Help Wanted: Recent Graduates with Tools!

A few days ago the front storm door of my house wouldn’t open. The knob turned but the latch remained stuck.  I retrieved a screwdriver and removed the screws around the knob on both sides of the door;  the latch didn’t budge.

I called the installer, a family-owned window and door company in my town. Within an hour, Jeff called, and we set a time for him to come over. He tinkered with the latch and brought out tools, taking the knob and handle apart. The plastic cylinder inside was worn out. He needed to order the part and would return the next morning.  As he left, he mentioned how he’s the handy man for the company. “The other guys have it easy,” Jeff said, “they install doors and windows all day. I have to figure out how to fix things.”

His comment, like the annoying door latch, stuck with me.

Growing up, my grandparents and parents knew how to fix things.  My maternal grandfather, Joe, would repair broken pots and dishes.  My mother and I often invoke his talents when a saucepan needs a new handle or a cake plate is cracked and chipped. He’d restore the function of these items, if not the original beauty.

My father, a farmer, invented mechanisms to repair machinery.  He still does, applying his “make something out of nothing” attitude to fixing tractors and equipment on my brother’s golf range. Over the years, I remember him fixing the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer and my mother’s sewing machine.

My mother mended- and still does—clothing most of us would turn into rags.  She saves everything. “You never know when it might be useful,” she says. She’s the master of using leftovers; a half a cup of coffee and the juice in an empty pickle jar are added to soups and stews.  Children of the Depression, they’re the original recyclers; little is ever thrown out.

While waiting for Jeff to return the next morning, reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee—and, no, I never save anything leftover in the pot—I read an editorial about what today’s graduates need to know.

With graduation season upon us, advice to high school and college graduates abounds.  High schoolers, entering college, face uncertain futures. Will the economy be that much better in two or four years to improve their job prospects?  Reports for college graduates have been equally worrying. Without employment, their ability to pay off student loan debts becomes compromised.

Jeff arrived and fixed the door.  He mentioned how he as so much work that the company is hiring another handy man. (or woman).

I thought about the editorial and about how my parents and grandparents could fix things. How they mended, invented, and adapted; how they saved wire bread twists, elastic bands, empty jars, and parts from broken appliances to reuse somewhere else.  I remembered a blog post by “Siobhan Curious,” a teacher from Canada, who posed the questions:

“What else should be taught in school, but isn’t, at least in the schools you’ve attended?”

And  “what do you wish you knew that no one ever taught you?”

And I thought about today’s graduates.  Perhaps our curriculums need to be amended: don’t remove what’s there, but find ways to add some lessons that give graduates skills that might provide jobs.  Like fixing stuck door latches.

I had added bike repair to the list on Siobhan’s post. And I’m asking:  what do you think should be taught in school? And what do you wish you knew that no one ever taught you? Please post your comments!

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23 Responses to Help Wanted: Recent Graduates with Tools!

  1. Compelling post Lisa, on the weekend my daughter graduates from college. I have a similar one in my draft file, not ready to for posting yet, as I still digest some of my thoughts. It’s so true that the things our parents/grandparents knew has been lost along the way. I have made my own kids stitch a hem, or learn to iron properly… but they can barely stop the toilet from running. Mom does it all. As for myself, I certainly wish I knew more about computers and tech in today’s world.. but I just haven’t made the time to learn it. Nice piece! 🙂


    • Thanks. I wish I could navigate my computer, my new Ipod, the digital camera, and all the technology too .. but never find the time either. Just not interested enough. My kids can sew and iron but happily as me to do it for them. Congrats on the college graduate!


  2. 1. Spirituality (what religions have in common)
    2. Comparative Religion (what they don’t have in common)
    3. Compassion (part of #1 and most needed by people today, especially those in developed countries:


  3. It is OK to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Not everything has to be perfect. Good is good enough. If I had truly know these things, my nerves would have been less raw when I was younger.

    And I would love ‘respect’ as a special course. Not only respect for parents, siblings, family, friends, for other students and teachers, but also for material stuff like for example a TV or cell phone. It is totally unnecessary to renew them when a younger model comes out. Respect for the raw materials that are used to produce them, for the people who made them. Be happy with less.

    Anyway, those are my two cents. Very nice post, Lisa. Thanks you.



  4. Barbara klein says:

    What about the jackknife and Handkerchief? You figured out a way to use some cast off item for somthing Else. Forgot what it was. Love mom


  5. jakesprinter says:

    Thanks for sharing my friend 🙂


    • Thank you for the great challenges- I’m using blog posts that fit the theme – hopefully will start taking some photos soon! Thanks for the like and comment! Keep up the great work connecting the blogosphere!


  6. Colline says:

    So many skills of the past have not been passed on by passed. Not only the simple fixing of things around the house, but also the skill of sewing on a button, or cooking a simple meal. Parents are so focused on taking their children to all sorts of paid activities. Maybe it is time to spend time with children and teach them a few of the skills that our parents taught us.


  7. Very compelling post! Found you through “Friend for the Ride,” and I too was raised by Depression-era parents. With all the reform talk about public education, no one is really asking just this – what do our children NEED to know. I wish I had more (any) science classes in my Catholic elementary school. I wish I didn’t have to choose between Cooking and Sewing in my public high school (I chose poorly). I really wish I could have taken auto repair!!

    And I agree, many more life skills may be lost in this age of “distracted” parenting – it’s so sad to see parents paying more attention to their smart phones than to their young children.


    • Your last comment resonated- I can’t stand seeing parents/caregivers pushing strollers and talking on phones or so wired with earplugs they are not aware of their surroundings and worse, not sharing with children the little things– birds, dogs, trees, etc. Or just singing songs and talking to them. Thanks for commenting. I just did a guest post for Barbara. She’s great.


  8. MY father died when I was twelve, but I was very lucky that my mother set to and learned how to fix things. I never thought twice about changing electrical plugs and fuses, unblocking toilets, or painting the house. I thought all women/girls did those things. I’ve tried to make sure my daughter was brought up the same way.


    • You have to be British or have lived there to understand about changing electrical plugs- when we lived there I couldn’t believe appliances didn’t come with the plugs on them! I always try to do something myself.. until I can’t! Thanks for commenting.


  9. Jo Bryant says:

    great post. My daughter graduated last month and she has so much common sense and i believe could practically turn her hand to anything. But so many of her friends have no idea. It always leaves me wondering “what were their parents thinking” and why they have no life skills as they start out in theis world on their own journeys.


  10. adinparadise says:

    Yes, I remember my mom unpicking the stitching on clothes, and making something completely different out of the fabric. My dad always fixed things because they couldn’t afford to buy new. Luckily, I have a very handy husband who must have saved us a fortune over the years. Kids in today’s throwaway society, don’t value things as they should. “Easy come, easy go” seems to be the motto. Good take on the theme. 😉


    • Thanks for commenting. I still save clothes that I love the fabric of thinking I’ll remake it into something– but doubt that will ever happen. I have 4 Liberty print dresses I made in the early 80’s while living in London– waiting to be turned into another garment- maybe a baby’s dress? Some day….


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  12. Hi Lisa,
    You may have posted this before..but it was new for me. 🙂 There are so many life skills that parents and schools should teach kids…but don’t. Budgeting/balancing a checkbook is one that comes to mind…and of course, things like compassion and communication. Perhaps the best way to teach these is to be a good role model…the whole “reflection” idea, I guess. 🙂


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