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Industrial Arts Sets Out in New Directions

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Earlier this year, during its annual conference, the American Industrial Arts Association unveiled an ambitious plan designed to shift the focus of industrial arts from hands-on skills and crafts projects to an applied-science approach involving laboratory experiments.

Through this move into technology education--the study of industry and technology--the industrial-arts profession signaled an attempt to realign itself with the general-education program, and, at the same time, to strengthen its vocational and prevocational posture in the schools.

Although industrial arts is recognized as a general-education subject in junior-high schools, it has become widely associated with vocational programs in many high schools since the enactment of the 1976 Education Amendments, which authorized funds for the field under the Vocational Education Act.

Utilizing methods that, according to a 1978 study, had not changed in 20 years, industrial arts was perceived by the public largely through the eyes of the more than 1.6 million 7th through 12th grade students in automotive, wood, and metal shops.

Responding, however, to the rapid transformation of the nation's industries and advancements in technology, leaders in the industrial- arts field now are spearheading a new and broader program that envisions courses on transportation, communications, construction, and manufacturing.

"The new program that's being pushed will have enormous possibilities for the application of mathematics and science," asserts Donald Maley, chairman of the department of industry, technology, and occupational education at the University of Maryland. Students will now learn about the processes and systems of each area, he says, and design and construct models using principles of math and science.

The goal, according to Kendall Starkweather, executive director of the association, is to train students who will be able to "manipulate" tools and materials.

As a result, he believes, students will be able "to deal with the forces that influence the future and to control their own destiny."

"Our efforts are to learn how to make a total contribution to society," says John R. Wright, assistant dean of the School of Technology at East Illinois University. As a byproduct of that, he notes, the industrial arts field is afforded the opportunity to become "a good part of general education."

Mr. Wright contends that the technology-education plan offers the industrial arts profession the opportunity to focus attention outward rather than inward, as it has done in the recent past.

"We've found it more comfortable to deal with vocational education as a roommate," he says, "because of a natural relationship between the two areas." But the attempt to relate industrial arts to science and technology and the social consequences of change will help, in his view, to mainstream the profession.

"If you're going to deal with technology," Mr. Wright asserts, "industrial-arts teachers are going to have to have knowledge of chemistry, physics, and a working knowledge of algebra."

Under the association's three-year plan, technology-education programs will be piloted in 40 states by March 1986; at least 80 percent of its 6,000 members will have participated in professional-development activities.

William E. Dugger Jr., professor of industrial-arts education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University says one of the profession's goals has always been to reach a broad cross-section of students and to demonstrate how industrial arts can assist other areas of education. "We still feel we have a very real role to play in helping chemistry and physics students," he says, particularly in the applied areas.

But for too long, says Mr. Dugger, "We've been tied to old industry concepts." Now, he believes, industrial arts will have the content to assist all students, even those planning to study engineering.--sf

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