Industrial Design: A Phoenix Reborn from the Ashes of Technology Education: A Case History

Article excerpt

"Said to live for 500 or 1451 years (depending on the source), the phoenix is a bird with beautiful gold and red plumage. At the end of its life-cycle the phoenix builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs that it then ignites, both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arises."

(Wikipedia, 2007.)

Introduction

Like the phoenix, technology education (TE) can, under the right circumstances, give life to new programs--curricula with different emphases and directions from technology education, yet sharing a common heritage: the belief that applied technology will continue to shape our world. How that shaping process takes place--and the problems that it can solve--defines the industrial design phoenix as an increasingly formidable, emerging area of study.

After more than 50 years of training industrial arts and technology educators at Montclair State University, our technology teacher education program was closed in 1996. At the time of this decision, we had approximately 300 students enrolled within the two major concentrations in the department--teacher education and the nonteaching industrial technology option. Several reasons were offered to justify the program's termination: the need to put a public face on aggressive action towards program consolidation within the state college system; relative non-articulation of technology education with other academic disciplines; shrinking budgets; and an industrial, smokestack public image found to be increasingly inconsistent with the changing mission of the University. These justifications mirror, to a large degree, those usually given by administrators for closing industrial arts and technology programs in the secondary schools throughout the country. After closing the program, the majority of the remaining Technology faculty was moved into the Department of Art and Design, which offered teaching opportunities related to some of the areas with which we were familiar: general design, graphic design and photography, jewelry and lapidary. In the years following the closure, these teaching reassignments have proven to be a fertile ground from which the ashes, so to speak, of our new phoenix, namely industrial design, would arise.

Manual Arts/Manual Training/industrial Arts/ Industrial Technology/Technology Education

Program change and redefinition of goals is nothing new within the industrial and technological arts. As a curricular discipline, technology education (TE) has, throughout its history, always had to jump significant hurdles of acceptance as a component of general education subject matter. In some cases, programs have not survived. In many secondary schools, technology shops were located in school basements. The term dumping ground became associated with industrial arts programs, often filled and tracked with non-college-bound students. Evoking a mental image of smokestack processing, and catering to the lower-echelons of the student population, these programs were, and are, often easy targets for school administrators and local school boards, themselves increasingly held accountable by hostile taxpayers seeking to shave expenses under ever-increasing school tax burdens and tuition costs.

The Emergence of Technology as the Source of Curriculum Content

Technology education has undergone many changes in the 125 years since Calvin Woodward introduced manual training as an educational discipline in St. Louis in the 1880s. In the following 100 years, American industry stood as the major criteria and benchmark for the selection of subject content in the industrial arts.

By the 1960s, however, society was changing, fueled in large part by remarkable and rapid advances within industry and technology spreading throughout the consumer marketplace. Industry was no longer viewed as justifiable criteria for the selection of industrial arts subject content--neither was the name. …