Monday, April 30, 2007

John Grossbohlin shared the following under the subject, "Hands Run Amok."

I came home from work today to find a hole in my back yard.... my kids were home from school today and over the course of the day they had help from three other kids. Maybe I shouldn't have purchased them real, but small, shovels, wheel barrows and pick and taught them how to properly use the tools. ;~)

As I recall, the CEO of Cray computers was digging a tunnel from his basement to a distant woods. He would go down in the hole to get intellectually away from his work and allow more creative thinking to take place which he attributed to "elves." Here are links: Tunnel Digging as a Hobby and Seymour Cray

John, with your sons, I would expect them to go down about 5 more feet by tomorrow afternoon and then take off digging toward the nearest woods.

This is a lighter than normal week for woodworking with the lower school students since they are busy preparing for the spring camping trip. This gives us a chance to give some extra help to some of the high school students for finishing their projects. In the photo above left, Gab, our exchange student from Thailand is finishing a mask he started earlier in the year by using a rotary chisel in a roto-zip to carve it thinner and lighter. In the photo at left, Wyatt demonstrates sloyd wood carving during a previous Clear Spring School camping trip.
The scope and sequence of citizenship... Scope and sequence are educational terms which mean the following:

Scope: The vision of what the students should have achieved at the end of their entire school experience.

Sequence: A series of age-appropriate achievements that students succeed at during their school experience in order to master the scope.

We think of schools and learning as related to academic subjects, but we really know that the most important problem solving skills are those having to do with getting along creatively and productively with other people. There have been a number of publications and studies over the last few years indicating that "emotional intelligence" may be more important to success than brain power. Working effectively in a team is actually the most important skill for any child to develop.

One of the things I plan to do in the coming months is write an article about the "scope and sequence" at Clear Spring School through which a child is introduced to community and helped toward becoming an active and effective citizen.

Our Clear Spring School camping trips are part of that sequence. The teachers divide the students into "patrol groups", not just based on who gets along with whom, but on who can help nourish the growth of whom. The groups are made up of students from all grade levels, first through 6th and there are 4 elected positions of responsibility within each group. The responsibilities are real and the success of the camping trips depend on student participation. The positions are leader, assistant leader, recorder, and go-fer, and each level carries duties and responsibilities. You can see how easily a child can grow toward greater responsibility through the years at Clear Spring School.

I will have more to share on scope and sequence of citizenry later. It is one of the many things at Clear Spring School that make it an educational model for the 21st century.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Clear Spring Elementary and lower middle school are going on their annual spring camping trip on Wednesday of next week. Before I was a teacher at Clear Spring, I was one of the parents that nearly always went camping with the school. There is really no way I can fully describe the richness of the experience. Every trip was different, and to a different location, and as a participating parent I was able to watch my daughter's growth that came as a direct result.

One of the best parts of the camping experience is the way children are prepared to accept greater responsibility and learn leadership skills. All the children are assigned to patrol groups and it is within those carefully selected groups that some of the students get their first taste of democratic governance.

I've attached a couple photos from a camping trip when Lucy was in 6th grade and serving in the elected position of patrol leader. In the photo above, Lucy is wearing a red bandana at the center. The patrols rotate various jobs throughout the 3 days, including cooking, serving meals and clean-up for the entire group.
Just a quick Sunday afternoon report. The open house at Clear Spring School was successful. My wife went and reported that student weavings were prominently featured in every classroom. On Monday I plan to make some knitting spools as I believe that would be another craft that would interest the students.

Lucy's team lost in the first round at the state soccer tournament. It was kind of a relief as winning would have required more middle of the week trips to Little Rock. they played well and were defending their goal for most of the game. And it was exhausting since they only have 13 members and that provides for only two substitutes. All this has very little to do with the hands but does remind us all that education is about much more than the brain.

I have been spending the day filling out the kinds of forms that self-employed craftsmen in America are tormented by. There is a vast conspiracy against the creative self-employed artists and craftsmen of America. It is called "the government."

You will notice that when the government talks about small business, they are talking about companies that are under several hundred employees in size. They want to encourage those companies, blah, blah, blah. But the greatest potential growth in our economy is in the very smallest companies and the plethora of confusing filings is a serious deterrent to growth for those of us who would have to hire accountants to manage them.

With encouragement to hire help, we would. With provision of health care benefits from the government to our employees we would take on greater responsibility. But the swamp of paperwork is too great for most self-employed Americans to deal with. We are forced to either stay small or hire expensive professionals to help us with the flood of documents we are required to file in a timely manner...

Please forgive the rant, but the challenges of making a living as a self-employed craftsman in America are large enough without the confusion presented to us by state and federal government, and since I've had to spend a good part of my day with this stuff instead of being productive in the work shop, I figure at least a few people should know about it.

When the Republicans in office claim to be on the side of business, please remember they are talking about "big" business" and when they are talking about supporting "small business," they aren't talking about craftsmen.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Just a few end of the week observations... I stopped by the 5th and 6th grade classroom to get an update on their weavings. Tyler Fyfe has already woven a small pillow. Other students had a variety of interesting weavings still on their looms. Some of the students are ahead of the others because they've been working through recess. It is fun to present a process that engages the student's imaginations and motivates them to work with so much enthusiasm.

One of the challenges I've noticed in the wood shop is that some students work faster than others, some are easily distracted, and a few are inclined to rush through their work. I've tried to explain that rushing leaves some things undone, may result in a lower level of quality, and that it would be best to simply slow down and pay more attention. Tyler finishes his work and asks, "Now what?" I explain that if he rushes through his work, there is little to do but sit and wait patiently for the others to catch up. And of course, my hope is that next time he will really slow down and do his work with a higher level of attention to detail. It will come in time.

A friend of mine pointed out this morning that Tyler's speedy rate of work may be the result of computer gaming. If you've played one of the Harry Potter games for example, the object is to rush around gathering every flavor beans and Wizard cards and if you aren't fast, they disappear. The players rush frantically from scene to scene, with a constant state of expectation that can be described with Tyler's words, "Now what?"

Personally, I think the weaving is far more interesting and productive. Tomorrow is open house at Clear Spring School, hours 2-4. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood.
This is National Turn Off TV Week. You wouldn't have learned that by watching television. The industry thinks it's good for you or even educational. I seriously doubt that my daughter would have been admitted to Columbia if we were a TV watching family. When would she have done her homework? How would she have done her homework if my wife and I had maintained such a distracting and disturbing family habit? And what kind of role models would we have been?

Oh, of course a little TV never hurt anyone. Right? But if as I mentioned in my last post, everything matters, and everything adds up, the question remains, why would we subject ourselves and our planet to such a waste. Commercial television is supported by "your advertising dollars," and advertising is the ram-rod that drives our successful economy, right? Convincing us to buy things we would never in our right minds need or want that within months add to the increasing burden on our landfills. The whole process puts the "gross" in Gross National Product.

Now, for National Turn Off TV Week which started Monday and lasts until the 29th, do something fun and productive instead. Cook, garden, sew, whittle, weave, shape clay, or talk with your spouse and your kids. Plan your summer. Get out the maps. Study a map of the constellations and go outdoors to see the night sky. Or read. Not fiction, this time, but real how-to... something that leads you to buy tools instead of electronics and enables you to fix something. Plan ahead. Go to the library. And have fun... But first pull the plug. If you pull just a bit too hard it might come off and need fixing. That would be fun, but let it go. You might find your life to be much richer without it.

Tomorrow I take my daughter Lucy to Little Rock for the high school girls state soccer championships. She plays defender. It won't be on TV.
Know thyself, or how Fred saves me lots of money... It is extremely interesting watching the media as scientists and oil companies' "scientists" wrestle over the implications of fossil fuel use, and as we attempt to weigh the issues and make decisions that we may not know will have long term consequences.

You may challenge, "What long term consequences? How do we know there are long term consequences?" You might want to take a few moments to observe your own life. I doubt that I am the first to inform you that we live primarily in an unconscious state. To observe one's self even for a moment offers the potential of awakening, so when the Greeks offered the challenge, "know thyself," they did know what they were talking about.

We live our lives under the unconscious agreement that what we do doesn't matter. But, in reality, everything does matter. We learn that simple fact from our hands, but the rest of life seems to conspire against that realization. For instance, take a piece of wood and a piece of sand paper and rub them against each other. The wood will become smooth and in time, the sand paper will lose its effectiveness. You can say that is no big deal and not important, but the change has been made. The wood is now smooth and the sandpaper is no longer fresh. The area where you worked is now covered with a thin layer of sanding dust, which you will sweep up and put in the trash. You may be able to pick up most of it, but some will remain on your skin until you bathe, some will remain floating in the air and migrate throughout your home. You could watch the operation backwards on your VCR, but the reality of life is that in the real world, there is no rewind and whatever we do has irreversible consequences. Scientists modeling weather patterns on huge super computers have noted that even the breath of a butterfly's wing is enough in time to effect the world's weather patterns. So, clap your hands together and in essence, you have performed the same miracle. You have made the world very slightly different in ways that you may not be able to perceive.

If we were completely aware of the chain of events that ran in every direction from each of our many small actions through the course of a single day, we would be totally astounded. Just as very small strokes of the sand paper make the wood irreversibly smooth, very small actions repeated over time add up to larger consequences and the small accumulated actions of many people add up in short order to much greater effect. So, when we are told that what we do has nothing to do with global warming, who are they trying to kid? Those of us with hands-on experience and who live with the slightest sense of the consequences of our own actions can see with our own powers of observation. If we're making heat or carbon dioxide we are warming the place. If we are making greater heat and carbon dioxide than our ancestors then we are warming the place beyond what makes sense for the long term health of the planet and the needs of our children and grandchildren.

So what does this have to do with Fred? As I may have mentioned before, Fred is the mechanic that works on my car. When things start to go wrong with it, my fearful imagination runs wild. "Could it be this?" I wonder. "Could it be that?" And Fred, a mechanic, both good and honest, doesn't listen to my fears, or even to my idle conjecture. He listens to the motor. He operates the clutch. He listens to the gears or takes it for a drive. If he doesn't come to a clear conclusion, he gets out the instruments and tests a few things. He's not interested in selling me the most expensive repair, but he is interested in fixing things and making it right. Now, I could go to the oil company scientists with their vested interest in selling me lots more oil, but I would rather go to Fred and get the car fixed.

After a time, I've come to realize that there are some honest people in the world that care deeply for greater things. I've also come to an understanding that there are values-damaged individuals who care only for money, profit, and things that they can count in ledgers. Those people and the ones they choose to represent them in government should never be trusted. Not for a moment, not for an inch. It is the wisdom of the hands and to ignore it may have tragic consequences for our children and their children.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The seventh and eighth graders have just finished a project making canes with a Lee Valley round tenoner. It is a very simple process. Shape a piece of hardwood round or octagonal using planes and or sanding blocks, use the tenoner mounted in an electric drill to shape 5/8" round tenons on each end. Shape the handle and drill a hole in it with a 5/8" Forstner bit. Glue the handle on one end of the shaft, and put a 5/8" rubber tip on the other. Done! With finished canes at left are Ryan(left) and Caleb.
The seventh and eighth grade students have decided that they want to make marionette style puppets during the last weeks of the school year. A challenging part of this project is making working elbow and knee joints. The photo at left is a simple layering technique for making bridle joints. Using a bench hook and Japanese pull saw, the students will be able to make their own knees and elbows with ease using this technique. We have the materials prepared and they will start on Tuesday. Shown in the photo are from top: upper leg, knee joint, lower leg, and foot with ankle joint ready for glue and clamps.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The letter:

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they ?

Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

Hot Springs

Is this what happens when the hands are left out of our fundamental understanding of reality? No, not really. Connie M. Meskimen is a Little Rock attorney with a great sense of humor. While there are many people in the world as dumb as the letter might imply, Mr. Meskimen is not one. The letter is real, but written in fun!
For some reason this morning I found myself thinking of one of my first art students, Leon Douglas, age 9. At the time (1972) I was working in a children's center in Memphis Tennessee as alternative service for the draft. Porter Leath Children's Center was a former orphanage converted to a social service non-profit serving families with emotionally disturbed and at-risk children. My first job with Porter Leath was the director of their summer arts and crafts program.

I remember sitting with my students at a grassy area at the intersection of Manassas and Jackson amidst the kinds of broken bottle debris that can infect nearly every poor community in the U.S.

While some of my students were drawing mothers, children, cars and trees, Leon was working intently with dark colors in broad strokes filling the page from side to side, top to bottom and every angle between. I asked him what he was drawing and he surprised me with the mastery of his work. "Can't you see? It's the Viet Nam War!"

At this point, Leon is no doubt grown with children and grand-children. The United States is in another war with images on television filling the minds of his children. They have hand-held devices that they can use to play along with the violence. Is this something we need to reconsider? Personally, I prefer crayons. And personally, I would prefer a more thoughtful and responsible nation.
A friend, Elliot Washor, co-founder of the Met School in Providence Rhode Island reminded me of the following quote from Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic." Statistics are the territory of the "values damaged." It is easy to throw numbers around if you are detached and disengaged. Where your hands and heart have no connection, the mind can gather facts unaffected and unscathed.

We hear the numbers each day in the news concerning death. 33 at Virginia Tech, 161 in a car bombing in Iraq. These are numbers that can be quickly entered in a ledger if anyone cares enough, but when and where the hands are engaged, things become far more personal. For instance all the students at Virginia Tech, all the bystanders in Iraq, the tragic gunman and suicidal car bomber were held as children in the hands of mothers and fathers who felt love for them... and each left a legacy of lasting deeply felt connections that isn't severed when the statistics are delivered in the nightly news. Behind the news are the hundreds of stories that won't be told or that can't be told but have deep personal effect on those closer than arm's length.

Can you see what I'm talking about? Where the hands are restrained from their normal engagement with reality and when learning is put at greater than arm's length things are cold, things become cruel, and important human values are shredded on the alter of statistics.

The motto of the Met Schools and the parent organization The Big Picture Company is to educate: "One student at a time," recognizing that each is special with gifts that are unique. In essence, it is all about the hands.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Neurophysiologist Professor Matti Bergström states:

"The brain discovers what the fingers explore... If we don't use our fingers, if in childhood we become "finger blind", the rich network of nerves is impoverished - which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwarts the individual's all round development. If we neglect to develop and train our children's fingers and the creative form building capacity of the hand muscles, then we neglect to develop their understanding of the unity of things; we thwart their aesthetic and creative powers. Those who shape our age old traditions always understood this. But today Western civilization, an information obsessed society that overvalues science and undervalues true worth, has forgotten it all. We are value-damaged"

So, the concept of finger blind is easy to get, at least for those of us who work with our hands. What is meant by "values damaged?" A healthy individual or a healthy society works on a broad range of values that must be considered in the process of decision making. Those values are diverse and often in conflict, but lead to an exchange of ideas resulting in thoughtful action. Those who are values damaged see only one side of an issue and act from a perspective that can be best described as narrow minded. Single issue voting blocks are one example. Sometimes the worst values damage is related to the monetary value of objects. Those who have become fixated on money will look at a beautifully crafted object only in terms of its price, supply vs. demand and scarcity, seeing nothing of its beauty, historical significance or the significant growth that took place in the life of its maker that resulted from his or her efforts to create.

The loss of the hand's role in education results in flat people, thinly dimensional, with little depth of real character or aspiration beyond their very narrow range of interest. Those who know nothing of the significance of their own hands won't get what I'm talking about. Those of you who do understand are also empowered to do something about it.

Today we took our hand made looms and weavings to visit a professional weaver, Eleanor Lux in her studio in Eureka Springs. It was a wonderful visit and the students were very pleased to receive Eleanor's commendations on their beginning work. Some of the students have been working on their weavings during recess and had a lot to show. Eleanor showed the students how to spin yarn and how to weave on the various looms in her studio. It made for a wonderful morning.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The box in the photos at left was made when associate editor Tom Begnal from Fine Woodworking was here in early March. The making of the box will be featured in an upcoming Fine Woodworking Magazine. The article will cover a variety of techniques involved in box making, from cutting miters to using the router table and story stick technique for installing the butt hinges. The box is made from maple and mesquite.
Earlier, I had mentioned that there were two types of objects, art and not-art. Another way of looking at things (literally) is to classify as follows: tools, vessels, furniture and non-functional decorative objects. Of course, it is difficult for things to adhere to their normal categories. For instance it is common in today's woodturning for vessels to be infused with worm holes or voids, eliminating any possibility of use. An old tool that the owner has no skill or intention to use would also fit the category of non-functional decorative object, even though in the hands of a trained craftsman, it's category would change.

There is a temptation in the establishment of cultural and economic values to propose the highest worth to the objects for which there is no utilitarian purpose. A bowl that leaks from worm holes may be regarded as higher in value than one that can be used in the making of bread. It is surely "art." Tools have their greatest value when they are least efficient, obsolete and therefore "collectible." Furniture is often of greater value when it is involved in making a statement of discomfort. The value of the non-functional decorative object is supreme in today's American culture. This may be an expression of our affluence. If you look at what is truly required for human subsistence, tools and (functional) vessels are supreme.

I had an interesting exchange with a woodworker who asked me to review his products with an eye toward helping him achieve success. His things seemed somewhat impractical but well made and I asked him, "where does your work fit the concept of art?"

I wonder, is it easier to sell art, or "not art?" In which direction will success be found? Is a woodworker's career better served by making things that hang on walls or sit on pedestals and shelves that may inspire intellectual exploration, or by making simple useful things of beauty that will be used up, worn out and at some point discarded? Ultimately, we may never really know. The simple useful thing may in time become both cherished and sacred. But if we get the opportunity to spend our days making something with our hands we are miles ahead.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

There was one piece in the Crafts in America Exhibit by an Arkansas artist.
Robyn Horn's piece entitled "Already Set in Motion," sawn and shaped from a single piece of Cocobolo, 25"h. is from her "Slipping Stones Series." More of Horn's work can be found at del Mano Gallery
Last week when I went to see and hear Sam Maloof speak at the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, his visit was in association with a new exhibit, Craft In America: Expanding Traditions. The exhibit will travel from Arkansas to a number of museums throughout the United States and was produced in association with a documentary series on PBS called Craft In America. Part 1 premiered last week and you should check your local listings for parts 2 and 3. In Arkansas all three parts will be aired in succession on May 30.

In case you don't get a chance to see the exhibit or the documentary, you can check in on Craft in America through the website

The exhibit was reviewed in this morning's Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The reviewer expressed regret several times in the course of the review that things in museums cannot be touched by the hand, but concludes:

Between the artist's hand and your questioning hand stands the museum guard. But you're free to learn what you can by looking and to carry away whatever inspiration might apply to your own things, the things you make. Make them better. Do your best. Recognize others who have more skill than you and celebrate creativity with them. That's what all this fuss is about.

I hope the average reader of the Democrat Gazette is actually engaged in making something. It would be a shame if he or she were not. The basket shown in the photo above is from the exhibit.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


"Ornament and Crime is an essay written by the influential and self-consciously "modern" Austrian architect Adolf Loos under the German title Ornament und Verbrechen in 1908. It was translated into English in 1913, under its challenging title. "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects" Loos proclaimed, linking the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts."

"In the essay, Loos' "passion for smooth and precious surfaces" informs his expressed philosophy that ornamentation can have the effect of causing objects to go out of style and thus become obsolete. It struck him that it was a crime to waste the effort needed to add ornamentation, when the ornamentation would cause the object to soon go out of style. Loos introduced a sense of the "immorality" of ornament, describing it as "degenerate", its suppression as necessary for regulating modern society. He took as one of his examples the tattooing of the "Papuan" and the intense surface decorations of the objects about him; Loos considers the Papuan not to have evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, who, should he tattoo himself, would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate."

Sadly, Loos seemed to have little understanding of craftsmanship or the nature of artistic expression. When we make something, we are not just making an object, we are re-creating ourselves through a process of learning and growth. That may involve the exploration of the clean lines of modernity or the exploration of texture and adornment.
There are essentially two types of objects, functional and decorative. The boundary between these two types is obscure and sometimes ironic. As an example I am reminded of a passage in Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen. During Hansen's incredible journey across Borneo and back he was invited into the home of a native where he found brightly colored Tupperware hanging on the walls similar to the way a modern American would display artifacts from another culture. Hansen notes that an American would laugh to see Tupperware displayed with such reverence, but an American, decorating his home with 3rd world artifacts in an effort to display his sophistication may may have journeyed no further than the local Pier One Import store. For the native of Borneo, the Tupperware reflected the actual sophistication of a difficult and hazardous journey on foot across centuries to a modern era and then back.
The interesting thing is that for the Borneo native, Tupperware was art. Can we get to a point of cultural renewal in which the common objects of our daily lives will be art? I believe it will have to start with our hands.
"Form Follows Function" and "Ornamentation is a Crime". These were the catch phrases of modernism that led directly from the Bauhaus to our current age of characterless products and cold, clinical design. You might be interested in the saws at left. The photo at the top shows in descending order a common carpenter's saw from the 19th century, a saw from the early part of the 1900's and one from the 1960's when the dearth and death of ornamentation intruded to the core of American craftsmanship.

The photo at left shows a close-up detail of the earliest saw. It is from an age that valued both ornamentation and skilled craftsmanship. You might wish to call those days the golden age of the hand.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I am going back to some things I mentioned before in the blog... "In Bali they have no art, they do everything as well as they can." In the west, we have the terms "art" and "craft" to describe objects with particular personal expressive intent that contrast with the typical objects of daily life, which may be made near perfectly by machines with little or no human attention. These objects both "art" and "not-art" may be used for personal expression or to establish cultural identity, but are produced by companies or people separate and isolated from the end user.

If you go back to the time in which a cultural anthropologist asked the man in Bali about their "art," you would realize that nearly every object at that time was a form of personal expression. These objects would normally be made with a great deal of care, as the expression of care or caring is the fundamental value of a civilized culture.

In the United States, even art and craft are fundamentally estranged from the end user by a system of wholesale and retail distribution. We buy our objects and clothing with little regard to the specifics of their manufacture or distribution. The question, "what is art?" is a matter of endless debate and one that I wouldn't want to touch with a 10 foot pole, except to offer the following:

We are healthiest as human individuals when we are engaged in a creative process. You can call it art, craft or Tiddly Winks. I'm not talking about buying art, or owning art, or collecting art, but about the process of making. We would or will be healthiest as a society, when as in Bali, we have no art, but the objects that fill our lives are objects of our own making, or reflect the creative engagement of our friends.

I don't have time at the moment to go deeper in this, but it is a subject to which I will return.
Our tiny house was featured in today's Christian Science Monitor.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I had an interesting email exchange with Frank Wilson, author of the book, The Hand, about my "Stowe hypothesis". He reminded me that people have been trying to work on investigation of similar hypotheses for at least 25 years, and what I propose actually has many authors. In addition, the science involved in coming up with the clear proof required just isn't available yet.

The question I have, is how much proof is required? And to what standards? We have a clear problem in America with experts, expertise, and credentials. Those things are required because people as a whole are lacking in the training to be clear observers of reality. We learn only from the recorded expertise of others and are left unwilling to trust our own judgment. We are taught to regard our own experience as suspect due to our own lack of credentials.

Frank tells of a time in the last 25 years when music teachers were marching in the streets in response to an earlier round of funding cuts with posters that read: "Save the right side of the brain!" The fact that we don't see any movement now tells that we have been fully acculturated to passivity and complaisance.

In the meantime, we can see from Virginia Tech what happens when people are immobilized by passivity and complaisance. If the hands are truly connected to mental and emotional well-being and health, then we should do something about it.

My conclusion: We aren't ready to prove anything from a "scientific" perspective, but still, if we can incite people to gain a greater awareness of the relationship between their own hands and brains, and lead them to have greater confidence in what they observe, we will be better prepared for round 3 in what may be a 10 rounder.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Following up on my comments over the last couple days, I want to state a hypothesis. Lacking anything better to call it, I'll name it the Stowe Hypothesis.

The creative engagement of the hands is so closely linked to mental and emotional states of well-being as to be considered causative. The decline in the use of the hands in creative activities (music, art, crafts, cooking, sewing and gardening) is proportional to the rise in the incidence of anxiety and depression and the rise in dependency on mood altering drugs.

I state this hypothesis based on my own experience in the wood shop and on the reports of other artists and craftspeople of the feelings engendered by their involvement in their own creative activities. We should also note that the current epidemic of anxiety and depression is concurrent with a drastic decline in hands-on creative activities.

Anyone have any ideas how to test such a thing?

The book mark in the photo above was made by a convict on death row in Arkansas. On shaving day, he takes his razor apart to cut out the paper in the few moments he's allowed before the razor must be returned. Then he decorates them. We all need the opportunity to create.
Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, we made wind-up paddle wheel boats, following a plan from a woodworking book. My assistant Luke and I concluded after class that we still have a long way to go in teaching them to follow plans rather than being dependent on personal instruction. It is a worthy goal as it will open the world to our students as lifetime independent learners.
In the previous post, I mentioned Procrustes' "one size cripples all educational system in America." So, what about the successes? What about the students who fit the learning style and move through the system to gain high salaries and all the earmarks of success? How could I have the gall to state that it fails them as well?

There are the invisible in today's society. I can put a face on one. He works at Chicago O'Hare airport and there are thousands very much like him in every city, large or small, working similar jobs. This man in particular, moves quietly, almost invisible to most as he empties the trash containers of the refuse hastily abandoned by all the thousands of important individuals heading for their flights. As I watched, I wondered how many spent even one brief instant in acknowledgment and appreciation. There is an under-appreciated America and on the other hand, at the other extreme, a thankless and self-important, self-absorbed one.

According to Otto Salomon:

If we would get rid of the antagonism between the different classes of the community, and bring about a good understanding between them, it is absolutely necessary that each should respect and appreciate the work of the other; and that everybody alike should understand that all work, mental or manual, gives dignity to all who engage intelligently and properly therein.

The consequence of our social stratification is that many of the "successful" people in our society, in order to preserve their own safety and security, must reside behind walls, security fences, alarm systems and the false security of guns to protect themselves from the society they have played a part in creating.

Is that a joyful expression of the heart? If they were to look within their own hearts, what kinds of feelings would they find there? Can you see the consequences of Procrustes bed? You might even feel it... It reflects both success and failure and lies as a heavy weight one hand's width below your own chin.
John Grossbohlin wrote to share the following:

A number of sad things occurred at Virginia Tech. One was that, based on the press reports, the shooter was apparently known to be in emotional trouble, i.e., depressed. Two, no one in the school was able, or perhaps willing, to stop him. Lessons learned? Probably none... Those closest to him are somewhat culpable here in that the reported depression combined with weapons possession shouldn't have been condoned.

I've got some first hand experience with aberrant behavior by associates and have wondered if perhaps I didn't do enough... A college roommate of mine bombed a dormitory. He built the bomb while the other three of us were at a slide presentation. He was an odd fellow, totally lacking in self esteem, who came from an affluent family. Dad's idea of taking care of his son was giving him $100 per week spending money on top of his room, meal card, and tuition. With $100 per week 25+ years ago a kid couldn't help but get into trouble... Another of my old college roommates committed suicide. He was unable to cope when his wife took off with another guy. We collectively thought that in the few weeks prior to his final act that he was getting better, that his depression had subsided. My last phone call to his answering machine went unreturned as he was dead in his bed, but as yet undiscovered. A mutual friend and I both wonder if we could have or should have done more... at one point we even discussed holding his guns for him...

Let's face it, not everyone is college material and not everyone is a 4-letter athlete--this became abundantly clear to me while I was teaching at colleges and teaching college courses inside maximum security prisons. What is also clear is that some people learn better by putting their hands on things rather than reading about them or watching them on a video. A long time good friend of mine has led a very successful life by learning through doing--recently selling a successful business to start a new one--and he is technically a high school drop out. Reading is torture for him though he can read and comprehend things like computer programming manuals and technical manuals successfully. By no stretch of the imagination is he stupid or ignorant, he simply learns differently.

Thanks John for the thoughtful observations.

There was a Greek monster that I may have mentioned before in the blog, Procrustes. He would invite you into his home to sleep in his wonderful bed that would fit all. It was equipped to cut your legs off if you were too tall or stretch you on a rack if you were too short. We have created a one size cripples all educational system in America. The pressures for some to compete in a world in which they don't fit may have something to do with students reaching a breaking point. I think America's dark fascination with guns and video game violence may play a part as well. We know that at Virginia Tech, mental disease and our failure to address it adequately in our society plays a big part in tragedy.

The challenge here, isn't to find fault, but to find solutions, and I am convinced the solution can be found in a more thorough understanding of our own hands.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The following is from Joe Barry:

There is a philosophical concept from the Zen mystic Takuan that basically refers to "the sword that takes life and the sword that gives life" Like most Zen koans it is paradoxical. Basically, you can choose to practice swordsmanship as just a way of killing an opponent. The more enlightened practitioner uses the practice of swordsmanship to improve himself thus "giving life".

With our hands we have choices whether to "give life" or "take life". It is tragic when we choose to misuse our gifts and take life rather than create beauty with our hands.

Thanks Joe!

I went to the hardware store after school today and they had the television on, watching the coverage of the tragedy. I mentioned the role of the hands in maintaining mental and emotional well-being and balance. Rudy, who is capable of fixing nearly anything, and Carolyn who is an artist as well as a part-time hardware store clerk knew even without thinking it over that my hypothesis is correct. There are those who have common sense, learned in life, and there are those with academic sense, learned in books. I realize that people would take my hypothesis more seriously if I had a Phd. in Psychology to back it up. I urge those of you who share common sense to arise in defense of our children. Turn off the televisions, trash the games, put tools in the hands of children and teach them to create.
While the world watches in shock, the violence that we have all come to associate with America and our perverse relationship to guns, gaming, random murder and mayhem, at Clear Spring School we do Sloyd. In the 3rd and 4th grades we made stick shuttles for their woodshop made looms. In 1st and 2nd grades, we sanded stick shuttles, sanded parts for real working clocks they are making, and we began weaving on their looms.

In Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, Sloyd is a part of the standard school curriculum, and is very much like the art classes we have in American schools. The students choose wood, textiles or metal sloyd, and it is taught in complete isolation from other subjects.

At Clear Spring, the wood shop serves as a point of curriculum integration. The children's weavings could easily be called textile sloyd, except that in Scandinavian countries, it would be unlikely that the children would have made their own looms. Our depth of study is very much in keeping with what Otto Salomon originally intended in the development of educational sloyd.
A good friend of mine sent me the following comment on last night's post:

I think today's news is a result of too many video games, and too much violence on TV and in movies. I have heard people say they don't think these things affect people, but I disagree. I think if your hands concept were put to use a little more, there would be more people doing things that mean something rather than spending time playing games that don't have any consequence. But I do think that you are coming at this concept from an artist's perspective, and that some people can't relate to doing anything with their hands at all. John has had printing students who just couldn't function to stack the type up in the stick. They just couldn't make their hands do things the way they were told to do it. He had to re-train some of them each time they would come back. Since it's easy for you, you assume anyone can learn it and that's not always the case.

I want to thank my friend for her thoughtful response. It is through observation of ourselves and dialog with others that we gain greater insight.

In The Sloyd System of Wood Working (1892) by BB Hoffman, Superintendent of the Baron De Hirsch Fund Trade Schools in New York City, Hoffman quoted an unidentified writer’s view which may help to explain why some adult students may be lacking in hand skills.

“As the development of the motor centers in the brain hinges, in a great degree upon the movements and exercises of youth, it will be readily understood how important is the nature of the part played by the early exercise of the hand. There can be no doubt that the most active epoch in the development of these motor centers is from the fourth to fifteenth year, after which they become comparatively fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been left altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency thereafter.”

The addictive qualities of gaming are related to the direct hard wiring between the hand and brain. We will never stop using our hands for something. Use of our hands is nearly essential to our being human. It comes down to a question, "for what?" Do we use our hands sharpening our knives for the kill, to polish the guns, or to knit, garden, sew, paint, shape wood, and play music? Could we spend our time developing creative skills that can be shared with others? It might be nice. It might be smart. It might make our schools safe and our lives more meaningful.

Monday, April 16, 2007

It is interesting in an extremely tragic way, that educational institutions have become the focal point of wrath amongst the mentally ill in America. I have some ideas that some would regard as weird. There is a relationship between the use of the hands and the engagement of the heart in learning and in life. I can describe it in personal terms from observation of my own life. I can describe it in less personal terms from having observed a whole community of craftsmen and artists in Eureka Springs for over 30 years. I can describe it from the perspective of being a teacher of woodworking k-12. I can describe hearing from other craftsmen and artists the relationship between the engagement of their hands in making, and the feelings of emotional and mental well-being that result.

Do you hear what I'm saying? Do you get it? What we do with our hands is directly related to personal and societal mental health. Take some time to observe it in your own life. If I am dead wrong from your perspective, then perhaps you should stop reading this blog. If I am right, then we need to talk about things, about our hands, with others in our community. (Warning: It will involve some risk. Some might think you're nuts.)

Or we can just keep quiet. We can watch more Amish school children killed, a few more Columbines and Virgina Techs. I could decide I'm wacky myself for thinking that the hands could actually have such significance in our lives. People could arrive at the conclusion that I've gone off the deep end, inflating my sense of mission surrounding the "wisdom of the hands" to megalomanial proportions. But talk to some artists if you like... few would apply their own understanding as significant to the culture at large, but nearly all will confirm the relationship between making and mental health in their own lives. Can American craftsmen and artists all be so wrong?

I am so very sorry to read of today's events.
As you can see in the photo at left, I got to meet Sam Maloof on Sunday evening at the Arkansas Art Center where he made a presentation on his work. I gave him a signed copy of my latest book. He is a gentleman and a fine craftsman. My friend Jim Nelson, who went with me on the trip asked me what was really different between Sam Maloof and many of the other fine American craftsmen? My answer, "Sam Maloof has done more to encourage others to engage in woodworking at a high level of craftsmanship than any other American craftsman." Sure, Norm Abrams is on television, but he's no Sam Maloof. Sam is a national treasure, and exemplifies the wisdom of the hands.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This evening at the Arkansas Art Center, Sam Maloof will be presenting. I am driving down to be there and if I'm lucky, I'll have photos to post tomorrow. The rocking chair in the photo at left shows one of Sam Maloof's very famous rocking chairs.
I mentioned going to a Dutch Oven cooking class yesterday morning in Kingston, Arkansas. It was sponsored by the Kingston Library and featured a very good friend John Ragsdale teaching the class. He made roasted peanuts, baked potatoes, both sweet and regular, baked acorn squash, biscuits, and coffee cake, and of course made it seem simple enough that I now know that I can use the dutch oven I bought a few years ago at the Lodge factory outlet store near Gatlinburg, Tennessee on a trip home from Arrowmont.

It would be easy to get misled reading this blog into thinking the wisdom of the hands was only about woodworking. But if you watch for a few moments you will see that the hands can get you into all kinds of wonderful mischief. Some of the very best is cooking.The consequences are obvious. You get to eat and share what you've cooked to the delight of others.

John Ragsdale is the author of the books Dutch Oven Cooking, 4th Edition and Dutch Ovens Chronicled: Their Use In The United States. His interest in Dutch Ovens grew from being a father of sons involved in scouting. John is well known in Arkansas, having made biscuits for thousands of school children visiting the Arkansas Historic Museum's annual open house. The photo above is of John in today's class.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Last night I went to ReArt, a fund raiser for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA). I am one of the founding board members of the school, so I had to do a few things to help set up, and then help clean up when the event was over. But all of that was fun, largely because of the wonderful people I was working with. And I am always much more comfortable at a social event if I have some kind of work to do.

Here in Eureka Springs, we have a huge number of artists who are always very generous in donating work to support charities and fund raisers. The idea of ReArt is different. Instead of artists donating the work to be sold, anyone can donate. People check their closets and bring out old works done by others. You can clean your closet of artistic treasures, turn them into cash for the organization and make the work available to a new and more appreciative owner, all in one fell swoop!

There is an old saying which I've mentioned before, "In Bali, we have no art. We do everything as well as we can." Here in the American culture, we have lots of art, and in Eureka Springs, we have lots and lots more than what would be normal, but "art" is made and acquired as a distinct reaction to a carelessness epidemic in American life.

For the next day or so, I hope to address this topic. I may not have much time to do any posting, but carelessness will be the subject of my contemplation. Join me.

Last night I saw an artist friend, who, bottle of whiskey in pocket, informed me "Its all bullshit!" Leaving me with the question: If art is a refuge from carelessness... a world in which we care and the outcomes of our efforts are reflective of higher purpose, then why doesn't it always work?

This morning I'm going to visit a friend who is giving a dutch over cooking demonstration at the Kingston, Arkansas library. Tonight is Lucy's Prom. Tomorrow I go to Little Rock to see a presentation at the Arkansas Art Center by Sam Maloof. If I'm lucky, I'll have pictures to post.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I've been re-reading Frank Wilson's book, The Hand: How Its Use shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture. It is a wonderful explanation of the significant role of the hands in our lives, and fully explains why the purposeful engagement of the hands is necessary in education.

The book, published in 1998 should be enough to turn the tide in American education, and yet, we know things move very slowly. It took Don Imus 38 years in shock-jock radio culminating in his attack on innocent young women basketball players for the American public to awaken to the senselessness and verbal brutality of his program. The Almighty Dollar rules our nation. If you can make a buck, or a million bucks by displaying your senseless dehumanizing verbal brutality, "Great! Go for it!" Right?

In the schools, the Great God of the American Dollar has a different angle. If we can save a few bucks, "Let's do it!" We can make the students sit doing nothing except listening, then we can test them to see what they've learned. If some teacher happens to stumble onto some new technique that force feeds his students with the required knowledge in a more efficient manner, we can pay a bonus! Schools should be run on a business model like Walmart! Right? Lower prices. Cheaper goods.

Do you see a parallel? Being attacked verbally by a human monster is one thing. Having your humanity stripped from you by a system that isolates you, your life and your thoughts from the use of your hands is something else. Right?

The removal of the hands from learning is much more subtle. It is on a wider scale. It isn't generally applied to just a single race or class. We do it to all our children. We've created a system that deprives all our children of the essential expression of their humanity. And then, we see little reason to do anything about it.

Counting down from the Hand's publication date of 1998, and if it takes 38 years for America to come to its senses, we have 29 more years to go, a generation and a half, with unimaginable consequences for our children. Look for the revolution to come in American education in 2036 unless you want to join up and push for one now.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I heard from the agent today that they have chosen not to represent the Wisdom of the Hands book, so I prepared a proposal packet for a publisher I've had in mind as a fall back position. That went out in todays mail. It may take a few weeks to get a response. Again, my fingers are crossed. Finding the right fit for things often doesn't happen quickly. So, I try again.
I thought the posting from on the koala would have to be a hoax, but then I learned through the discussion of the kangaroo of the work of Dr. Richard Paley, Phd. in "Theobiology" His article on his expedition to the Congo in search of the last remaining dinosaurs is an amazing and humorous bit of reading. Is it also a hoax? Makes one wonder. Could any real person actually be so foolish?

He begins the article as follows:

Propagandists of Evolutionism, in their attempts to discredit research into the true Biblical foundations of Origins, have often accused Creation Science of being a non-experimental endeavor. This couldn't be further from the truth. Besides lab experiments involving such diverse fields as hydrology, discontinuity systematics, and design inference (to name but a few,) Creation Scientists also do fieldwork to test hypotheses and gather evidence of God's handiwork.

Dr. Paley's opening remark does brings up the important role of the hand in science and the discovery of the fundamental processes of material reality. Hands-on experience and experiment are required in all science. The sketch above and the photo below are the "evidence" of Dr. Paley's "discovery" in Africa. Equally entertaining is Nigel Stubbingwicke's response to allegations made by Dr. Paley toward Mr. Stubbingwicke's behavior in Africa. On Stubbingwicke's site, click on the link "facts".

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More fun stuff from

Origins of the Koala

Koalas are correctly said to be indigenous to the Middle East, as are all terrestrial animals. Australia became their adopted home to which koalas journeyed after the original two were released from Noah's Ark at the conclusion of the Great Flood. Most creationists believe that these ancient Koalas were considerably hardier, faster, and far less fastidious in their diet than their modern descendants, which have degenerated into sleepy, gum-leaf chewing opiate addicts as a result of human sinfulness. The virile, proactive Koala of Biblical times would have been far better endowed physically and emotionally to undertake the epic journey across the world from Mt Ararat to Australia. As original Australian fauna consist almost entirely of marsupials, it is likely that bands of marsupials undertook this journey together. Indeed, the Koala may have been carried by the Kangaroos in their pouches, along with other small marsupials for much of this time.

Deprive children of experience in the real world and you can convince them of anything... even such stupidity as this.
The following is from

According to the origins theory model used by creation scientists, modern kangaroos are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood. It has not yet been determined by baraminologists whether kangaroos form a holobaramin with the wallaby, tree-kangaroo, wallaroo, pademelon and quokka, or if all these species are in fact apobaraminic or polybaraminic.

After the Flood, these kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia. There is debate whether this migration happened over land[5] with lower sea levels during the post-flood ice age, or before the supercontinent of Pangea broke apart[6], or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding flood waters.[5] The idea that God simply generated kangaroos into existence there is considered by most creation researchers to be contra-Biblical. was created by religious conservatives convinced that Wikipedia has a liberal bias that needs to be offset by active promotion of their own view. It is self described as:

A conservative encyclopedia you can trust with over 7,200 educational, clean, and concise entries.

It is interesting that belief has become a matter of personal decision rather than being directly derived from experience. It is a shame what can happen when the hands are extracted from learning.
Believe it or not, the 5th and 6th graders are still enjoying Paper Sloyd, but this was the last week of paper folding for awhile. The students having learned to follow the directions for the Paper Sloyd projects on their own have also been working on project plans for things they want to make in wood shop. The deal is: they have to present their ideas in a clear manner, using drawings and step-by-step instructions and then will be permitted to make the objects they have planned. My assistant Luke and I will prepare the materials for them. Next week while they finish their project plans they will make rubber band propelled paddle wheel boats and finish up their drawings and project presentations. The photos above and at left are Maggie, studying the instructions and then making the project called "bon-bon box". Finished projects, book cover and bon-bon box are shown below. The Paper Sloyd is helping the students with measuring skills, following complex written and visual instructions, and working with precision.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The following is from Kenneth A. Wesson

Our brain and skin are initially part of the same primitive formation during prenatal development, but they are separated during neurogenesis. Thus, in a sense, our skin is the “other half” of our brain. This, perhaps, explains why at nearly all stages of life, one learns a great deal about his environment (objects, another person, etc.) via our universal human preference “to touch to learn” more about an object. While touching an object, most higher order mammals will also turn it, twist it, view it from a number of other positions, etc., as a means of drawing out the most meaningful clues, cues, and relevant information needed for arriving at conclusions concerning the object. (My 2-year old son, Tyler, provides me daily evidence of this important mammalian information-gathering technique, as he walks past a picket fence and feels compelled to touch each picket as he passes by. Similarly, school children are admonished for touching the hallway walls, schools should install paneled or burlap walls that children are permitted or encouraged to touch whenever passing. This tactile activity helps to “turn on” the brain).

Sustained immobility in the classroom is as incompatible with life as it is incongruous with human growth and human learning. Suppressing the natural excitement of human learning by preventing, ignoring, and even punishing the brain's natural inclinations obstructs our mission for learners of all ages. While mobility separates plants from animals, the inherent need to communicate with others in various elaborate and complex ways serves as another significant characteristic that puts human beings into a category of our own. Combining mobility with hands-on learning in a cooperative learning setting, where learners communicate their ideas with one another appears to be the best equation for yielding the greatest learning results. It is the means by which most young children and adults deem the most comfortable and the most productive learning arrangement. All complex learning and consistent stimulation serve as the serious business of learning and the brain’s dynamic development.

Recognizing that early exposure to a wide range of learning experiences has a tremendous impact on the brain, we are taking a closer look at the critical role that early cognitive development should play in pre-school and child-care programs, as well as a truly foundation-building primary educational setting. These years are not just the “developmental years.” They constitute the most advantageous incubation periods for developing the fundamental skills vitally necessary for successful Kindergarten through college-level (and life-long) learning. No longer do we consider the first five years of life to be a vast cognitive wasteland, during which brain undergoes an arrested development. The neural networks by which all future complex learning will be based are forged during this crucial early period and by a specific series of vitally important brain processes.

Kenneth A. Wesson
Education Consultant, Neuroscience
I got a letter from a former student from Arrowmont that Mario will remember. Dr. Jerry Miller is a retired psychiatrist from Baltimore. He wrote in relation to my articles about Woodworking education:

My first 2 jobs were running craft shops in 2 different settlement houses. We knew that there was a connection between arts and crafts and normal child development and also that alienated and angry kids could connect through crafts. However, we didn't understand much about why.

It is interesting and disappointing that with so much anecdotal evidence about the the positive effects of working with the hands on the emotional wellbeing and development of children and adults, that there has been so little scientific investigation to prove and explore "why." The real challenge may be that understanding the value of handwork would undermine the illusion of superiority held by those who work exclusively within the verbal or written realm. The question they must face is "why investigate something that will reveal my latent sense of inadequacy?"

And yet, there are those like Dr. Jerry Miller who have lived their lives in that realm and have arrived at their own understanding of the Wisdom of the Hands.
It has been a long and stressful weekend in New York as my daughter Lucy and we settled her final decision on college. As a result of the trip, Lucy decided to follow her heart over the great financial opportunities that were offered at another university. She will join the freshman class at Columbia College in August. Only time will tell how it will all work out. Even with financial assistance, the challenge is significant, and Jean and I will no doubt have regrets at the distance, difficulties and costs of traveling to New York from Arkansas. It also feels great to see Lucy so excited about her choice and we have great confidence in her abilities.

In the wood shop this morning as you see in the photos above and below, we made looms. Some of the first and second graders insisted they will start today, but the 3rd and 4th grades will wait until next week and we get to visit a local weaver for instruction.

While in Manhattan, I met a teacher from the oldest independent school in the US, Collegiate School for Boys. It covers grades kindergarten through 12 grades, and like Clear Spring School is accredited through one of the regional associations of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I was looking through the spam file on my web server and found comments regarding teachers that had been kept from me by the marvels of the machine. The first is from Joe Barry regarding the "beginner mind".

A further thought on the subject of beginner's mind. I didn't really begin to master the basic skills of woodworking until I had to teach them. You abrutly run into the limitations of both your own knowledge and skill. It takes a good understanding of a skill such as sharpening or hand planing to teach it. Lacking the facility to quickly and consistently demonstrate a skill makes you all too aware of your limitations. Plus, teaching brings glaring and unswerving light onto your own habits- both good and bad! One problem I encountered was that I am ambidextrous and switch hands without thinking about it. I drove kids nuts until one of them pointed out that I switched hands as the grain changed. I had to learn how to do hand planing and sawing as a righty and a lefty in order to teach the skill and it made me re-examine just how I did those things. That contemplation trimmed away the extraneous things that I had picked up that were not good technique.

On the mat, as a martial artist the term beginner's mind has a somewhat different usage. One of the precepts is that practice is the most important skills. You need to practice and practice until it becomes second nature. Your mind needs to be open at every class to find something new in what can be the umteenth time you have practiced a technique. Dan Millman has observed that only perfect practice will make perfect. If you practice poor sloppy technique you will never improve. The most rewarding aspect of practice is that when you have thrown an attacker and it happens so smoothly you find yourself asking "what did I just do?" Technique cannot rise to the level of spontaneity without significant practice. Interestingly, when a high ranking teacher from Japan comes to teach a seminar he will not teach esoteric advanced skills but will concentrate on the minutia of a basic technique that you "learn" as a beginner. After the seminar you begin to realize just how much you have yet to learn.

The following is from John Grossbohlin, a thoughtful contribution on teachers:

Interesting question... I pondered it over night and I kept coming back to one theme. That theme was that my father showed me how to do things and how to solve problems when I was a kid. Seems he can make or fix just about anything--I thought this as a kid and still do as I approach my 50th birthday! As for his training, he served an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker at IBM in the 50s.

He recently retold the story of a visit to his plant by Tom Watson. During that visit Watson told the young apprentices that they were the future leaders of IBM... At the time they didn't get it. "We're just tool makers!" However, 20-30 years later those guys were in leadership positions. IBM grew their own talent in those days and Watson understood that if they could survive the rigorous tool and die apprenticeship, and learn how to solve problems there, that they would hold leadership roles in the future.

In terms of formal teachers, there were a lot of them in my academic career... a career that included college and grad school where I trained to be a researcher. I recall many of the teachers, some even became colleagues and friends when I taught college courses for about ten years. Some, like my high school mechanical drawing teacher Donald Muth, gave me an opportunity to push the envelope. I took two years of classes with Mr. Muth and then did an independent study in surveying with him. The independent study gave me the chance to use a transit and make a topographic map. Not your typical high school fare, and I never did it for a living, but I learned a lot. One of the classes was a basic architectural drawing class.

At about age 12-13 I did a lot of the work building a four car garage. In that project I learned about making a square and level slab, placing, screeding and smoothing concrete, laying out, cutting, and building framing, girders, and sheathing. When I was about 13-14 I built a foundation to support an addition on our home. When it came time to square up the layout strings on the batter boards my father didn't tell me how to do it. Rather he asked me what math I took in school might be useful here... It only took me a few seconds to respond "Pythagorean theorem!" That was one of those "Ah Ha" moments in my early life... you can actually do something with that stuff they tortured us with in school! Later in my teens and early 20s I also laid out, cut and framed hip and gambrel roofs. I was able to do these things myself by combining things I learned from my father and Mr. Muth.

I spoke with my father today when he phoned in search of a ride home from the airport. I had recently e-mailed him photos of the picture frames my boys made well as photos of them working on dovetails. He commented that I was good at that figuring out how to make things when I was a kid. Like he, I'm taking the time to teach my children how to do things and solve problems. Like he, I learned a lot by making things and using tools. Like he and I, my boys are being given the same kind of early experiences. For example, at ages 6 and 8 my boys helped me side our home, at 8 and 10 they scribed and helped secure sleepers to a concrete floor and put down the plywood sub-flooring, and now at 9 and 11 they are learning how to cut dovetails by hand. The siding was blind nailed and the floor system will be covered by finish flooring. Thus stray hammer blows and bent nails didn't hurt the finished project but did let them develop skills.

My mother was a strong influence also. She was the one who was involved with us in Cub Scouts and the Drum and Bugle Corp. She often took us camping in the summer during the week--my father joined us on the weekend--and fishing, canoeing, hiking and swimming.

The bottom line is my parents were involved in my life and served as role models. They also made it possible for me to meet a lot of formal teachers... Today my vocational work is done in my head and is often intangible in nature. My avocations, on the other hand, involve my hands and the creation of tangibles. Both are satisfying... and complement each other in that I can draw from both domains when solving problems.

Thanks Joe and John for contributing to the Wisdom of the Hands.
Grants tomb and the cutting of granite reminded me of the Masons and when I typed into Google, Masons and hand, I discovered the world of Mason's secret handshakes.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Another wonderful place in New York City is The Frick. The museum at 1 East 70th Street houses among other things a collection of ornate European furniture. You will marvel at the opulent and meticulous craftsmanship completed for the royalty of Europe. The building itself reflects a superb level of craftsmanship from an earlier time in America. If any readers would like to post suggestions of other must see places in New York, I promise I won't be able to see them this trip, but I will share them here in the blog.

Another thing of note. If you visit Grant's tomb, look for the mason's tools that were donated by a worker's family. Seeing the tools used in the making of such a monument, brings it into human scale. You might want to read about the mining of Maine Granite. You will find that Maine Granite was important in the architectural development of New York. The image above is from the granite quarries.
I had an interesting flight from Dallas to Newark. The man in the seat next to me is a postal mechanic from Newark who had been in Oklahoma City for training. He is a member of a team of mechanics that keep very large computer controlled mail and package sorting equipment in operation. The machine he works on has 13 different computers, hundreds of feet of conveyors, and mechanically operated gates. The machine understands hand written addresses and sorts them to go to the right places. It was interesting that this mechanic started out in our conversation describing the way people's learning is no longer based on personal observation, and that we are getting dumber by the minute because of it. I thought for a few minutes I was listening to myself.

It is always funny how those things happen.
I am in the Days Inn at 94th and Broadway, and I won't post a photo of the place. It is clean and close to Columbia University. This is one of those trips to New York where I won't visit my favorite places. I'll mention them and provide pictures. The first is Saint John the Divine Cathedral. It has been under construction for over 100 years. Construction has been delayed for some time as they recover from a disastrous fire. I hope that at some point stone carvers are set to work again towards its completion. Another project associated with St. John the Divine is a Textiles Conservation Laboratory in which textiles from around the world are restored. The important thing to consider is that those given the opportunity to engage in great works of hand and heart are lifted by their involvement to the heights of human value.

The two photos below are works from another New York City favorite place, the Cloisters.

You don't have to be associated with a particular religious faith to treasure the great works created for religious purpose. It is impossible for me as a craftsman to look at these works without seeing the dedication of attention of their makers to higher purpose and growth.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I was just telling my wife that I've heard from the agent interested in the Wisdom of the Hands that their review of the materials I sent may take another week or so. If they like it they will offer a contract and then attempt to sell the book to a publisher.

Jean was reflecting on the kinds of books she's seen in a similar format, usually a series of essays taking a view of scientific phenomena and building a broader framework of human philosophy and understanding from that view. As a librarian, she mentioned several examples.

I suggested that it might be interesting for some to see things from a craftsman's perspective. "It won't work," she said. "Those others were scientists... who would think a craftsman might have anything significant to say?" "Maybe you should call yourself a teacher. That might work. Or maybe you should call yourself an artist."

It is funny, that most makers of things (craftsmen) aren't suspected of having anything meaningful to say. People tend to think that those who aren't good with their heads must be skilled with their hands instead, and those who lack hand skills obviously have sufficient intellect to make up for it. The divide between hand skills and head skills provides justification for social class distinctions and income disparity. But they are wrong. Without the hand to test the waters of thought, you can go off the deep end and drown in your own idiocy while basking in the false glow of your misperceived intelligence. In other words, you can be stupid and not even know it.
The following thoughtful review of teachers is from Joe Barry, a former woodworking teacher:

I've been thinking about the teachers who I have admired and who became models for teaching.

In 7th grade I had a teacher who was extremely organized and pushed us to learn science at a level that allowed me to coast through college. He had an encyclopedic command of the material and set high standards. He communicated to us that he thought we were capable of performing at the required level and that he would not lower the bar.

My 9th grade history teacher encouraged me to read beyond the text book and the examine history in both the micro and macro perspectives and not just in the simplistic ways the text books dumbed it down to.

My high school cross country coach who never cut anyone from the team. If you showed up for practice every day you were a team member of the New England championship team even if all you offered the team was "depth"

There are two sergeants and one chief petty officer that I owe for showing me that 1. Responsibility can be given and lived up to; and 2. You can push yourself far beyond your perceived limits.

Two teachers in my undergraduate program in education that taught me that learning can be fun, self-directed and that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. I learned that grades are only an indication of achievement and not a measure of worth or a competition between student and teacher. (The bell shaped curve is a horrible farce)

Three of the very patient Sensei's I have studied Aikido under have taught me that "beginner's mind" is the key to learning and success. To study the basics is to begin to master the advanced concepts.

I have tried to integrate these lessons in how I approached teaching so that I gave students responsibility, fun, challenging, and rewarding lessons.


Thanks Joe! One of the important things you bring up is the beginner's mind. It can be difficult to teach without some receptivity on the part of the student. One of the things I encounter is students saying, "I know that." One of the great things in the wood shop is that you can say, "Then show me." There is a difference between knowing something in the head, and knowing it in the hand and heart. And there is a difference between knowing something as a concept, and having the ability or skill to use what you know. If others want to contribute, please feel free to use the comment function on the site or send me an email using the link at right.