Thursday, November 29, 2007

One of the challenges faced by those want to provide more hands-on activities in schools, is what do we call it? What name do we give to what we do? At one time, the word "Sloyd" was used to describe craft activities that had educational purposes beyond simply providing training in a trade. But for many in the United States, adhering to a formal set of models was perceived as too rigid and was believed to stifle creativity. So, educators came up with the term manual arts, manual training and industrial arts, each obscuring rather than clarifying the core mission of crafts in schools. Even now, in "career and technical education," or CTE some teachers may be on the cutting edge of technology, using computer driven CNC routers to attempt to educate their students in modern manufacturing techniques, while other teachers may be on the cutting edge in another way entirely, using hand tools to teach skills, attention and sensitivity to materials involving the human emotional content of work that computers will never replace.

Here is how Charles A. Bennett addressed the issue, showing that even as early as 1917, clarity of mission was a confusing thing for woodshops:
While the term "industrial arts" was first used to designate work that developed as a reaction against the formalized courses inherited from Froebel (Sloyd), the term has become so popular in the United States of America that it is coming to include all instruction in handicrafts for general education purposes whether formalized or not. Its meaning is essentially the same as the term "manual arts," though its connotations are different. In the term industrial arts the "industrial" is emphasized; while, in manual arts, the "arts" is historically the distinctive word and in the term manual training "manual" is the important word.
Part of the mission of this blog is to discuss and create a clearer vision of what we are doing, and how we can best serve our children and their futures. It is very difficult to come up with clear terminology that can be widely shared and understood and that clarifies our mission, and when the mission isn't clear, the results are obvious. We see school woodshops close and the tools sold on eBay to make room for yet another computer lab to teach skills for jobs soon to be exported to wherever cheap labor can be connected to a T-1 line. But the pendulum swings. As we gain clear vision and restored mission, we will return to the wisdom of the hands.

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