Thursday, March 22, 2018

craftsmanship at home.

Yesterday on the way to ESSA I followed the truck shown in the photo carrying large logs being exported from Arkansas. Based on the frequency with which I see these trucks passing through Eureka Springs, there must be nearly a dozen trucks a day headed to Gateway, Arkansas where they are processed, sorted, milled, with some being sent to China for making the finer things we once made for ourselves.

On the one hand, for a poor state like Arkansas, it's good to see commerce. On the other, it's sad to see such large, beautiful logs cut from the hillsides of Arkansas, without furthering the development of the skills of our own folks. The color suggests that the logs are cherry. The largest one, occupying much of the front portion of the truck, was about three feet in diameter. That was a valuable load of wood which would have been of greater value developing craftsmanship at home.

On a much smaller scale, I've been making walnut boxes and a postcard to be sold at the Incredible Edible Art Show at ESSA on Sunday, March 25.  The event will take place in the wood and metals studio, from 3-6 PM. It also celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

To put things into perspective, the single load of wood would be enough to keep a single craftsman busy his whole life learning to craft beautiful, useful and lasting things. It will most likely be mulched into a stream of products, quickly made and quickly abandoned, without providing for the growth of American craftsmanship. When a craftsman is at work (I include women equally in this, as they are often better craftsmen than men), the individual's skills and integrity are developed and upon those features of human dignity communities form. These days, folks are scattered both in mind and heart. The hands and the skills and character derived from them have the potential of bringing things back.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

not shy about taxes...

It may feel as though you're working real hard. If you are part of the vast majority of Americans you may be working very hard to make ends meet.

Conservatives say "It's your money, and you should decide how you spend it." That's a  simplistic line that resonates at the polling place.

In the wood shop, I use tools others have invented, techniques that I have learned from others, and materials that come as a gift from nature. When someone buys my work,  or commissions a new work, they set me in motion making more, and so we can take the wood shop as a microcosm of the larger word. All things are connected with all other things.

If you assume that the government is a hungry monster of evil intent, and a reflection of all the evil people who surround you that want to take your stuff, you might get angry about taxes and any effort to raise them. So these days, folks being as angry as they are, no one ever proposes a tax increase. quite the opposite is true. The accepted mantra is cut, cut, cut, and along with cut, cut, cut comes steep and relentless cuts in the services we provide for each other.

I propose a tax increase, and my proposal is based on a broader view of humanity. I watch closely, and what I've observed is that people spend a lot of time caring for and about each other. We gather together to do all kinds of things whether we get paid for it or not. My base assumption is that people are good, want to do good things (like caring for their kids) and that they sometimes need help.

If you get to know anyone in government, you would learn that almost without exception, they are caring folks just like you. Government is the tool through which caring people work to improve the lives of each other in ways that we would be incapable alone. We are each personally enriched when we assure that the needs of our fellow Americans and community members are met.

Our governments, local, state, and federal are empowered to do good and to fulfill our goals for a safe, sane and caring society only when adequate tax revenue is provided. We are talking specifically about schools, libraries, roads, health, safety, and national security, none of which would be available to us without adequate taxation. I oppose tax reductions for those who can most easily afford to pay for the security and health of our nation, those who have in turn received the largest share of benefits from the society and economy built through the enormous efforts of earlier generations and by those working right now.

Yesterday I made a wooden post card to be sold at ESSA's Incredible Edible Art Show. Various artists have been invited to make post cards to sell. My own (once again) is made of wood. I've yet to affix the stamp. This is my 3rd day of Spring Break. Yesterday we met with folks from A+ Schools to begin planning their fall Fellow's Retreat in which those who train teachers to utilize the arts in their classrooms. In the Fall Fellow's Retreat I will have the opportunity to teach Fellows to teach teachers to use woodworking in A+ schools.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

At work in my home shop

Yesterday was the first day of spring break so I began taking photographs of materials preparations for teaching wood working to kids. The process involved ripping spruce 2 x 4's into material for box making. Spruce is particularly good for woodworking with kids, as it saws easy, and nails without splitting unless you get too close to the end or an edge. It is also available at most lumber yards. It sands easy, and being light colored, it can be decorated with markers or paint.

I also worked on walnut boxes as you can see in the photo. One of these will be used as a gift at the University of Arkansas and the others will be sold.

What is it about the hands that people don't understand? In addition to making us smart and standing in when other senses fail, they have a direct effect on our feelings of well-being. Kelly Lambert had called that effect "Effort Driven Rewards," and her research shows that when rats have to work for what they get they are happier with less stress than when life is made easy for them.  That explains a few things about us. When we are actively creating something by hand, we feel better. And so, since hand-work is a means toward mental health, that's reason enough for all children to do hands-on creative activities in school. If not woodworking, they should at the very least learn to cook and care for each other.

When Jacquie Froelich from our local public radio station asked what I hoped might be the outcome of our cane making project, I told her that I hope one of our students would see some elderly person at our local grocery store relying upon one of the canes they had made. That would be full circle.

In the few days since we delivered the canes, three have been given away by the doctors to people in need. At that rate, the supply will be exhausted in as little as 9 weeks.  That may give us an excuse to make more, or to make this exercise and annual event.

Today I meet with folks from A+ Schools to begin planning for a possible fall fellow's retreat.

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

How the hands shape the brain...

A video shown on CBS Sunday Morning features two correspondents of mine, Kelly Lambert and Matthew Crawford. I have written about both before in the blog.  Matthew Crawford has in turn written about my writing, first quoting me at the beginning of chapter one of his first book, and then devoting the last chapter of his last book to explore the meaning of the same quote which follows:
In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
The video illustrates how the use of the hands actually alters brain chemistry, leading us to live happier and more productive lives. My earlier review of Matthew Crawford's book that I wrote for Northern Woodlands, can be found here:

Yesterday I rearranged wood drying at ESSA for my class on building a Viking Chest. It had gone from sopping wet, to 15% though having it stickered on the floor and with an oscillating fan moving air through the pile of wood for the last two weeks. It should go from 15% to 7% by June 15, being stickered in the wood rack as shown.

I also worked on a long overdue cleaning of my home wood shop and began preparing for photos for a new workbook, helping teachers (and parents)  teach wood working to kids.

Make, fix, and create...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

a fresher view.

Today in the wood shop, I plan to clean first and then cut lumber as I would in preparing stock for school classes. I'll have my camera set up to record the process of preparing to teach kids.

Last week was exciting. We launched the boats and delivered canes for the injured and infirm. This week, while the students are off for Spring Break, I launch the the building of a new book about woodworking with kids. On Tuesday I give the leaders from A+ Schools a tour of the ESSA campus in the hopes that we can work with them on their fall fellow's retreat.

There seem to be two basic ways to look at human beings. Some will adopt the position that human beings are bad folks, or that among among us are very bad folks, and then build walls on that basis to keep us apart. Another view is that folks are basically good, that we are generally safe in each other's company, and that we become safe and safer by caring for each other. I seem to fit best to the latter category. Life in a small town has led me to that position.

Here in Eureka Springs, we express care for each other through a variety of non-profit organizations, and if someone was to doubt the goodness of the human being or of being human, he or she would need to look no further than the efforts of so many volunteers and become convinced. People, even those who think poorly of human kind, feel inclined to give something of themselves voluntarily to others, even when they are gathering together to demand that we build huge towering walls between us. Even they offer evidence that I'm right.

Yesterday I went on a tour at the redesigned galleries at Crystal Bridges Museum. The curator had in mind that the museum could tell more than the standard view of American History. Diversity is the word we heard. That word insists that the paintings of the great masters of American art, be displayed in proximity to the works of others, equally masterful and as powerful in their skilled intent.

Now, alongside a famous painting by an American master, you may also find a relic from our indigenous past. You will find delicately beaded children's moccasins, and other lovely things. The beaded moccasins in particular tell the story of the great love that American Indian mothers felt for their children. Is that so different from what any other mother might feel? They also illustrate the tremendous pride they had in their work. Is that any different from what a white mother might feel?

Also, instead of only paintings and sculpture, some furniture is there, reminding us that great art is not only flat work or sculptural forms.  It does not comes only from one race or one class or one gender and can be made to serve as a part of daily life. There are those who insist on building walls between us, by assigning greater value to one gender, or one race than another.  Crystal Bridges seems to have launched itself in the direction of presenting a fresher view.

Play (in school and out) is the means through which we learn about who we are in relation to each other. The objects our students make through play are a part of this process, as you can see in the photo.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others learn lifewise.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

sevice and community

One purpose of "formal" education is that of assisting the child in forming a sense of self within the larger communities we live within. First family, then community, then state, nation, and world. Within those communities are overlapping communities. We have the world of man, but also the natural world of plants, animals, physics and stars.

If you make an attempt to extract a person from within the matrix of communities in which we live what you would find would be protoplasm incapable of long term self-support. No man is an island unto himself. We are interconnected with all things whether we take all things consciously into consideration or not.

On Thursday, in addition to launching our boats, we delivered canes to our local medical center, where they were graciously received by Dr. Kresse. The event was covered by Jacqueline Froelich, reporter for NPR. Over a month ago Jacquie had interviewed our students in our workshop as they were crafting the canes. During the interview it occurred to me that at some point one of our students may be at the grocery store and see one of the canes they've made in use by someone either elderly or disabled. It is an important thing to know that you are an essential part of something larger than yourself,  that who you are matters to others and that there are inward rewards for being of service.

The following is from Froebel and Education through Self-Activity by H. Courthope Bowen describing a conversation between Adolph Diesterweg and Friedrich Froebel:
The night was clear, bright, and starry, as they drove home from Inselsberg to Liebenstein, and the beauty of the heavens had set them talking. "No one of the heavenly bodies is isolated; every planet has its centre in the sun of its system. All the solar systems are in relation and continual interaction with one another. This is the condition of all life — everywhere mutual relation of parts. As there above, in great things, unbroken connection and harmony rule, so also here below, even in the smallest thing; everywhere there are the same order and harmony, because the same law rules everywhere, the one law of God, which expresses itself in thousand-fold many-sidedness, but in the last analysis is one, for God is himself the law." "That is what people call pantheism," remarked Diesterweg. "And very unjustly," rejoined Froebel; "I do not say, like the pantheists, that the world is God's body, that God dwells in it, as in a house, but that the spirit of God dwells and lives in nature, produces, fosters, and unfolds everything, as the common life principle. As the spirit of the artist is found again in his masterpieces, so must we find God's spirit (Geist) in his works."
Have you not yourself, walked with friends along a pathway in a starry night and wondered at the billions of stars and the interrelationship between all things? You need not be religious to do so.

These days the concept of God no longer plays much role in secular educational thought. In fact, Adolph Diesterweg was an early advocate of the separation between schooling and religion. So the conversation between Froebel and Diesterweg is relevant even today. The idea that learning must lead beyond ourselves into feelings of connectedness with human culture and with the world of nature and of all else should be a simple matter of material concern in education. It is not necessary that schooling be tied to and utilized as a means of indoctrination in particular religious faiths in order to lead students to a sense of their own connectedness.

The child must learn to get along with others. The child must learn to be respectful of human rights and be led to shoulder the burdens of adult responsibilities. The child must learn to see self in others and discover his or her place in the wholeness of all life. The child must learn to care for the planet on which we all live. And so whether or not a school is secular or non-secular, the responsibilities are the same, and even without reliance on the concept "God," children can discover both morality and what Froebel identified as "connectedness."

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Launch of the Bevins Skiffs...

Yesterday we delivered canes to the Eureka Family Medical Center and launched our Bevins Skiffs. The kids took turns rowing around the lake, and I, too, got a turn at the oars.

The boats rode nicely in the water on a beautiful, sunny day at Lake Leatherwood. Photographers from both local papers and a reporter from National Public Radio were on hand.

The simple message should be clear. The things that most ail American education can be described as the 5 D's. We've got disinterest, distraction, disappointment, disillusionment and disruption. Some students go though 13 years of schooling without ever being disruptive, but most suffer at least from the first 4.

We can add another D, for depression. It's how we all feel when recess is deprived us. Boat building is a thing that excites kids. It simulates their imaginations. It makes them very proud of what they have accomplished. And they learn many things besides woodworking by building a boat.
If you were watching for any of the five D's of education, you would not have found them in boat building. We did find a very minor leak that quickly closed and that the students are sure they can fix.

The writings of Adolf Diesterweg were the source for Otto Salomon's principles of Educational Sloyd as you will discover in the following passage.
Teach naturally! Organize instruction according to the natural developmental stages of the children. Start teaching from the pupil's point of view and direct his progress steadily, firmly and thoroughly. Do not teach anything for which the pupil is not yet ready and do not teach anything with which he is already familiar. Teach in a lively manner. Proceed from the familiar to the unusual, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the difficult, from the known to the unknown. Do not teach in an academic way (in other words, the lecture-type teaching methods used in higher educational institutions), but simply! Always remember that you are aiming at the abstract (increasing the intellectual capacity) and the material (provision of the curriculum) at the same time.
Diesterweg also advised the educator, "Learn to do by doing." That is good advice for anyone wanting to start woodworking with kids.

I put additional photos on Instagram I want to thank those who came to cheer the boat launch and Dr. Kresse for his warm welcome at the Eureka Family Medical Center as we delivered canes. Former Clear Springs teacher Juanita, came to our launch to oversee water safety. Thank you Juanita!

Make, fix, create and encourage others to learn likewise.