Saturday, November 18, 2017

School Scope: Working With Your Hands Experiences Ignored in Schools, RTC Offers Set Building Class

Great minds must think alike - Arthur has a blog on renewal schools that touches on our schools no longer offering real training in trades - other than coding. I guess all those self-driving autos won't need repair. And there will be a roto robot to come over to clean out your drains.

My other WAVE column this week in addition to the theater stuff, School Scope, addresses vocational education, now called CTE. I go into the history of how many high schools offered so many options for students not interested in the academics. (Not to say they don't get any at all - they still had to take academic classes.) One of the few schools left intact was Aviation HS, where I hung out in my robotics years -- a real trade school leading to jobs in the airline industry. A model, in fact.

I'm excited about working with Tony Homsey when he teaches the course in basic set building. There are a lot of skills I've learned over the past 5 years of working with Tony, who seems to have an answer for everything. Just yesterday I had a problem shaving off a piece of metal I need to hold in my storm panel. In the old days I would have struggled to figure that out. I learned from Tony the value of having a grinder tool -- and the importance of wearing safety glasses. I did the job in less than a minute.

School Scope: Working With Your Hands Experiences Ignored in Schools, RTC Offers Set Building Class
By Norm Scott

Nov. 15, 2017
There used to be a time when there was a vibrant vocational ed program in NYC schools. Many high schools offered programs that had some real-life like training that led to jobs, especially for students who have no interest in going to college. Then came the ed deform movement led by both political parties which branded voc training as dead ends – that the only way forward for students was going to college. The voce ed programs were mostly destroyed in the NYC public schools by Ed Deformer supreme Michael Bloomberg and the agents he put in charge of the school system – Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott, now running the Queens libraries, an outrage in itself that this anti-educator should be in charge of a library system after his boss, Bloomberg, did everything he could to undermine the public libraries. (Yes, you anti de Blasio people, go and compare how libraries fared under both mayors.) It became a rule that non-academically oriented students were pushed into voc-ed programs and those diplomas were abolished. The reality is that a lot of students are not all that interested in academic programs.

In the rush to destroy and close large schools and install small ones, massive amounts of equipment were tossed out. Compare the variety of programs our local Beach Channel HS offered for many years and what is offered in the building now – a number of high schools competing with each other for the best students, mostly college oriented.

People who spend their days working with their hands, blue collar work, have a very different experience than those who don’t – white collar work.

When I was in the 7th grade at George Gershwin junior high school in East New York in Brooklyn we had a rotating shop class where we learned woodworking (we made tie racks) and an electrical shop class. That was the extent of my experiences with shop as we were pushed into academic programs.

I had no experience working with my hands growing up. Most people who are “good” with their hands had a dad who they learned from. My dad worked with his hands as a presser in the garment industry so the extent of my knowledge was using an iron. When I got married we lived in an apartment for seven years and I had to learn to do some basic work and then moving into a house escalated the need to do basic work. I often had to hire people and loved to watch them work, often chewing their ears off with my questions. I learned to respect just how smart so many of these guys were – most didn’t go to college. The way they attacked a problem, their foresight into why things had to go in a certain order and their skill with tools.

I was so clueless but eventually learned to all kinds of work – not very well, but managed to do some basic electricity, plumbing, carpentry – I built a 3 level deck. But even today if you give me a hammer or a drill, you would see just how clumsy I am.

Which brings me to the work I began to do at the Rockaway Theatre Company soon after Sandy when I joined Tony Homsey’s team. I learned not only the basics of building sets and scenery but also a wide range of skills. For “Wait Until Dark” we needed a kitchen. In a few hours we had a kitchen set with counters, a sink, etc. The best thing about theater work is that it all comes down in a few weeks so it doesn’t have to be perfect, just functional. Tony has made me the door knob guy for any doors we need to put up. I still struggle with doing it and getting the doors to close just right --- you don’t want an actor to not be able to get on or off the set, so the pressure is on.

Being able to ask Tony questions, not only about the work at the theater but on projects I was doing at home has been invaluable. Tony’s patience and willingness to assist has been like getting a degree in just about anything one needs to do. When my garage opener broke down Tony figured out why and found a solution to keeping it going until I was able to replace it. When I found myself locked in the garage on a Sunday afternoon because the doorknob jammed (ironic for this to happen to the door knob guy), Tony came over and freed me – while my wife urged him to leave me there. On other projects that I was doing I was often clueless on what to do first and thus wasted hours, days, weeks, months trying to figure things out. Tony would figure it out in no time and then voila, something that took me weeks to do would be finished in a few hours.

Which brings me to the point of this piece. Tony will be running a course at the Rockaway Theatre Company in Fort Tilden on the craft of set building starting Sunday December 3 (12:15-2PM) and running for eight weeks. The skills learned will be valuable anyone, even if you do not work on theater sets but want to learn some basic carpentry and the use of tools – and which tool to use for which job. And most important, safety in the use of these tools. The RTC has a full complement of power and hand tools. Tuition is $150. There are not a lot of opportunities to get this type of training at this price. Email or email me at

Also being offered is the Art of Theatrical Sound Design on Sundays (2-3PM) taught by the phenomenal Rich Louis-Pierre. Tuition is $100.

Norm blogs at

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