Monday, March 05, 2007

Here's what happened to Sloyd...As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the Theory of Educational Sloyd was a complex one, outlining the many benefits of working with the hands. It is always difficult to explain complex theories and relationships, and if things can be reduced to simple buzz words or phrases, you have a easier time selling them to a broad audience.

The Russian System of Manual Training, unlike Sloyd, could be reduced and expressed as a single word. Jobs. It didn't promise greater intelligence in our children. It didn't promise to shape and mold them into caring human beings. It didn't attempt to foster a lifelong love of learning. It just said to parents, "give us your children and we will train them for work." It said to industry, "give us your support and we will bypass the control of the unions in the education of your workers, and we will make certain you have the bodies to keep the products flowing." Simple concepts, right?

But the consequences have been tragic. We divided our schools into academic and technical, isolating the hands from their role in shaping academic thought. We drew a line in the sand, with white collar on one side and blue on the other. We created an academic elite with little sense of the value that creativity, capability and confidence in their own hands would impart to their lives. And we created a system in which the joys of creativity and academic exploration were stripped from the work of millions.

Now, in these times, it is hard to sell woodworking programs in schools. The manufacturing opportunities for skilled workers has dropped...there aren't as many jobs, and besides, parents say, "I want my Susie to be a brain surgeon. We don't need a woodshop." If they only knew...

I'm not sure how many people heard the NPR series on college last week. One young man told of his mother's pressures on him to become a doctor. He told the interviewer, "I want to work on cars." Many parents don't want technical skills programs offered in schools. They see them as a threat to their aspirations for their children. "What if my child took woodshop and wanted to be a (gasp) woodworker." Well, what if your child wanted to be fully, hand, body, heart, intellect and spirit engaged in learning and life? It comes through the wisdom of the hands. It may be a tough sell, but if enough of us talk about it and share the joy we find in learning and making through our own hands, hearts, and intellect, some will understand. It may be enough to make a difference.

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