I'd like to propose a sweeping overhaul of the United States public education system effective immediately.
This may seem overblown, given that I'm proposing it in response to a bill from Pep Boys that I resent having to pay. The air conditioning in my car stopped working this week and the gentleman said I needed a new compressor, the procurement of which set me back $1,286.
It's probably legitimate, but I wish I knew for sure. I wish I knew what a compressor looks like or what it does or how complicated, expensive and time-consuming it is to replace.
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Whose fault is it that I don't? Mine, obviously. It's not like I'm piloting the space shuttle; I don't need a degree in rocket science to figure out the basics of my ride. But time isn't exactly heavy on my hands these days and if it were, I'd read more books and take more walks and call more friends back before I took to learning the innards of an automobile.
A camp called Rosie's Girls, with locations in Vermont, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio and California, teaches middle-school girls welding, basic carpentry and other "traditional male activities." That's lovely and important. But what about the girls (and boys) who never make it to Rosie's camp?
Here's where the education overhaul comes in. The mastery of certain basic life skills should be required in order to earn a high school degree. Auto shop should not be an elective. Neither should home economics, though I'd suggest the curriculum veer away from sewing and more toward upkeep of the physical structure of a home — how to replace the aerators on your faucets, how to clean your gutters, how to keep the pipe to your outdoor hose from freezing in the winter.
(That last one's a pretty short lesson: Detach the hose. Close the valve. You idiot. Which is essentially what the plumber said to us in January when he replaced the frozen pipe that burst and flooded our newly refinished basement. Whoops!)
If a skill is necessary for the maintenance and upkeep of something you'll be sinking upward of $10,000 into at some point in your adult life, you should learn it in high school.
All those hours I spent not reading "Beowulf" could have been spent learning to check the fluids I couldn't begin to identify under my car's hood: coolant, Freon (same thing as coolant?), oil. The endless series of British kings whose rule we escaped (and whose names escaped me) are secondary, I think, to winterizing your home.
Imagine how empowering it would be to call one of the many service industry members upon whom you rely and be able to engage them in an intelligent conversation about the stuff you own. Imagine being able to lift your car's hood and check out your fancy new compressor that cost as much as airfare to London.
I couldn't find mine with a map. And trust me, I Googled compressor and found an actual map. It didn't help.
"I feel stronger and more confident,'' one Rosie's Girls camper told Maria Shriver when the NBC correspondent visited the Santa Monica, Calif., site.
That's something I never said after memorizing King George III's family tree.