Saturday, May 26, 2007

Either the hands are actively and deliberately engaged at the center of education or they are not.

When I first became interested in Educational Sloyd, I learned that it was a system of woodworking education that was designed to be a part of general education. This meant that it was intended for all students, not just those intending to specialize in a particular craft or intending employment in industry. When I actually set foot on the grounds at Nääs, I realized that educational Sloyd as taught at Nääs was actually much more. It was a total system of education with woodworking, crafts and physical activity at its core.

We think of school as a place in which students sit at desks, hands idle while eyes and ears stand alert to every gesture or sound from the teacher standing at the front of the room. And yet, simple observation of one’s own mind can fully illustrate the fallacy of the concept. When we receive visual or auditory information expressed as concepts, it is necessary for the mind to wander as it seeks a place within the brain related to personal experience at which to anchor the information received.

If I were to talk to you endlessly about subjects in which you have no personal interest or involvement, you will have no place to anchor the information I provide, regardless of its validity. As a consequence, your mind will wander further and further from my words into a territory of your own fantasy or past experience.

Is there anyone in the world that would be incapable of observing his or her own learning style to come to an understanding of this?

Can you see why experiential learning has to be at the core of education? Sloyd was built upon the theoretical legacy of Pestalozzi and Froebel. Pestalozzi suggested object based learning, in which real things rather than words and concepts were the foundation of learning. Froebel emphasized the child’s need for action in the form of play, both as a means for discovery and for testing and putting into service what has been learned.

Unlike our modern schools in which measurable but complaisant knowing is the objective, in Educational Sloyd, the desired result would be active and intelligent citizenship.

What I learned at Nääs was that there was a lot more going on there than just woodworking. It had a very strong emphasis on physical fitness, a very strong sense of celebration of distinct nationalities and their unity within a new internationalism, and a very forward view of the role of women in culture. At the center of things, just like in the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School, was hands-on engagement of the students and teaching staff in woodworking, but much more. I’ll try to tell more as I have time...

The photo above is of an active celebration of the involvement of English speaking students at Nääs. The photo below is of the last class prior to the first World War. Students were returning to their home countries with the terrible knowledge that their nations were at war against each other.

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