Sunday, July 12, 2020

the knife

It is interesting how some things come to us in the night. Do you wake up in the night with things on your mind that are related to what you're to be doing the next day? 

Last night I was thinking of educational Sloyd and how difficult it can be to contend with grain during the use of the knife. In early sloyd model series, one of the challenging models was that of the scoop, a common tool carved from wood. 

The challenge is to get a clean cut where there's a reversal of grain. You can use a chisel or gouge, or a knife with a hooked blade, but there's no ideal tool to make the task easy without the intense application of mind and without hands well-trained and practiced for the task.

The following was translated for me from a book written in early Norwegian by N. Christian Jacobsen,
I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg
"The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool. 

"But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom which consists in developing one's own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife is especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right-angle and curved forms. 

"What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Kristiania (Oslo) January 1892"
I'm grateful to Barbara Bauer for her translation, and Christian Jacobsen, one of Otto Salomon's favorite authors suggests the complexity of one of our most simple tools.

It's amazing how academic life often revolves around the acquisition and regurgitation of information rather than demonstration of direct learning. The consequences for society are disastrous. We are carefully trained to undervalue the contributions of those who've labored long and hard to develop skill.

The photo shows a simple pin hinge inserted in a tiny box. It was one of my planned accomplishments for yesterday in the wood shop. How can such a simple thing be challenging? Would you not just simply take such things for granted? 

In order for the hinge to operate smoothly, the pin has to be positioned exactly on both sides. In order for that to be done with success on a number of boxes requires having the  right tools available, having the tools set up properly (measurement, measurement and measurement again) and having a feel for the process. For an exploration of the ways mind is applied in fields that we've been trained to think of as mindless, I recommend a book by Mike Rose, The Mind at Work.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The value of labor and the value of the laborer

I'm beginning to develop an outline for my new book and so am reading through some of the notes I've been compiling in the blog since 2006. What follows was from an earlier blog post, September 20, 2105 on the undisclosed value of manual arts training. 

Developing an ethos of craftsmanship...

Blog reader Tim Holton asked a question in response to the Forbes article on CTE/Vocational Training in School can a just society, in which all are treated fairly and able to find and generate work satisfying both to themselves and to the needs of society, educate the full range of tradespeople necessary to vital communities?
This is not a new question, and is one that is almost never addressed in discussions of Career and Technical Education. Whether or not someone would find satisfaction in being a garbage collector might concern those who want to make certain that we have a culture in which all citizens are afforded a reasonable level of dignity and reward for their service. This was a big concern to Uno Cygnaeus and Otto Salomon, the two founders of Educational Sloyd. Cygnaeus wrote of his initial conception of sloyd (inspired by Froebel's Kindergarten) as follows:
"the child must not only practise intuition, and express the representation which he has thus received, but should also learn to carry out in play, and in smaller pieces of hand-work, what he has grasped — should as a productive being be educated from the beginning to self-activity and productive energy — should thus be educated through work for work. ... In this way I was led to the thought that we must introduce into the school not only Froebel's gifts and the rest of the exercises in work recommended by him, but also establish for elder children such kinds of hand-work as have for their aim the training of the hand, the development of the sense of form, and of the aesthetic feeling, and which help young men to a general practical dexterity, which shall be useful in every walk of life. ...But all these kinds of work must not be conducted like trades, but always with reference to the aim of general education and as a means of culture." 
The point was not to establish a separate system of manual arts/industrial education and a separate career track for those deemed unworthy of academic instruction, but that all would benefit from an education of the hands... It would be an easy thing in this blog to explain what should be as clear as the nose on my face.We need technical training in schools to provide the kinds of intelligent workers required in a modern society. What is more difficult to explain, and what keeps me writing is that ALL children need the kinds of learning that wood shop provides. All children need to face the challenges of learning craftsmanship. The practice of craftsmanship applies to all else that we might tackle in our long lives, and applies directly to the culture we pass along to our children. Salomon said the following in reference to the true value of Sloyd and woodworking for all students: 
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labour at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work.” 
I restate Salomon to apply additional emphasis on an important point. 
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labor and performers of that labor of at less than their real value."
In other words, those who fail to understand the real value of manual labor, what it entails, and what it costs to learn, and to learn well, will not grant dignity or fair value to those who perform it. It's why we have a 99% and a 1% who could care less for the bottom tier of society and who place themselves on pedestals of wealth as being better than the rest of us. It's also why we import so much junk from other countries instead of developing an ethos of craftsmanship in our own citizenry.

This was a point that brought some contention between Otto Salmon and his mentor, Uno Cygnaeus when Salomon made statements in favor of separate manual training schools. Cygnaeus insisted that Salomon had misunderstood the important societal principles involved. Students were not to be divided and sent along on separate career and educational tracks without having first acquired a thorough understanding of the dignity of all labor.
Make, fix, create, and insist that all be given an equal opportunity to learn likewise.

Friday, July 10, 2020

crafting self, family, community and human culture.

I have a contract coming in the mail for a new book that I hope will be called, "the Wisdom of our Hands: Crafting self, family, community and human culture." The publisher has the ultimate say on what the title will be. But this is huge for me... an opportunity I've been working toward for the last 20 years. 

The book will be based on personal observation and experience over my 40 plus years as a furniture craftsman, box maker, and teacher of woodworking. Long time blog readers may notice a slight shift, from wisdom of the hands (impersonal) to wisdom of our hands (very personal) and more inviting.

This will be a project to help carry me through the worst of Covid-19 with a completion date of March, 2021. Wish us all the best of luck.

Last night I had a zoom meeting with the Annapolis Woodworking Guild, and today I'll be sanding pencil cups and business card holders and cutting miter joints for a new design box.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Pinch me, please...

Yesterday I finished inlaying 36 pencil cups and 50 business card holders. I also started a new design smaller box and received prototype cedar boxes back from the engraver. These are not the reasons a good pinch is called for. I've been offered a contract for the book I've been planning for years, about the wisdom of our hands. It will be published by Linden Press, a highly respected publisher of books on crafts. It will allow me to tell my story as a woodworker and teacher of woodworking and share the philosophy that emerges from deep engagement in creative crafts.

On another subject, I received an alert to a published article,  Inhuman hands and missing child: Touching a literacy event in a Finnish primary school and read the following summary:  
"This paper explores an inhuman reading of 'hands' with/in visual images of a Finnish literacy lesson. Inspired by Karen Barad's agential realism and the ontological turn, we disrupt a metaphysics of presence, the temporality of progress and binary logic, to reconfigure the child in literacy practices as a sympoietic phenomenon, always already assembled in human and more-than-human company. We think with/in the concept of 'touch' as a method to reconfigure literacies as inhuman."
I've no idea what an "inhuman hand" is and I can promise you that the book I've proposed with offer easier reading with none of the specialized jargon found in the sentences above. I spent too much time on the internet trying to learn what inhuman hands and inhumanism are about.  If any of my readers can humanize the subject for me, please do.  I find that there's something wonderful about being human and having real hands, particularly as we observe nurses and doctors caring for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the midst of all this, president Trump insists that the pandemic is almost over and that schools must start back in the fall despite the risks to children and teachers and the other support people involved and despite the risks offered to parents, and grandparents who've safely sequestered so far from exposure to the disease. The head of our nation's largest teacher's union "double-dog-dared" Trump to sit in a classroom full of kids. You'll notice that Trump and Pence have begun modeling better social distancing, by sitting at meetings six feet apart. That will not be possible with kids in a typical public school. So I triple-dog-dare Trump to allow himself to be schooled by science.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Path to Learning podcast

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by the Path to Learning podcast and that interview is now edited and live.  My thanks to John, Jay and Scott for helping me to tell the story of what the hands give learning at the Clear Spring School. 

This podcast episode is about the power of hands-on learning as it is applied through the wood shop at the Clear Spring School.

The Path to Learning podcasts grew from the Kindergarten documentary film series that can be found at A trailer for the film series can be found here:

At school I'm hooking up a new dust collection system in preparation for the coming school year. In my home wood shop, I've been inlaying 50 business card holders and 35 pencil cups for sales when the economy and nation return to some semblance of normal.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise.

Monday, July 06, 2020

an early blog post

On Thursday, September 7, 2006, I began writing this blog. On the second day, I offered an invitation for personal investigation that went like this:

In order to understand the importance of the hands in learning, I can point you to a number of authorities. But first, I ask you to make a few personal observations. 

We have become a society reliant on experts. We hire people to tell us things about our lives, when we might find the greatest truths through simple and direct observation. For instance, we check our phones to learn the temperature, when we might step outside instead, feeling the chill or warmth of the air on our own skin. 

Here is a simple thing to help you to begin your own observatons. Pick up a long stick and hold it if front of you. Now close your eyes. You can feel in the tensions of your hand whether or not the stick is vertical, or slightly out of balance. You can adjust the position of your hand along it's length to bring it into balance. Centering one end in the palm of your hand you can feel or direct its motion, pointing it straight up or feel the weight of it when it moves away from dead balance. 

When you pick up a tool for the first time, whether it is a chisel or a pencil, the same dynamic principles are measured by the hand. The hand, measuring and adapting to those forces moves from the foreground of awareness to the background, disappearing from conscious thought as it learns the weight, form and movement of the object. In the use of a chisel, the hand itself can disappear from thought and consciousness to the degree that the only thing felt in the mind is the position and sharpness of the cutting edge. 

We take our hands for granted due to the extremely close integration between the hand and brain in the development of our consciousness and our awareness of the world around us. The use of the hands to assess the reality that surrounds us begins at the earliest possible age in our existence. 

As an excercise in the development of your own wisdom, I invite you to watch carefully today as your fingers engage the keyboard, as you write notes in pencil to a friend, as you pick up a bag of groceries, pull a book down from the shelf, or wipe the tear from the eye of a child. Hands that we take for granted are the key to being fully engaged in our lives, sensing and creating.

Dr. Frank Wilson, author of the 1999 book the Hand, How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture, shared the following in response to that first blog post:

"Great to see this site, in honor of whose youth I thought I'd say something about the earliest steps toward an enduring hand-mind partnership as I've seen them taken by my grand-daughter, now just 14 months old. From completely undifferentiated open/close movements of the whole hand and fist, she has gradually gained the ability to control the pinch grip of thumb/index finger (thanks to endless practice collecting Cheerios and then depositing them in her mouth). 
"Starting at about six months she was manipulating small objects bimanually. She became skilled at dropping things from her high chair. She next began tapping hard surfaces with spoons and blocks, testing their sounds. She also started exploring the surfaces of grampa's teeth with her fingertips. She started using her hands to pull herself up. She learned to use a spoon to maneuver peas into her mouth. She began to tear paper; then to pull books from bookshelves. She played with a springy doorstop to make noises. 
"By the age of 1 year she was gesturing -- pointing with her index finger, waving bye-bye, slapping both hands to the temples repeatedly with a wild facial expression as if to say: "Oh, what can I do???!! 
"She has fallen in love with buttons: buttons on musical toys, buttons on her mom's Blackberry, and now the buttons on the elevator in our building. 
"Two weeks ago she started walking, and immediately she approached other small children to pat them on the head, or touch their tummy, or gently push on the belly-button (as if expecting to see the kid's nose light up). 
"It's already a huge repertoire. What next????" – Dr. Frank Wilson, Friday, September 8, 2006

And so, what's next? We all have that same question at the tip of our lips. Will we technologize our way our of the huge mess we're in? Or will the hands provide a path forward. I bet on the hands.

Make, fix and create... Assist others in learning lifewise. 

Thursday, July 02, 2020

New small cedar boxes

This is a new cedar box design that could be laser engraved for sales in gift shops and museum stores. The outside of the box will be polished with wax for protection and the inside will be left unfinished to allow for the cedar smell to entice customers. 

I've arranged to have the laser engraving of samples done. This will likely not be my final design. My hope is that it could become a nice carry home tourist item when the economy recovers. 

In the meantime, we're safely sequestered, and not taking chances that the coronavirus will suddenly just disappear. As nice as that would be for all of us viruses just do not perform in that manner.

We are apparently in deep trouble. Be safe. 

Make, fix, and create.