About a year ago I experienced one of those moments where a seemingly meaningless action turns out to be a life-changing event. A woodworking industry newsletter arrived in my inbox, and instead of hitting “delete” I opened the message because of the intriguing subject line: “Why We Need a National Wood Industry Academy.” I read about Dean Mattson, a high school teacher in Salem, Oregon.
The story I read linked to another, then another and within an hour I was sending an e-mail to this guy. What impressed me was that he came from the cabinetmaking industry, not education, and he had turned a typical high school wood shop class (think dumping ground for the worst kids) in an inner city school into the largest, most successful woodworking industry training program in the country. I thought about the high school in my neighborhood and said “I wish we could have that here, and in my home town and in every town that could use it”.
The key to the whole thing is a partnership between educators and folks in the industry who need qualified employees. One thing that surprises many people is that in spite of a sluggish economy and high unemployment rates, there are tens of thousands of good paying jobs in the woodworking – and other – industries that go unfilled; not because of a lack of workers but because available workers lack the technical skills to perform the work and the social skills to succeed in the workplace.
Mattson connected those dots and found employers willing to step up and promise his students good jobs when they graduate. Those jobs attracted more students than the program could accommodate, and those students were motivated to succeed, not just in woods manufacturing but in their other classes as well. Kids who were ready to drop out of school in their freshmen year found themselves choosing between job offers and college scholarships in their senior year.
When I first contacted Dean, I offered to help with a curriculum. As we went back and forth about that, I learned more about him, and about the kids whose lives have been changed by being in his classes. He sent me a link to a video about his students (you can find the short version of that video here). I decided that while developing a new, relevant curriculum to teach young people woodworking is important, a book that tells the story of Dean Mattson, his students and his methods should come first. That would help to spread the word about how a new model of vocational education can make this world a better place.
A lot has happened in the last year. Major players in the woodworking industry have stepped forward to provide equipment and materials for the new National Training Center for the Wood Industry. A non-profit organization is being formed to provide a structure for replicating Mattson’s methods in high schools, community colleges and regional centers for after high-school training. When those centers are established (the first is set to open in Colorado in 2017) programs will be developed to mature kids just out of high school as well as unemployed young people and returning veterans. The centers will also train educators in forming education/industry partnerships so the wish of having a similar program in every school that needs it can come true.
I’m working right now on writing “Teaching Integrity: How Dean Mattson Sells Education to Unteachable Students.” That book and developing a new curriculum are now my full-time job. The plan is that the proceeds from the book will help to fund the curriculum. While millions of dollars of equipment and materials have been pledged, this effort is by a fledgling organization without (as yet) any real funding. Columbia Forest Products has made a generous donation to get things started, but we have a long way to go to completely fund the completion and publication of this book, and the development of a new, relevant curriculum. The goal is to have “Teaching Integrity” available late this summer when Dean Mattson will be leading a seminar at the AWFS fair in Las Vegas.
We’re hoping to obtain further corporate funding, but if that doesn’t come through you may be seeing me with my hat in my hand. This is a job that is more important (and more rewarding) than anything else I’ve ever done. Stay tuned for further developments and more information about this exciting new book.
-- Bob Lang, http://readwatchdo.com