Girls rule in Bemidji auto shop class

It’s pretty hard to learn auto repair when you’re a woman. Just ask the northern Minnesota students at Bemidji High School, where a mixed-gender class is pretty much dominated by the guys.

Auto repair? Girls? Please. You know how it goes.

So give some credit to Andy Olson, a long-time industrial arts teacher at the school. He created a girls-only auto shop class, the Bemidji Pioneer reports today.

When he taught entry-level auto shop to a mixed class, he usually had about four or five girls enroll.

“There’s just a really big stigma that this is like a guy’s place, and when a girl’s there, there’s lots of either catcalls or you’re kind of treated like you’re kind of stupid,” sophomore Serena Johnson tells the paper.

When the girls-only class was offered, 75 enrolled.

“I didn’t want it to be a watered-down version,” Olson said. “What we really wanted to do was create an environment that they didn’t feel intimidated by.”

The long-term effects of the decision could be enormous.

  • Randall Thompson

    Excellent idea

  • Well done!!!

  • QuietBlue

    Good for them. Plus, I’m impressed that a high school still has an auto shop to be able to offer this sort of class. Mine didn’t.

    • Agreed. We need more Vocational training opportunities and to erase the stigma that often accompanies “blue collar” work.

      The world needs mechanics, plumbers, construction workers, etc. and workers in these fields should receive respect rather than derision.

      • QuietBlue

        Yes. And if students want to pursue an interest like that, parents should be supportive of it. It seems like everyone *says* they support more vocational training, but when it comes to *their* kids, well, of course they’re going to college and become lawyers or doctors!

        My newly-built high school could have had an auto shop if it had been important enough to people, but I guess my affluent suburban district didn’t see the need for it.

  • Carol S.

    Rosemount High School offered something similar a couple of years ago. I encouraged all the girls on my speech team to register. Heck, *I* would have signed up, had they let me.

    • Kassie

      Roseville does too, two sections. My friend who is a teacher there posted about it. They also have some other girls only “shop” classes if I remember correctly.

  • Mike Worcester

    I’m normally one that is not an advocate for gender-split classes, but this one? This one I can definitely see. The attitudes I saw as a h.s. student about “small engines” type classes are still pervasive (it does still go how it did thirty-five years ago). Good for them and good for BHS.

  • Al

    It’s really heartening to see who I assume to be men in the comments here, supporting this idea. Truly, thanks for empathizing, guys.

  • crystals

    I hope Mr. Olson is under consideration for Teacher of the Year in Bemidji. This is a great example of the kind of teacher leadership we need to be recognizing.

  • Now we need more males to sign up for “Home Ec” classes…

    • Kassie

      I had a boy in my 7th grade Home Ec class put my glasses in a microwave and destroy them.

    • RBHolb

      The first boys to take home ec when I was in school were a couple of class clowns who were trying to be funny.

      Cooking and sewing would have served me better over the years than drafting or printing ever did (although electrical and wood shop have proved useful).

    • Jim in RF

      I took Home Ec in 9th grade in 1976 (I’m male). It was called Bachelor Living, and there were only 4 or 5 of us so we got blended in with general Home Econ. I think we were all there to meet girls. It was really useful, I still know how to run a sewing machine, operate in the kitchen without killing anyone, the difference between baking powder and baking soda, how to do laundry. What I never agreed with and still don’t, though, is how the teacher insisted we dry the sinks with a dishtowel after cleaning them.

      • Jim in RF

        The teacher probably thought we were just being pain in the butts, but she really did do some teaching.

      • I took Home Ec as well when in 7th grade (1976 or so), and like you, learned how to sew, do laundry, and cook without blowing up the kitchen (melted crock pot notwithstanding).

        I had a blast in that class.

        Never took an Auto shop class though. MY auto repair prowess came from owning a series of crappy cars and my desire to fix things on the cheap.

      • RBHolb

        What would you dry the sinks with instead of dishtowels?

        “Bachelor Living” sounds like a column that would have appeared in Playboy around 1965.

        • Jim in RF

          Sinks are made of what they’re made of because it’s okay if they’re wet. I haven’t dried one out since.

          The name Bachelor Living really says a lot about the mindset back then — once you were married, you’d never have to think about sewing. Calc and physics got me into UM.IT, but doing my own cooking was a big help in getting through it.

    • jon

      Home Ec. Should be a math class.

      It’s Economics, then it should be looking for ROIs, budgets, and the like…

      Once they’ve finished the math and demonstrated it’s more economical to cook at home than eat out then you can teach kids how to cook.
      Once they’ve finished the math and determined it’s more economical to sew a button on to a shirt than to buy a new one, you can teach them that.
      Once they’ve finished the math and discovered a throw pillow from the dollar store is cheaper than the materials to sew one up yourself, you can not bother teaching them how to make a throw pillow (how to sew a button and how to make a throw pillow are things I was taught at least half dozen times over my childhood…)

      Learn how to figure out if planting a vegetable garden is actually a financial benefit, or just a emotional benefit… (and learn that emotional benefits have their place too)
      Learn if buying a deep freeze is a good financial decisions or just a way to pay $10-20 more on the electric bill.

      Learn if it’s worth it to buy a car, or if it’s in fact cheaper to take uber, if it’s worth buying the truck or if an economy car with great gas mileage is a better option (or electric).
      Learn if it’s worth buying a house, and paying a mortgage, or if renting is infact a better option.

      These decisions are rooted deeply in math, so how it ended up being a feminine pursuit while math at the same time ended up being a masculine pursuit I don’t understand.

      And while we are on the topic of things I don’t understand, my wife’s kitchenaid stand mixer had more HP than my circular saw, so why is it not considered a powertool? (I got her a very nice stand mixer for her birthday years ago, and bought myself a very cheap circular saw when I needed it for a project even more years ago)

      And maybe once they learn all these things people won’t look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about total cost of ownership of things like my car, or hot water heater, or doing the math on which air conditioning unit is going to be the cheapest long term.

    • 212944

      Was required in my public school district (mid-’70s) for all seventh graders (about 500 across two junior highs) to have home economics, industrial arts and art (each daily for a trimester; moved to the next as a cohort in the same block period).

      In home ec, we (boys and girls) all did the same stuff in mixed cohorts – learned to cook, learned to clean, sewed a shirt and had to pass a proficiency test using a sewing machine to do so, learned about budgeting/investing/loans; in shop we all built a free-standing wooden shelf, a wood and metal tool box and painted our own estes-type rockets for one day of launches for all the seventh graders in the spring.

      Not so surprisingly, there were some girls who continued to take shop classes as an elective in eighth and ninth grades and some boys who continued to take home ec as an elective as well.

      AFAIK, my daughter’s middle school does not even have anything resembling home ec/consumer sciences or shop. She is in sixth grade, but I cannot find anything about either on the school web site.

      • Industrial arts was a nightmare for me thanks to the typical shop teacher back in the ’60s, most of them Marines who came back from the war and somehow ended up as teachers.

        • 212944

          But did you get a date with Kathie Morse?

          • We were a couple from the senior Thanksgiving Dance to somewhere around sophomores in (different) college. Those were good years. I’ve referenced her in the past and my long-standing fear of being rejected. She worked at the local pharmacy at the soda fountain. It took me walking in under the pretense of getting a hot fudge sundae to ask her to the dance. I had three hot fudge sundaes before I worked up the courage.

            “Would you like to go to the Thanksgiving dance,” I said.
            “Sure,” she said.
            “No, I mean with me” I blurted

            Very smooth.

          • >>”Would you like to go to the Thanksgiving dance,” I said.
            “Sure,” she said.
            “No, I mean with me” I blurted<<



        • Rob

          I still look back with fondness on my shop class days; I made an ash tray from a tuna can.

  • Sybil Twilight

    Nice opportunity for the girls. I just wish the solution to encouraging girls to take a shop class was the teacher addressing the catcalls in class.

    • jon

      If there are in fact 75 students in a class I can’t see how any one teacher could manage all of those students… particularly in a hands on learning environment like auto shop… But the fact that there is a stigma that pervades even outside of the class (the quote about cat calls came from some one who wouldn’t sign up for the class because of concerns over them, not because of them existing) is more of a societal thing than a teacher thing.

      Though I am left wondering how many boys there are in the “mixed gender class” and if that number is greater or less than 75…

      • I doubt it’s all one class any more than Algebra I is taught only at one time .

      • Sybil Twilight

        My take was the quoted student was concerned that cat calling was a distinct possibility. I’m suggesting that the harassment of girls, or boys, for their educational choices shouldn’t be tolerated in schools. It’s bullying. We don’t change anything if we pass it off as a societal problem and don’t challenge it when we see it.

        • jon

          And when the problem is an assumption that there is a problem… not that there actually is a problem… what do you call that? How do you address those when you see them?

          • Sybil Twilight

            Are you suggesting that the quoted student “assumed” there would be catcalls and that girls would be treated like they were stupid? Because as a woman, and a former teacher, I can assure you that there are some, not all, kids who would do both of those things. Unless the entire school staff is committed to eradicating those kinds of behaviors in the school it goes on. And if it’s not going on in the school you can be pretty sure it’s still going on outside of school and on social media.

      • Zewski

        75 girls spread out over 3 class terms! Not all in 1 class.

    • crystals

      I think there are multiple things that need to happen. Teachers absolutely need to address moments like that as they happen (and be skilled in doing so) and talk about the underlying issues that lead to those noises/comments/etc., but we also do need to address some structural things too, and it seems like adding a separate class is at least a start.

      • Sybil Twilight

        Agreed, girls, and boys, need to opportunity to skills outside of gender role expectations in a safe environment.

    • Meh. The combustion engine was a pretty simple design in the ’50s through ’70s and there were still plenty of jobs for mechanics.

      • Jerry

        As long as Fiat-Chrysler exists, so will mechanics.

      • Postal Customer

        Not sure. Cars today are much more reliable than even those of 20 years ago. There’s a particular shop not far from where I live that earns its living off crappy American cars that are at least 10 years old. That shop will probably close when the last circa 1999 or older American car is gone.

        My ’99 Oldsmobile Cutlass (the last year of that abomination) had oodles upon oodles of parts break before 75k miles. Intake manifold gasket (twice, $800 each time); front calipers at least three times before 100k miles; water pump; alternator; fuel pump and tank ($1100, and still didn’t fix the problem); climate control broke once a year (fixed it myself at least three times); A/C compressor leaked and wouldn’t take a recharge. I know I’m forgetting something.

        My wife’s 2011 Prius (~70k miles) has needed absolutely nothing. It’s almost eerie and unsettling.

        Mechanics of the future won’t be working on the same things, and they’ll need more education. Swapping out an alternator isn’t something a 16-year-old will learn in his/her garage, and then become a mechanic.

        • Electric cars will have something like 20 – 30 moving parts, no transmission or cooling system, no fuel pump or injectors… Most of the stuff that makes for jaw-dropping repair costs will be gone. Of course there will still be friction surfaces to wear out in the braking system and tires, but it will really be a different world for the techs who do maintenance. Without things like oil changes to worry about, drivers will go years without a visit to a shop. Even now, as you point out, most cars are quite reliable. With synthetic oils, one might only need a single or maybe a couple visits to the shop a year. Quite a change from the old days when I had a couple of British cars (electrical by “Lucas, prince of darkness”) and the ultimate awful car, a ’72 Vega that went through two engines and two transmissions before its shock towers collapsed from rust and I could see the road going by through a hole in the floor.

          • Jerry

            I heard this one a couple of weeks ago:
            “Why do the British like warm beer?”
            “Because their refrigerators were made by Lucas.”

          • Rob

            Heh. Primary issue on lots of British motorcycles back in the day was the Lucas electrics. I think we’re a long ways off in the U.S. from having most cars on the road being electric.

          • >>the ultimate awful car, a ’72 Vega <<

            A friend of mine STILL drives his restored Vega.

  • Zewski

    Awesome! I wish I could have taken this class! Kudos to Bemidji High School & Mr Andy Olson!

  • Nato Coles

    Teacher of the year! This is great!