For a number of years, public schools have focused on teaching students about five different subjects: reading, writing, math, history, and science. These five skills, they say, are used each and every day by people. 

Those are the “main” subjects, but there are other things students can learn in school: how to sing, how to play a musical instrument, how to raise animals, and how to build stuff. These are called “electives,” meaning students don’t have to take them.

Last week, I learned what a shame that truly is.

For the past month, I’ve been working on a home my family owns here in Blackwell. We started remodeling the place shortly after I graduated high school in May, and we are just now finishing up our work on it.

The first project we tackled was painting. It wasn’t hard work, but it was time consuming. After we got done painting the inside of the house, we worked our way to the outside. That’s where things got a little more complicated.

We started to scrape the paint off of the exterior trim, but when we did, the boards came off with the paint. They were old and past their prime.

My dad and mom were a little frightened at the thought of having to pay someone to come replace the boards. Contract labor isn’t cheap anymore. But thanks to one of my high school teachers, they would have nothing to worry about. 

At Blackwell High School, I was lucky enough to be able to take Mr. Bart Cox’s wood-shop class. Mr. Cox has taught the class for quite some time, and his experience speaks for itself. 

When I signed up to take wood-shop as a freshman, I wasn’t sure what I was in for. The first nine weeks of the class were devoted entirely to learning about how to safely operate equipment. Considering how young and stupid we little freshmen were, safety was key. Glad it stuck.

After the safety unit was complete, we started going out in the shop and building our projects. The class was always enjoyable, and Mr. Cox was always there to help us out. In my time in wood-shop, I built a bedside table, a bread box, a nightstand, and a large dresser, among numerous other awesome projects.

I had a lot of fun in that class, and the skills I learned there came in handy. Once I saw that the boards were in bad shape, I measured out the length of each board, determined how many square feet of lumber I would need to buy, and figured up a cost estimate. 

The next day, I went to the lumber yard and bought all of the materials. I hauled them back to the house and set up my equipment. We painted the trim before we hung it up so that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting paint on the shingles.

After the paint dried, we started cutting. Once all of the boards were cut to fit, we hoisted them up to the edge of the roof and screwed them into the studs. They held on quite nicely; they were sturdy, and our edges lined up just right. It was a job well done.

When the day was over, we had a house to be proud of again. That glossy, white trim lined the edges of the house like a bow on a Christmas package. It was just what the old joint needed: some good wood-working. 

As I look back on my time in high school, the skills I learned in wood-shop are some of the ones I’m most grateful for. I would wager that I learned more in wood-shop than in some of my “core” classes. Thanks to Mr. Cox, I can build things, like parts of a house; I don’t have to rely on someone else to do everything for me. There’s a lot of pride in having that kind of independence. 

But he taught me more than how to use equipment. He taught me how to plan: When you’re creating something, you have to estimate the kind of materials you’ll need, and you have to know how to work within your budget. He taught me how to problem-solve: When something goes wrong, what can you do to fix it?

Most importantly, he taught me how to think: I see what needs to be fixed, so what is the best possible way to do it?

I learned a lot in wood-shop, but I didn’t realize until I entered the adult world just how much that class had impacted my life. I’ll never forget what I learned in wood-shop because I’ll use it for the rest of my life. You know, 10 years from now, when I forget everything I learned in Algebra, I’l be able to find another way to solve the problem thanks to the things I learned in wood-shop. 

The moral of the story is this: Parents, encourage your kids – both boys and girls – to take classes that give them real-world skills. They need them.

And if you live in Blackwell, Mr. Cox would be happy to teach them. 

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