A Legend Before His Time


This fictional tale explores a stereotype that has hurt the profession of troubleshooting for generations. Any resemblance to actual people or organizations, living or dead, is coincidental.

Ron lumbers down his high school hall, looking like a bulked-up James Dean who traded his pointy shoes for blunt brown steel-toes, his peg-leg jeans for baggy grays, and his oh-so-perfect DA hairstyle for something less Hollywood. He's sixteen and looks twenty. Ron's not in any “mainstream” classes. He's one of those “shop guys”, invisible until there's a brawl or some rich kid needs good car repair done cheap.

Ron's good with cars. Last month he bought a 67 Dart for $75, “ dropped in” a dual 4 barrel 440 and a 4 speed manual, cut a hole in the hood to fit an apparatus that looks more like the El Segundo Electric Plant than a carburetor, ditched the back seat in the alley, and lost a cop car on the first test run.

The girls love Ron, or at least a certain type of girl. Ron's girls are all high school seniors (some for the second time), who look 30, walk with too much slink and smile with too much smirk. In high school we all learned a name for this type of girl, and they wear the dark roots beneath the bleach as a membership card to that group.

Ron's future isn't so hot. Before the snow next flies he'll impregnate one of those bleached beauties, marry her, and drop out to work in the local garage. In the next few years they'll have three more kids and move to a trailer park. His wife will get fat and sloppy, he'll get drunk and slap her around. Raised in dysfunction, and without even the automotive hobby to keep them out of trouble, Ron's two sons will trade their high school classrooms for a jail cell after robbing a liquor store.


Parents don't want their child turning out like Ron, so they don't let their teen-ager take shop classes. Instead, they send their youngsters to yet another semester of imagery, alliteration, iambic pentameter, similes and metaphors, advanced placement Russian, differential equations, frictionless pucks and ideal engines. Ron has done his job well as anti-shop poster boy.


Of course, Ron is just a stereotype. He starred in a thousand movies before he was born.. He's a legend before his own time. Just turn on your TV and you can see Ron drag-racing, smoking, drinking, brawling, and separating young girls from their innocence.

However, Ron's greatest feat, never shown on TV, has been to keep generations of bright young kids out of shop class. Those kids turn out more like Jim.

No shop or vocational classes for Jim! He went straight through high school and engineering school (EE major), with straight A's. He never soldered a chip. He never troubleshot anything more complex than his little protoboard lab assignments. So his first five years as an engineer he couldn't debug the circuits he designed. Then he went into management, where he couldn't debug his department. Multiply Jim by thousands of college grads per year and you have a recipe for substandard productivity.

Don't just teach your child the Universal Troubleshooting Process. Give him something to practice on!