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OFF THE WALL: Ottawa Shop Class Crisis


Today’s Off the Wall comes from Shelby, and a few hundred others who posted similar comments about a situation in Illinois. Shelby says:

“Quite a story brewing in small town Ottawa, Illinois after the high school board voted for raises for the administration then cut the building trades class. Students, parents and tradesman protest. 2 days in a row now. Local business owners send food etc…”

Here is the full article from the local Times’ website

Quite a story indeed, Shelby. Thanks for posting. Couple thoughts.

In general, I don’t support many protests. I don’t object to them – protests are a critical constitutional right, and I begrudge no one’s decision to pick up a sign, march, chant, sit-down, sit-in, boycott, occupy the town square or get themselves arrested or suspended. But even when the cause is just, I find myself suspicious of most organized events. There always seems to be performance element that smacks of bad Kabuki. The busses arrive, filled with people corralled by some outside group. The signs are handed out. Someone alerts the local media, and when the cameras arrive, the indignation erupts. That’s the problem with organization, right? Without it, an angry group can turn into a mob, and a mob is humanity at it’s very worst. But with too much organization, the protest turns into a production. And production – as I’ve learned from personal experience – is the enemy of authenticity. Which is why most people roll their eyes at angry groups. They don’t seem authentic.

Having said all that, I’m standing with the kids at Ottawa Township High School. I can’t speak to their motives. I have no idea if they care more about the teacher, or more about the demise of vocational education. Maybe they’re just bored high-schoolers looking to snap the monotony of a long winter. But either way, if I could be there with them, I would. Because I like what’s happening. I like that these kids are willing to suffer the consequences of speaking their minds. I like that the local trade unions are supporting them. I like that the press is covering it. But mostly, I like that somebody is standing up for the skilled trades. Finally. In a place where it really matters.

When the performing arts were cut from high schools, there was a great outcry. And with good reason. Music and drama transform countless kids into something better than they were. I was one of them. But when the vocational arts got cut, no one made a peep. And that was a big, fat mistake that the country is paying for in a huge way.

Unless we get back to business of making things, we’re going to fail. And the building trades are central to the business of making.

So, yeah. Let’s save Dave.
Let’s save ourselves.

Go Pirates!


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  • yooperpatriot

    I love Mike Rowe. He understands the value of work, even the most menial jobs. He understands that not everyone needs college, that a lot of kids like to work with their hands to create something. Building trades instill a work ethic, which is badly needed in this country of welfare slugs. It’s obvious that our president missed that lesson in life, and the results have been disastrous for our country.

  • mccoma

    Perhaps the local professionals should refuse to do any work for any members of the school board since the school board doesn’t value their profession.

  • JF

    Building trades training is sorely needed. Just watch the rash of saving renovation and new construction shows – Mike Holmes Home Inspection, and Jack De Silvia’s Rescue my Renovation in particular. There are far too many working in these trades who haven’t a clue how to do anything right.

  • greg buchwald

    Mike, you are spot on. I attended Milwaukee Tech and Trade in the 70′s. It was an incredible school that led me to engineering with 4 years of practical knowledge and experience before I opened my first college textbook. My brother, now an aeronautical engineer, spent 3 years in his shop classes building an airplane…a real one, paid for by a sponsor that flew the plane when they were finished with it. Sadly, the derivative of the school still exists but sadly neutered with respect to the trades. As for me, not only did it lead to my career, but I put it to use last year volunteering to design, build, and deploy the communications system used at the Boy Scout Summit jamboree in West Virginia – a volunteer effort that allowed me to give back, at least partially, for the education and opportunity I was given. Sadly, that opportunity has been lost on today’s youth. Mike is right.. we need to rethink and reinvest in these forms of education. We need to get back to building “things”. Service and information only get you so far; we still need physical things designed and built. Here.

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  • Chris Malcheski

    Mine is a different story which makes this situation difficult to relate to in any way other than conceptually. I am a software developer. I’ve worked at Microsoft, which, at least at the time, was the elite of the elite, arguably the most difficult company to be able to work for. I have no college or other professional training. I am completely self taught. As a result, I have never been able to work professionally as a programmer; getting in at Microsoft was a 6 month contract job and it was a fluke because the position was so demanding, they simply could not find anybody they were happy with to fill it; they were desperate. And now I am back in the same position: especially at 52, especially being male, especially being a White American, I could not get hired as a programmer if my life depended on it. Nobody cares what you know. They care how you learned it. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter; that’s the reality of the situation. So I live in an RV and break my butt 80+ hours per week to get my own software developed and put on the market. It is the only viable option. My girlfriend and I both live in rural Georgia on $189 per month in food stamps, her $680 per 2 weeks salary, $300 a month in rent, $300 a month in IRS back payments; she lives with her parents, I’m in this RV, and there is only one possible outcome to this situation: the software gets completed, it goes to market, we tweak, adjust, adapt, change, and nurse it along, constantly changing marketing tactics, tracking results, until we can make a living at it. Meanwhile the next product goes out, and the next, and the next one after that. So all this stuff being written about is, I suppose, all relative to what one is used to. I look at these situations and I think, do you have hot water? Because you don’t have to shut it off because propane to heat it is just too much? Then you have no idea how many problems you don’t have – and you’re really not doing anything to secure your own future except trying to control the actions of others. It’s all very alien to me.

  • Wendy Fisette Hause

    Thank you Mike Rowe for supporting these young adults and the whole idea that the USA needs to get back to manufacturing products! You are SO right and I admire your efforts to get the message to the people.

  • Scott Adie

    I started working for my dad, a pioneer in the cable TV business when I was six. Obviously mostly getting in the way. In middle school, then called Jr. High, our wood shop class had a dummy wall framed up where we learned to wire a house. Our metal shop taught us how to make spear guns and horse shoes. In high school electronics class, 1964, I made my first printed circuit board and three transistor radio. It replaced the diode radio I had already made at home. Learned how to draw house plans in every detail in my mechanical drafting class. Made and fired bowls and pitchers in ceramics class, wrestled, ran track, took archery, surfed, built hot rods, put up cable TV antenna systems and set telephone poles by hand, dug miles of ditches by hand, roughed in TV cable into new homes and on and on. All that and at the same time, I learned to read, write, do math and peacefully coexist with others. Today, at 65, I can fix most anything, take a car apart to the last screw, throw it all in a box anc come back six months later and reassemble it. How can that be. It’s because I got a real education. Where on earth can kids get an education like that anymore?

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  • Robert Lambert

    As a 2013 graduate of Ottawa Twp High School, I just want to thank you for the support of this program. It is really appreciated. If you’re ever looking for another sheep farm to work on, I think I know a place that may be able to make that happen. ;)