Cycles bicycles I made were cut to length on a lathe from the Salem, MA, School District.)
    Now in the 2010s, there’s a resurgence of interest in “maker” culture, and there may be schools (not public, and not cheap) looking to add a component of practical knowledge to the curriculum, but not as a career goal.

  30. Unfortunately, no. My highschool had wood shop and auto shop, but I didn’t go for it. Instead, I worked as a TechTA, which meant spending an hour after school playing IT goon for free. It was actually pretty cool, it meant I put in my time on desktop support, all the teachers knew me (and appreciated that I’d fixed their infernal computer at some point) and I got to learn the basics of ethernet network topology and how to cut and crimp an RJ-45 connector onto a CAT-5 cable. I heard about this “linux” thing through my computer geek peers from this experience. So, that experience is the foundation of the professional skills that buy my toys these days.
    Still, looking back, I wish I’d gone in for auto shop as well. I’d have enjoyed it. Clearly. (See the lead picture on Tim’s last Ranchero update. That’s me taking a spark shower.)

  31. Wood shop in middle school, but was dissuaded from any sort of shop in high school. No auto shop offered anyway. I was encouraged by the idiot guidance counselor not to take drafting, despite the fact engineering was my intended collegiate path. It was an environment where courses with a whiff of the vocational were deemed inappropriate for anyone taking AP classes. Progressive & inclusive, huh?
    The school district in question has continued to serve its community poorly over the 25+ years since I escaped.

  32. A little late to the party.. had the privilege to attend a couple of high schools on opposite sides of the country. Sir John a Macdonald high school in Halifax Nova Scoti and Osoyoos secondary school in Osoyoos B.C. in John A I was less Than motivated but still went to wood shop and auto shop. Built a hard wood chest in wood shop and our class started on a crazy chevette 4×4 that would be powered by the original engine two np205 transfer cases and a four speed chevette trans. All in a jeep cj frame with the chevette body on top. Before I move out west we where working on the frame and mounting it all in. Loved it but had to move. While out west I found my focus and met the best teacher I ever had in shop class. He knew how to get the best out of his kids and all of us wanted to be there. If I could have stayed in high school I would have.

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