Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I am president of the National Association of Home Workshop Writers, and it is time for our Fall Newsletter to go to press. What follows is my note to members:
The word on the streets, the sounds of the tom tom, and the old school shop equipment for sale on eBay all tell a common tale. Despite some notable long term successes and some programs that just won't go away come hell or high water, school wood shops are still an endangered species. At Clear Spring School, I am in my 7th year of teaching in my Wisdom of the Hands program. So far I've had 4 school program related articles in Woodwork, two in Woodcraft, one in Independent School, one in Encounter, Education for Meaning and Social Justice, one in Northern Woodlands, and most recently in Cabinet Maker and on the Fine Woodworking website. My fingers are crossed for more to come. In addition, our NAHWW hands-in-education-resolution has been endorsed by a number of organizations, including the Society of American Period Furniture Makers and the American Association of Woodturners.

I am particularly pleased with our Tools for Schools program in which each winner of a Golden Hammer Award presents a collection of Vaughan Tools to the woodworking school program of their choice.

Abraham Maslow, noted psychologist, stated that "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." So I know that our children need to be well equipped with every kind of tool and become proficient in their use, if they are to be the kinds of problem solvers our world will need in the days to come.

I recently got a call from my daughter from Columbia University, New York City, where she began her freshman year. "Send me my hammer and screwdrivers, ASAP." was her request. There were none on her floor. Even the boys arrived at Columbia without the basics. A walk down the hall on her floor reveals hundreds of thousands of parent dollars invested in laptops, but nary a hammer in sight.

Is that the way of things? Is that something we adjust to, gearing our published materials to a public highly educated in laptops but dumbed down in the use of real tools, untrained in hand and with minds insufficient in basic problem solving?

I have one for Maslow: If the only tool you have is a laptop, all the world's problems appear virtual and of no real consequence. It's gaming... Command-Control-Delete.

So, at that point of irony I have to make my confession. I love tools and I even love my computer as long as it is just one of the many tools making me competent in my life and my work. Even worse, I have become a confirmed blogger. It's scary, huh? is where I write each day without the slightest glimmer of a paycheck in sight. Please feel free to visit, and leave a comment or two. It helps to have an audience for all that gut spilling and it is all about something most of us know a lot about... the use of our hands (and real tools) in making the world a better place. My recent experience tells me that restoring an interest in tools in the lives of children and in schools is at the bottom of a long hill and it will take many shoulders and great effort to push it to the top. Saddle up. Get a rope. Maybe with a horse and many hands we could get a pull going.

So does it matter much? Sure we can dumb down what we write. We can get ever more basic in what we present. We can watch our audience shrink... and shrink as fewer... and fewer people have the opportunity to explore their creative potential while they live their lives unfamiliar with the opportunity for pride and pleasure that comes from making beautiful and useful things. We can become even more a consumer culture, incapable of fixing things or making things work. Who cares if we are completely vulnerable to the failures of our equipment, the decay of our homes, and who cares if we find wastelands where there were gardens?

So yes, it does matter. And I think that those who write to encourage others to pick up tools and transform their own lives toward greater purpose and beauty have a noble calling.

And speaking of calling, please take a chance. Submit an entry for this year's Golden Hammer awards! The prizes are great. The odds are good. You deserve the recognition of your peers.

Doug Stowe

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