Sunday, December 31, 2006

grandiloquence n. -"a pompous or lofty manner of speaking or writing."

Many students in schools and universities have effective radar for sorting academic bull s--- from knowledge that comes from direct experience. They know when a teacher is speaking from experience, or merely attempting to express ideas learned 2nd hand from a book. You may have feelings of your own about this. Would you rather listen to someone who has experience in the subject matter, or one who simply recites information he or she has gathered from books? Is there a difference? Do you think it might be a difference noticed by children in a classroom? In my observation, one leads to interest, the other to boredom and disinterest.

I have noticed that in my own efforts to communicate, the areas that range furthest from my direct experience are the most difficult to explain in simple and direct language. When I need to resort to the use of educational jargon to explain a concept, I know that I am beginning to wander beyond the boundaries of personal experience and risk losing the interest of those with whom I would like to share my ideas.

It is tragic that so much of education is the presentation of ideas 2nd hand, third hand, or even totally removed from experience. If students are bored in today's classrooms, it may have a lot to do with our basic ideas about the role of teachers in our schools. Shouldn't they be the ones able to share knowledge earned and made credible through experience?

The photo above is from my new book,Basic Box Making. It is made with a leather hinge based on a children's toy called a "jacob's ladder." The rabbett joint corners are locked with dowels. A DVD of the same title as shown in the image at left will also be available. It ilustrates a wide range of basic box making techniques based on my 30 years of box making experience. Both are scheduled for a January 30, 2007 release date. Happy New Year! This is my last post of 2006! May the coming year bring great things to you.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On the challenge ahead... Many of the people reading this blog (I know there are at least a few) would already have some sense of the role the hands play in learning. The world at large, however, even the world of educators, is nearly oblivious. I was reminded of the challenge at hand when Laura Waters, the Rogers Arkansas art teacher gave me some feedback recently on her newly created woodworking program. There were some complaints from other teachers about the noise of children hammering, and the sawdust generated by their work. There may be some legitimacy to the complaints and some effort may be required to fix things, but there are also those who will complain about anything new, anything different, and anything that disrupts their comfort or threatens their deeply engrained views of education. There is also the "not invented by me" complex that can lead to nay-saying and resistance.

It is extremely difficult to make changes in established institutions, whether we are talking about government, large corporations, school districts or schools.

In order to get hands-on education re-established in our nation's schools, it is extremely important to know clearly the challenge we face, and recognize the long-term and steady engagement that will be required.

Today, I want to talk about strategy. In some schools now, there is a renewal of interest in vocational education, preparing students for jobs that don't require college. This is a wonderful trend. College is not the best choice for all students, and there are many non-college employment opportunities that can lead to a wonderful life, successful careers and responsible citizenship. But is the renewal of vocational programs enough?

In 1903, Otto Salomon, director of the Sloyd teacher seminarium in Nääs stated the following: "I see a system as a casting mould---necessary during the process of casting but that ought to be thrown away and dismantled when the work–of-art has been cast. I believe that the so-called Nääs-system” has had its day; it is in the past, not in the present, still less in the future. While most of the principles have become so universal that they are stated to be self-evident, even by persons who certainly would not like to promote anything that comes out of Nääs, and there is no further need for a Nääs-system in the domain of manual training."

In retrospect, Salomon was mistaken. While manual training had made major inroads into education, the principles of Sloyd had not. The continuous failure to recognize the significant role of the hands in learning is tragic for all children whether preparing for vocational school, college, or just life.

Many see the restoration of vocational training in high schools to be enough, but the real challenge is to foster a new understanding of the role of the hands and their power through the application of the arts to shape scientific understanding and awareness.

So strategy...How do we do it? How do we restore the role of the hands in learning and education? One objective is for those of us who work with our hands to watch and take notice of their engagement in consciousness. With what we have learned, we must then take the time to create learning opportunities for others. Don't expect the schools to do it for you. They won't yet. If you are a parent or grandparent, cook with your children. Make things. Start a garden. Do real things that will engage your children's hearts and minds through the movement of their hands.

While we are working at the most personal levels, there are those who are working to bring a renewed scientific understanding of the role of the hands in learning. The evidence is beginning to mount. Don't be shy about adding your own voice to the choir.

Barbara Stafford from the University of Chicago just sent me information about her new book Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images She tells me that my work with learning through the hands is mentioned in it, so, of course I'm curious what she says. The blurb on the book is as follows: "Echo Objects: the Cognitive Work of Images is a spectacular effort of thinking outside discipline boundaries, a sort of interdenominational bible of arts and neuroscience." With allies in academia like Barbara Stafford, those of us who find meaning in our hands, in the making of objects, can be assured of the value and relevance of our own observations and move ahead confidently with the education of those around us.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

One of my earliest distinct memories of my father is "helping" in small carpentry jobs around the house. I'm not sure I was much help, but even at my age of 58, it is something I can see in my mind and feel in my heart as if I were still 5. I remember his instructions on how to hold a hammer and how to hold a nail so as to keep from hammering my thumbs.

I am sorry that for many young men and women this sort of thing is becoming a thing of the past. Instead, many fathers feel they are spending quality time with their children by sharing in the latest shooter video/computer games, blowing up aliens or people, and providing approval for the child's lowest instincts and worst virtual behavior.

John Grossbohlin sent pictures of his sons Jesse and Joshua helping to scribe sleepers while building an addition to their home. While most children aren't entrusted with real work and never understand their full potential as valuable contributors to the welfare and success of the family, John and his sons are clearly operating on a more powerful wavelength. Just as I remember and treasure the time spent learning in the company of my father, I know that Jesse and Joshua will hold these times dear.

Lots of great things happen when the hands and brain work together. We get smarter and think more clearly when the hands are there to help. Greatest by far is when the heart is engaged. The guidance of a loving father in making things from wood is a treasure. To have children to share your interest in woodworking is a treasure, too. Thank you for the photos, John.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Woodworking with Kids...Over the past couple years, I've had conversations with the editors of Fine Woodworking about the need to promote woodworking with kids. One of the ideas was to have a "pull-out-insert" each issue sponsored by tool companies, not as advertising, but as a public service. When I first made this proposal, I was told that there might be some tentative interest from a power tool company, but that they wanted it to be for high school age and using power tools. I told them no, that missed the point. It is an uphill battle when even the big tool companies don't have a clue. At the latest conversation, the editors were unable to put a staff person on the project. I still have hopes that something might happen, but it appears a long shot.
At some point, I have hopes that publishers, tool dealers and manufacturers will begin to see the big picture. If we don't put tools and projects in the hands of children and begin working together to do it, there will be a consistent decline in the market for their products, and worse, we will be reduced to a nation of helpless, mindless consumers, and even worse, our children will not know the potential joy in their own making.

On the bright side, across America over the holidays, there are a few parents who have taken time to share their woodshops and expertise with their children. The photos above and below are of John Grossbohlin's sons, Jesse and Joshua, ages 8 and 11, making picture frames for their grandmother using hand tools.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A matter concerning "interest" that should be discussed with regard to teaching is something apart from the "Life Interests list" (see below) formulated by Harvard Psychologists Timothy Butler and James Waldroop. These are the subject interests that tend to be far more specific to the individual teacher.

It is often assumed that if you are trained as a teacher, and are provided the textbook, that you can teach anything, regardless of your level of interest or lack of interest in the subject. I can understand the practical reasons why many education departments and school administrations would insist this is true, but from a common sense view into human psychology, and with an eye toward the passion for learning that we would wish to awaken in our children, to treat teachers as interchangeable in their application to subject matter kills passion in learning. You may in your education have come across teachers so enamored with their area of study that you were swept up into a zone in which your own enthusiasm for learning was awakened. If so, you were very lucky. For most students and teachers in the United States, school goes through the motions with students and teachers bored, hearts disengaged and eyes of all trained on the clock watching for the moment for dismissal. When the heart is engaged, time passes unnoticed and students emerge, not from sleep at the bell but from the depth of their engagement.

Ron Miller, author of several books about "holistic education" says in an article in this month's Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice, "...young people learn about Shakespeare from teachers who are passionate about Shakespeare, and they learn chemistry from teachers who love science. It is not the curriculm that teaches them, it is the living reality of their teachers." As stated by Nel Noddings in The Challenge to Care in American Schools:An Alternative Approach to Education, "caring relations" prepare students for academic receptivity.

In order for teachers to awaken our children to their great potential as learners, we must provide for the awakening of passions in our teachers as well. That requires a change in the structure of schools, allowing flexibility, allowing creativity and experimentation. It requires allowing teachers to move beyond the set curriculum to explore areas of awakened interest and passion. It requires hiring teachers with the expectation that they will give their best, and then establishing a framework of trust that allows them to deliver.
I want to spend a few more minutes talking about teaching. As you can see from the posts below, I had an excellent example in my mother of what a good teacher could do, but for a number of reasons, I never thought I would want to teach. One of those reasons was that I saw clearly from my mother's example how much effort was involved in it. Another reason was that I saw that schools were changing, becoming more regimented and more oppressive. Even when I was in high school, the industrial arts classes were where difficult students were placed in the hopes that the firm and often harsh discipline of the industrial arts teacher could turn students around. It was only when I was presented the opportunity to work in the loving and respectful environment of Clear Spring School that I began to see the possiblility in my life of being a teacher. At the time we started the Wisdom of the Hands program, there were no public schools in Arkansas that had enough imagination to envision the possiblilities and even now, due to certification requirements, I would not be allowed to teach in them.

Before I drift too far from the subject of "life interests" as presented by Harvard Psychologists Timothy Butler and James Waldroop in the list below, I want to spend just a few moments on the narrowing of the life interest fulfillment possibilities available to teachers in public school. The No Child Left Behind Act placed all public schools under mandate to do one thing, improve test scores. It didn't offer any increased funding to make changes in curriculum or teacher salaries, or to hire better teachers or improve their training. If you scroll down to the article below which lists the life interests, you will see that improving test scores fits only one area of possible life interest fitting the needs of very few teachers, that of "Quantitative Analysis." I would like to point out that that area, "quantitative analysis" is the area that best fits the teachers least like my mother. That is one of the reasons that our nation's schools are in serious trouble.
A friend sent the image at left with a question about what relationship this kind of activity has to actual Sloyd. Since my response may help to clarify what Sloyd is, I am posting my reply here.

There are wonderful things about parents assembling toys with their children, but that activity isn't Sloyd. One of the great things is that if they were playing video games instead, they would be encouraging an excitement about death and violence and laying the blessings of the father (or mother) on the destructive acts and attitudes of the child. Things can always be measured by what else might have been done instead. The wholesomeness of parents and children sharing something positive in the use of tools (even if the only tool is a screwdriver) makes a project like the one above a far better choice.

In Sloyd, there was very clear educational purpose, and projects were completed start to finish from lumber to finished object. I see all kinds of nail together projects for kids that have value for the same reasons as the project above, but they don't have the depth of educational value found in Sloyd. Most kits are designed to guarantee the success of the child in the completion of the object...not present challenges that require problem solving, learning methods, making mistakes and starting over.

Making mistakes, learning from them, adapting, starting over, fixing, getting better, holding a plane to learn how it shaves wood, the proper stance and body movement, gaining a sense of gravity, establishing the right hand position to make your edges square. In a Sloyd project, there are many things that can go wrong, producing what is right in the child: an attitude that requires effort, adjustment, cultivation and application of attention, both to the working surface of the material and to the movements of his or her own hands and body as the work progresses. Sloyd was designed to have educational value, and as Otto Salomon said, "the value of the child's work is not in the object, but in the child who made it." Coming up with a finished, successful project is nice, but far more educational are the failures that come first.

I've done birdhouse projects with my students a few times. In order for the birdhouse to be successfully assembled, there have to be parts cut to fit, but there are design areas and spaces that can be left to the child's inventive nature and personal exploration, so we leave those areas for the child to explore. We use folded paper and scissors as a design tool to create symmetrical patterns for sawing, but leave the discussion open so the kids know that asymmetrical is a valid design option.

Projects that are guaranteed in outcomes aren't Sloyd. The project shown above is a good consumer product that will prepare a child for future success in assembling his or her first barbeque grill, and that can be a good thing. Sloyd is much more.

I hope to return to the subject of teaching later in the day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The article at left is from the Omaha World Herald, Saturday, January 22, 1972, and shows my mother's Kindergarten class at Wakonda Elementary on a day in which they were studying the letter "D". You can click on it to make it a larger size, but even without reading, you can see the excitement that my mother's ideas and planning brought to the classroom. Even today, as she travels around Omaha, she is hugged by huge grown up men asking if she remembers them. She always does.
I wanted to talk about Kindergarten because for most of us, Kindergarten is where our formal education began. I also have a special interest in Kindergarten because my mother is a retired Kindergarten teacher from the Omaha Public Schools, and it was observing her that gave me my first understanding of what teachers were and what they did. In my first childish and naive view of teaching, I thought that what my mother did was go to school each day and play with children. It was only later as I matured that I began to see all the planning time that went into her work and all the accounting time that went into documenting her classroom activities and the performance of her children. It was obvious to me which areas were of greatest interest to her and which were not.

My mother is very creative and loved the engagement with the children. She came home each day with stories reflecting on the various forms of mischief and humor brought into the classroom by her students, and even today at the age of 85, she is often asked to speak to groups of teachers about her experiences. My mother was always inventing new ways to reach her children, inspire their learning and hold their interest. She made puppets, played the piano, wrote songs for the children to sing during various activities, invented teaching methods and became known as one of Omaha's most talented teachers. She took particular interest in school conferences and the opportunities they offered to help young parents take greater interest and participation in their children's education.

You can see that her teaching met 3 distinct areas of interest from the list below: Creative Production, Counseling and Mentoring, and Influence Through Language and Ideas. The most challenging area, in which my mother felt little interest was in Quantitative Analysis. When it was time to develop the cumulative folders at the end of each semester, documenting her student's activities for their permanent records, we knew as she came home late and exhausted that it was not as fun or fulfilling as being with kids.

It is interesting that depending on your view, a teacher may be the best in the world or the worst. From the standpoint of the child, to have a teacher who is creative, imaginative and engaging would be the best in the world. But from the standpoint of a school administrator, the best might be chosen based on the timely fulfillment of administrative requirements. Creative and experimental teaching in which there are no guaranteed outcomes might be regarded as a serious threat to the order some might desire in the school. You can easily see that teaching can involve a set of activities, some fun, some not, and in balance, for a teacher to make a career, there needs to be fulfillment of personal interest. In my mother's case, she found a supportive administration that appreciated and encouraged her creativity and made the less pleasant challenges of teaching manageable.

Now, I would like to tell of the very brief teaching career of my friend Zeek. He graduated from the Memphis Art Academy and got a job as an art teacher in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The first day of teaching, as Zeek was waiting for the students to arrive, the principle stepped into his classroom to state Zeek's charge for the year. "I want your students to be quiet at all times." Nothing more was said. It is easy to see why Zeek is now a very successful painter who refuses to teach. This is a short story, but very long on implications and sadly instructive of the field of education.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Harvard Psychologists Timothy Butler and James Waldroop published an article in the Harvard Business Review, Feb. 2000 called Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People. The article points out eight areas of life interest and suggests that one to three will emerge for each indiviidual as closely related to the issue of job satisfaction. I think it is of interest to look at these as they reflect on why many American teachers don't last more than three years in their chosen professions. We may also learn something about American education in this brief study.

Eight Areas of Life Interest
Application of Technology: These people love the inner workings of things.
Quantitative Analysis: These people gravitate toward the numbers and use them creatively to analyze data. They excel at analyzing ratios, customer research data, etc.
Theory Development and Conceptual Thinking: These people love nothing better than relating concepts to pursue higher levels of understanding.
Creative Production: These imaginative, out-of-the-box thinkers love to start things when there are lots of unknowns and they can make something out of nothing. They thrive on newness, whether its a product or a process.
Counseling and Mentoring: For some, nothing is more enjoyable than teaching. Whether they do it because they enjoy watching others succeed, or because they want to be appreciated, they see social value in their cause.
Managing People and Relationships: Wanting to manage people is different than wanting to counsel and mentor. The focus here is on outcomes, and these people enjoy working day-to-day with others. They like to motivate, organize and direct.
Enterprise Control: These are the go-to people who love being responsible for the direction of a team or project. They specifically like being in charge, although they may not like managing people. Their main thrill is in "owning" the transaction (i.e. being accountable).
Influence Through Language and Ideas: These people enjoy storytelling, negotiating and persuading just for the sake of it. They are most fulfilled when they are communicating (speaking or writing). Even if no one is listening, they are practicing their skills through self-talk.

Today, I am busy in the woodshop, but I would like you to reflect on these as they apply to your own life, work and interests. No doubt you will find that some apply to you and your aspirations for fulfillment. As you read through the list, you will find that some apply to teaching. You will also see that some do not. You will see that some may lead to progressive, child centered education. You may also notice that some will not.

Tomorrow I hope to talk about Kindergarten.
There is a tendency to disparage our teachers. One particular statement I've heard repeated too many times is that "those who can-do, and those who can't-teach." The idea that teachers are those who are incapable of doing other kinds of work, is of course, nonsense. In fact, there is a high turnover in the teaching profession because it is extremely difficult, and often unrewarding due to our society's failure to give it the respect it deserves. Many professionally trained teachers last as few as three years or less before they realize that their best futures lie in doing work outside their chosen professions. They disprove the statement above by changing careers to do something that provides a better salary and greater self-esteem.

For the next few days, as I take my Christmas break from Clear Spring School, I will be back to my old self for awhile, living the life of a self-employed woodworker. I have a commission to make some cherry cabinets and the holidays will give me a good start. I also hope to keep blogging, but not about what the kids do in Clear Spring School. I want to address the subject of teaching. How do we make teaching more fulfilling? How do we restore teaching as an honorable profession that offers both self-esteem for the teacher and life-long inspiration for his or her students? I have a few ideas. I know that in reality, there are very few reading this blog, but this is a great way for me to get my thoughts together, and there have been a few great responses.

One of the early connections I made through the blog was will Bill Crain, editor of Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. As a result of being contacted by Bill, an article I wrote on the Wisdom of the Hands is in the Winter 2006 issue. If you are not familiar with Encounter, I would suggest a subscription. Every article in this month's issue points clearly the direction we need to go to restore education in America.

Bear with me for the next few days. There won't be very many great photos, but I hope to share what I feel are a few great ideas, some of which are my own.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I mentioned that we are making Parthenon models in the study of world history. Hae Ji, one of our exchange students from Korea completed this model. The roof sections were cut with hand saws, then planed by hand to make them uniform. The columns were planed from square stock to octagonal, then sanded. The finished model conveys the importance of math and architectural design in the development of our civilization.
One of the things that happened early in the industrial revolution was that assembly lines put workers out of touch with the finished product, and left them experiencing only a very small portion of the creative process. In contrast, one of the things that drives many craftsmen like myself is the sense that what we create is from start to finish, the result of our own efforts. As mentioned a couple days ago, this has been described by psychologists as "self-efficacy" or "effectancy."

When we view modern society in terms of what is commonly allowed to us...roles taking place only in narrow arenas, where we have little grasp of the outcomes of our ventures and little sense of how each moment, each day, each week fits into a greater scheme of society and larger purpose of life, we can easily understand how we have become so dependent on mood altering drugs. Whether we are talking about illegal drugs, alcohol or legally prescribed medications for anxiety and depression, we can see the loss of "self-efficacy" or "effectancy," as a primary cause.

Educational Sloyd prescribed that each child's work be his or her own, from start to finish, providing a full understanding of the creative process, with a minimum of interferance from the teaching staff.

In my own work, direct involvement in every phase of the making of an object, whether a small box, or a large piece of furniture, is essential to me. Each day as a project progresses from rough lumber through all the many, daily or even momentary steps that lead to its completion, there is direct connection to inner sources of well being.

The photo above is of a bench I made that is featured in the December 2006 issue of Fine Woodworking.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Educational Sloyd was intended for general education rather than for simply training the masses to serve the upper class. You can see this in the illustrations used in early Sloyd texts: Gentlemen and well dressed children performing various woodworking tasks. The illustration above is from Otto Salomon's book "The Teacher's Hand-Book of Slöjd" published in 1904.

One of the purposes outlined by Otto Salomon in the "Theory of Educational Sloyd" was to create a sense of respect for all labor and to extend dignity and self-worth to the society at large. In Salomon's view, to work with one's hands was not merely for the lower classes, but a tool for education of all people. He believed Sloyd to have positive effects on the intelligence and character of all students regardless of social class.

It is ironic that now, when I teach woodworking to adults at various woodworking schools and clubs, many of my students are doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals who have come to understand their own needs to learn and create through their hands. They take great pleasure and pride in their work. I would be glad to help you get started.
Over the weekend, I attended what will be the first of a number of holiday parties. I saw an old friend whom I had not seen for at least a year. He is vice-president of a very successful bank. He mentioned the challenge he has in seeing results of his work and mentioned that those of us with the opportunity to make real objects have an advantage of sorts. "I can go out and look at the subdivisions built by the contractors we loan money to," he said, "but there something missing when it's not your own making."

There is a psychological concept proposed by Albert Bandura at Stanford called "Self-Efficacy".

He describes "self-efficacy" as follows: "Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes."

In essence, "self-efficacy" arises through a "feedback loop" with the environment as I have described in earlier posts. While many people are dependent on other people to establish a framework of perceived self-efficacy, a craftsman or artist, while in the creative act, establishes that framework directly in his or her concrete relationship with the materials of choice.

There is difference between in living in the concrete, vs. the abstract. We can know about things in theory, and we can rationalize our lives to create a sense of our own purpose and creative power through internal dialog. We can imagine a brick in our hands, or pick one up and actually know its weight, texture and strength. Feelings and meanings that come second hand through the use of the creative imagination, are once or twice removed from physical reality. It is the difference between abstract involvement in providing money for building a house and the actuality of building it yourself. Both may contribute to the economy but one contributes something special to the soul.

You may feel that on occasion I am a bit harsh in my statements about academics and their detachment from reality. Believe me, I wish them no harm. The real harm is self inflicted. They have allowed themselves to miss the hand to hand, day to day concrete reality of life. I would wish for them to live beyond their imaginings and to know something of the creative capacity of their own hands through woodworking, cooking, gardening, or hands-full, hearts-stretched-to-the-limit service to others.

It is the holiday season. Please give yourself a present on me. Take a chance on making something. You will make more of yourself at the same time. Today I delivered the toy cars and trucks made by our students to the local food bank. The photo above is of our 5&6th grade class with cars that they made.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It would be unprofessional to offer these findings without directing you again to the research on which they are based.

Do Hands-On, Technology-Based Activities Enhance Learning by Reinforcing Cognitive Knowledge and Retention?

by Anthony R. Korwin and Ronald E. Jones

The results of this research have significant implications for general education and specifically technology education. The results suggest that hands-on activities enhance cognitive learning. Previous studies neglected to address psychomotor effects on cognitive growth, even when many educational theorists, like Dewey, supported learning using psychomotor experiences. The results also suggest that technology education has a strong basis in learning theory in its use of hands-on activities to relate technological concepts. This is done in part by improving short and long term memory retention of information through greater use of visual, auditory, tactile, and motor memory storage areas of the brain.
For those of us who work with our hands, this understanding is a "no-brainer." We don't need research to confirm that the engagement of the hands is essential to effective learning. The academic divide in modern society is destructive on both sides of the collar line. Millions and millions of people rest on the laurels of their academic achievements while feeling totally incompetant in their engagement in the physical world. It is a sad thing when you consider the kinds of satisfaction and pleasure some of us receive from making objects of usefulness and beauty.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The following is from research into the efficacy of hands-on learning as compared to lecture only instruction. It seems so incredibly silly to me (having spent 30 years as a self-employed craftsman) that anyone would have such questions. However, in a world in which so many have neglected and misunderstood hands-on learning in favor of dwelling on abstract nonsensical academic projection, I guess some research is in order to restore common sense in education.

Do Hands-On, Technology-Based Activities Enhance Learning by Reinforcing Cognitive Knowledge and Retention?

research by Anthony R. Korwin and Ronald E. Jones 1990

"Bruner (1966, p. 41), a supporter of varied learning experiences, stated that "...increasing the manipulability of a body of knowledge" creates both a physical and mental optimum learning structure. He contended that physical operations create feedback of learning that allows children to see it happen. Lipson and Fischer (1983) sustained this reasoning, stating "Experiences without words are difficult to integrate, describe, and retrieve. Yet, words without experience tend to have limited meaning. The two reinforce each other and are defined by one another" (p.254). Martinez (1985) further explains this in saying that a student who is introduced to a concept such as walnut wood will grasp a different meaning than a student who actually uses walnut and experiences its properties firsthand."

Tomorrow I will share some of the results of their study. The photo above is a near perfect sphere turned on the lathe by one of my students in 2003.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas in Pre-school. One of the things we do in the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School each year is to help the pre-school children in making presents from wood. Last year, we made napkin holders, and this year we've made star table ornaments. We cut the parts from 1/2" plywood using a hole cutter in the drill press. We cut the stars to shape with a scroll saw, and then drilled the undersides for 5 inch long 1/4 inch dowels to fit.

This was a very simple project and very easy for the children to assemble and glue. With 25 students in our pre-school, projects need to be simple enough to be assembled, painted and decorated in a day. The children also painted and decorated matching gift bags. There will be lots of parents in the Clear Spring School community who will recieve hand made wooden gifts for Christmas this year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Today, I don't have much energy to write, but I do want to share some photos. Our project making toy cars for distribution to needy children is showing some results. What you see are finished products and the proud, happy faces of our own Clear Spring School students.

We also started a new project today with the world history class at the Clear Spring High School. We are using hand tools to make block sets that are designed to model the Parthenon in ancient Greece according to the system of proportion called "the Golden Mean." It is a bit of the math that provided the cornerstone for civilization.

Interestingly, in Time Magazine today was an article on education stressing the importance of breaking free of the conventional separation between the various disciplines of study. Specifically, it called for the integration of math, science and the arts. In essence, it described the need for wide spread application of integrated studies like we have at Clear Spring School. Learning the significance of history through the study of ancient mathematics in the modern woodshop using hand tools? "Who'd have thought? Why, I never..." It seems like the national press is consistantly informing us that we are well ahead of the learning curve.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wisdom of the Hands Annual Report
Doug Stowe 12/11/06

It has been another good year in the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School. It has been a year in which growing numbers of educators have become aware of our program and in which we have begun serving an even larger audience as a role model for education. In May 2006 I was invited to present a paper at the first international Conference on Sloyd in Umeå, Sweden and then in June was a panelist on Furniture education at the Furniture Society Conference in Indianapolis. In addition, we are anxiously awaiting the publication of two articles on the Wisdom of the Hands program in two educational journals, each in their winter issues. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice is published by Great Ideas in Education,, and Independent Schools is published by the National Association of Independent Schools, the parent body for ISACS, the organization through which Clear Springs School receives its accreditation. Yet another woodworking education article will be published in the April issue of Woodwork magazine.

The Wisdom of the Hands program has made its first inroads into public education. Laura Waters, parent of Clear Spring alumni and art teacher in Rogers, Arkansas used the Wisdom of the Hands as the model program in applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Funds were awarded for the 2006-2007 school year and covered the cost of buying tools. Woodworking has become one of the favorite school activities in the schools where Laura teaches. Laura reports that normally disciplinary removal from the classroom is thought to be fun by some of the students in her schools. Not so, when it comes to woodworking! The students can’t stand to miss a minute of it. One 5th grade girl asked Laura as she was sawing and sawing on a piece of wood, “ Miss Waters, is this art or PE?” I guess it is a bit of both, and perhaps that explains some of the intense enjoyment the children find in it. The Wisdom of the Hands program provided the theoretical foundation for Laura’s program and also provided her with training and plans for developing student projects.

The 2005-06 school year was the year for self-study for renewal of accreditation. Inspired by the Wisdom of the Hands program, the board of Clear Spring School reviewed its mission statement and modified it to reflect the importance of hands-on education to the lives of our children. "Together, all at the Clear Spring School promote a lifelong love of learning through a hands-on and hearts-engaged educational environment."

At the close of this year’s accreditation team site visit, the team leader, Gus Favreau, stated the following: “Many schools claim to be progressive, but we find they are not. Clear Spring School is progressive. Many schools claim to be hands-on, but we find they are not. Clear Spring School is Hands-on.” Of all the 25 schools he had visited as accreditation team leader, he found Clear Spring School to be most closely aligned to the fulfillment of its mission.

Needless to say, we at Clear Spring School are excited about what we have achieved through steady application of hands-on learning. As stated in the mission, we are hands-on and hearts-engaged.

I have started a web-log to promote the Wisdom of the Hands program and hands-on learning. While this is a private endeavor and not directly associated with Clear Spring School, it has become an important tool for sharing what we are learning with others. The address of the blog site is:

This year we are excited to have six foreign exchange students, all of whom have been involved in wood shop, and we have found woodworking to be a great tool for enhancing language development.

In the elementary and middle schools this year, we have made musical instruments for public school performances during the 54th Annual Folk Festival, We made recycling containers for all the classroom. We have used original Sloyd project plans from the 1890’s to make gifts and useful objects. We have experimented with Paper Sloyd in the lower elementary classes, giving students a foundation for 3-D design.

Our current project has involved students from all grade levels. We are making toy cars out of wood for holiday distribution to needy children. The students have all cheerfully taken part, with one small caveat. They ask, “Can we each make one for ourselves after the holidays?”

We were very sorry to lose our woodworking assistant at the close of last school year, but have hired a Clear Spring High School graduate to take her place during his gap year before college. Luke has a particular love of wood turning and 4 years of wood shop training. His obvious love of working with the children makes us hope that he will be inspired to teach after his college education is complete. During the 2006-07 school year, the Wisdom of the Hands program continues to serve the students at Clear Spring School, grades pre-school -12th while serving others as a role model for modern education.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Braiding and shaping... At Clear Spring School last week with the first and second graders we made Christmas ornaments...They practiced drawing star shapes on paper and then drew them on wood and cut them out with hand saws. Two students, feeling less confident in their star making chose to draw and cut diamond shapes instead. This week, we finished the project (except for painting), by making hangers. We introduced braiding last week for making hangers, and found that braiding with string was a bit harder than we expected. This week's solution was to use pipe cleaners. They braid easily, with each strand staying out of the way until deliberately bent into place. You should get some pipe cleaners and try it. It is fun.

When shaping objects by hand, it is obvious that the hands have the capacity to shape the material world. What is less obvious are the hands' capacities to shape the inner worlds of thought, character and emotion. With patterned hand motions like those found in braiding, come a sense of order and well-being. A sense of confidence comes as well. There is a direct linkage between the development of hand skills and the prevention of mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

It can be said that the power to shape with the hands is also the power to shape the self.

The photo above shows braided pipe cleaners. You can braid with 3 or 4, or even 5 pieces, either of solid colors, a mix of two, or all different to achieve a variety of patterns. My daughter Lucy and I began braiding with pipe cleaners when she was in kindergarten. It is a great way to develop hand skills and the power of attention. And as I stated before, it is fun.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Umeå Universitet...Last May I was privileged to attend the First International Conference on Sloyd, "Traditions in Transition" in Umeå, Sweden. Umeå University is one of four major state sponsored universities in Sweden and the conference was co-sponsored by Åbo Akademi University in Vasa, Finland. The conference was attended by 120 educators from 19 countries from Europe, the Americas and Japan. I presented a paper on Educational Sloyd and its impact on American education and Clear Spring School. It had been well over 30 years since I had spent any significant time on a University campus, and I have to say I was quite nervous in presenting to an academic audience. Thankfully, all the presentations were made in English, and I found that I had an advantage being able to present in my native language, while many struggled to translate their own papers in the selected language for the conference.

It was a distinctly rewarding experience and an eye opener as well. It was most interesting to note that despite the fact that Sloyd education has persisted in the Scandinavia countries since the time of Otto Salomon and Uno Cignaeus and totally abandoned in the United States, our program at Clear Spring School was well advanced in theory and practice and offered a great deal of interest to the wide range of educators attending the conference. The photo above is of Umeå Universitet.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Children really love making toys from wood. The photo above is of the first and second grade class at Clear Spring with toy airplanes they designed and made themselves during November. The fuselages were sawn from 5/8" thick spruce resawn from utility grade 2 x 4's. The wings were sawn from the same 2 x 4's resawn and planed to 1/4" thick. This was a two week project, with the fuselages being shaped one week and the wings shaped and attached the next. We used a folding paper and scissors technique to design the wings so that they would be symmetrical. The planes are now in the process of being painted in their classroom.
For the last two weeks we have been making toy cars and trucks in the Clear Spring woodshop. Third and fourth grades have been shaping the cars with hand saws. Fifth and sixth grades have been using scroll saws. We use the drill press to drill axle holes and windows. The wheels are cut on the table saw from reject rake and shovel handles from a manufacturer in Missouri. While the children have all expressed interest in making cars for their own use, these are to give away through our local food bank to needy children.

After the holidays, our children can make their own. In the meantime, and for the next week, the Clear Spring workshop has all the festive atmosphere of Santa's workshop. The kids without exception are enthusiastic makers and designers. The photos above and below are of students in action. Next week you will see the collection of finished work.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

We use our hands to bridge between the concrete and the abstract, bringing abstract objects into scale as we visualize their creation. We use our hands to frame distant things, bringing them into more meaningful context. The simple gestures, above and below will be well known to you. You have used them yourself as you transition from the imagination to reality, of from reality to imagination. The use of the hands helps to create a sense of scale and proportion. Otto Salomon in Educational Sloyd suggested that education always move from the concrete to the abstract. The hands are a much overlooked tool for making that transition seamless and personal. The gesture above is the one commonly used to "create" objects. The gesture below is commonly used to bring distant objects into scale or to frame landscapes in painting and photography. Both are useful for engaging the imagination.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I have this sneaking suspicion that of the millions of blogs in the world that very few are actually being read. I would enjoy response, just in case you are reading this and would like to email and let me know.

I have a couple articles in current issues of woodworking magazines in case you happen to wander through your local Barnes and Noble. In the December issue of "Fine Woodworking," I have an article about table design. In the February issue of "Woodwork" I have an article about making a veneered wood box. I have an article coming out in the Winter issue of "Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice," and another education article coming out in the Winter issue of "Independent Schools." These last two articles are about the need for hands-on education in schools. In the April issue of "Woodwork," I'll have another woodworking with kids article, about making and using bench hooks. So, even if no one is reading the blog, I am pleased that there are some reading about my work anyway. One of the funniest things of the month was getting mention in the magazine "Good Housekeeping," as an expert consultant on table design. I had gotten a call for help from one of their editors and did the good neighborly thing of giving some suggestions.

very best wishes,

Doug Stowe
Backyard science...human beings throughout thousands of years of evolution had been dependent on accurate observations of their natural environment for survival. Knowing where food could be found, knowing how and when to take shelter from dangerous circumstances, and knowing how to make the objects necessary for subsistence and safety, were crucial factors that no single individual could ignore. Today, we can live in the shelter of our homes and offices without a thought to the weather outside, and without regard for the external consequences of the choices we make in living our lives.

These circumstances allow us to live completely out of harmony with the natural environment without ever knowing that we do so, and without ever anticipating that we or future generations of our kind will pay a severe price for it. We might feel far superior to the men and women who walked the earth hundreds or thousands of years ago, but they lived in harmony with the natural environment in a sustained symbiotic relationship dependent on acute attention and observation. At this point, in comparison, we live thoughtlessly, with our minds wrapped in meaningless internal dialog which we escape only to enter the the unreal worlds of computer screens and television.

You don't need an expert to tell you the truth of this. You can know it from careful observation of your own life.

At one point, in the early age of science, British Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort developed a scale with which any common seaman could take useful measurements of wind velocity based on directly observable phenomena. The Beaufort Wind scale was an example of a framework for scientific investigation that had the potential of directly increasing the part played by the common man. For those not at sea, there is a land version that allows an observer to note the wind velocity based on the movement of leaves, branches and trees, or simple things like the way the smoke rises from a chimney.

In the same manner and for the same reasons, that we need a restoration of the arts in the lives of common men, women and children, we need a restoration of science and direct scientific observation as a major component in modern life.. Modern schooling and the mass media take investigation from our hands and from our control. We watch the weather channel to learn the temperature rather than taking the few necessary steps to learn and observe for ourselves. At the same time, we allow "experts" to deceive us and control our lives while stripping away our own motivation to learn and create. An interesting example is the "debate" about global warming. While all legitimate scientists have come to agreement about the causes and dangers of global warming, our American president and a conservative conspiracy have painted the view that it is controversial and subject to debate. The tragic circumstance is that so few Americans at this point have enough involvement in science to understand the truth of the matter.

If you would like to know more about Sir Francis Beaufort and the Beaufort Scale, I suggest reading "Defining the Wind" by Scott Huler (2004) Three Rivers Press, New York. Then take some time to be outdoors and begin some scientific investigation in your own back yard. You won't need to be an expert to begin. The Beaufort scale is a good place to start.

The photo above is of a sloyd knife and some basic sloyd models shown on a workbench at Nääs. There is a very clear connection between the kinds of attention learned in craft work, the kinds of observations required, and the principles of scientific observation. By not making things we become very stupid about the world.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Art in the home--science in the back yard...We have created a a society in which important tasks have become isolated and separated from society at large. So what is the function of art in American life? I spent the weekend selling my small boxes and books at the Fall Art Show in Eureka Springs. It is amazing how many skilled and talented artists were there. I am always amazed at the variety and quality of work produced by my neighbors.

Few artists really did well at the show.

We could place blame on the economy, on gas prices or on the lack of sensitivity in the buying public, but I am inclined to call into question our separation of the concept "art" from the context of daily life. Art has become what we hang on walls to decorate our homes, to display our sophisticated tastes, or even our wealth. Let's take time to imagine something different: Suppose that instead of art and not art, every human function and act of creativity could be an expression of the highest standards-- our world would be distinctly different. A tool as simple as a spoon would become an object of reverance and contemplation and the objects within our homes would be full of heart-felt understanding and express the highest levels of meaningful relationship.

Economists talk about the opportunity costs of the economic decisions we make. I would like to suggest the "opportunity costs" involved in the objects we choose to fill our lives. We choose cheap stuff, bought at bargain prices with hidden costs we choose not to imagine...enslavement of children, destruction of the environment, wasteful use of the earth's resources and the constant flow of meaningless objects through our lives to disposal in the toxic landfills that mar the American landscape and poison our waters.

It is a shame that people don't spend their black Fridays in art shows, selecting for their lives and the lives of those they wish to love, objects that reflect our highest aspirations. The box above is one of my small boxes being readied for shipment to Appalachian Spring Galleries in Washington, DC.