Useless Information.

Spring is a transitional time which may be why I suddenly started thinking about middle school where, in addition to the standard subjects of English, math, science, and social studies we had four “creative” subjects that we cycled through, spending half a semester in each: art, home economics, music, and industrial arts. I guess it was the school’s way of giving us a sample platter of subjects we could take as electives in high school.

Art was the first one for my class—different classes started with different courses so the teachers in each one would be occupied all the time–and was a pretty fun class. We painted with watercolors—one assignment was to do a landscape using shades of just one color, and also bleach on construction paper, making negative pictures. We also made wax candles, copperplate prints, and, toward the end of our time in the class, got to use an airbrush to decorate t-shirts, I guess because we were too young to own vans we could have painted wizards or dragons or guitars on. Also one kid sliced his finger open with an X-acto knife and it was the only time I ever heard anyone swear that much in front of a teacher and not get in trouble for it. Although I didn’t pursue a career in art I can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

Home economics was the next one my class went to. Some adults were surprised when I told them that and would say, “The boys at your school take home ec?” Yeah, we didn’t have a choice, but it was also a fun class. We baked cookies and learned about nutrition, and also watched some really outdated film strips about dating etiquette. I still remember one of the things I learned about dating is that, at the restaurant, the guy should recommend something to his date that’s within his price range as a subtle way of telling her what he can afford. So “The chicken Caesar salad is good here” is the guy’s way of saying, “Please don’t order the surf ‘n’ turf or I’ll have to wash dishes and you’ll end up walking home.” Also, according to the filmstrip, the guy should look like Johnny Unitas. Like I said that part was really outdated but I can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

In the music course I learned the basics of how to read music, play a little bit on the synthesizers in the back of the class and also participate in a bell chorus, as well as watching Oklahoma!, The Music Man, and a documentary about the making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller—the video and the album. I wasn’t really interested in playing music at the time and when it came to singing couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket but I still liked the course and can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

Industrial arts was, of course, the only one that started with a safety lecture because of course nothing goes together better than a bunch of hormone-flooded teenagers and a room full of industrial woodcutting equipment. The teacher proudly told us he still had ten fingers, most of them original, and swigged linseed oil directly from a jug he kept on his desk. I made a Plexiglas pen holder and a wooden pinball machine. Both are long gone and I don’t do a lot of woodworking these days but I can honestly say I still use some of the things I learned in that class.

My second year of middle school each of the courses was shortened by a week and they added a fifth one, computers. One of the science teachers got moved to a room full of shiny new Apple computers and we each got a floppy disk to store our assignments—part of them, anyway. Most of our classwork was written down in our notebooks because we couldn’t take the computers with us and most of us didn’t have computers of our own. We learned the basics of programming in BASIC, and how to create graphics on monochrome monitors. And the funny thing is I can honestly say there’s not a single thing from that class I’ve ever used.

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  1. mydangblog

    Lucky you! When I was in middle school, girls weren’t allowed to take industrial arts, and I was stuck learning how to put makeup on, sew blouses, and bake for the boys. I was so furious that I deliberately failed my final test by putting in joke answers. Even at 13 years old, I was a rebel????
    mydangblog recently posted…Lost In TranslationMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a brilliant way to be a rebel–I think if I were stuck in industrial arts I might have rebelled by drinking some of the linseed oil. I’m not kidding about that either. The industrial arts teacher really did drink linseed oil, just to show us it wasn’t poisonous. And I really dug home economics. We baked chocolate chip cookies. I was about to add vanilla to the recipe when the teacher grabbed my hand and told me there’s a big difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.


    Thanks for your useful information during these transitional times, Chris, and I can honestly say that I never used anything I learned in home ec.
    ANN J KOPLOW recently posted…Day 4102: Personal bestsMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It only occurs to me now that the only useful thing I learned in home ec was the difference between teaspoons and tablespoons. Luckily I didn’t add a teaspoon of vanilla to the chocolate chip cookies I was making.


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