Monday, November 02, 2015

Skills ~ my column from Sunday's paper

My dad quit school in the fifth grade and went to work. Of course, this was in the early 1930s around the time of the Great Depression, so his story was not unique.

Like most boys his age, he learned early in life how to work with his hands. These skills served him all of his life.

Many parents these days place a high value on a college education for their children and rightly so. Some start saving for college before the child is born.

Education is the key to a better life for children, but it’s become apparent to me that a college education is not for everyone.

Some kids might be better suited for skills training, and they can earn as much as many college graduates. You’ll see what I mean the next time you call a plumber or an electrician.

I try to reinforce the idea of skills training at every opportunity with my great nephew Jordan. This past week he was trying to open the side gate to the backyard. He was standing there wiggling the latch trying to open it.

I could see his frustration level rising, which only made him wiggle harder. In his seven-year-old mind, he thinks a good wiggle should work in most instances.

To be fair, I often wiggle things too before looking more deeply into a problem. 

When I stepped over and showed him how the gate latch mechanism worked, he wasn’t interested at first, but when he watched more closely and solved the gate latch puzzle, I could tell he was hooked. 

He quickly tried his newly learned skills on all three gates. With a few simple movements, the gates swung open.

I then told him it was important to try and understand how things worked. He listened for a moment before his eyes glazed over and he was ready to move on to something else, but I wanted him to know that learning how things work is a valuable skill.

I’ve tinkered on most of the cars I’ve owned throughout my life. Years of experience taught me which projects to try and which ones are better left for those with better tools and more patience.

I’ve saved an incredible amount of money by fixing things around the house instead of calling a repairman.

More often than you’d think, the problem is obvious. When you discover you have a bad bearing or a broken belt, the problem is halfway fixed.

Late this past Sunday afternoon, my nephew James called to say he was in a jam. The alternator on his minivan had died and needed replacing. Since all the garages were closed, he was in panic mode. Staying overnight wasn’t an option because he had to be back in Mississippi on Monday morning.

I fetched my tools from the shed and headed out to help. Fortunately, his Uncle David who tinkers too lived nearby and was willing to help. Between the both of us, we managed to pool our tools and experience to replace the alternator. 

My nephew, who is very smart, has two left hands. Often when he tries to fix things, he winds up causing more damage, so he was grateful for a couple of old “squeaky kneed” uncles with skills.


  1. My son went to college to major in communications and then became an auto mechanic. Some people can do it all. Please don't take this as a criticism of your writing (because you know I love you, boyfren), but it gets to me when someone says, "She has all this book larnin', but she don't have no common sense." I've heard it so many times. An education doesn't preclude one from having practical abilities. It's important to learn what you can in all areas, but I agree with you that college is not the right place for some young people.


  2. My husband was illiterate. His family did not place the high value on education that my family did. (He was very proud of my education and the intelligence of our children.) The thing is he was such an intelligent man. As you showed Jordan, all my husband had to do was watch how something worked and he could make it. I am a person who learns easily but I cannot necessarily do.

  3. I was actually just thinking about this the other day. People put so much emphasis on University here and I guess it isn't wrong, but sometimes I think people should focus more on giving young people experience. :-)

  4. Most of my children graduated with a degree from a college but not all of them. They all have good jobs. There are many trades that do not require a degree, but they do require some kind of learning. Sometimes we simply learn by trial and error too. The trick is to find out where your skills lie and then go for it.

  5. I enjoyed your Sunday column. It just goes to prove that we need each other. Some are intellect when others are skilled.We all depend on each others.
    I'm not good at mechanic and I get lost easily if I go in a strange city. I have no sense of direction but I excel in other departments.
    Some have lots of degrees and can't make a living because they don't have common sense.

    Have a great day.

  6. Rick I too believe that not everyone is cut for college and learning a trade is definitely a viable option. I wish I knew how to fix things myself and I have always been grateful for the people who could do this... I have a great deal of respect for them ;-)

  7. It is for sure, one size (idea) does not fit all. I have learned not everyone can own a home, they need a landlord to keep the broken things fixed. Not everyone can 'afford college' (Financially or in time). My dad left school to work on the farm at the 3rd grade. I watched his success, and although he stressed education, I saw no need for it, so I quit. In my case I was successful, but late in life I am learning I NEED ENGLISH if I plan to write. OUCH!
    Very good column!

  8. PS but what I meant to say, why is that kid trying to hide a beautiful 1956 Ford?????? LOL

  9. Great story. And, it's true. College education is not the right path for everyone.
    Play off the Page

  10. We paid to send our son to a university so he could land a good white collar job. After graduating, he finally found himself and decided he wanted to be a mechanic. We let him pay for that education himself. He's now a professional mechanic working for our city.

  11. How right you are! My dad(born in 1913) was taken out of school in grade 4 to go help his dad. My dad was a lumberman and could do many things but fixing cars etc... was not his forte oddly enough. My brother is not either. My dad was an avid reader and was highly intelligent as is my brother but they both knew the art of wiggling wires. My hubby, on the other hand, is also highly intelligent although he never went past grade 12 and to this day, has a hard time with learning in school due to his ADHD but give him something to fix, create or simply do and he does it and does it well. He loves to read but he hasa trouble taking info in. My Uncle was extremely intelligent, knew 4 languages and was head of the German Dept at the University of Michigan but he had no clue how to change oil in the car. He created a rock garden at my parent's home and took all week. My dad told him that he would fire him if he had to pay him:) I love the picture of the little boy-who is that boy? You??


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