Sunday, February 11, 2007

A friend yesterday was describing his son-in-law's complete lack of prowess in anything that might be regarded as "mechanical" or require hand skills. This is becoming an all-too-common phenomenon. Young men and women develop themselves in all kinds of ways, while overlooking the kinds of development that lead to basic competency in dealing with the simple technologies of life. In The Sloyd System of Wood Working (1892) by BB Hoffman, Superintendent of the Baron De Hirsch Fund Trade Schools in New York City, Hoffman quoted an unidentified writer’s view,

“As the development of the motor centers in the brain hinges, in a great degree upon the movements and exercises of youth, it will be readily understood how important is the nature of the part played by the early exercise of the hand. There can be no doubt that the most active epoch in the development of these motor centers is from the fourth to fifteenth year, after which they become comparatively fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been left altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency thereafter.”

In essence, use it and develop it early or you will either never have it, or will develop it only through great effort. If children are not encouraged to explore and develop their use of their hands, as adults they will be deprived of their highest use of them.

I have older friends that have had incredible life adventures based on leadership skills and academic intelligence, who still feel deprived when they engage the physical world and the basic competancies it can require. Those rich enough can hire others to do for them the things they cannot do for themselves, but I would like to inform them of the simple joy that comes from feeling one's competence. One time many years ago my Toyota pick-up quit on the side of the road. I used my Swiss Army knife to dismantle the carberator, adjust the float level to get it running again, and drove along to complete my journey. I would have difficulties performing any similar maneuver on my fuel injected Subaru. Most things these days are designed to deny the competency of the consumer. I can tell you, however, that change is not always good. Technology is best where the individual is led to a sense of mastery and not helpless dependence. In the Wisdom of the Hands program, it is clear that not every child has the same mechanical inclinations or abilities, but that all children benefit from learning the basics of technology and the confidence that hands-on intellect and experience can bring to life.

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