(Greater attention is needed this early example of Durbahn's project in building described below)


 From Harold Spears The High School Today New York: American Book Co., 1950, pages 93-97.


Now and then, in the American high school operating at the rural cross-roads, tucked away in the big-business enterprise of a large city educational system, or sheltered in the restfulness of a big city's suburban bedroom is found a fragment of the blueprint for the school of tomorrow, is found a program that reflects the educational foresight and cunning of some individual who has dared to crack the traditional mold of the school and step over the debris to serve the youth before him. Such a man is Walter Durbahn.

The setting of this building-trades teacher's service to American youth is the community of Highland Park, Illinois. [3 The author served this school as superintendent-principal during the World War II years.]

Relationships with Groups.

His place is well marked in the hearts of the hundreds of young men who have gone through both study and practice in the six related areas of his school and community program millwork, sheet metal work, electric house wiring, plumbing, concrete and brickwork, and painting and decorating; and the place of his program in the ongoing life of the community is well marked on the streets of the town


845 Centerfield Court
168 Beverly Place
648 Yale Lane
120 Clifton Avenue
158 Beverly Place
335 N. St. John's Avenue
1748 Broadview Avenue

To these seven fine brick, stucco, and wood residences that have been planned and built by Durbahn's high-school boys can be added these buildings belonging to the school a trades and industrial education building of 12,000 square feet, a garage for the school buses, and an athletic field house complete with a second-floor apartment for the caretaker.

Walter Durbahn is one of God's ordinary fellows, who belongs to his union and gives it his best, and hobnobs pleasantly and understandingly with his fellowmen and trades associates. Besides his high-school program, he helps carpentry apprentices and journeymen, opens his shop at night to adults, and in the summer serves those college-bound boys who because of college domination of their high-school time schedules are deprived of his teaching during the regular school year.

The carpentry apprentices for the area are given training one day a week to supplement their practical work with the contractors. Their day is spent in related drawing, mathematics, estimating, English, and social sciences, besides such shop experiences as benchwork, saw filing, roof framing, and stair building. Many journeymen in the construction industry have availed themselves of the opportunity of attending evening classes. His night classes are also popular with the patrons of the school who further their hobbies there.

A master craftsman himself, he sets an example in fine cabinet making that gives his boys something to look forward to in their later development. His own publications in his field are a contribution to the teaching profession.


The Work Experience Program

Three hours a day, five days a week, and six weeks in each of the six related fields represents the work of the first year, which is considered adequate to prepare the student for participation in the house building job the next year. The daily program is rounded out with the usual related drawing, mathematics, science, English, and social studies.

The following boxed section excerpts from some of Mr. Durbahn's printed descriptions of the work in building the residences in the community and the school facilities reflect the educational values derived.

Each paragraph treats a different building project.


Many of the boys will recall the odd jobs they did around the school during the first two months of school. In one short week the picture changed to a building lot one mile west of the school, where on October 29 in four inches of snow the first student-built house was started. The long walk and work in the cold, snow, and rain did not dampen their enthusiasm. By the latter part of January the building was closed in, and by June 20 their first construction project was completed. What an experience!


Construction got under way early in September. The garage was erected first to afford shelter and storage for tools and equipment. By the time the cold December weather set in, the house was closed in and the heating plant installed. A second-hand truck furnished transportation to and from the job, and a telephone established connection with the school and material yards.


The industrial arts classes were growing, so the building-trades boys came to the rescue by building the original auto shop. Eighty thousand brick are a lot of brick to lay, and the boys soon discovered that the bricklayer earned his fourteen dollars a day, as it meant more than the spreading of a little mortar and sliding a brick into place. Even though a journeyman bricklayer, Bert Coleman, laid up the corners and part of the face brick, the boys laid the two backing-up courses and later also the face brick.


The auto shop did not require the entire school year, so in April the foundation for the next year's project was built. This added time made it possible to erect the most pretentious of the houses built by the students three bathrooms, a game room, two fireplaces, a garage, and a large solarium were included. The bricklaying experience gained the previous year was put to good use with the added experience in stone masonry. A portable joiner and radial saw facilitated the construction and cabinet work. The rubber tile floors in the bathrooms and kitchen and the asbestos-cement shingles brought new and interesting problems.


The building-trades boys planned and built this house, the industrial arts classes built some of the furniture, the home economics girls planned the decorations and made the curtains and drapes, the art appreciation classes selected and placed the furnishings, local and Chicago merchants lent furnishings, and the ladies of the local chapter of the Better Homes in America Campaign formed committees to work with the various groups in an advisory capacity. The result an interesting educational experiment for the community and the National First Prize in the annual competition of the Better Homes in America Campaign.


The little Cape Cod cottage which has caused so much favorable comment made a desirable project. Located just across the street from the school, it involved no transportation problems. This was the first of two houses built for an owner; all others when completed were sold to the highest bidder. Here the owner, rather than the School District as in other cases, assumed all financial responsibilities, furnished the lot, and paid for all materials and any journeyman labor required. Dan McLellan, a local tradesman, assisted the boys for several months. His interest in youth and his adequate trade training were great assets to the department.


Another house this time a two-mile haul. The brick veneer construction again gave the boys the experience to work with that important building material, brick. One of the boys interested in landscaping planned a complete planting for the place. When the ground was ready in the spring, he with the help of several others planted trees and shrubs, and transformed the yard into a garden.


The field house has two complete units, one with 167 lockers and the other with 99. Each locker room has ten showers and toilet facilities. There is a coach's office, locker, and shower room, a five-room caretaker's apartment, and public toilets. On this the brickwork and steamfitting were let out by contract to outsiders, but it still left enough work in other trades to keep the classes occupied for two years.


Year after year, this educator leads his students into work experience that makes of their class group a co-operating unit in which each individual is dependent upon the whole, and the success of the whole upon each. In one slack year, when building tradesmen were idle and it was considered inadvisable to build a house, the shop turned out for the school district thirty-six bookkeeping tables, thirty-two typewriting tables, twenty art tables, and ten cabinets, machined, assembled, and finished. The instructor stated that this afforded enough repetition to develop skill, and an appreciation for accuracy and a well-finished product, that were never attained in any other project. The eventual construction of the school's building-trades building was a pronounced undertaking.

According to this master teacher:


A boy who has known real exploratory experience while in the high school is better able to make an intelligent occupational selection. His familiarity with tools and materials and his related academic training help to make him a more skilled and better in-formed mechanic. While co-operating in a common enterprise with his fellow students, under the conditions that closely approach those of the trade, he cannot help but develop the qualities and character traits that make a better citizen. However, high-school training alone cannot take the place of an apprentice-training program, or any other training given by industry which alone develops these specific skills that are a part of the stock in trade of the master craftsman.



Vocational education and general education must function side by side in the program of every high-school student, if the realities of life are respected in school planning and operation.

The educator who would make this so, must immediately set out to bring students and parents to face life realistically also. Parents have wished their children to enter the professions and semiprofessions, and thus to enjoy a higher status in the social scheme of things than has been theirs. In the selection of a high-school course, social mobility upward has been repeatedly revealed as a prime motive of both students and parents. Preparation for a white-collar job that will not be there represents disservice rather than service on the high school's part.

Every survey that has ever been made of the occupational desires and expectations of a class of high-school seniors has revealed this same lack of reality. Half of the youth enrolled in high school take courses leading toward the professions or semiprofessions. In spite of the fact that over half of our youth will eventually take semiskilled and unskilled occupations, not over 5 per cent of any graduating class will respond that they expect to do so.

Perhaps the first task of general education is to provide a citizenship training that will enable youth to see our social and economic structure as it is actually constructed. Citizenship training must be moved close to those it would serve, and must set a pattern for youth in coming to grips with life's realities. Educators themselves must be the first to see that vocational and general education are not opponents pitted against each other. Rather, adjustment to life work is essential if a person is to make the broader adjustment to community life.