When a blues music aficionado uses the term “old school,” he may be referring to artists such as Muddy Waters, Etta James, John Lee Hooker or B.B. King. When old school country music artists are discussed, names such as Bob Wills, Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rogers and Patsy Cline will certainly be mentioned. In this instance, old school is used in a positive way. The inference is that these artists were pioneers in their field and that their contributions have stood the test of time and that their art is still considered relevant, even though it was produced decades ago.

The term old school is usually interchangeable with the word nostalgic. So, if you are at a classic car show and someone is describing their restoration as old school, it could mean they installed American Torq Thrust wheels on their ride instead of going the Pro Street direction and installing 20-inch wheels with spinners. In this instance, the term “old school” is interchangeable with the word “vintage.”

The histrionics of the term old school dates back to the 19th century when the Presbyterians split into two factions. Differences over theology were the catalyst for this schism between old school and new school congregations. This term lay dormant for nearly a century until the hip hop culture resurrected it to differentiate between the original innovators, such as Grandmaster Flash, the Sugar Hill Gang and Run-DMC, from the new school artists such as Public Enemy and LL Cool J.

The term old school took on a life of its own. Once the term was integrated into the mainstream, it was snatched up by every niche group to describe everything from skateboards to computer games. It moved away from being simply a tag for sentimental attachment to something from the past. It actually started being used to define something in a negative connotation. I personally witnessed one such use of this term recently.

Rejecting the new

While attending a training session for drywall finishers, I witnessed a confrontation between an instructor and someone who was demonstrating a new product. The instructor was obviously a skilled artisan in his trade since his mission was to impart his knowledge to apprentices to help them become more proficient. As the demonstration was taking place, I watched the crowd’s reaction. Most of their expressions showed real interest in what was being presented.

However, as I studied the expression on this instructor’s face, I could tell he was not impressed. After the demonstration was over and people were milling about talking about what they had just seen, he moved into position and began picking everything he had just seen apart. As each objection was met and every issue was covered, he seemed to dig his feet in deeper.

After what seemed like hours (actually more like 15 minutes), he made the following statement, “Well, you may be right but I’ll never do it, I’m just too old school.”

I was shocked! Here was an instructor who is training the next generation of tradesmen, men and women who will be taking the reins, driving our trade and yet he is unwilling to give consideration to anything new just because he is old school. While being able to finish drywall with a hawk and trowel is an art form, there are definitely other ways of finishing that can produce the same quality finish, while being able to bump up production.

Open minds

My brother-in-law is a framing contractor. Back in the ’70s when pneumatic nail guns were considered new school, he welcomed this technology and was able to frame houses much more quickly. I remember being party to conversations between my brother-in-law and old school framers who stated tersely that they would never use one of these new-fangled contraptions. They believed that a nail had to be hammered into place and with it being driven so quickly it would never hold as well. My thought at the time was, “Does a board being cut with a circular saw have the same quality cut as a board being cut with a hand saw?” Ridiculous! This is a mind-set that insulates people from what the new trends are.

But yeah, not all new ideas are good either. The Pacer was a new school concept of what cars of the future would look like when I was a teen-thankfully that didn’t happen. But for the most part, the new technologies that are being developed, especially in the construction trades, are focused on making workers more productive, while having a higher degree of quality in the finished product. Examples of this run the gamut, from composite decking materials, laminated beams and adhesives, to specialty fasteners and the tools that drive them.

In the last few decades, I have seen many new school ideas introduced to the drywall trade. Yet, I am amazed how many people still hold on to an old school mentality when it comes to new ideas. A lot of this may be due to the old “they-don’t-make-‘em-like-that-anymore” mentality. Well if the old days were so good does that mean you would prefer to drive to work in a Model T Ford? New school inventions, such as pneumatic tires, power steering, power brakes, functional windshield wipers, air conditioning, air bags, etc., would be of no use to you?

At the turn of the century, such daring new concepts as insulation, electricity, indoor plumbing and central heating systems were very new school. I wonder how many living in that era dismissed such things simply by stating, “You may be right but I’ll never try it, I’m just too old school?”

Not all new technology is the cat’s meow. And even a good technology that works on one job may not work on the next job. But don’t let the old school mentality hinder you from at least considering that some new ideas or methods may help you compete in this new school market.

Remember: you don’t drive a horse and buggy anymore, so act like it!


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