Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Froebel's creativity

carving bow ends
This morning my home school students made swords and learned to whittle sharp sticks, and this afternoon, I'll help students to make bows and arrows.

Friedrich Froebel was the son of a Lutheran minister, so his language may not fit with modern times, particularly for those in secular education. And yet, none would argue that children should not be encouraged to develop toward goodness, responsibility, and creativity, for these are aspects of character that allow for the child to grow toward adulthood in which societal concerns are met. Froebel used the artist as an analogy to describe God's presence in the world as follows:
"As no material part of the human spirit, of the artist, is in the work of art, and yet the work of art bears within it the whole spirit of its artist, so that he lives in it, expresses himself by it; and as the work breathes forth again his spirit even to others, is awakened, developed, improved, and formed by his spirit; as thus the man's spirit is related to the work produced by him, as the man (as a spirit) is related to that which he has produced, so is the spirit of God related to nature, and to all created things. The spirit of God rests, lives, and works in nature, expresses itself by nature, imparts itself through nature, continues to shape itself (to give itself visible form) in and by nature; but nature is not the body of God."
The following (as was the preceding quote) is from H. Courthope Bowen's book, Froebel and Education Through Self-Activity, 1892.
General morality, as we have seen, is held by Froebel to depend largely on having the ideal side of the human being awakened and gratified from the very beginning of life, in order to afford a counterpoise to sensual desires, and to delay or prevent as far as possible the awakening of the lower appetites. The development of the sense of beauty, while the reflective powers are still slumbering in the child's soul, offers the best means for this. Therefore, from the earliest infancy onward, the eyes of the child are to be opened to forms, colors, etc., and its ear to music; and the weak, childish powers are to be prepared and used in the formation and creation of beautiful objects. Here again creativeness is to render the soul susceptible to the ideal. While, moreover, the principles which underlie the formation of beauty will, in this way, be brought home to the worker, and will be another experience in the beneficent results of law and harmony; for beauty is the perfection of a thing after its kind.
In public education today, goodness is too often confused with inactivity. Managing a large classroom of students and getting them to sit quietly is considered the mark of a successful teacher. But the child under such circumstances is "thus reduced to inaction—often mistaken for goodness." Froebel compared children under such circumstances "to the butterfly or beetle, which, from much handling, is feeble, and indeed also footless, and which the little boy pronounces to be 'quite tame now."

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

Monday, October 12, 2015


In my wood shop, I've been making inlay in preparation for making boxes. The following is from an earlier blog post (2009):

Friedrich Adolph Wilhelm Diesterweg was not specifically an advocate for manual training, but was one of the philosophical influences that Cygnaeus drew upon in the formation of the Finnish Folk Schools. Diesterweg was a prolific writer, with his most notable works being on the role of the Volksshcule (folk school) in the promotion of democracy. As with Friedrich Froebel's Kindergartens, the Kaiser shut his schools down, too. Progressive education and an intelligent populace are inconsistent with the aims of militarism and authoritarianism.

In Diesterweg's writings you can find expressed many of the key concepts that were adopted in Educational Sloyd. The following were some of Diesterweg's instructions to teachers:
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.
 You will see in the quote from Diesterweg, Salomon's reliance upon his writings for the Theory of Educational Sloyd. In that specific quote you can find the 5 principles of Educational Sloyd.  Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract.

Diesterweg has been attributed as author for the command, "Learn to do by doing," a phrase that simplified what Comenius had said in the 17th century.
Artisans do not detain their apprentices with theories, but set them to do practical work at an early stage; thus they learn to forge by forging, to carve by carving, to paint by painting, and to dance by dancing. In schools, therefore, let the students learn to write by writing, to talk by talking, to sing by singing, and to reason by reasoning. In this way schools will become workshops humming with work, and students whose efforts prove successful will experience the truth of the proverb; "We give form to ourselves and to our materials at the same time."
Today in wood shop at Clear Spring School, students will continue making bows and arrows. Lower elementary school students will make African masks, and middle school students will begin making cherry cutting boards in the shape of Arkansas.

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

connectedness part two

Making inlay continues
One thing in reading Froebel that comes through clear is his reliance on the concept of God to make clear and palatable his pedagogical thoughts. The following is from Froebel and Education through Self-Activity by H. Courthope Bowen describing a conversation between Adolph Diesterweg and 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 life. 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."

Those learnings are not effectively conveyed to modern kids through idle lecturing on values or by preaching on gospels or other ancient texts. Children learn about their own connectedness through doing real things. Schooling must lead children to discover that they have important roles to play in larger things. The cartoon shown above, illustrates the stark contrast between what education has become and what it might be.

Take a walk on a starry night and see what comes to mind. Then...

Make, fix, create, and discover your own role in helping others to learn likewise.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


As a part of making boxes to fill orders and supply the small galleries that sell my work, I make inlay just as I've taught so many to do through books and classes. I've refined my technique recently by being less diligent in my application of glue. I've stopped spreading it and simply apply it with a squeeze bottle and push the parts together in a line. It has cut my assembly time in half. And so, by doing things again and again, and looking at what we do with fresh eyes, the wheels of progress turn. The two photos here show steps in the process, starting with rough wood, and blending species into patterns.

These days, connectedness might be mistakenly thought to describe the young woman or man with eyes glued to the small screen of a cellular device while the natural world around them swirls unseen. Please believe me when I tell you that's not at all what Froebel had in mind. To have all the information in the world at your fingertips and to do nothing meaningful with it, is a waste.

I know that I write too much for most readers but things come up that may bear repetition. The OECD tested students in various nations to determine the value of digital technology on their students' learning. So far, the rush to digital learning has not born fruit. Their conclusion? Computers "do not improve' pupil results.

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

Friday, October 09, 2015

Each year at this time...

It is a rainy morning in Arkansas, with fall weather having brought an end to late summer drought.

Each year at this time, I get an order from Appalachian Spring Galleries in Washington, DC and have to turn my attention to making boxes for sale. So yesterday I cut rough walnut and basswood into appropriate widths, and resawed them into thinner stock for box ends, bottoms and sides. It is a soothing process, as I've done it so many times before. After the parts are cut to length I'll put my new 4 position router table through its paces. It is a router table with 4 routers in it, each set up to do a step in the making of these boxes. The idea is that having the tools set up and dedicated to certain steps will allow me to quickly make boxes in the various sizes required.

I woke up in the night thinking about Freidrich Frobel and the need I have to clarify his thoughts so they can be easily conveyed for a fresh generation. He had 4 main themes.

One was connectedness. He believed that knowledge was diminished when it was compartmentalized and isolated from the broader scheme of things, and that one particular duty of education was to bring the child tightly into the fold of civilization and to exercise responsibility in the natural world.

A second point could be called continuity. The child's flow of learning should be continuous from one age to another, and in order to do that, he arranged the gifts in an order natural to the child's growing mind, and intellectual capacity. Followers of Froebel envisioned manual arts in school as the means to extend Kindergarten style learning beyond the Kindergarten age.

A third point is creativeness. Not only was the child to learn by example and instruction, Froebel recognized that learning was best measured and expanded in the child's life and for the sake of human culture by what the child did in response to learning. Education in which the child passively received instruction or laerned merely from books and was not afforded the opportunity to test what was learned was considered "one-sided" and incomplete.

Froebel's fourth  and overarching point was the doctrine of self-activity. That is truly where the hands come into play. For activity is the direct opposite of the passivity enforced by most schooling.

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

Thursday, October 08, 2015

masks and arrows...

The lower elementary school at Clear Spring School is studying Africa, and the students suggested making African masks from wood in woodshop. They were making paper masks, but upon hearing that the originals were wood, making them in woodshop seemed natural. So I prepared the stock and made a sample mask, but only one student began work on one.  The others were more insistent on practicing whittling in preparation for their overnight camping trip that begins today. My upper school students worked on their arrows and began shaping bows.

The masks are quite simple to make using a coopering technique and hand planes. I ripped pieces 1/4 in. thick  from the side of a 2 x 4 and then cut staves in a uniform length. We beveled the edges with planes until they (when assembled) created a  curved form.  We used masking tape to hold the parts together during a design process in which the student drew a shape on the wood. After designing the overall shape and cutting it with a scrollsaw, we taped the joints with masking tape on one side and then spread glue between the parts on the other. With a well planed joint, glue and masking tape are enough to hold the mask together while the glue sets. When the glue has fully set, the mask will be strong enough for sanding, further shaping, paint, and to serve as evidence of learning.

One of the masks below was one my student designed and made. The others are ones I made for demonstration and fun. Can you guess which is which? Now some of my high school students want to make masks in addition to arrows.

The process of creating useful and/or beautiful works using hand tools and wood is addictive.

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

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

bows and bowls...

Yesterday my home school students began carving bowls. One had finished the toy robot he was making and said, "I want to make a bowl." I thought we were toy making, but he had something more practical in mind, and I had the right tools at hand. The next thing I knew, all the boys in the class wanted mallets and chisels to carve bowls. They know very little about what they are doing, but as long as the wood is safely held in the vise, it is a relatively safe operation, and one that will lead to observation and investigation.

Two of my 7th and 8th grade class began making bows while the others finished their arrows. Their work is not as lovely as arrows made by experienced fletchers. Skill is not a thing that arrives without practice.

Today in various classes, students will begin making African masks and and continue work on bows and arrows.

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