Tinker, Tailor, Welder, Girl — Sherwood Has It Figured

The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Education researchers back in the early 1990s confirmed what so many graduates of all-women’s schools had been saying for so long: Boys can get in the way. By dominating classroom conversations and enjoying more encouragement from their teachers, boys in co-ed public classrooms were found, without trying, to be stifling girls and robbing them of growth and opportunity. Worse, in some instances boys and the ethos they created fueled a nasty cultural stereotype that held boys were more inclined to the sciences and mathematics.

Shop class, better known as industrial arts or vocational training, was never the main point. But what could be more “guy”? IA classes have historically drawn boys who would enter the skilled trades — along with college-bound boys seeking to round themselves out.

Nationwide, The Oregonian’s Laura Frazier reported, just 3 percent of trades workers are women. That’s a lot of men, and hardly any women, performing the work of electricians, welders and carpenters.

Now comes Sherwood High School, turning things upside down — and for the better. A class offering at the school that might otherwise be known as “shop” or “IA,” invoking a guy ghetto, is instead titled: “Imagine, Design & Build It — No Boyz Allowed.”

And they’re not, which is why, evidently, the course has filled to capacity with girls every year since its inception, in 2009.

Sherwood isn’t the first to act. A large school district in Florida has struggled in recent years to establish programs that keep boys and girls separate, earning the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union.

But this fall, 60 girls at Sherwood High signed up for the all-girls class, and they are split into two sections, one learning wood craft, the other welding, before switching; along the way they study computer science, too, pushing the class well beyond the realm of mere “shop.”

Their teacher, Jon Dickover, echoed the research findings of the 1990s when he told Frazier: “(The girls) don’t have to impress other people. They feel like they can be themselves.” But sophomore Maddy Griffin hit the proverbial nail flush in just two strikes: “There’s less pressure because we’re all girls. You feel more confident.”

Sherwood should take a bow for daring to create a class whose content historically drew boys and to limit its enrollment to girls. In this day of overcorrection, particularly in the gender-sensitive and politically correct realm of public education, celebrating a mono-gender course is as provocative as it is bold. But the evidence, not to mention testimonials from girls, supports it.

Consider what’s at stake: Not only the self-esteem and confidence of so many young women, but a push towards a much-needed transformation in the working trades. Young women should be as entitled to and enticed by training in electronics as they are electrophysics.

Hillary Clinton, Wellesley College Class of 1969, may in some measure exemplify the self-confidence fostered by an all-women’s undergraduate education. She is but one among many prominent women whose accomplishments find tether to all-women educational settings.

Sherwood, meanwhile, expands the educational proposition with its “No Boyz Allowed” class in welding, woodworking and computer skills — not less than transformative to the young women involved but a signal to all students and their teachers that gender can, in life and work, matter.

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