Wood shop was something my Counselor advised me not to take.


I remember very little from any of my classroom experiences in high school which alone says something. Other than playing basketball and baseball, and having our own 6-piece dance/rock-n-roll band – I played guitar – I do remember three things which are the only things that stand out: wood shop, my presentation in sophomore English on jazz, and my research paper for senior English.
Wood shop was something my Counselor advised me not to take as I was in the ‘college bound track’ in my high school,  George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia in the days of segregated schools (it’s now a Middle School). From our third floor I literally could look across the railroad tracks at Parker-Gray High School for the ‘colored’ students. When our schools were finally integrated in the 1960s, the new high school was built — T.C. Williams.
In wood shop I loved working with the lathe, and made several projects that were particularly challenging and of which I was really proud ‘ I even have one of them to this day, a ‘string lady,’ a doll-like figure turned on the lathe. There was virtually no one from the college track in my class, and it was there, and on the baseball field and in our band that I met a much wider group of students from backgrounds different than my own middle class family.
The sophomore English project involved giving a speech on a topic of our own choosing. My older brother and I were into modern jazz and I had a growing record collection, so I decided to do my speech on the ‘History of Jazz.’ I took in my little portable record player and played examples of jazz from different eras ‘ dixieland, big band, modern, etc. ‘ to illustrate the differences and how jazz evolved, highlighting some of the outstanding musicians along the way. For my senior English research paper, I was again given a choice of topic, and with my love for basketball and baseball, I chose to write on the ‘The History of Sports in Shakespeare’s Time.’ Since we lived just outside Washington D.C. and my father was the Deputy Director of the Joint Economic Committee on the Hill, I had access to the Library of Congress in which to do my research, and that was very cool. I learned about falconry, the origins of golf, archery, fox hunting and other sports of that time period. And now, looking back on my learnings from high school, there seem to be several threads or themes.
The things I remember, that made a lasting impression, all involved choice on my part — choosing to play sports and learn about sports in a different era, choosing to play the guitar and be in a swing/rock band, choosing what I wanted to make on the lathe in wood shop, and choosing to have a collection of jazz records to share with others. Then, too, there is the theme of active engagement in all of these learning experiences ‘ doing things with my hands, playing with my whole body, delving into things of personal interest. Lastly, they all had a tangible product to show what I had learned and was learning, not a paper and pencil test, but something real ‘ a performance on the basketball court and the baseball field, a piece of wood turned on the lathe into something useful, and research presentations, a public sharing of what I knew about jazz, and a written research paper shared with others on a topic that no one else in the class, including the teacher, knew anything about ‘ what we now call ‘authentic assessments.’