Back to School: Issue 2

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This article is from Issue 2 of Woodcraft Magazine.

VISITiNG INSTRUCTOR BETH IRELAND shows lathe techniques to a student at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.

An identity crisis in our woodworking programs 

From I.A. to Tech. Ed.

IN THE 1980s, TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION began to replace industrial arts programs in many of our nation’s schools. “The name change was followed by a flurry of efforts at all levels to articulate just what technology education is and how it might be put into teachable terms,” said Kenneth S. Volk in his article, “Are We There Yet?” in the Journal of Technology Education, Spring 2002. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much experience in creating new programs, as this marked only the second such change of the 20th century. Industrial arts replaced manual training earlier in the 20th century. Despite the dramatic impact this change had on woodworking education, it probably went unnoticed by many of you. You may now have knowledge of the lack of such programs either from your children, grandchildren, what you have read, or a visit to a school. For those of you who aren’t aware, the shops where many of you learned to work wood have been transformed in an attempt to meet the needs of students for the 21st century. 

If you ask school boards and administrators simply, “What skills do our students need in the 21st century?” you will probably get a list of very diverse answers, some of them magnificent and passionate. I am equally confident that there is one answer that you won’t hear: the ability to work with wood.

Herein lies the very reason woodworking programs were eliminated. Many school boards and building administrators did not and do not understand what woodworking programs accomplished. Often the decision to remove woodworking programs was based on the opinion that students no longer needed to be trained as woodworkers. In making that decision, however, they didn’t understand the scope of what a quality industrial program could accomplish. They are not to blame. I think we, the teachers involved, allowed our identity to be stripped as they tried to articulate what technology education is and how we should move from Industrial Arts to Technology Education. This created an identity crisis for woodworking education. 

pinkerton student Casey Mullen used a scroll saw to create the leaf design in this hollow-form bowl, then filled the leaves with epoxy resin before turning.

Looking for answers

Over the past decade I have visited schools and met woodworking teachers to better understand the type of programs currently offered. I was so impressed with my findings that I founded the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers in 2001. The goal of NEAWT is to establish an identity through an association of peers. The group currently represents 60 schools, 75 teachers, 10,000 students, and more than a dozen corporate partners. This extensive network has afforded us many opportunities and, most importantly, a much-needed identity. 

The identity of NEAWT was not carefully crafted; it evolved. Early in the formation of the organization we took time to identify the following three academic functions our programs met. 

• Exploratory-centered programs that provide students with the opportunity to work with, and understand, wood as a renewable resource with a large variety of applications. 

• Enrichment-centered programs that provide students with the opportunity to work with wood in traditional and creative applications.

• Employment-centered programs that assist students in preparing for post-secondary opportunities in wood-related industries, education and training.

As our association grew, so did our appreciation for and understanding of the diversity of the programs, teachers and students we represent. NEAWT members teach in elementary, middle, high school and college programs at both private and public schools. Just as this understanding and appreciation was critical to the growth and success of our association, it is of equal, if not greater importance to woodworking programs nationally. At this point, this grassroots effort needs your help. We need Woodcraft Magazine readers to introduce themselves and become ambassadors for the remaining woodworking programs, as publicity is a crucial component in establishing an identity.

A colleague, Doug Stowe, wrote a wonderful article in the August 2004 issue of Woodwork magazine about Educational Sloyd. It provides valuable insight into the importance of why working with one’s hands became part of our schools. Today, without an identity and a national set of standards related to I.A., the teacher is in many cases given the sole responsibility to define the philosophy and the curriculum for a program. An examination of programs would probably uncover more hybrid programs than ones that fit into any of the three programs I outlined above. To help you to better understand the nature of these hybrids and the identity crisis, let’s take a closer look at each of the programs.

pinkerton academy student Will Shea used box elder to craft this beautiful hollow-form turning.

Three programs that work

First, exploratory-centered programs provide students the opportunity to work with and understand wood as a renewable resource with a large variety of applications. Many of these programs are only slightly different from I.A., as administrators and teachers simply modified their I.A. curriculum and changed the name to match the newly developed standards of Technology Education. 

The next and perhaps largest group is enrichment-centered programs that provide students with an opportunity to work with wood in traditional and creative applications, something I’m passionate about. As Edward F. Worst wrote in his 1917 publication, Woodwork Training, “This manual is designed as a guide to manual training teachers who believe that the object of education is the development of the child morally and mentally rather than the acquisition of skill, which so often is made the dominant feature in manual training. Not that the training to acquire a skill should be neglected, but it should not be fostered at the expense of a child’s broad understanding of nature and nature’s laws.”

The last group is employment-centered programs that prepare students for post-secondary opportunities in wood-related industries, education and training. In many states, these types of programs were offered in vocational or trade schools. These programs, like the others, have been eliminated in many states. Recently, industry concerns over a shrinking workforce have led to new or rejuvenated programs. One such program is WoodLINKS USA. Information about this terrific program is available at

Perhaps it would be beneficial if I explained the woodworking program at Pinkerton Academy where I teach, as it is a hybrid of the three programs described. Math placement is used as the sole criterion for selecting one of two introductory classes available. “Introduction to Woodworking” is a very basic class for students in lower-level math classes interested in exploring career options, or for those who wish to obtain prerequisites for additional woodworking classes. “Woodworking Design and Creation” is recommended for ninth-grade algebra and geometry students; it offers extensive project selection and requires individual designs. It fulfills the New Hampshire graduation requirement for the Arts. 

Having completed one of these classes with a grade of 80 or above, students may elect to take “Intermediate Woodworking” where they work on individual projects, or “The Business of Woodworking,” which focuses on the design and development of a product line. The final classes are “Advanced Woodworking” and “Independent Study.” We are proud to become the second program in the state to offer a career pathway in Millwork and Cabinet this year. This career-centered program requires completion of the above classes and a one-credit class offered by our Building Construction program. The program at Pinkerton offers exploratory-, enrichment- and career-centered options.

The identity of the Pinkerton program was carefully crafted to meet the needs of the school, students and community. The success of this program is a result of this carefully crafted identity, not the program’s discipline. 

In another school this program might be part of the Technology Education program and in others it might be part of the Art Education program. The goals of Technology Education, as outlined by the International Technology Education Association, are embedded into the program at Pinkerton:

• Designing, developing, and utilizing technological systems

• Open-ended, problem-based learning activities

• Cognitive, manipulative, and affective learning strategies

• Applying technological knowledge and processes to real-world experiences using up-to-date resources

• Working individually as well as in a team to solve problems.

Cindy Boughner – a former art teacher and now a principal at Model High School in Bloomfield, Mich. – articulated why I teach woodworking in her statement about arts education: “The guts of your answer to the fellows in Washington is this: Arts education provides a perfect current working model for what all education needs to be today. It’s a model which has evolved alongside of general education, but which is fundamentally active instead of passive. In it, the student is the worker and the teacher is the mentor/guide/coach. It engages all the senses in the act of learning. It honors the unique abilities and contributions of the individual, yet asks him or her to work in a cooperative studio situation. It immerses students in meaningful work while teaching them, through the production of complex objects, about process, practice, perseverance, patience, the value of working for a goal, planning skills, systems thinking, synthesis thinking (the dialectic), as well as linear sequencing of tasks, flexibility, and the ability to shift paradigms easily. It is precisely the kind of thinking and activity that technology cannot do, and, in order for students to survive in the future, they need to be training to do what technology can’t do. Computers can memorize data till the cows come home and beyond; kids need to be able to sort out valuable data from junk and make use of it toward meaningful ends to make sense of the world and in the world. That’s art. With change moving at lightning speed, they have to be able to instantly shift their modes of thinking in order to take in new data and adjust whole systems to match the new truths. It’s the same thing as seeing your vase collapse and then seeing another piece emerge from the accident. In clay, as well as in the other arts, you have layers and layers of integrated information: all of the science and nature, the history, the connection across ages and cultures to other makers, the evolving methods of production and the personal source material that feeds the artist’s desire to make and communicate. We take this fluid use of knowledge for granted, and we rarely tell others how we do it. They need to know.”

Charting your course

By now I hope you understand why programs don’t always fall into one category. Sometimes I wonder if I’m an industrial arts teacher, technology education teacher or an art teacher. Regardless, I’m fortunate that the role of my program as exploratory-, enrichment- and career-centered is understood and supported at Pinkerton Academy. As you examine the schools in your area, the following questions may help establish an identity for your program.

• Is the rationale for the current course I.A./Tech. Ed. offerings clearly stated? Schools with shop facilities should be encouraged to re-examine the common features of industrial arts and technology education, thus minimizing their differences.

• Do the course offerings assist in preparing the students for their futures?

• Is the identity of the program clearly understood by the administration? 

• Has the program established any partnerships with organizations or businesses that support its role? For example, Pinkerton has developed relationships with the Guild of N.H. Woodworkers, American Association of Woodturners, the Furniture Society, Architectural Woodworking Industry, and Woodcraft Supply, to name a few. 

• Is the program interested in any assistance that you might be willing to offer? 

• What, if anything, has the program done to share its story with the community?

In conclusion, I would like to quote two people who helped me to create the identity for the woodworking program at Pinkerton. 

In 1917, Edward Worst said about manual training: “This relationship tends to instill life into the work of the shop, which should be considered as a school laboratory where the work of the classroom is to be more fully developed.” 

More recently, when asked how to prepare students for the 21st century, I thought of this statement by the author of “The Wood Collection,” Jim Lorette: “Something almost magical takes place when you work with wood in a passionate way.”

Jack Grube

Jack Grube teaches at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.  Sixteen years ago he took over the woodworking program, which has experienced tremendous growth, receiving both local and national attention. He founded the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers in 2001.


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