Monday, November 26, 2007

The following is a brief note for the Clear Spring School Newsletter.

In order to fully understand the woodworking program at Clear Spring School you have to go back to the late 1870s. When the manual arts were first introduced to schools in the US by Calvin Woodward at Washington University and John D. Runkle at MIT, it was because these early educators had noticed deficiencies in their engineering students. These students needed hands-on experience in 3 dimensional reality to be qualified for the intellectual components of their work. In those early days, the connection between the hands and the brain in learning was widely accepted as an educational concept.

However, during much of the 20th century, using modern manufacturing as their model, educators sought greater efficiency and economy in the processing of students through the system. This meant large numbers of students in the classroom, with material being delivered by lecture, often missed or ignored by students whose hands were now to be stilled and neatly folded on their desks. It also meant a division in schools, separating the work of the hands from the work of the intellect as described by Woodrow Wilson when he was President of Princeton.

"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

When he became President of the US, Wilson pushed the Smith Hughes Act through Congress simultaneously providing certain schools with money for technical education and stripping academic institutions of the challenge and responsibility of providing hands-on experience.

The Wisdom of the Hands program was founded on the recognition that the engagement of the hands is an essential element in the engagement of the intellect and the realization of its full capacities for all students, including those who choose to pursue academic careers.

It is interesting that now, at last, modern scientific methods are proving the hand/brain system that had been widely observed and understood by early educators and largely ignored in recent decades. Some of the research that is most convincing involves the use of gesture in the teaching of math as described in a Washington Post article in August 2007 Gestures Convey Message: Learning in Progress

Researchers at the University of Chicago, University of Rochester and other top research universities are finding the use of the hands in gesture to be a clear view into the workings of the mind as it processes information and as we learn. Most simply stated, the movement of the hands facilitates the movement of thought in the brain, and as we use our hands in learning we become more intelligent as well as more creative.

So, when your children bring home objects from the woodshop, bent nails and all, please know that it is not just the hand that is being trained and encouraged, but the mind as well. When they come home talking about saws and knives, please note that Clear Spring School and your child are at the cutting edge of education.

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