Thursday, August 22, 2019

"We ask you to imagine Kindergarten classrooms where teachers are trusted to use their judgment about what's best for each class. Imagine a future where love of learning, not test-based performance, returns to the heart of our children's very first education experiences." -- Brookline, MA Teachers letter to their School Committee about returning the joy to kindergarten
And of course, the joy of learning need not stop at the Kindergarten level. If it does, we've really screwed up.

In Finland they say their success in education has to do with two things. They train their teachers well and then trust them to teach. In the US, we are lacking in two areas, training and trust.

This link, is to a couple articles I published a few years back on a website sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools. I'm grateful to play a part in a school where I've been trusted to teach.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

cool catches

Cool magnetic cabinet catch. The photo shows a very strong magnetic catch for small cabinets using a rare earth button magnet. One part is embedded in the edge of the cabinet and the other drilled into the cabinet door.The nice thing is that these are unobtrusive.

When double doors are used, a stop must be made unless the doors overlay the top or bottom.

The cups are intended to fit in holes drilled in the cabinet. The magnets go in place covering the screw.

Put the magnet in only after both the cup and catch plate are screwed in place. The magnets are very strong and do not like being removed from the cups. And that is nearly impossible after the cup is embedded in surrounding wood.

The plate is mounted to the door, either surface mounted or sunk into a ½ in. hole drilled 3/32 in. deep. Of course the easier option is to surface mount. The cleaner, more professional look requires a hole.

How do you locate the hole to be drilled in the door for the catch plate?

You can use a ½ in. dowel center between the cabinet and door to mark the center of the hole fin the door. Put the dowel center in the hole in the cabinet and close the door, thus marking the where the catch plate must go. Another approach would be to put the cup in inside out with double stick tape on the exposed surface. The double stick tape will stick the cup to the door, allowing you to mark the proper location for the non-magnetic plate to fit. You can also do the same with hot melt glue.

These, except for the screws are available from  They are not sold as a set so you have to order the individual parts.

I've been meeting with teachers to plan the coming year in the school wood shop.

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


Monday, August 19, 2019

hands and self...

The features editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked me if there was something special about woodworking as a tool in education. "Of course," I said. And there are special wonderful things about it. Not only does it provide observable outcomes that can be shared with family and community, the products of woodworking in school are often useful. And those products (and skills) do get used.

While crayon art may be put proudly on the refrigerator for display until the next art that comes home crowds out earlier efforts, the products of wood shop are more practical. When the child sees what he's made warmly accepted and used, it informs the child of his or her usefulness in the home, and not merely as a contributor to home decoration held in place by refrigerator magnets.

When done over a period of months or years, woodworking provides evidence of learning and growth in concrete form. That growth is witnessed within by the child and also by others in the family. An early work may go home with bent nails and misaligned parts poorly sanded, but it takes very little encouragement for the child to improve his or her own work.

Does this mean that other arts and crafts are not also important? No! I say. But if a school has limited resources as most do, woodworking is a powerful activity to unleash toward crafting a creative environment in education.

Here are just a few points.
  • If children do not learn hand skills at an early age, those skills and proficiency with the hands become much more difficult (and expensive) later to develop, and likely never to the same level of ease and proficiency.*
  • These hand skills do not reside in the hands alone, but also have profound effect on thought itself. 
  • They create the sense within the child of his or her own place in the community of man: that of being a creator and not merely a consumer of cheap stuff. 
  • They create an appreciation of the things one might discover from earlier generations in museums and the like. 
  • They create a sense of the child's own investigative powers. Hands-on, children can test reality, and confirm or disprove what they are taught.
  • Where the hands lead, the heart follows.
If we want to create a society of do nothings, American education is generally on the right track.

Make, fix, create, and adjust American education so that all children learn likewise
*Hand skills are very much like language skills. It is easy for a child to develop fluency in various languages in very short time and much more difficult for an adult. What it takes children months, it can take adults years.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

depressed kids?

Claiming that "We have ruined childhood," this  OpEd from the New York Times tells what conventional schooling is doing to our children's mental health.
"The role of school stress in mental distress is backed up by data on the timing of child suicide. “The suicide rate for children is twice what it is for children during months when school is in session than when it’s not in session,” according to Dr. Gray. “That’s true for suicide completion, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, whereas for adults, it’s higher in the summer.”
Surely we could do something to fix things. We have a model for better learning and social engagement at the Clear Spring School, but then most politicians would prefer that schools warehouse kids. An interesting point of the OpEd is that children turn to screen time because they have fewer real opportunities to engage freely with their peers and with real life.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

old dogs, new tricks?

Yesterday I shaped the cross members that attach the table top to the base. It was a job quickly done that relied upon past experience doing similar work. I used the band saw to make the angle cuts and used the jointer to clean up the flat surfaces and remove the marks from the saw. Now with routing, sanding, drilling of holes and the application of Danish oil, the parts will be ready to install.

You know the saying, that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. It's not true. You can still learn to do amazing things. But old hands and old minds do not learn as quickly or as easily as the young.
Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book "Sloyd,"1902 as follows:

"The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success."

Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
Fixed and stubborn. Those are good terms, but depressing ones. We think of stubborn as being an attribute of mind. These terms may explain why a few readers of the blog take some offense when I wander slightly off from the favorite subject, woodworking. But woodworking is not an isolated thing. As much as we might like our shops to be a refuge and a retreat from the woes of the world and the occasional horrors we learn from it, woodworking also offers the power to engage deliberately and creatively  in making the world a better place. We do that through the making of useful beauty, and sharing what we do and what we learn with others.

As we transform wood, are we not also capable of transformation? As we reveal beauty in the wood, can we not show the same in ourselves?

Make, fix and create. Share with others

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fitting more parts.

Yesterday, in addition to staff meetings to establish schedules for the coming year, I worked on the table base, fitting cross members that will be bolted to the table top.

Woodworking is planned for every child K-12, each having woodshop twice a week.

The table parts are connected to each other with half lap joints, each routed or sawn 1 in deep. The joints in the cross members were cut using the sled on the table saw, gradually widening the cut by moving the stock left to right in 1/8 in. increments. The joints in the beam were formed using a template and a template following router bit. The new parts will be tapered, routed, sanded and oiled before they are bolted in place.

I had a reader complain that he hoped I would refrain from ever making political comments so that he would be more comfortable to continue reading the blog.

Excuse me, please. Woodworking and woodworking education are both political acts. They lead us beyond complaisance and toward service to each other. Done well they lead us more deeply toward an appreciation of the natural world and it's wonders, and thereby lead us toward protectionism. That sense of protectionism  would naturally lead us toward concern for a few things. Like: Stopping global warming. Protection of endangered species. Protection of national parks and preserves. Thus developing within us: An appreciation of diversity. An understanding that we are to be stewards of both the natural environment, and human culture.

If my occasionally mentioning my own opposition to certain political figures who've created policies in opposition to my own values bothers anyone, I hope they will look more deeply into their own scheme of things. You can learn a lot from crafting wood, but it helps to start with an open mind.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

what would you do?

What would you do if you had the power to save the life of a child? If you were sitting at poolside and a toddler fell in, would you attempt to rescue that child whether you could swim or not? The supreme court made the decision that corporations are people just like you. But corporations fail to show it.

Take Novartis, for example. They developed a drug that with a single dose could save the life of a child suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. It is a rare disease. The price that Novartis charges is 2.1 million dollars per dose, making it impossible for any but the most affluent parent to afford.

If you were sitting at poolside, would you ask the toddler's parent's net worth before making your own plunge to the rescue?

Working with one's hands creates a sense of agency, but frames a sense of moral duty. When you struggle to make things that are useful and beautiful in service to self, family and community, you may have also developed compassion as an attribute of your character. If you have the power to do good then you must do so, whether you are sitting on a corporate board or more directly at poolside.

Make, fix, and create. Provide others the opportunity to learn likewise.