January 25, 2023

Education Discipleship Is the Way to Fix the Mess Our Schools Made

When a relative of mine retired and sold his auto transmission shop last year, my family knew that our days of reliable car repair—served up with the family discount—were likely over. It was time to move on to a different auto mechanic. The question was, where to find one?

Many Americans are asking a similar question these days, because the United States is facing a “‘massive’ shortage of skilled workers in 2023,” auto technicians included, NPR reports. A major reason this shortage is occurring is that those in the Gen Z age bracket are turning their backs on the trades, choosing college rather than the apprenticeships that teach them these practical skills.

That’s troubling, not only for the fact that we won’t have the technicians we need to handle our plumbing, auto, construction, and other basic needs, but also because the next generation is losing its knowledge and ability to work with its hands—a skill we’ll sorely miss whenever the seemingly inevitable societal crash comes.

Apprenticeships are often touted as a path to a reliable, good-paying job that helps young adults escape the crushing load of student debt that many face. Those reasons are legitimate and well worth bearing in mind, but in these times of change, new benefits of apprenticeships increasingly surface.

Engage With the World

Since the pandemic, many young people work remotely on either a part-time or full-time basis, chained to their computers the whole day. Such an arrangement may seem convenient, but it has several negative drawbacks. For one thing, it isolates people, a fact that can lead to increased depression. This isolation diminishes the on-the-job learning and networking experiences offered by in-person work situations, factors greatly beneficial to young people just starting out in the working world. Research shows that these remote and flexible work arrangements also diminish performance, a fact that can reduce an individual’s sense of worth or pride in his work.

Apprenticeships, however, often get young people out into the real world, working with their hands to do productive things. They learn practical skills that will last beyond our computer age, while also learning the interpersonal skills that often suffer because so many young workers are continually looking at their phone screens. Hiding behind a tech device is difficult on an apprenticeship, for apprentices must learn how to have professional and mannerly interactions with others, not only those they work with, but also the customers they often serve.

Purpose and Value

Apprenticeships also promise to help solve the identity crisis our society is experiencing, an element of which is the transgender trend. One of the reasons students get into transgender or abnormal lifestyles and interests is because they’re searching for life purpose and have a desire to feel valued and needed. Accepting these lifestyles gives them approbation in our progressive-minded, social media culture.

It’s possible that we would steer some young people away from these tendencies if we gave them life purpose in other areas, including their careers. Training teens to do a skill that many others need and can’t do will give them value and the uniqueness they crave.

Education Discipleship

Given the great potential and evermore apparent benefits these types of hands-on jobs offer, one wonders why more young people don’t take advantage of them. One answer, given by pre-apprenticeship program leader Paul Iversen and paraphrased by NPR, is because such “work was once typically passed down in families.” In other words, families performed a type of education discipleship, with older adults training younger ones in their areas of expertise.

Writing in “The Underground History of American Education,” former New York teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto labeled such discipleship as a “way out of the fix we’re in with schools,” encouraging adults to get young students involved in “a series of apprenticeships and mentorships” to help them develop a calling and purpose in their life.

And that’s where all of us come in. Perhaps you’re an older individual, coming to the end of your career, and horrified at the world your children and grandchildren are facing. Or perhaps you’re just a middle-aged individual, busy in the heart of your career, but wondering what you can do to stem the tide of societal collapse.

The answer is to engage in some educational discipleship.

Look around at the teens and young adults around you—your nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, kids at church, the young people who live next door or down the road, and the kids in the local homeschool group. Observe them—without being a creeper, of course—and ask people who know them better which young people show promising talent or a good work ethic.

Then, offer your services. Let these kids shadow you on your job. Take a Saturday or an evening to teach a handful of them the basics of your craft, whether it’s carpentry, plumbing, or auto mechanics. People always have a house project that needs doing—volunteer to help others with your skills and bring a young person along and teach them to do the task while you’re at it, killing two birds with one stone.

This can work even in more white-collar jobs, as I learned while in high school when my piano teacher, a skilled classical pianist, insisted that I watch her teach one of her beginning students, observing when and how she taught certain musical techniques. I did this for a year—free of charge—and this observation laid the foundation for more than a decade of my own music teaching career, which incidentally helped pay my way through college.

The thing is, the older generation has a lot to offer the younger ones, especially when it comes to the skilled trades. Let’s not waste our time bemoaning the younger generation. Instead, let’s begin doing some educational discipleship, working to repair the damage that our schools, broken families, and a battered society have inflicted upon tomorrow’s bright lights.

Annie Holmquist is a cultural commentator hailing from America’s heartland who loves classic books, architecture, music, and values. Her writings can be found at Annie’s Attic on Substack.

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