Finding Usefulness in the Useless.
He explained that this was the culminating project of an eight week course on how to drill perfect circular holes in perfectly spaced patterns and perfectly rivet them together so that your next ride in a 737 doesn’t end up like this.
Now that is useful. Trust me, I want my rivets in rows as much as the next fellow and here these folks have high school students learning this important and useful skill.
And what do I have my kids doing? Pretty much any damn thing they want.
You see, in my class, the kids get first right of refusal on what is useful. I have one boy building a custom gaming chair complete with drink holder so a moment won't be lost while he is zapping aliens. I have a kid building an amazingly elegant, but possibly uncomfortable lounge chair, who will learn first hand where form and function collide.
I have a couple of less directed boys who were always at a loss for useful projects so I put them to work doing shop improvements. After a few days of this they came to me and told me they had a plan. They wanted to build a game table out of the blown out rear end of one of their pickup trucks, the differential. I was so happy they had a project that I said sure. And build it, they have. It stands about four feet tall and weighs over a hundred pounds. When I asked how were they going to sit at it, they replied that they would build tall stools. They learned how to weld and forge steel, and that an idea and its execution are two different things. And we all do like to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
I also have a very creative and talented young woman carving an accurate and realistic life-sized cougar skull out of basswood. The real cougar skull is a family heirloom that resides in a velvet lined box. She reminds me of Hamlet as she studies the skull from all angles and sketches and carves it. She has become intimate with her project, she totally owns her learning, and in the end it has absolutely no practical use. There is no wooden skull reproduction industry threatening to ship its jobs over seas if our schools can't provide skilled skull carvers. But she is happy and so am I.
So, in the end, who is right? Do we need skilled workers who can build airplanes in American factories for decent wages? Absolutely. Do we need people who are willing to do repetitive, precise, detailed work? Absolutely. Do we want the workers who rivet our airplanes to be free spirits who drill their holes any old place they want to? I would hope not.