It is skillfully orchestrated chaos with students fully engaged in their tasks, many meditatively chopping vegetables. They express pride in creating food that is going to help feed the other students and staff at the school.

First century skills in a tech world 

Teacher Jeremy Harder takes kids back to the basics
It is skillfully orchestrated chaos with students fully engaged in their tasks, many meditatively chopping vegetables. They express pride in creating food that is going to help feed the other students and staff at the school.

It’s 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17 in the lab of the Lone Peak High School Design Thinking/Technology class. Onions and potatoes are flying – literally. Teacher Jeremy Harder is standing with a handful of eighth graders as the crew chops potatoes on cutting boards. 

On the other side of the room kids are painstakingly slicing onions, many wearing protective goggles. The onion crew has a good banter going and the ones who stubbornly refused to wear the goggles seem to regret it. There are differences in the speed with which the students mince the onions, with one young culinarian showing signs he’s regularly watched “Iron Chef,” or something like it. 

The potato crew has the same thing going: they are chatting about life; school; one girl’s unfortunate run-in with a friend while skiing and a resulting broken rib. 

There is a familiarity; a casual acceptance: Underclassmen stop by to see what they are doing. Older students do, too. Mr. Harder informs them that his class is preparing the loaded baked potato soup the school will have as a part of their lunch offering the following day. 

“That’s sick,” one younger student replies excitedly. 

Mr. Harder asks the students if they have such tasks at home. All say they do. He asks because he feels this technology-driven society is leaving necessary life skills behind. Harder said he wants the kids in his class to be capable and empowered: sewing, knitting, ironing, basic woodworking and changing a tire are all in his lesson plan for the class. 

“For the past few decades we have been focusing on the high-tech 21stcentury world with the invention of laptops and phones. I want to make sure our students can take care of themselves with basic first century skills,” he said. 

Recent studies and data support Harder’s theory of the lack of basic skills in the younger generation. Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the British Heart Foundation's Big Stitch Campaign reported that they are incapable of sewing with any confidence at all. Nearly 50 percent of respondents asked parents and grandparents for help and over 20 percent did not know how to sew on a button. There are similar statistics for changing a tire.

These “basic” skills seem to have benefits. A study by nonprofit Knit for Peace revealed that knitting lowers blood pressure, reduces depression and anxiety, slows the onset of dementia and distracts from chronic pain.

While many skills and hobbies of the greatest generation are disappearing, there is actually an uptick in knitting and crocheting worldwide. Former NFL player Rosey Grier famously picked up needlepoint in the 1970s, and well ahead of the curve, because he claimed it helped his fear of flying. He even wrote “Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men.” 

Not all the kids are involved in making the soup. Mr. Harder made an effort to partially quarantine the sick students. He points at each student: sick, sick, birthday, sick, catching up [on classwork],” and seems every bit the teacher with eyes in the back of his head. 

It is skillfully orchestrated chaos with students fully engaged in their tasks, many meditatively chopping vegetables. They express pride in creating food that is going to help feed the other students and staff at the school. 

Many of the students tidy their work stations quickly, as they need to go take a math test. One minor onion battle ensues but is quickly quashed. Mr. Harder continues chopping potatoes while shouting words of encouragement out the door as they leave. 

“You’ve got this!” he yells at Gus Hoffman, who had stopped by.

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