My least liked subject during my elementary days was Industrial Arts. Taught to fifth and sixth graders, industrial arts was meant to equip students with manual and vocational skills that one may find useful in a future career in woodworking, cottage industries and native crafts.
American teachers paid attention to this non-academic subject as Pampanga’s economic activities seemed to revolve around those industries. Crafts such as buntal hat and basket weaving, pottery, blacksmithing, furniture making were known in such towns as Betis and Apalit. Which is why, when the Bacolor School of Arts and Trade made its curriculum, it included advanced courses in carpentry, furniture-making and iron works. It was just a matter of time that the subject was adopted in public elementary schools, under the name ”Industrial Arts”.
I was a total klutz when it came to handling tools, and I couldn’t even tell a screwdriver from a can opener. So it was with much anxiety that I entered the Industrial Arts building located at the rear of the school—students simply called it “shop”. It was lined with long work tables and had cabinets full of carpentry tools, each little gadget in its own space. The teachers manning the ‘shop’ had a reputation for being ‘terrors’ so this did not help me in appreciating this subject.
But luck was on my side when I found out that our class was assigned to the more mild-mannered Mr. Dimabuyu. My parents knew him personally and they requested him to go easy on me. I had such a weak constituent that even a simple chore like pounding a hammer could trigger an asthma attack. So, for the next weeks, I was spared of carpentry work and was given drafting duties instead. I learned to draw schematic diagrams of every conceivable geometric figure known to man, using a T-square, a triangle and a ruler. I wonder if I could actually make a living out of this. After awhile, boredom set in and I started watching and helping my adept classmates with their handiworks that were becoming more interesting every day.
The first project was a dustpan fashioned from old cooking oil cans and a piece of wood. The next was a shoe mud scraper made from soda crowns hammered onto a plank of wood. Simple enough. But the succeeding projects became even more elaborate, requiring more sophisticated tools and skills.
For the fruit tray, one had to be good not just in handling the jig saw but also in weaving rattan strips that constituted the side of the tray. The serving tray was the piece de resistance—individual bamboo tiles had to be cut and glued into place much like parquet—and then made even with a shaving plane. The surface was then hand varnished to gleaming perfection. Each finished piece had to be presented to Mr. Dimabuyu for grading.
With his critical eye, he took note of the accuracy of dovetailed pieces, the craftsmanship and the over-all aesthetics. Every flaw was met with a frown while the outstanding ones merited words of praise. In Grade 6, I felt courageous enough to take part finally in our shop class even if I was now under a terror teacher.
The first project stumped me though, a wooden animal pull toy with wheels. I simply could not handle a jigsaw, so I cheated by asking Sidring, our househelp, to do all the sawing, drilling and assembling.
Every day I would bring the pull toy, a work in progress, to the shop, sandpapering it to death so it would look like I was busy with it. I did the painting though, a no-brainer, but still I got a deduction for painting the toy dog green.
Later, in the school year, a radical set-up was introduced for intermediate students—both boys and girls-- which took us by surprise. The role-reversal experiment called for the girls to take Industrial Arts and Gardening, and the boys to study Home Economics. We had to learn the parts of the sewing machine, do kitchen work and hawk merienda food from class-to-class. That was the worse part as the sight of boys in aprons selling kakanins always caused people to snicker. The girls, on the other hand, were actually doing well with their bamboo-and-paper parol project.
It was only when I began living alone that I learned to appreciate this subject now absent in most school curriculum. Industrial arts did not make a handyman out of me, but it sure did prepare me in coping with the challenges of home improvement and repair, which I think I am now capable of doing. With my basic knowledge of carpentry, I could frame pictures, install shelves, mend broken furniture—thanks to the subject I loved to hate—industrial arts!