A Girl in Shop Class

The other day, I was listening to an interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on NPR’s Science Friday. (side note: I am madly in love with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. If I wasn’t already married, I would woo Neil).

Anyway, he got to talking about his childhood, how as a black kid he had to be an athlete in high school to fit in (he wrestled). When he told people he wanted to be an astrophysicist (which he knew from age 11), they told him oh, no, you should be an athlete. Neil said it wasn’t so much racism but the fact that that in those days (late ’60s, early ’70s, based on his age), athletics seemed to be the pathway for someone with his skin color.

When asked what had kept him going despite society’s skepticism (although his parents did fully support his dreams) he mentioned he had/has a tremendous reserve of strength and self-motivation inside him. When he faced opposition or lack of faith from others, he would draw on his reserve to keep going. Sometimes his reserve got low, but he still kept going until he achieved his goals.

One funny story he told was of being in shop class in junior high. All the students were to build a desk lamp. It was a simple design, with very clear instructions. But Neil didn’t want to build that desk lamp. He had a particular love of Saturn. He convinced the shop teacher to let him build a Saturn lamp. Neil glued together several blocks of wood, carved out a globe for the planet and a circular piece for the rings. He drilled a hole through the globe to run the cord through and rigged the ring to swivel so that the lamp would turn on when the ring was pressed. He still has that lamp on his desk at the Museum of Natural History. Here’s a video that includes a demonstration of his lamp. It’s at about the 1:10 mark.

As he was talking about his shop class, he mentioned a reality at that time–that only boys were allowed to take shop. Girls were relegated to cooking and sewing classes. That brought back a memory for me.

Somehow, when I was in junior high, I was allowed into a shop class. I was the only girl. I loved it. Our project was to design a floor plan for a house. Once we had our design, we were to use balsa wood to build walls. I created a house with a large courtyard in the middle and the rooms ringing the courtyard. I thought it would be cool to have a very private yard like that.

I was able to draw the floor plan, and got two or three runs of balsa wood glued on. But then came the semester break. I was moved out of shop class (despite my objections) and moved into sewing/cooking class for the second semester. Although it turned out I also enjoyed cooking and sewing, the injustice of being booted out of shop class still stings.

(Another side note: There was one boy in cooking class. I suspect he was ridiculed by his peers and looked upon with suspicion, just as I had been in shop class).

I’m assuming that these days if a girl wants to do shop class, she can do it. I know boys take cooking class now in high school. They might still get razzed about it, but they at least have choices.

So how about it? Anyone have an experience like mine? Or were you allowed to finish that cool project in shop class and you skipped learning how to cook and sew? Let me know in the comments.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
This entry was posted in Baking & Cooking, Strongly Held Beliefs, Traditions, Unusual Hobbies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Girl in Shop Class

  1. J.C says:

    I loved shop class! And we were allowed to take it if we wanted to, though not many did.That said, I remember going to the polytech to take a day workshop/tour where we split the time between welding, mechanics and building. I really enjoyed all of those things, in particular putting a car engine back together. I was the only girl there though, and definitely felt out of place, as much as I loved the work. That was less than 15yrs ago, and I hope things have changed.

    We had quite a few boys taking cooking class, but that’s because it gave them better access to the girls and no-one would dare tease them – they were too cool 😉

    • karensandler says:

      I’m envious of all the fun you had in shop class! Another thing about boys in cooking class–they get to sample all the great food they make. So, girls and food–what’s not to like?

  2. alicebeesley says:

    When I was in middle school girls took shop. I took a class and made a knife holder. I think we had some guys in Home Ec. too. I was a tomboy and would rather be outside running around than inside cooking and sewing and cleaning. Now-a-days I’d rather write but have to do the bare minimum of housework and cooking to get by. I still don’t sew. I don’t even own a sewing machine. Most of my girl characters are more adventurous and active, too, than girly.

  3. Pingback: CtK 73: Building the Bridges | Corrupting the Kids

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