Monday, November 19, 2018

the power of the object

Typically in schools, students rarely ask if they can take their work home. Why bother? But when it comes to things kids have made in wood shop, they ask, "May I take this home?" Why's that? Could it be that they feel they've arrived at a level of mastery in what they've made? Could it be that they, having tangible evidence of what they've learned, want to share it with their parents and siblings? Can it be that they find joy in what they've made and want to maintain possession of it and what they have learned?

David Henry Feldman, in his essay, "the child as craftsman" was inspired by his study of gifted and talented children to note that ALL children have a desire to express confidence and skill. There is no better way to do so than through the making of real things. And so, on Friday afternoons when I have Kindergarten students in the Clear Spring School wood shop, they ask, "Can I take this home?"

The object can be a simple thing, a toy car, a boat, a flag pole or a color wheel. They may have had some help with the work, as it would be a rare thing to have the skills and knowledge to do the work alone and by themselves. But the pride of craftsmanship is a serious thing that is too often lacking in public education. I hope to reverse that loss, and build upon what's most natural to the child. They each want to acquire demonstrable expertise. They each want to share what they've learned with family. And if the objects are useful in some way, they want to take them home to use and to demonstrate, and to allow others to join them in that play.

When Otto Salomon designed the various model series for Educational Sloyd his choice of making beautiful and useful objects was to gain parental support for education during a time in which children's toil was required on the farms. To give up a child to education required that schools earn trust. So making objects that were useful in the home became a means to establish that trust, and to assure parents that their children were becoming not only smart, but useful in school.

Where is that concept in modern American education? Join me please in an effort to restore.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

in reflection.

I am going through some of what I consider to be important stuff on this blog with an eye toward finding those things of particular importance to add as sidebar material in my new book that is now in the process of being edited for publication. This material I think is important, and from a wisdom of the hand blog post, Saturday, August 21, 2010.

"A few days ago, I posted on the subject of David Henry Feldman's metaphor, The Child as Craftsman, and today I want to share Dr. Feldman's exploration of assessment. Our fixation on assessment is what drives our continuing "no child left behind" like testing psychosis, even within the Obama administration.

"Testing is a holdover from earlier metaphors discussed in an earlier post, which for the sake of making my writing a bit easier this morning I won't repeat.

"And so, how does one measure progress in schools in which each child is known to be a craftsman. Feldman suggests two measures, both of which came up recently in our small hands conference at Dearborn. To quote Dr. Feldman,
""The first is simply a restatement of the educational aim of engagement in a more precise form; to the extent that greater numbers of individuals find fields to pursue, find work that engages their energies and through which they derive satisfaction, education can be considered to be making progress."
"Imagine this relative to the level of disengagement we too often see in American classrooms.

"Feldman's "second criterion of educational progress" follows from his thoughts about creativity. That if
""education is done well, creative contributions will tend to take care of themselves. In other words, an education which fosters sustained commitment, satisfaction and joy in accomplishment will naturally lead to occasions that require one to go beyond the limits of one's craft. To reach the limits and find yet another problem to be solved, a goal to be achieved, an idea to be expressed, a technique to be worked out--these are the conditions which favor creativity.
"Feldman concludes,
"I submit that the twin signs of progress toward a fruitful education for the future are; (1) an increasing number of individuals engaged and committed to pursuit of mastery of their fields and (2) he number of novel, unprecedented, or unique contributions that occur in these fields."
"Feldman states further,
"If young children were prepared for a future of craftsmanship it might be possible to strike a better balance between the inculcation of basic skills and the encouragement of human expression; a balance, I hope, that does full justice to the universal and to the unique in each of us."

An example of the child as craftsman is my student, who once his bridge had been tested and proven to support over 400 lbs. without distortion, he insisted on adding additional support. You can also see it in the work by my Kindergarten students making "color wheels" on Friday.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 17, 2018

bridges and color wheels.

Yesterday in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, we tested student bridges to see if we could break them by applying weight. The weight was applied by standing on them. The maximum weight was applied by their teacher Chris and me standing on one at the same time. The arched bridge thereby held about 410 lbs. without showing any sign of stress. That led the student whose bridge we tested to add more structural support. For what reason? He was extremely proud of his work and unwilling to consider it complete. It was fun at the end of the day, watching bridges be proudly taken home and displayed to their parents. You can be sure they also described the fun they had during the testing of their load bearing strength.

Yesterday I had 6 of our Kindergarten students in the wood shop to make "color wheels".  A color wheel to an artist is a wheel on paper illustrating the variety of colors and their interrelationships. The color wheels we made, and as shown in the photo are discs of wood on stands that the students could color and spin on a wooden axle. As the disc spins, the colors blend and merge and transform, so this project is in perfect alignment with Froebel's gifts. It is also a project I thought about in the middle of the night. I can imagine Froebel doing the same thing.

With Kindergarten students, a project does not necessarily need to make sense. They are ready for anything that can be made with nails, wood and glue. Colored markers offer even greater delight. Then if the project offers action of some kind and can be manipulated in some way, so much the better.

I heard from my friend Hans in Sweden who's now 85. I had written him to confirm the accuracy of the following as it applies at the Clear Spring School.

In the early days of educational sloyd, the progression of pedagogy as outlined in its principles "from easy to more difficult, from known to unknown, from simple to complex" was arranged through the gradual introduction of various tools, gradual increase in complexity of procedures with those tools and increasing difficulty and complexity of projects. The increasing difficulty of projects shown to the students as models was simply the means through which to introduce increasingly complex and difficult processes in tool use.
At the Clear Spring School models of projects for students to make are of great value. What the kids see, they emulate, whether it's something I've made as an example or something another child has made. The point is that models turn abstract thought into concrete expression The models became the focal point of attention and the organizing principle in the curriculum that was shared throughout the world including the US. Critics both in Sweden and around the world claimed that adhering to  a set of models ignored the child’s need for creative expression. But for Otto Salomon, the reason for the projects being presented in a certain order was to present increasing operational challenges in the use of various tools, that then, when realized, gave the child creative capacity, leading to the ability to design and create objects from one’s own imagination.
Make, fix and create...

Friday, November 16, 2018

Many thanks, many things.

I received many wonderful good wishes yesterday on my birthday, including a song from the North of Norway, and a Pablo Neruda poem from friends in Stavanger. The song was recorded by phone lit within a forest of city lights, reminding me that even in the dark winter months, there is joy there in the far north, most particularly when shared with friends. The Neruda poem is about the love of things, and most particularly about the things that the hands embrace and make useful.

We're not far evolved from dogs in that. I gave Rosie a stick with an old rope wrapped around it, and it became her newest friend. It was pulled at, tossed in the air a bit, carried from one end of the yard to the other and of course chewed mightily. We are like that with new things. We may not chew as much. But we are in love with the world of things. I, in particular, am in love with tools that empower the depths of our humanity, in that they can be used by us in service to each other through the making of useful and beautiful things.
 "Man is a Tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all." –– Thomas Carlyle
One of the ways to build a curriculum in wood shop is to focus on tools. This was the approach used in the Russian System of industrial arts training. And yet, if, we fail to guide the tools toward meaningful use, we've misplaced the better part of things. A hammer can be idly pounded toward the destruction of stuff, or used to create lasting beautiful things. Those lasting beautiful and useful things can serve in the hands of man far longer than the stick wrapped in rope. Perhaps that's why Otto Salmon made a progression of useful models the core of Educational Sloyd. Putting tools at the center of learning might have missed the more important point.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

my 70th.

This is my 70th birthday, and that's a bit past retirement age for many Americans. As a craftsman, I've known that I'd not make as much money as some, but quality of life is the main thing. Even as an older man, I feel that I can make significant contributions to my community.

I do wonder about whether or not this blog will have lasting impact. Are we not what our hands have made of us? And the challenge becomes this: Do we sit on our hands or put them in action and service to others. If we sit upon them, how do we come to a better realization of our own creative force?

I am engaged in the back and forth with my editor, bringing the details of my Wisdom of the Hands Guide to Woodworking With Kids book into coherent form. A how-to book is different from a book of just words. It consists of images, and details that must all be integrated into coherent pages. It is also different in that it challenges the reader to do more than think and reflect. It calls upon the reader to act.

Today I'll play with the dog. If the temperature rises to a level of comfort, I'll apply Danish oil to boxes.

There are some things that you can do to help. Test what I've shared with you in your own hands. Arrive at your own conclusions. Are the hands the source of character and intelligence as I've described? If so, share what you learn through your own hands with others. Develop skill. Observe and reflect. If you find some modicum of truth here, share it with others.

As one art teacher had observed online, the hands are the philosopher's stone. They give meaning, depth, breadth and longevity to learning and have the power to transform education. But that transformation is a larger goal than a 70 year old man can accomplish on his own. Share what you read here, and take action on what you've learned.

Make, fix, create and share what you've learned...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

the editing begins

I am into the thick of working through the Wisdom of the Hands guide to woodworking with kids with my editors. It is a pleasure to arrive at this point in a project that I've been involved in for almost 20 years. The book should be ready for publication in June.

I have so many wonderful photographs to share, that I hope the book will serve as inspiration for others to share woodworking with kids.

A good book is most often the work of a good team and this will be my third book with Springhouse Press, and my 13th overall.

The photo is of Ozric building a toy car, years ago in the Clear Spring School wood shop.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

veterans day...

This is the day set aside in the USA to express appreciation to those who have served in the military to defend this country. Yesterday we held classes for Veterans at ESSA and were visited there by Senator John Boozman. Senator Boozman has a reputation for assisting servicemen and women who have served in the military.

My own class was in box making. Others were in blacksmithing, painting on glass and jewelry making.

Politicians get us into corners that our service men and women must fight their ways out of.  Whether a war was necessary or not our veterans stood up to serve and they and their families made sacrifices on our behalf and we have a duty to honor their service, whether a war was justified or not.

As a board member and founder of ESSA, I had suggested a Veterans Day event recognizing that veterans, regardless of when they served and in which war, are in need of the healing that comes through the practice of the creative arts.

The mission statement at ESSA claims that art is vital to the human spirit. As such, art is one of the ways that we cope with tragedy and loss. It is also one of the ways we push aside the inclination to be combatively engaged.  It's the old swords vs. plowshares dilemma. As described in the philosophy of Black Elk in "Black Elk Speaks," the "power to create is the power to destroy" and vise versa. We can devise means through which to blow stuff up and wreak havoc in the lives of others. Or we can build together. On this Veterans Day, I suggest the latter. We must learn from service and sacrifice.  Yesterday's event was a whole lot more fun than blowing stuff up. Each of my students made two boxes.

Make, fix and create. Give others the chance to learn likewise.