Girls Can’t Take Shop Class

Assumptions that we need to revisit

Growing up on a farm in rural Ohio, I didn’t realize some people had never seen the Big Dipper. I took for granted many of the skills that my parents taught me — like sewing, driving tractor, ingenuity, loving the outdoors or being independent. We learned that as a family, we work as a team to get work done; we need to trust that the other person will do their job and you do yours. We learned that a hand shake, your word and a signed contract are all binding and you better deliver.

Over the years, as I strive to help my two sons grow into amazing adults, I have assumed the boys are learning some of these lessons at school, church or at the YMCA. They are learning a lot and they are on their way to being loving, giving, hard-working and creative, but they still have a long way to go. I cannot assume others will teach my kids the skills they will need to lead successful lives.

I have been looking for opportunities for the kids, for us as a family, for our YMCA or church family to grow together and teach us all how to grow into better people. We don’t have to raise our kids on the farm to teach them about hard work, creativity or trust, but we do have to teach them, and let them teach us.

This is the first of many blogs to share my experiences as a creative mom, farmer, conservationist, professional career woman and Jesus follower who is growing right alongside my kids to help make our communities a better place. To be sure, my childhood shaped who I am and one of my memories that helped me take this leap to start a blog happened just before my freshman year of high school.

When I was growing up, I was going to be an architect. I visited Chicago when I was in elementary school. I was in awe of the beautiful buildings, the size of the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and the fact that the city was on a beautiful freshwater lake. Chicago helped me dream big. I held on to that dream of being an architect until…high school.

You see, girls were not allowed to take shop class. “We might distract the boys.” (Yes, women got the right to vote in 1920, and Title IX was passed in 1972, but in 1994 women could not take shop class.)

I was crushed. I assumed that because I couldn’t take shop in high school that I would be behind when I got to college. The shop teacher was also the volleyball coach and athletic director and I was afraid of rocking the boat because then I wouldn’t be able to play. My parents didn’t say anything to the volleyball coach/shop teacher, they asked me about other classes. So, I took art class and vocational agriculture (vo-ag) and began thinking about other career options.

I didn’t get upset with my parents, a little bit with the guidance counselor, but then I got over my anger. I never gave up on helping make that change for my school — I talked to the new guidance counselor and some of my teachers and when I was a senior, a freshman girl was able to take shop class! But it wasn’t my request, it was other teachers and a new guidance counselor that I connected with that helped make the change possible.

When we assume things need to stay the way they always have, that’s when we stifle progress, when we become complacent, when we begin to lose our ingenuity. There are some things that we don’t understand in the moment, but others may see.

My parents knew it was not the time for change and they tried to explain it to me in their own way. Something about this being a small town (less than 900 people), not everything can be the way it should exactly be when we want it to be. There was no confrontation at school. My parents and I showed our disappointment when signing up for high school classes and we probably could have done a lot more to change the “rule” that year. And the consequences could have been catastrophic. When you grow up in a small town, people have strong and long memories; those memories could impact sports playing time, college scholarships, and local job opportunities. The change I was hoping for didn’t happen in time for me to take advantage, but I have come to realize that sometimes it is just the wrong time and sometimes the messenger needs to be someone other than you.

It is our job as parents, community members and leaders to help recognize when change can happen and not give up on our dreams. We nudge, change the processes and get the systems in place to help make lasting change happen. We can’t assume that others will do it for us but we need to do our part in helping make that change begin. Even taking small steps like sharing our perspective with others can begin a lasting change for the better.

While I don’t think this blog will be quite like the lasting change Martin Luther had on Christianity, I do think it can be like a caterpillar morphing into a beautiful butterfly. I will share my viewpoint about being a woman trying to figure out how to balance being a mom and a career woman and being a conservationist and a profitable farmer. This balance has proven to be hard and what I share will address assumptions I’ve had and help us both grow.

We all have assumptions about our food, parenthood, career success…as you read my blog, realize that assumptions are not like principles, they are useful to help us understand something and they are meant to morph as we learn and grow. I hope we learn and grow together through this metamorphosis.