A former Woodland Park parent recently opened up his iPhone and repaired a button that had ceased to function. Of course, he invalidated his warranty, but still, he's now on my list of every day heros.
A few years ago, my "new" vacuum cleaner stopped working so I took it into Sears where I'd purchased it 2 years earlier. The salesman told me it would cost almost as much to repair as buying a new machine. When I made aggravated noises, he answered, "Most vacuum cleaners are only designed to last 2 years, so, you know, you're right on schedule." Nothing gets my goat more than being taken for a sucker. Knowing absolutely nothing about how these machines work, I took it home, removed the screws, figured it out and made a repair.
People don't believe me, but honestly, I'm no more technically skilled than anyone reading this. I've spent most of my life throwing out "new" machines just like everyone else, but during the past several years, I've grown increasingly concerned about the waste both personally and environmentally. That Sears vacuum is still functioning, living in the garage for when I need to clean out car. Our indoor machine lives most of its life with its guts exposed so that I can more easily apply the duct tape and other repairs it needs on a regular basis. It ain't pretty, but man it makes me happy each time I service it myself. I wish I could tell you that the satisfaction I feel is about the contribution I'm making to the environment, but it has much more to do with going one more day without falling economic victim to a corporation trying to make a buck off planned obsolescence.
Still, there remain a lot of machines that I can't do anything about, so they come into school where I turn them over to the kids. We're currently working on an old coffee mill, a power drill, clock radio, and a DVD/VCR.
It was exciting last week when Connor discovered that he could open the DVD drawer by turning a little white gear. It somehow released a catch that had thwarted past efforts. On Monday, four days after this success, he raised his hand, and in detail, described to his classmates how he'd done it.
We'll work on these machines until they are in little pieces, then we'll probably break out the glue guns and either create some sort of sculpture or collage from the parts. Last year, for instance, we used various bits and pieces to create the robot for our Pre-K play (this is a link to the video of A Beautiful Nightmare, a production produced stem-to-stern by 4 and 5-year-olds):
But whatever we wind up doing with the pieces, it's my hope to start taking some of the mystery out of the insides of machines, to teach children to not be intimidated by those stickers bearing warnings about their own incompetence.
These machines are broken anyway, and more often than not they're designed to be thrown away, so why not poke around inside? You know the repair bill will almost exactly match the purchase price of a new one. The day isn't in the too distant past when being able to perform basic repairs was considered a fundamental aspect of ownership. The Model-T came with a tool kit.
I don't know how to fix these machines myself, of course, that's why the kids are getting a crack at tinkering around with them, and maybe, like Connor did, they'll figure out how something works and even if that specific knowledge doesn't stick, hopefully, that feeling of success, that sense of competence and mastery will become a part of how he approaches life.
It's true that most of the kids, especially the 2-year-olds, are just poking their screwdrivers into holes, but that's how it starts, just opening the things up and looking around, trying your tool here and there, hunting for that moment of ah ha.
Getting to do it together is just a bonus.