Teaching Integrity, a New Book by Bob Lang

Teaching Integrity:

How Dean Mattson Sells Education to Unteachable Students

Dean Mattson with two of his top students.

Dean Mattson with two of his top students.

About a year ago I experienced one of those moments where a seemingly meaningless action turns out to be a life-changing event. A woodworking industry newsletter arrived in my inbox, and instead of hitting “delete” I opened the message because of the intriguing subject line: “Why We Need a National Wood Industry Academy.” I read about Dean Mattson, a high school teacher in Salem, Oregon.

Click here to read what I’ve written previously about Dean Mattson, his work and his students.

The story I read linked to another, then another and within an hour I was sending an e-mail to this guy. What impressed me was that he came from the cabinetmaking industry, not education, and he had turned a typical high school wood shop class (think dumping ground for the worst kids) in an inner city school into the largest, most successful woodworking industry training program in the country. I thought about the high school in my neighborhood and said “I wish we could have that here, and in my home town and in every town that could use it”.

Joe Wadsworth, owner of a woodworking manufacturing business with Dean Mattson.

Joe Wadsworth, owner of a woodworking manufacturing business with Dean Mattson.

The key to the whole thing is a partnership between educators and folks in the industry who need qualified employees. One thing that surprises many people is that in spite of a sluggish economy and high unemployment rates, there are tens of thousands of good paying jobs in the woodworking – and other – industries that go unfilled; not because of a lack of workers but because available workers lack the technical skills to perform the work and the social skills to succeed in the workplace.

Mattson connected those dots and found employers willing to step up and promise his students good jobs when they graduate. Those jobs attracted more students than the program could accommodate, and those students were motivated to succeed, not just in woods manufacturing but in their other classes as well. Kids who were ready to drop out of school in their freshmen year found themselves choosing between job offers and college scholarships in their senior year.

When I first contacted Dean, I offered to help with a curriculum. As we went back and forth about that, I learned more about him, and about the kids whose lives have been changed by being in his classes. He sent me a link to a video about his students (you can find the short version of that video here). I decided that while developing a new, relevant curriculum to teach young people woodworking is important, a book that tells the story of Dean Mattson, his students and his methods should come first. That would help to spread the word about how a new model of vocational education can make this world a better place.

IMG_7400A lot has happened in the last year. Major players in the woodworking industry have stepped forward to provide equipment and materials for the new National Training Center for the Wood Industry. A non-profit organization is being formed to provide a structure for replicating Mattson’s methods in high schools, community colleges and regional centers for after high-school training. When those centers are established (the first is set to open in Colorado in 2017) programs will be developed to mature kids just out of high school as well as unemployed young people and returning veterans. The centers will also train educators in forming education/industry partnerships so the wish of having a similar program in every school that needs it can come true.

I’m working right now on writing “Teaching Integrity: How Dean Mattson Sells Education to Unteachable Students.” That book and developing a new curriculum are now my full-time job. The plan is that the proceeds from the book will help to fund the curriculum. While millions of dollars of equipment and materials have been pledged, this effort is by a fledgling organization without (as yet) any real funding. Columbia Forest Products has made a generous donation to get things started, but we have a long way to go to completely fund the completion and publication of this book, and the development of a new, relevant curriculum. The goal is to have “Teaching Integrity” available late this summer when Dean Mattson will be leading a seminar at the AWFS fair in Las Vegas.

We’re hoping to obtain further corporate funding, but if that doesn’t come through you may be seeing me with my hat in my hand. This is a job that is more important (and more rewarding) than anything else I’ve ever done. Stay tuned for further developments and more information about this exciting new book.

– Bob Lang





Teaching Integrity, a New Book by Bob Lang — 9 Comments

    • Thanks to all for the kind words. At this point spreading the word about this effort will be a tremendous help. Share on social media, blog about it, tell your friends and bug your local school board. More specific ways to help will be posted soon.

  1. Bob,

    I have been a woodworker for most of my life. I was a shop teacher for over 20 years. I then moved into school administration and became a high school principal and ultimately a vocational school principal in a difficult urban setting. As a second job while teaching, I was a carpenter and furniture maker. I understand what you’re trying to do what’s going on here with today’s young folks.

    Other than vocational schools most schools offer little or no technical help at all for students. The issue of teaching integrity comes from caring teachers working with meaningful educational issues. When students care about their teacher and are engaged in hands-on work, the results of this connection can be amazing. This has been a concern of mine since I retired in 2007. I have always had a passion for education and even though retired I continue working a consultant in education, mentoring new principals and helping failing schools.

    If possible, I would like to be of assistance to in this new effort. I believe that you are helping you open a door that will make a difference for some of our most needy young people.

    I wish you the best in this endeavor.

    Bill Goodwin

    • Why don’t you contact Dean Mattson at Peyton School District in Colorado? Sounds like you have much to offer and the passion required.

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