Tuesday, September 02, 2014

our destiny is in our hands...

Eloquently stated.

A friend alerted me to the World Made by Hand series, written by social critic, James Howard Kunstler. In this fictional series, Kunstler writes about a world stricken by the collapse of the oil based high technology economy and culture of today. In the World Made by hand series he reminds readers of the richness of the hand made culture that we would have if our speedy transportation, mass media, and digital distractions were removed.

I am not seeking that collapse, but instead would push us to a point at which all human beings were creatively engaged in the arts instead of driving blindly through suburbs, or scrolling mindlessly through too much useless information. Kunstler writes and speaks of small communities in which people are creatively engaged. He wrote one of his non-fiction books, the Geography of Nowhere,
“Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.”
My own town of Eureka Springs is not the Geography of Nowhere, but if corporate America, were to have its way, with AEP building extra high voltage power lines through the middle of our beautiful lnads, as they propose, we would inch our way toward the irreversible ugliness they have allowed to inhabit so much of the US. We formed Save the Ozarks to stop them and while I can't claim we're winning yet, we have fought hard and have landed a few good whacks against the corporate behemoth and their regulatory minions.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 01, 2014

labor day...

It is odd that we celebrate labor by taking a day off from it... whereas those who do not labor might better celebrate labor by doing some more of it for a change. Those who live in the purely academic realm or are concerned only with the theoretical and political ought to know that where the hands are engaged greater intelligence and character arise in the individual, and greater health arises in human culture. No nation can be strong in which the hands and head are divided against each other or the hands left idle. We know now that the brain is influenced by the bacterial culture present in the gut, and that having gut feelings are more than just an emotional response. We are bodies, and to think that the head can be filled with facts, without allowing the body to move and ascertain the truth of what we are being taught, is the worst possible way to teach, and the poorest of all possible ways to learn. The mind seeks the truth and the hands find it.

I have a long list of labors for today. I will prepare stock for tomorrow's classes at the Clear Spring School, meet with a web designer working on a new website for Save the Ozarks, and work on the finish of replacement windows that we had installed at various times over the past two years. Because it is also raining after a month long drought, I will use the tractor to repair our long gravel drive.

In the meantime, I'll suggest that labor must be celebrated. The costs of escaping it are the losses of human intelligence, the character of the individual and the wealth of human culture.  We revel in our labor saving devices and shovel down the medications necessitated by our disengagement from the real world and its labors, and from the very real internal rewards of such. Instead, let's grasp joy by putting our hands to work.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

spooky talk and kerf bent boxes...

This article on ancient American woodworking tools, has a small section kerf bent boxes as made by tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Using hand tools, they were made tight enough to hold boiling water and in a variety of sizes. This article also sheds light on the process.

I am planning my Tuesday morning introduction to woodworking for my 5 first grade students.

My wife and I went for a walk yesterday morning and the reason for my having dreamed that I was caring for a tiny baby in the wood shop became clear. Years ago I made a cradle of cherry that I later wrote an article about in Woodwork Magazine. The cradle became the one that my wife and I loaned out to friends, and the first child to have used it was the son of the founder of Clear Spring School. At this point, the cradle is once again on loan to the same person and her husband as they wait for the arrival of their first grandchild on or about September 15.

And so on  our walk, we ran into our friends unexpectedly and they turned about to walk with us for a ways as we caught up on each other's lives.

Is it too spooky for my readers to consider that the infant I dreamed about caring for in my school wood shop would be the first grandchild to sleep in the cradle I had made so many years before?

When we started the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School in 2001, one of the goals was stated as being that of helping the children to understand the interconnectedness of all things. When your experience of the world grows from the touch outwards, and through the integration of all the senses, you begin to sense the world as an interconnected wholeness. From that vantage point, even the dream lives of separate persons can intertwine.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

infants in woodshop?

Last night I had an anxiety dream in which I had a very tiny baby wrapped up in a blanket in the wood shop. It kept rolling off the pad on the floor where I was to keep it safe. I know this may have been brought on by my having 5 new first grade students to introduce to the wood shop at Clear Spring School. On Tuesday I plan to break the group of 5 down into two smaller groups to go over safety and introduce them to their first use of tools.

Things will be much more convenient for all of us this year, with the school wood shop being dead center of the school campus.

Yesterday, the upper elementary and middle school students worked on tree cookies, and showed enthusiasm for their work. It seems that with kids and adults occupied in the virtual world for so much of the time, their response to doing real things is palpable.

One of the best things about being at the center of the school campus is the opportunity to more closely fulfill the mission of the wood shop. The idea is that what's done in wood shop doesn't stay in wood shop. Items of useful beauty are to be taken home to tell the important story of learning, and are to be used in school to build a state of intense curiosity. Working more closely with the student's regular classroom teachers will build greater usefulness to those things that we make in wood shop. For instance, we're using tree cookies to build an interest in autobiography, but also learned of a composer who uses a turntable and laser to play music directly from discs of cross-sections of real wood in various species.

After making tree cookies, our students were excited to hear the work of  Bartholomaus Traubeck his music played directly by a turntable, laser and piano synthesizer. Yesterday the students wanted to take their finished tree cookies home. They were proud of their work. We had to tell them, "No, we still have use for them in school."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 29, 2014

connect with learning the old fashioned way

NBC news finally did a program on hands-on learning, as though it is new news. Program Encourages Kids to Build, Play the Old-Fashioned Way

Thanks to David for alerting me to news segment. Building things is an important component of hands-on learning. Taking things apart, dissecting, mixing, baking, and music are also important building blocks for engagement. And yet, in American education, educational policy makers insure that students remain bored and complacent, rather than actively learning.

This is the first day of the 14th year of the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School. My students made tree cookies and will use them as a both an exploration of science, and an outline for writing their own stories. It was particularly pleasant to have shop in my new location at the center of the school campus.

These students of mine have unbounded enthusiasm for the wood shop, and went right to work. They kept coming up to me asking me to admire what they had done. I had sanding stations set up to lead them through the various grits. We used plastic nail in feet to make them useful as trivets or coasters.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

new shop

 I have my new wood shop/classroom almost ready to go and will have my first class in the morning. I particularly like my new pegboard tool carts, that allow me to put tools aside when not in use,  and to make the best use of a smaller space. I still have my desk, upper unit, and cabinets to move next week, but had to get things organized to this point first. Moving shops from one space to another is like a trip down memory lane as I rediscover earlier projects hidden in drawers. For instance I have blocks made from maple and walnut that are intended for students to draw. I plan to use them to train my woodworking students in the use of sketchup.

My students are very excited to be back in school and all are particularly excited about wood shop.

I received a copy of the October issue of Wood Magazine in the mail yesterday, including my article on making 4 different styles of lift off lid to fit a box made by their tools editor Bob Hunter. Watch for that magazine at your local book store. It includes my technique for inlaying rocks in a table top or box.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


 Yesterday was a big day for classrooms in the Stowe family. At Clear Spring School, friends and co-workers helped to move the benches and large tools from the old school wood shop to its more central (though smaller) location on the Clear Spring School campus. My shoulders are a bit sore from heavy lifting.

In New York, my daughter was shown her new classroom where she will teach middle school science and math at Booker T. Washington Middle School (MS54) in the upper West Side of Manhattan.

Yesterday, also, in going though comments for the blog, I realized I'd missed a few including one from Teresa, concerning my mother's Kindergarten classroom. You can read her comments in yesterday's blog post, Cookies from down under. If I had a photo to share of my mother's classroom, you would find a stark contrast with the sterile environment made necessary by having up to 33 students in a middle school class. My point is not to criticize, but to simply suggest that the richness of a classroom experience is based in part on the richness of the classroom environment.

When Kindergartens were first introduced in the US, they had a profound effect on the whole of education. Primary school teachers realized that their own classrooms might offer greater warmth for learning, rather than a cold and emotionally chilling environment. As a result, the movement began in which teachers decorated with bulletin boards, classrooms became gaily decorated, and student work was put proudly on display for all to see.

My daughter today is working to bring some visual warmth into her classroom. I will be working from the other direction, attempting to bring some order to the chaos resulting from the move.

Make, fix and create...