New York State Technology Education: History, the Current State of Affairs, and the Future: A Mathematics Teacher Can Teach Students How to Use Coefficients Properly, but a Technology Teacher Can Make Students Understand Their Power as They Calculate the Lift Coefficient of a Wine in Flight

Article excerpt

Since the early 1980s, technology education has undergone several changes, incorporating new philosophies, new courses, and even a new name. This discipline, which is historically rooted in industrial arts, has endeavored to carve out a niche based on preparing students for careers, hands-on applications of mathematics and science, critical thinking skills, and life. Unfortunately, a myriad of changes, coupled with a lack of defined content, has created an educational landscape mired in confusion and differing opinions about what this discipline is and should be.

In the three years that I have spent as the [New York] State Technology Education Curriculum Representative, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge and history that I never would have been privy to had I stayed in the classroom (as a high school technology education teacher). The following piece is my attempt to interpret this discipline's history, current state of affairs, and future. Five significant historical events have affected New York State Technology Education since the early 1980s, each leaving behind its mark on the discipline. It is these events that define who we are. Let's take a look.

It's 1980, and high school students are sporting feathered hair and large combs peeking from their back pockets. They pile out of their Trans Ams and into their homerooms wearing Jordache jeans. After dissecting a frog in biology class, the girls meander towards the home economics classroom, and the boys find their way to the shop. The industrial arts teacher extols the virtues of craftsmanship as he demonstrates the proper use of hand tools. His boys produce pump lamps, napkin holders, and other cookie-cutter trinkets destined to become the next family heirloom. The occasional science geek takes an electronics course where he assembles a working radio. As he solders the circuits together, he wonders if he is destined to become an electrician or an electrical engineer. The garage doors open, and students roll in a donated junker. The industrial arts teacher will teach driver education in this vehicle once his auto repair class gets it shipshape.


Gender-based roles are an acceptable part of tracking students into the course described above. Students are learning a battery of prescribed hands-on skills wherein craftsmanship is the virtuous concept that justifies the existence of these experiences. The electronics course could lend itself quite well to challenging mathematical and scientific experiences, but in those cases it may very well be lifted from the school's basement and taught by a physics teacher next to the science lab. Administrative murmurings are predicting the end of local diplomas, the push for more mathematics and English language arts, and the beginnings of what we will eventually know as NCLB. A few industrial arts teachers suspect change is on the horizon, but student enrollment numbers are strong, and the IA teacher's role is clearly defined. It's difficult to imagine a school without shop.

It's 1984, "Journey" is the hottest band on the radio, and industrial arts is embarking on a transformative journey of its own. The Industrial Arts "Futuring" Report is submitted to the New York State Education Department. Below is a paragraph from this document, supporting the systems approach to the study of technology and identifying three content areas that lead to technological literacy.

   The Industrial Arts Futuring Committee unanimously
   recommended that the future Industrial Arts program
   should focus on technology as a content base. The
   matrix adopted by the committee specifies that content
   will be organized around three content areas: Resources
   for Technology, Systems of Technology, and Impacts
   of Technology. The matrix further specifies that the
   "systems" approach to the study of technology is the
   key to the comprehensive understanding of technology. …