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A Surprising Lesson Learned from Small Engine Repair

By CUE Member and guest blogger Mark Dohn

CUE Blog - Small Engine RepairMy son has just started high school. There’s nothing traumatic to report. A couple of bus snafus, but other than that I’ve been impressed with how he is navigating a new city and a new school on his own.

Then it came time to register for classes. Registering late in the summer when most of the students have chosen classes in June, and parents have advocated (i.e. harassed) counseling and administration on behalf of their child, leaves the course selections pretty thin. He ended up with Small Engine Repair for his elective. My son was THRILLED. I was not.

My son is one of those kids who can do it all – artistic, musical, good in math and an excellent writer with a wicked sense of humor. His fascination with engineering and physics is evident. He looks at a bridge’s structural design with a fascination that borders on awe. He couldn’t wait to tear into that engine and learn everything about it – the mechanics, the physics, and the design of parts. He wanted to know it all. I wanted him out of the class.

“You’re not going to learn the “why” in this class. It’s about what parts go where and how to fix them when they break.” I argued. “This will not be a class on small engine THEORY. Despite my argument, the big red warning light in the back of my head had started flashing that I was reacting to something else. Why was I so resistant to his taking this class? After a little reflection, my answer was not flattering. I didn’t want him in a vocational education class. My kid was “better than that.”

The Lesson? Time to Change Views about Vocational Education

Sir Ken Robinson of TED fame* speaks of the need for diversity within a healthy community and that educationally, it is counterproductive to continue to take children who have talents using their hands or are mechanically inclined and send them to university to obtain a degree. In the same line of thought, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder addressed the issue of community colleges and vocational education. Here is what he said: “And so we sorta messed up over the past 20, 30, or 40 years. We’ve lost the focus on how important those roles are”. That’s a multigenerational error and to me that results in a major societal change.

The results of this change are obvious. Employers with skilled jobs to fill are unable to find applicants with the necessary qualifications or skills. Conversely, there are many students today that have successfully completed a four-year degree but are either under or unemployed. Is there a solution to this? Yes, but it is not going to happen in the short term.

I believe the first step lies with us – the parents. We have to accept that a BA or a Master’s degree may not be a sign of economic success. We need to redefine what our perception of success for our children is. Maybe success should be defined as being a productive part of one one’s community and of society in general. While that sounds good, I wonder if I’m capable of accepting such a change in thinking.

The one thing I am sure of, is that before my son graduates high school. I do want him to take that small engine repair class.

*If you have not seen or heard of Sir Ken Robinson, it is worthwhile to take the time to become familiar with him and his presentations at TED (Technology Education Design). His 2006 talk on “How Schools Kill Creativity” has been viewed more than four million times on YouTube and more than twelve-and-a-half-million times on the TED website. Sir Ken Robinson is the Keynote Speaker at the CUE 2013 Conference, March 14 – 16, in Palm Springs.

CUE Guest Blogger Mark Dohn has been a technology teacher and coordinator for the past fifteen years in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). He has an MS in Education Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University where his research focused on collaboration and the use of 21st century tools in the classroom. Mark has been honored for his innovative and creative teaching style by Apple (Apple Distinguished Educator 2009), the Los Angeles Unified School District and Computer-Using Educators Los Angeles (CUELA) 2011 Teacher of the Year.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree 100%…we must stop defining success as lawyer, doctor etc. and honor our children for the skills they do possess and for being positive contributors to society! That Simple…this is the message I gave my kids and the world should learn to give it too…

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