Friday, December 19, 2014

a careful transformation of self...

Last night I dreamed of my sister Ann who died about 15 months ago of multiple systems atrophy, an awful disease. Ann was involved in arts and crafts her whole life, and in my dream offered to show me a new way of welding dissimilar metals. She thought it might be something I would be interested in writing about as it would be of use to other artists.

I thought at first in terms of some kind of flux that would allow the bond. We walked down a long corridor, opened a small door and took out two small packets of paper like those a homeopathic physician might use to offer his or her medicines. One contained a powder and the other a small live caterpillar, which were to be taken for transformation. Not all that is to be accomplished in the arts is through transformation of the material. Some requires the transformation of the artist.

Yesterday I invited my 6th grade students to play with Froebel's Gift number 7. I was curious what they would come up with. One girl wouldn't let me see what she had designed until it was finished. If you can't guess what it is, read carefully. In the photo below, my student insisted that I share what she had made via iPhone with her mother. Such is a child's pride at the time of transformation.

There are indeed many processes requiring both skill and transformation of the mind and heart of the artist.

The following is repeated from an earlier blog post and concerns the transformation of humanity in our earlier years. Were caterpillars required?

Six ways in which segments can be rotated for use as
tools and weapons. The stippled areas represent adhesive.
Mary Marzke sent me links to an article by Lyn Wadley on the use of adhesives to attach stone to wood in the making of shafted tools, weapons and instruments. Wadleys's work was published in Current Anthropology, and illustrates the intellect involved as early man crafted tools to enable his survival. Evidently, there was enough adhesive remaining on some crafted pieces of stone from 70,000 years ago to reformulate the means through which they were attached and through which the adhesive was made. This work pushes forward by 40,000 years, the earlier speculation by V.G. Childe and others that the handle came as late as 30,000 years ago.
Compound adhesives were made in southern Africa at least 70,000 years ago, where they were used to attach similarly shaped stone segments to hafts. Mental rotation, a capacity implying advanced working‐memory capacity, was required to place the segments in various positions to create novel weapons and tools. The compound glues used to fix the segments to shafts are made from disparate ingredients, using an irreversible process. The steps required for compound‐adhesive manufacture demonstrate multitasking and the use of abstraction and recursion. As is the case in recursive language, the artisan needed to hold in mind what was previously done in order to carry out what was still needed. Cognitive fluidity enabled people to do and think several things at the same time, for example, mix glue from disparate ingredients, mentally rotate segments, talk, and maintain fire temperature. Thus, there is a case for attributing advanced mental abilities to people who lived 70,000 years ago in Africa without necessarily invoking symbolic behavior.
There is no concrete evidence that man's development came as a result of language alone, but there is evidence that the making of things took a leading role in the development of man. There is a growing body of evidence that making the tools for our survival and the increased size of the human frontal lobe were parallel developments. You can find Lyn Wadley's article Compound‐Adhesive Manufacture as a Behavioral Proxy for Complex Cognition in the Middle Stone Age here. In order to understand all this and write this paper, Wadley had to make the adhesive from materials found in the natural environment and then replicate the methods for attachment, demonstrating again that you won't really learn all that much about real things by just yakking. "Her main research interest is ancient cognition and her experimental archaeology is geared towards understanding the mental architecture required for various behaviors."

In order to better understand your own mental architecture,

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Formell education?

The following is from an earlier blog post, November 7, 2007.

Today the words "formal education" refer to learning that takes place within the context of established educational institutions, as contrasted with "informal" education in which students learn on their own, self-motivated and self-directed.

Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the words "formal education" had a distinctly different meaning, particularly when used by Otto Salomon, director of the Sloyd Teacher School at Nääs or by one of his students. The following is from Hans Thorbjörnsson, Swedish historian and curator of Otto Salomon's library at Nääs:
"In Swedish language Salomon is using the terms (expressions) ”formell bildning”, ”formell uppfostran” och ”formella mål”. In The Theory of Educational Sloyd they are translated ”formative education” (education meaning both bildning och uppfostran) and “formative goals.” You are quite right interpreting the Swedish formell as general competence, character development, citizenry and responsibility. Salomon talked about the child’s development morally, intellectually and physically being promoted during sloyd work. For the mere sloyd skills (handling tools and material/wood) he used the terms “materiella mål” (material goals) and “materiell utbildning”. In The Theory of Educational Sloyd the Swedish terms are translated utilitarian goals / utilitarian education."
This simple term, in Swedish, "formell" or in English, "formative" or "formal" recognize the wood shop's goals of shaping lives as well as giving shape to wood. As any shop teacher or former shop teacher can tell, there are important things going on as children engage in the process of working with wood. Sure, they are developing skills in the use of their hands that would benefit society were they to become carpenters, craftsmen, engineers or surgeons, but they are doing much more. In our current political and cultural climate with our obsessive concern to teach those things we can measure on standardized tests, we have largely forgotten what those other things are.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

shape to fit, or fit to shape...

Gift number 7 with obtuse angle and two equal sides.
Today, I worked on Gift number 7, its variations and the chapter that will include it. Swedish Sloyd and Finnish Sloyd were both intended as means to extend the Kindergarten principles into the upper grades, whereas other forms of manual arts training were more directly concerned with supplying bodies to industry. To give a child some experience with various tools might make their transition to employment easier for them and for their potential employer. To give a child the capacity to shape his or her own destiny was a more noble inclination.

There has been a controversy since the earliest days of education, whether the purpose of schooling was to shape the child to fit societal norms, or whether it was to fit (prepare) the child to participate in the shaping of human culture. The concern with form was to begin in Kindergarten and the whole of the child's education was to be "formative."

Barbara, in the translation of I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg is challenged as are all translators  in that a single word may have many meanings or interpretations. In the example above of instance, the word fit, my be active or passive. Benjamin B. Hoffman attended Salomon's teacher training in Nääs and used the term "formal education," meaning "formative education" as was used by Salomon. "Formal education" in the US has a whole different meaning, and the idea of "formative" has been brushed aside in the name of economic efficiency.

Hoffman and Salomon both meant "forming" the child's character as a whole person, capable of fitting into society, but also acting strongly within it. Dewey's progressive education was of similar purpose. Jacobsen noted that Danish education remained "one-sided," missing the mark of addressing the whole child.

I think my readers might enjoy going back to Kindergarten and spending a day doing what I just did... playing with gift number 7. Don't you think gift number 7 offers some lovely opportunities?

Make, fix and create...

the search for form...

Today, I hope to spend writing. I need to catch up on a couple chapters that need selection of photos, captioning, and organization. Barbara in Stavanger has provided more pages of N. Christian Jacobsen's text, I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg.

 In these pages, Jacobsen tells of a primary difference between Salomon's Sloyd and that promoted by Mikkelsen and taught in Denmark. It is a simple but distinct difference. Swedish sloyd starts with form and the tools and their exercises are the means to establish form. In Danish sloyd, tools came first, and form was the by-product of their use.

How can that matter? The Danish version of sloyd might lead to development of carpentry skills. The Swedish version of sloyd was intended to develop the individual.

As my middle school students stood yesterday at the lathe, turning blocks of wood into finished dreidels, they were comparing what they saw transforming before their eyes, and in their hands with a preconceived notion of perfect form.

Comenius had said something to the effect, that the craftsman and his or her work arise in the same gesture. The woman standing at the lathe, transforms the material and herself at the very same time. You can choose to call it artistry or craftsmanship. The inclination to do something well was described and understood by educators since the seventeenth century.

As this is the first day of Chanukah, I should also note the importance of craftsmanship in the Jewish tradition. Parents were instructed that to fail to engage children in craftsmanship was to throw them into a world of thievery.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Chanukah

Elementary school dreidels.
The Jewish holiday Chanukah, starts this evening, and at school, as an exercise in woodworking and multi-culturalism, we made dreidels, grades 1-9. I had planned the project and then just this morning realized how appropriate the timing was.

For the youngest ones, none of whom had played the dreidel game before, I did the turning for each on the lathe. They formed the dowel with the dowel maker, and wrote the names on each side. Of course they wanted to color and personalize each one. Then we played the game and it did not take long to catch on. As we played, each used his or her own dreidel.

Dreidel made by Oakley.
For those unfamiliar with dreidels, you might confuse one with a top. But a successful top spins for a long time, and the dreidel being used in a game would bore you if it spun for too long. So a top and a dreidel are not the same thing and should not be confused. Also, a dreidel has 4 sides, each marked with a symbol for a Yiddish word. Not having a stamp for those symbols, we simply marked the first letter of each word, Nun, Gimel, Hay, and Shin.

My older students did their own turning at the lathe. All the students were pleased with their work. Some Clear Spring School students will play dreidel in their homes tonight, just as Jewish boys and girls will do with their families on the first day of Chanukah, 2014.

Make, fix and create...

Use a lathe and drill chuck to bore the hole for the dowel.

Use a gouge to shape the point.

self check out vs. "check this out."

Yesterday I made various iterations of Froebel's gift number 7 which consists of small square and triangular wooden tiles. Each set of 64 tiles fits in a small wood box. It was not likely that all Kindergartners (teachers of Kindergarten) would use all sets, as these are similar enough to each other that the results of exercises with each set would not be marked different. The use of square tiles can be seen to closely resemble the use of cubes from the earlier sets.

But the making of these sets is worth doing. Making boxes to hold the various tiles is excuse enough.

Yesterday I told how the self checkout has become the model for American education. The other side of the coin is "check this out!" when a student takes exceptional pride in his or her own work and cannot resist the inclination to show others what he or she has done. That happens in wood shop.

Other variations of tiles might be to paint them various colors, or to make them from various woods. Yet another option exists in that the tile shapes can be cut from colored cardstock and the arrangement of them can be made permanent, by gluing them on paper.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 15, 2014


If you live in the US, you have no doubt had experience with the self-check out, either at Walmart or one of the other big-box stores. The idea is this: You walk up with the items you've selected and scan them yourself. It will observe whether or not you've placed the scanned item into the bagging area, and when you've scanned all your items, it will ask you to pay. It can take your credit card, or count your cash and give you the correct change dispensed below. There will be a clerk nearby to monitor the transaction and watch to make sure customers don't cheat.

That is the model some hope to achieve in modern education. The student, taught primarily by digital devices without human intervention or human instruction will simply download the contents of their brains for evaluation, correction, and assessment. It will be guaranteed cheap, as it will take no near-by human teachers to impart knowledge, and no trained intervention or inspiration apart from what's available on youtube. High paid teachers in this situation can be easily replaced by low paid check-out clerks.

Role models will be supplied as they are today. Television.

I am working on Freobel gift number 7 which consists of sets of small tiles cut in square and triangular shapes. There are 3 kinds of triangles used in different sets. As with all things in "progressive education," the tiles were progressively introduced. so that the students could move in increments from simple to complex, easy to more difficult, and literally  expand and exhaust their creative potentials. "What can you do with these two tiles?" a student might be asked of what is given. What shapes can you create with 4 or  or with 6? At the age in which children with crayons or markers can do little more than scribble on paper, with tiles they can create perfect forms.

The craftsman might ask, "How can I make so many of these small tiles safely?" I will be showing that in the book.

Self-checkout in education is nothing new. When children are engaged in self-activity as they were in Kindergarten and in shop classes, they are self-directed into craftsmanship, and learn to self-assess their own work.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

student boxes...

It has been my belief that no student should be left at graduation having made nothing useful, beautiful or both and worth keeping. It has also been my contention that there is no better useful and beautiful object to make than a wooden box.

Richard Bazeley sent photos of his year 7 and year 9 student boxes. They were done with butt joints in the younger group and hand cut miters in the older set. After the boxes are assembled with thin plywood tops and bottoms, Richard cuts the lid from the body of the box using the bandsaw.

Then the fun began. In Educational Sloyd, it was proposed that student work focus exclusively on craftsmanship and form, and it was suggested that adornment of form by carving and pyrography were means of hiding mistakes.

But in my woodshop, children take delight in coloring, wood burning, and customizing their work. And you can see in Richard's student's boxes, each is unique.

The making of each box unique and an object of student expression is one of the important ways that student learning can be individualized, even in a classroom setting.

N. Christian Jacobsen had said the following with regard to class teaching vs. individualized instruction:
"Should one educator say that twenty can hear what one should hear, and another say not, both can be right. Twenty can hear the same thing but they understand it each in their own individual way.

The psychological preconditions for understanding and the random associations of idea and their effects are impossible for a teacher to reckon had he but one pupil to deal with. But even when he is concerned with more, he can maintain a continuous rapport with all of them, such that each in particular understands him, such that the quick learners and slow learners each have sufficient to do, in so far as acquisition for the first becomes more deep and multifaceted as a result of better prerequisites for understanding, and which gives rise to a more energized work."
Thanks to, Barabara in Stavanger for the ongoing translation of Jacobsen's book.

One of the problems that has faced teachers of the manual arts has been that some students work quickly and some more slowly. Some work fast out of carelessness or lack of understanding. Some work quickly because they have greater skill. Some work slowly because they address the work with great care and seek perfection in it. And yet at the end of the project, all can reach some level of success.

Spending time personalizing work through the use of decorative techniques gives something special for those quick students to apply themselves to, giving the slower students time to catch up, whether their slowness is the result of lack of skill, or their meticulous character.

Richard's students' boxes are an example of the effectiveness of this approach, and allows for the unique creative voice of each student to be seen in their work. During the decorative phase of student work the individualized relationship between the student and instructor comes to the fore, as students ask, "can I do this?" and the teacher says "yes." And the result is what Jacobsen might have called, "more energized work." You can see that each of these boxes is an energized expression of the student's individuality.

If I had a nickle for every time a student asked me, "Can I use the wood burner?" I'd buy a new miter saw. In answer to some early woodworking teacher's concerns that decoration might be used to hide imperfections in the work. Yes, it can. But we must listen to the first precept of Educational Sloyd. Start with the interests of the child. To ignore those individual interests turns the child cold toward his labors and ignores the teacher's greatest resource.

Today I will be cutting small wooden tiles for Froebel's 7th gift.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

customer service...

Last night, Arkansas Governor Beebe, celebrated the end of his 8 years in office with a party in which 120 staff members were given boxes that I made for them. Each was engraved on the inside of the lid with the words, "Thanks for Believing! Beebe Administration, 2007-2014. Those were good years, and it is my hope that these boxes serve each as a pleasant reminder. I was honored and grateful to have the opportunity to serve our Arkansas Governor in this way.

In my love of fixing things, I sometimes encounter difficulties obtaining parts. For instance, this last week the igniter on our Kenmore oven went out and I knew immediately why the oven wouldn't warm up. So I went online, and ordered what the Sears Parts website insisted was the right part. It arrived and I opened the oven panels to begin removal and replacement of the part. But what I discovered was that the parts new and old bore no resemblance to each other.

I immediately called Sears Parts and after navigating through their menu options and being on hold for the usual distressing period of time, I talked to Debra. She was kind and courteous, but insisted that they had sent me the right part. I was kind and insisted that the parts bore no resemblance to each other, and that there was no apparent way that the new igniter would fit. Finally, Debra transferred me to a manager, who after another extended period on hold, informed me that yes, they had shipped the correct igniter. I asked if it was a substitute part, and she said no, but that she would check with GE, the maker of the range. After checking with GE she said, yes it was a substitute part, but that GE assured her it was the right one and would fit without adaptation.

So based on such strong assurances, I took the old igniter off and with some difficulty, attached the new igniter and "fired her up." When I turned on the oven, and waited for the oven to start, I was greeted with the sound of a small explosion and the smell of gas. Lovely, I thought. No baked potatoes tonight!

The next morning I called Sears Parts and insisted that they had sent me the wrong part, which they denied. Finally the woman asked whether my range required a male or female connector. I told her that my range required neither, that the part was directly wired using wirenuts. She couldn't understand that and insisted it had to have either a male or female connector and that the problem must be that they had sent the wrong one. She suggested another part, gave me the part number so that I could look at it on google, and I found that it was shaped and configured just as the one that made my stove almost blow up. In frustration, I asked for a service repair call.

Three days later, the service tech arrived, and we were his last stop on a very long day of service calls. It took him only a few moments to notice that the igniter was obviously the wrong one for the stove. He checked and learned from his computer that they had sent and I had installed "the right one" as specified by Sears Parts and by his service manual, but that there was no way in the world that the "right one" as specified by Sears would work.  He pulled that wrong part out and put in a substitute part shaped exactly like the one I took out and charged me $218.72. If they had sent me the right part in the first place I would have successfully installed it.  I would have spent less than $60, not spent hours on the phone, and would have had the oven working 4 days earlier.

The next day I called Sears Parts to arrange the return of the wrong igniter, and made note to them that by selling the wrong one and insisting it was right, and encouraging me to install it despite my concerns, they had endangered my home. They agreed to refund the charges on the wrong igniter and sent me upstream with an email address where I might file a complaint.

Sears Holdings Solutions is a part of Sears where they try to address customer complaints by throwing small amounts of settlement money at them in order to avoid small lawsuits and calls to the attorney general's office, but not to avoid problems that would put customers or their homes at risk.

I told Jeff K. at Sears Holdings Solutions about the troubles, and he offered a $65 partial refund of the $218.72 repair charges, but told me that if I had safety concerns, I should call back on their 800 number. Can you believe how callous that was? ...that someone in Sears Customer Service would care so little about the safety of their customers that they would place the burden of safety on me, expecting me to spend another half hour or more on the phone to fix what was already well documented in my case and concerned a duty that they had to assure customer service and safety? I found their lack of concern astounding.

Well so much for my sad story. The lesson is one we learn over and over again. Don't think that just because someone spends time sitting at a computer all day, that they have any grasp of reality. If you are living and working in the real world, expect occasional stupidity from those who are not.

Yesterday, the photographer for the Historic Arkansas Museum's Living Treasures Exhibit came and set up a shot of me at my work bench, surrounded by tools and boxes. Part of the display was of an arrangement of Froebel blocks from Gift 5B. This is the set that offers the ability to construct Romanesque architectural forms.

Make, fix (safely) and create...