Friday, March 22, 2019


For some time I've been trying to explain political reality from a manual arts perspective. There are a few folks I've referenced in previous blog posts that may help you to sort out and dig deep. One is Joe the Plumber. ( each of these can be found by using the search function of this blog, found at upper left) Another is Karl Popper whose concept "verisimilitude" can also be useful in digging deep. For facebook readers, you'll have to go to the blog,

What follows is a blog post from WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2010

Narrative and reality

Jerome Bruner's article "The Narrative Construction of Reality" suggests that narrative plays an important role in how man "achieves a 'true' knowledge of the world... that is to say, how we get a reliable fix on the world, a world that is... assumed to be immutable and... 'there to be observed'." (we develop narratives and then chat in our own heads and with each other about them) But it should be noted that belief and reality often differ.

In my continuing interest to explain the narrative function of crafts, I want to address one minor point of comparison. In discursive narrative, verisimilitude, or what Stephen Colbert called "truthiness" is completely acceptable. In my interpretation of Bruner's article, discursive narrative may be based on real events or fictional, without diminishing our use of it to establish belief or to portray reality in shaping the beliefs of others. A great example is when Ronald Reagan used his movie characters' "experiences" as being valid in explaining and rationalizing positions he took in office as president.

In political narrative, it has become completely acceptable to just make stuff up. I want to compare this with craftwork as narrative expression. Crafts are not about making things up, but about making real things. Narrative, as used in politics, religion and entertainment creates belief based on verisimilitude, on ideas that may appear to resemble truth from certain psychological predispositions but may not be able to pass full muster of physical reality.

In other words, in discursive narrative, you get to make stuff up. In crafts, you make beautiful and useful stuff instead, and if you are interested in reality, there is no substitute for the real thing, and I'm not talking Coke.

There is an honesty in craft work that is missing in too much k-12 and university education, and the results can be disastrous for the entire society. The following is from Charles Henry Ham's book, Mind and Hand, 1886:
"It is thus that the trained hand comes at last to foresee, as it were, that a false proposition is surely destined to be exploded. The habit of rectitude gives it prescience. It invariably discovers, sooner or later, that a false proposition, when embodied in wood or iron, becomes a conspicuous abortion, involving in disgrace both the designer and the maker. A false proposition in the abstract may be rendered very alluring; a false proposition in the concrete is always hideous. One of the chief effects of manual training is, then, the discovery and development of truth; and truth, in its broadest signification, is merely another name for justice; and justice is the synonym of morality."
I find it interesting that Karl Popper, the philosopher who came up with the concept "verisimilitude" had an early career in a cabinet shop that he described as being his launch into the realm of philosophy.

Today in the woodshed, I'll be working on a table base.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

experience first then build belief...

I did rather well on standardized tests when I was in school. The multiple choice answers on the tests were either right or wrong, and the fact that my parents gave me some practical experience outside school gave me the ability to sift out the answers that were patently false. If you can recognize that which is wrong on a standardized test, the correct answer is much easier to discern.

At that time, standardized tests were not such a big deal that anyone would obsess about them. We just went to school with our pencils sharp. We were told that the test results were not to be shared with others. At that time in the Omaha public schools the administrators were starting to be aware that the competitive culture around standardized testing that would later arise was not to be a good thing. And now, with our testing obsessed culture, we've allowed educational policy makers to really screw things up.

Kim Brand reminded me of an article I'd written 10 years ago about Kentniss and Wissenshaft and the rise of what is now called fake news. The problems we face have gotten worse and I don't think it took much imagination to know the direction we were headed. We believe we must pick and choose our belief systems (established by others), rather than relying on experience to establish belief.

The foundation for all this was laid in religion. We were told to believe like sheep in things we could not see or understand, and once trained for that, were told that one truth was just as good as another, but that we should battle out between ourselves and in our own heads which would drive the direction of things.

On the other hand, and in the real world, working with real tools, real materials, with real tasks at hand and while attempting to express beauty, usefulness and sincerity, we may be led to observe and draw conclusions on our own. So manual arts were the place we  only put kids who were at less risk of wrestling with the big ideas that come when the brain and hands are put in harmony with real life.

Rousseau had said "Put a young man in a wood shop and his hands work to the benefit of his brain, and he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman." That happened to me. But there's a great risk to putting smart people in work shops where they are inspired to think for themselves by directly observing the reality that surrounds us. They might become revolutionary and then threaten the prevailing thought.

Today I will sand boxes and begin the process of building a table base.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

our little free llibrary.

If you go to and then type our Little Free Library charter registration number in the search block, you can find the Clear Spring School Little Free Library on the map.

The charter registration number is 85348. Better yet is to find it in real life at these geographic coordinates: 36°24'30.2"N 93°44'41.6"W or 36.408400, -93.744889 Put either form of the coordinates in your phone or car GPS and you'll be led right to it. You can also find it on the map using our zip code, 72632 or the name Clear Spring School.

Today in the wood shop I'll assemble boxes and begin work on a table base.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

each and every child

This 20 year old article by Alfie Kohn might help you to understand why he's been a trusted name in progressive education.  The point is that these are not your kids or our kids, but our children, and we each share a responsibility to each one. The news of elite parents gaming the system to get every possible advantage for their own children is nothing new and is perfectly reasonable to fearful minds. Each child is important that we have a responsibility to all children.

Clear Spring School was founded over 40 years ago with a mission that differs from that of many of the private schools that sprang up across the nation in the wake of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the supreme court that was intended to bring an end to school segregation. While many private schools were established to maintain segregation, and to maintain the advantage previously given to white children by segregated schools, The Clear Spring School was established to offer a model of education in which each and every child was afforded the recognition and opportunity each child deserves and enabling the success of each child upon which our society depends. The point was not to be exclusive, or to keep some out, but to serve as a model from which all children would ultimately be served.
What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.— John Dewey, School and Society
Brown vs. Board of Education was an extreme measure in response to an extremely ugly problem... that of a society deeply divided along racial lines. The court decision brought  school busing and the politicization of the educational landscape, with politicians of both parties vying for control of local and state school boards. If you read the national news, we are still a long ways from returning the focus of education to the child. Politicians have all kinds of ideologically inspired notions that have little or nothing to do with the needs of our children.

Today I gather materials for building a table.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 18, 2019

get back pocket cat... woodworking is where it's at

Yesterday I registered our little free library so it will go on the map at The photo shows the prototype "pocket cat" I made for Friday's Kindergarten class. It is little more than a hint of a cat and quickly made but was instantly recognized by the kids wondering, "What will we make today?" And responding, "YES, I want to make that."

It is nothing more than a small block of wood with 1/8 in. holes drilled in it for bamboo skewers to fit. We use small snipping pliers to trim the skewers to shape to form the ears and tail.

This is spring break week at the Clear Spring School. I plan to use my time to assemble boxes. I've also been clearing and cleaning in the wood shop to have room to build a large dining table.

Make, fix, create and encourage others to learn from real life. It's rewarding.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

two events...

Mark your calendar & join us for an Art Extravaganza on March 31, 3-6 pm, in ESSA's Wood and Iron Studio!

I will have two woodworking activities for guests in the wood shop. One will be making a very small set of Frank Lloyd Wright's Nature Pattern Blocks. Sawing and sanding will be required. The other will be crafting a Sloyd trivet from Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and whittling. A question, my youngest students ask, "Do I get to keep this?" Yes you will keep the things you've made, maybe for generations.

The other event I want to invite you to is the annual Froebel education conference in Boston, October 5 and 6, 2019 in Boston. Many important educators have been invited to speak.

Make, fix and create...

Nature Pattern Blocks

A friend, having heard a talk I gave at the UU Church in Eureka Springs, gave me this set of Frank Lloyd Wright Nature Pattern Blocks. As I've described before, Frank Lloyd Wright became an architect having grown up with the blocks invented by Froebel. His mother had attended the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia at which a Kindergarten classroom had the following effect described by Nina C. Vandewalker in her book  The Kindergarten in American Education, 1908:
"The Exposition kindergarten was conducted in an annex to the Woman's Pavilion, by Miss Ruth Burritt of Wisconsin, who had had several years of experience as a primary teacher before she became a kindergartner, and whose manner and insight were such as to gain adherents for the new cause. The enclosure for visitors was always crowded, many of the on-lookers being "hewers of wood and drawers of water, who were attracted by the sweet singing and were spellbound by the lovely spectacle." Thousands thronged to see the new educational departure, and many remained hours afterwards to ask questions."
Wright's mother was among those mesmerized and inspired. The Kindergarten method of learning is not to be confined to the early years. We all learn best through play, and as Wright noted in his later years, "I can still feel those maple blocks in my hands to this day."

I do not believe these blocks are currently available. They should be.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 16, 2019

bridge and pocket cats

Yesterday in wood shop my 5-6 grade students helped to finish the bridge and to decorate a bench leg on the lathe.

My Kindergarten students made tiny pocket cats.  I made a couple prototypes as usual, and was pleased that the Kindergarten students immediately recognized what they were and wanted to make them.

I left my phone at home to charge during the Kindergarten class, so I have no photos of that class.  To make a pocket cat requires decorating a small block of wood with markers to serve as the cat's body, then drilling holes for 1/8 in. dowels to fit as legs, tail and ears. The kids decided where these parts would fit, then drilled the holes in the chosen spots, with me holding the block of wood while they operated the drill press.

When the cats were complete, they insisted that their cats be further customized. One boy wanted wings on his, while another, claiming the cat was not toy but part of a "collection," chose to mount his on a block of wood to serve as a base. Many of my students have collections of their work, and what better time is there to start than in Kindergarten where they can learn to get things of interest through their own labor?

You may recognize our dog Rosie helping with the bridge.

This is the start of Spring break at the Clear Spring School. I'll spend my time working on boxes and launching a table project.

Make, fix, create. Build human culture and the fabric of community by choosing to learn likewise.