Thursday, May 31, 2007

I am all packed and ready to leave for my weekend class at Ft. Lauderdale early tomorrow morning. It seems I can't ever leave home without forgetting something important, but falling into a group of box makers is the best of all worlds. There is something very special about the people who work with wood. They make the best kind of company to spend time with, so even if I've forgotten a few things, we will enjoy the experience, make the very best of it, and I will come home on Sunday having made new friends.

There are some qualities in wood that seem to bring out the best in people. First of all it seems that woodworkers are grounded in reality. They know beauty when they see it, and are often drawn to what can be called authenticity. Of course this is just my feeble attempt to explain what may be inexplicable.

Has anyone else noticed this interesting phenomena?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I have been going over things for my class in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday. There are lots of small tools to gather and prepare for flight. There are small show and tell boxes to pack safely in luggage for flight and there are books and DVDs to sell.

Mainly, however there are points to make with my students and it helps to pull them together in a bunch ready for use. One of the most undervalued concepts in craftsmanship and design is repetition.

I can remember when I was taking a pottery course and the teacher gave me a B instead of the A I hoped for. She told me that I was spending too much time repeating the same shapes on the wheel... that I should be exploring more and trying to do things that were more different.

And yet, what was perhaps the greatest pottery of all, from ancient Korea, wasn't achieved in an atmosphere of trying to be different, but from trying to be better, more consistent, and without the egotism that plagues modern work.

So, I will be telling my students that the evolution of my own work wasn't the daily revolution of trying to be different, but a gradual process, refinement after small refinement, and that if they are to seek meaning in their own work, it will come through the inevitable. Practice, repetition, practice. And again, I repeat myself, this time for emphasis... practice, practice, practice. It is the great thing about the hands... the mind can grasp a concept in an instant then be bored for eternity, the hands can engage the soulful spirit in a lifetime of learning.

The photo above is Arlo. He told me he plans to grow up to be a woodworker.
During the summer months, I shift gears and instead of teaching children, I teach adults. There are some major differences. When I teach children, they are somewhat hesitant at first. They don't really know what they are getting themselves into. Adults, on the other hand, know exactly what they are signing up for and usually know exactly what they want to get out of it. So they are totally attentive, full of questions, and are sometimes insistent that their goals are met. Their high level of engagement can make teaching challenging and also rewarding in ways that are clearly different from elementary and middle school classes.

My first class of the summer is coming this weekend in Ft. Lauderdale with the South Florida Woodworking Guild. I'll be teaching box making to 21 students, many of whom are experienced woodworkers hoping to learn more about making boxes. I'll be busy for a couple days getting ready and may not have time for the blog. So dig into the archives with links at the right if you are bored and missing a current post. If you are wanting to learn box making, I have week-long classes with spaces available this summer in Los Angeles and Indiana. Email me for dates and contact information.

I want to talk just for a moment about my adult students. They come from all walks of life. Some are craftsmen, but most are professionals. Many are doctors, lawyers, and engineers or teachers. Most take up woodworking because they have arrived at an understanding that something was missing from their lives... a tactile quality, and an object signifying accomplishment. Most professions, including teaching, are so abstract that one never gets the full sense of accomplishment that one feels when having made something of obvious beauty and quality. We never outgrow the need to learn. We never outgrow the need to express our innermost qualities. We never outgrow the need to engage the world and life through the creative powers in our own hands. You can call it wisdom if you like. Our societal failure to understand this basic human need I call, stupidity.
The photo at left is of two knife boxes designed for an article in Woodcraft Magazine, so this is a preview of coming attractions. One box is cut from a solid chunk of spalted maple and carefully reassembled to maintain the alignment of wood grain and the other is made from cut-off scraps of redwood burl left over from a friend's work as a sculptor. The recesses cut in each for the knife to fit were done using a typical bandsawn box technique. Still to complete are the installation of a lift tab on the spalted maple box, flocking of the interiors, installation of the hinges in the redwood box and application of the oil finish. The redwood box lid and base are dyed with black leather dye and then polished with 0000 steel wool to bring out and re-expose the delicacies of grain. Both will become much more beautiful with the oil finish.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

From: Ed Miller

Re: Follow-up on last week's Washington Post article

The Washington Post apparently received a flood of letters about last week's article on pushing kindergartners to read. (More Work, Less Play in Kindergarten, May 23). The Post published three letters on the subject today, including one from the Alliance's Joan Almon, which reads as follows:

You report big gains in tests of kindergartners‚ reading. But the acid test is what kind of readers these students will be in fourth grade and beyond. Will they be avid readers and learners? Research suggests that they won't. We see more and more children who are burned out by academic pressure by the fourth grade.

The demise of child-initiated play adds to the problem. Kindergarten teachers report that many children are at a loss when given time for imaginative play. Children are being robbed of their creative capacities, with vast implications for their lives and for society. We need creative thinkers to sustain democracy and to find innovative solutions to our problems.

There is no clear evidence that early reading brings long-term gains. This vast experiment needs careful scrutiny, not uncritical praise.


Coordinator, Alliance for Childhood

College Park

You can read other letters through the following link: Washington Post
If you think of Educational Sloyd as a next step in the development of a broad theory of general education, you begin to understand its importance. The lineage is as follows: Commenius who noted the natural inclination of children toward physical activity, Rousseau who noted the value of engagement in the natural world, Pestalozzi who noted the value of object based education over books alone, Froebel who noted the relationship between object based education and self-directed activity or "play" and Otto Salomon who built an educational system integrating learning and self-directed creative activity. Otto Salomon believed that his "Columbus Egg," was a system that led children through a systematic arrangement of exercises leading to creative capacity and confidence expressed through an active citizenry.

The major difference between the system of education proposed by educational sloyd and what we have now in modern education isn't woodworking, but outcomes. While the passive, sit at your desk and learn useless information education leads to a life as a passive consumer, Educational Sloyd leads to a life as a doer and maker, following Froebel's principle that knowledge should lead to conscious activity.

The image below is of teacher/students in the Sloyd Teacher Training School at Nääs.

Monday, May 28, 2007

As I've mentioned before, Otto Salomon proposed Educational Sloyd as an essential part of general education rather than as a form of vocational training. My visit to Nääs provided insight into the broad scope of Salomon's theories. Daily lectures at Nääs were only rarely about woodworking. They covered the educational theories of Rousseau, Commenius, Pestalozzi and Froebel, providing students with a deep understanding of general education as a foundation for using woodworking as a classroom resource.

Rather than training craftsmen to teach, the curriculum at Nääs was designed to enable trained teachers to teach woodworking. Salomon believed that the same teachers that taught reading and math should also teach woodworking, thereby breaking down the conventional barriers between academic subjects and their practical applications.

One of the most important things I discovered during my visit to Nääs was the deep connection between Educational Sloyd and the educational theories of Freidrich Froebel.

"The one universal law upon which Froebel based all of his educational principles was unity or inner connection. The interconnection of all things was the governing force in Froebel's philosophy and pedagogy and the broad foundation for all of his developmental concepts." (Brosterman, Norman: Inventing Kindergarten)

You may hear this principle echoed in the text of the original proposal for the Wisdom of the Hands Program at Clear Spring School: "...the students will learn the connections of hands to head to heart. They will come to know themselves as they learn to create, to have patience, to know the benchmark of quality work, to see a thing through to the end and, ultimately, to discover the connectedness of all things."

The juxtaposition of these two quotes may help to explain why I have felt such an immediate connection with Educational Sloyd and why I felt compelled to travel to Sweden and visit Nääs.

The photo above is of a lecture in the early years of Nääs. Observing the class is Otto Salomon. Note the number of women in the classroom. Elevating the role of women as professional educators is another part of the legacy of Freidrich Froebel. Among these women was Ednah Anne Rich, a graduate of Nääs who brought Sloyd education to California in the US around 1900 and who authored the book Paper Sloyd in 1905.

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.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Today was the last day of the 2006-2007 school year at Clear Spring, and we finished up with our usual program called "the Celebration of the Child." Each child is honored for the special qualities he or she brings to the classroom. The awards are for things like "best sense of humor," "always caring," "most improved in math." There is a balance in the awards between matters of character, and academics. The Celebration of the Child is always a time of reminiscing and story telling, and what is really shared is a deep sense of caring about each and every child.

As Calvin Trillin stated, "either your children are the center of your life or they’re not and the rest is commentary."

I m pleased to be associated with a school in which each child is front and center.
Back when the Wisdom of the Hands Program started in 2001, Jet Tools supplied the necessary power tools at manufacturer's cost, a significant savings offered in support of hands-on education. After a number of years of steady use, a few small repairs were needed. Jet is sending replacement parts at no charge. I want to publicly thank Jet Tools, particularly John Otto and Russel Mason for their support of hands-on learning at Clear Spring School.

I hope that other companies serving American craftsmen will begin making a greater commitment to hands-on learning.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A sad thing from the Washington Post More Work, Less Play in Kindergarten - Literacy Push Starts Earlier, Gains Speed Freidrich Froebel would roll over in his grave to see the name Kindergarten applied to what they are doing. The article fails to mention the adverse effects.

Another article in the New York Times takes an opposing view. "Putting the Skinned Knees Back into Playtime!"

These article links were sent to me by Ed Miller from Alliance for Childhood. A link to the Alliance is provided at right.
The following photos are of a box made by 11th grader, Paige, in the Clear Spring High School woodshop and just finished this afternoon. It is made of cherry with a drawer front and base made of spalted maple. The turned pull is walnut. It is of her own design. Don't ask me about the secret compartment. I'll never tell.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Things are busy in the Clear Spring School Work shop with high school students finishing last minute projects. Friday is our last day for the year. I've been going through photos of projects and students from the past 9 months selecting photos for use in making certificates of participation for the elementary and middle school students. It has been a chance for me to review the projects. If you have been following since the blog started in September, you will have seen a wide range of work done by students of all ages pre-school through 12th grade.

I will be busy this week with preparing for my daughter's graduation party, and finishing up the last week, and cleaning the wood shop for next year. If you need good reading about the wisdom of the hands, please join me in a review. The year is recorded in the archive with links at the right on the page.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I keep trying to tell the story of Nääs and Educational Sloyd and my visit to Sweden and all that is preserved there, but I keep getting distracted. In the past, I mentioned that the shortest distance between two points in human affairs is never a straight line. The Chinese have called it "Happy Wanderings." It is a lot like the story of the man who invented the new nail in yesterday's post. It required his time spent at the wood end of the hammer. For me, my life as a woodworker required my time in college, the frustrations and unreality of my academic life to nudge me toward the solid terrain of craftsmanship, ultimately giving me something of meaning to write about.

I will get back to the story of Nääs. As often happens with real-life experience, it can't be processed easily and may take some time in reflection. It may come out in bits and spurts.

At this moment, it is good to note the wandering required in the human journey. The path with heart. While most parents and educators would want their children to proceed in straight lines toward some scripted success, a journey that has heart and soul is never scripted. It requires the white game we ask our children to play and it requires the black game they choose for themselves. When my daughter chose to attend Columbia University over a total all expenses paid honors program, I suggested to her that her decision wasn't rational. Her response? "Dad, if everything was rational, there would be no poetry."

So here's to poetry and wandering lines, journeys with heart and soul that take us beyond scripted bounds. The photo at the top is of the field where Otto Salomon gave his lectures in three languages. I am standing with Hans Thorbjörnsson, and Etsuo Yokoyama.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The HurriQuake nail was named Popular Science Innovation of the Year. It is a wonderful thing... the first major improvement in the nail in over 100 years, and when it is in wide usage, it should save many lives and millions or billions of dollars from property loss in storms and earthquakes. You can read about the HurriQuake nail Here! or Here!

The HurriQuake nail should allow homes to withstand direct winds of up to 170 mph instead of 95.

The story of its invention is a true story reflecting the Wisdom of the Hands. The inventor started out working for his father as a carpenter framing houses at 14 as described in this link at the Popular Science website. After working for his father, he started his own construction firm, but found that he wasn't competitive because he preferred to hammer by hand. Follow the link for more of this remarkable story.
Mario Nunez sent me this photo of one a student's finished CD rack, completed in the woodshop at Erie Community College. Mario says the best ones got away before photos were taken, but we need to remember that these were a first effort. Work gets better and faster with practice. And a first effort always shows a willingness to take risks and embark on adventure. I know many woodworkers who are unwilling to cut dovetails because they are afraid of failure. Mario, please extend to your students my congratulations on their effort and obvious success.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I want to be with people who submerge in the task,
Who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along,
Who stand in the line and haul in their places,
Who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well, done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.

John Grossbohlin sent me these photos of a scout project he designed for his sons' Cub Scout Den. The tool totes are useful objects that the kids will use for many years. The experience and confidence they gained will last even longer. Otto Salomon said that the value of the students' work isn't in the objects they make, but within each child in the knowledge and confidence he or she gained in making it. The Boy Scouts deserve our appreciation and respect for keeping hands on activities in the lives of millions of children. In addition, John is working with his woodworking club to make education of kids a primary club activity. They are making great progress!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The photo above is my daughter Lucy at her graduation last night. I have family here for the weekend, so will probably not post for a couple days. Dig into the archives if you want more reading material, or use the search function at the top of the page. Type in sloyd and see what comes up.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Today is my daughter Lucy's graduation from high school. She graduates with a 4.07 grade point average. It's better than an A average because of the Advanced Placement Classes. She is Valedictorian, in a small class of 59. We are looking forward to hearing her speech. Naturally, there won't be much time for blogging today, but I would like to point out that much of her natural intelligence arose from an early engagement in crafts and the fact that we, as a family, have rarely watched TV. We live in an area of poor reception, and are rural, so there is no cable. When my wife and daughter were lobbying for satellite TV, I asked the pertinent question, "Would that mean we would watch more of it?" "Well, yes..." "Then, no."

A friend told me that a recent issue of USA Today featured some of the top US high school students. It interested her that most of the students were Asian or East Indian. Does that mean that typical American children don't measure up? No, it means that they are growing up in a culture that doesn't care about their success and in families where entertainment and distraction are valued more highly than education and achievement. This simple cause and effect relationship is a "no-brainer" but very few people seem to get it or care.

One last sentence for today! Americans! Turn of the TV and get busy making beautiful things.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Today in the woodshop, students were working to finish projects. Rachel finished her puppet and then started working on a cutting board for her grandmother. Dylan finished the handle for his shield and glued it in place. The front side has a design woodburned of an axe and sword. Most of the students are working on independent projects, but for those who aren't, we started making rope using a rather primitive rope making device. The photos are of Rachel's puppet and Dylan's shield.
“Double whammy” What follows is also from the report Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman, from the University of Washington in Seattle on the impact of television:

The study also looked at two other factors thought to decrease the likelihood of bullying - cognitive stimulation and parental emotional support. It found that children whose parents regularly exposed them to ideas - by reading aloud or taking them to museums, for example - were a third less likely to become bullies, as were those whose parents provided them with emotional support - by eating meals together and talking.

"Each of these things has an independent effect," says Zimmerman. "So parents who are not going to read to their children and who put their kids in front of the TV instead [represent] a double whammy" for their children's chances of becoming bullies, he says.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Here is just a bit more about television, video games and the tragic effects on our children.

Childhood exposure to TV and video games should be viewed as a major public health issue and, like cigarettes, these media should come with a health warning. So argue researchers writing in a special issue of the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Research shows that exposure can increase obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, risky sexual behaviours, violence and social isolation, say Dimitri Christakis and Frederick Zimmerman, from the University of Washington in Seattle, in a controversial editorial. The data linking violent media to aggression, for instance, are “just as strong” as those linking smoking and lung cancer, says Christakis.

US children over eight years old spend more time watching TV and playing videos than any other activity except sleeping. More than a third of those under six have TVs in their bedrooms. And things are only set to get worse, as every child with a cellphone will soon to be toting a TV in his pocket, says Christakis.

In the meantime, at Clear Spring School today, the 5th and 6th graders made their choice of two projects designed by classmates, Brendan and Coulter. Brendan designed a replica Monitor warship, and Coulter designed an airplane. The students worked from the plans, but with some additions and modifications of their own.

In the photo above, Coulter is using a sanding strip to give shape to the fuselage of his plane.

Recently published research from Columbia University connects excessive television with attention and learning difficulties. A new study by Jeffrey G. Johnson, Phd. provides evidence that:

"Television viewing time at mean age 14 years is associated with elevated risk for subsequent frequent attention difficulties, frequent failure to complete homework assignments, frequent boredom at school, failure to complete high school, poor grades, negative attitudes about school (i.e., hates school), overall academic failure in secondary school and failure to obtain post-secondary (e.g., college, university, training school) education."

The findings have important preventive implications, according to Johnson and his colleagues. "... By encouraging youths to spend less than three hours per day watching television, parents, teachers and health care professionals may be able to help reduce the likelihood that at-risk adolescents will develop persistent attention and learning difficulties."

It is extremely important that parents begin to understand the dangers of television. We must also present positive alternatives that offer success. Involvement in the arts and athletics has huge potential in the development of our children that we are neglecting in our current educational and cultural environment.

The photo above is of Clear Spring School first and second graders yesterday in the woodshop.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Today in the Clear Spring School Woodshop, the first and second graders made trays for diorama displays. These are for end of year projects, so it was important that we get them done today. The 3rd and 4th graders had a practice day, using saws, squares to mark and check their cuts, and planes on both long grain and end grain. To make the project more interesting each student was given both hardwood and softwood samples to work on. They seemed to have as much fun practicing with tools as they normally do making things. At the close of class time, I asked them what were their favorite projects for the year. "All of them," they replied.

The seventh and eighth graders are still working on their puppets. It is looking like only two will actually finish before their last day of class. Caleb's puppet is at left and Rachel's at right with the lathe turned head.
The students will learn the connections of hands to head to heart. They will come to know themselves as they learn to create, to have patience, to know the benchmark of quality work, to see a thing through to the end and, ultimately, to discover the connectedness of all things.

These were the closing words of the initial proposal for the Wisdom of the Hands program which can be read in its entirety Here. The Wisdom of the Hands was created as a model program to demonstrate the usefulness of the woodshop as a tool for the instrument of all students. One of the things that set Sloyd apart from other woodworking education systems of its time was that it was intended to be "formative", having purpose in the lives of students far beyond their vocational choice.

Any woodworking teacher can tell stories of specific students and the growth that can take place in the woodshop. That Sloyd was created and systematically organized for the purpose of that growth set it apart from other systems of instruction, but also made it worthy of current investigation and emulation.

The following is from Hans Thorbjörnsson:

In Swedish language Salomon is using the terms (expressions) ”formell bildning”, ”formell uppfostran” och ”formella ma.l”. In The Theory of Educational Sloyd they are translated ”formative education” (education meaning both bildning och uppfostran) and “formative goals”. You are quite right interpreting the Swedish formell as general competence, character development, citizenry and responsibility. Salomon talked about the child’s development morally, intellectually and physically being promoted during sloyd work. For the mere sloyd skills (handling tools and material/wood) he used the terms “materiella ma.l” (material goals) and “materiell utbildning”. In The The Theory of Educational Sloyd the Swedish terms are translated utilitarian goals / utilitarian education.

Salomon looked upon Sloyd as belonging to general education. It is a means of formative education. (But he added that some mere technical skills are trained too). The important thing is not the product but what is happening within the child when he is sloyding.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

A retired teacher, historian and writer in Sweden, Hans Thorbjörnsson published an important paper on Otto Salomon, and a book on the history of Nääs. When I began trying to get information about Nääs, they put me in touch with Hans, and he has been an incredible resource in my investigations. Being thoroughly acquainted with the history of Nääs and having gone into great depths in the study of Otto Salomon's letters, he has really helped me to gain an understanding of the essential qualities of Sloyd.

The most important thing for me, hasn't been the actual sloyd method, but that the philosophical framework upon which the sloyd system was based was very much in alignment with my own thoughts of the relationship between the hand and brain in learning. That framework helped me to find a great sense of confidence as I was developing the Wisdom of the Hands program. It was no longer based solely on my own experience but reflected wisdom and experience shared by others over 100 years before. From the moment I first learned about Nääs, I felt a strong inclination to go there. An invitation to present a paper on American Sloyd Education at the first International Sloyd Conference in Umeå, May 2006, provided the much hoped for excuse to travel.

The photo above is of Hans Thorbjörnsson with one of many albums of photographs from the early years of the Sloyd Teacher Training School at Nääs.

The Finnish brain researcher, Matti Bergström
concentrates on the child’s inner life and its – as we see it – chaotic ’possibility space’. Professor Bergström maintains that it is not only a question of ’white games’. The white games are our pedagogical efforts trying to bring up children in our own image. But there must also be room for the ’black games’ where children test themselves and the world around them. They must be given space. At a recent conference, Matti Bergström posed the question: do children need a knowledge lift? His answer was no, they need a chaos lift. We must allow children space and opportunity for the black games which are created in the unorganized and unsupervised meeting with other children.

Very briefly, Matti Bergström’s reasoning can be boiled down to this: The core of culture is art. The core of art is creativity. The core of creativity is possibility. The core of possibility is play. The core of play is chaos. Therefore all culture is based on chaos. More than ever before do we wish to encourage each individual’s creativity and culture-creating ability. The skills of the agrarian and industrial society have long since become obsolete.
This is my one year anniversary of my arrival in Nääs, Sweden, and I want to spend a few days on the subject of Educational Sloyd and why it might be relevant in today's education.

When we began the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School, it was based in large part on my 25 year career as a self-employed woodworker, and my observations of the integral role of the hands in the shaping and development of thought. In October of 2001, I went to the first meeting of a newly formed woodworking teacher's organization in New Hampshire. Jack Grube, president of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers and I had been correspondents for over a year about the decline of woodworking in schools, and the need for an organization to help turn the tide. So, despite my physical location in Arkansas, I became one of the founding members of NEAWT.

Going to the first meeting of NEAWT gave me the chance to visit other schools including North Bennett St. School in Boston and Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge. At both of these schools, one for adults and the other for children, the matter of Sloyd came up in conversations and up to that time, I knew nothing about Sloyd except that it was a term used to describe a particular design of knife sold in the Woodcraft Catalog. Unfortunately, even at North Bennett St. School and at the other schools I visited on my trip, Sloyd was a vague thing... a concept from the obscure past about which very little was known. But there was something about it... When I told others of the Wisdom of the Hands program and how it was envisioned, for some reason, it brought Sloyd to mind... at least for those few who knew some little something about it.

When I returned to Arkansas, I felt determined to learn about Sloyd and I plunged in, using internet resources to find people with knowledge about Sloyd and to purchase whatever old Sloyd books I could lay my hands on. The first person of authority I found was a gentleman in Sweden, Hans Thorbjörnsson, who had written articles about the founder of world-wide Sloyd movement, Otto Salomon, and who had written books and articles about the Sloyd teacher training school at Nääs.

I don't plan to write this whole thing at a single sitting. There will be more later or tomorrow which I hope will become another article about Sloyd for Woodwork magazine. If you have any questions that arise as you read my account, please ask either in the comments or by email. All questions will be answered.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Our current tax code penalizes producers and rewards consumers, diminishing our concerns with quality and encouraging the waste of resources. A friend of mine Paul Justus has a website dedicated to changing the tax code to better protect our planetary resources. .

I have wondered how to restore a national interest in quality and mindful, caring, use and preservation of resources. Could the tax code be a good place to start? It deserves some consideration.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The following is a book recommended to me by Hans Joachim Reincke:How Kindergarten Came to America by Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow.

Book Description
Originally published as Reminiscences of Friedrich Froebel, this enchanting 1894 account of the German inventor of kindergartens was instrumental in bringing kindergartens to the United States. This lively portrait of a pioneer of modern education is a refreshing reminder of the essential role of play and creative exploration in the development of children. Froebel's methods provide a much-needed antidote to the current emphasis on high-stakes testing and accelerated curricula—a corruption, as Herbert Kohl argues in his foreword, of the original concept of kindergartens as children's gardens of learning.

About the Authors
Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow (1810-1893) befriended Friedrich Froebel in the last years of his life and helped to establish kindergartens throughout Western Europe. Mary Peabody Mann (1806-1887), the wife of Horace Mann, was an educator, writer, and leader of the kindergarten movement in the United States. Herbert Kohl is the National Book Award-winning author of more than forty books. He lives in San Francisco.

The ironic thing is that Kindergarten has virtually disappeared from the German educational landscape, and the kindergartens in the U.S. would be virtually unrecognizable to Froebel... unless he were to visit Clear Spring School.
I queried a Sloyd friend from Germany about Froebel's motto.

Hans Jaochim Reincke: "Let our children live!" will be the appropriate interpretation; will say, give them the space in time and a room wherein they can develop their aptitudes, their talents and predispositions in their own way; let them live in a way that reduces interference from the adults (overcaring) and on the other hand gives a shelter, a frame that they do not drift off track.

Interestingly, this idea would correlate with Froebel's own childhood. Due to the early death of his mother and the disengagement of his father, he wandered the woods, learning from nature.
Last uns unsern kindern leben. Friedrich Frobel's motto is variously translated: "Let us live with our children." "Let us live for our children." And finally, as Froebel most likely intended, "Let us live in an exemplary fashion for our children." This last translation implies the role of the parent and teacher as role model. What does it mean to be "exemplary?" How do we live in an exemplary manner? Here are the choices. We get to pick. Nothing goes to waste except perhaps our own lives, as even the worst of us can serve someone as a bad example.


1. Worthy of imitation; commendable: exemplary behavior.
2. Serving as a model.
3. Serving as an illustration; typical.
4. Serving as a warning; admonitory.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We are on the edge of a great awakening. You know those last fitful turns in bed, as sleep recedes and one awakens full consciousness to a new day? It is coming to us. Every culture that has been effected by industrialization has gone through the following pattern... the loss of indigenous crafts and the marginalization of the creative character of the common man... a rise in the incidence of mental disease and chemical dependency... general breakdown of intergenerational relations of mentoring and the communication of significant cultural norms... And so, we are poised for change and renewal. We will awaken to the significance of our own individual creativity. It may come slowly at first, but it is inevitable. The power of the human hand is a force so deeply ingrained in the warp and weft of our genetic structure that we can deny it for only so long before the swing of the pendulum brings us up from sleep. It is the crack of dawn and you and I are the first to awaken.
In the company of old men... Every year, when I have my classes with 7th and 8th graders, I feel so puzzled. The boys come into class full of noise and distraction. They can spend hours poking each other, discussing things with animation, or just making random noises with the bench vises, or a stick. The girls, on the other hand, get out their stuff and go to work. They have objectives that engage them, things they want to accomplish. My wife suggested that boys just don't mature as quickly as girls... But I suspect it is something more.

Who expects anything of these boys? And who demands that they make some effort toward fulfillment of objectives? Who are their role models? Is classroom education geared to meet their needs?

I can remember how difficult my 7th and 8th grade years were for me. I threw up my breakfast each morning and the doctor explained that I had a nervous stomach from stress. Each day at school I faced emotional bullying and taunts of other male students, and during the last 45 years, very little has changed in our nation's schools. In fact, it has gotten worse.

We still know nothing in our schools about how to make use of the incredible energies available in our youth.

We would learn a great deal from "more primitive" societies. Young men, passing from childhood to young adult status are moving from imaginative play to a readiness for adult responsibilities. While primitive societies had rites of initiation and formal mentoring by senior members of the tribe, we encourage our children in inane play and the perpetual avoidance of adult responsibility. We keep them entertained and fail to keep them challenged.

I believe it is time to expect more from our young men. We need to place them in the care of adult mentors with little patience for bull, and who are ready to challenge them with important tasks that build their self-esteem, let them know they have been tested in real life, and allow them to stand tall. Children have a way of meeting our expectations.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

From Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

And that door leads to Sarah's office. Sarah! Now it comes down! She came trotting by with her watering pot between those two doors, going from the corridor to her office, and she said, "I hope you are teaching Quality to your students." This is a la-de-da, singsong voice of a lady in her final year before retirement about to water her plants. That was the moment it all started. That was the seed crystal.

Quality... you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others... but what's the betterness?... So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?

So Google it. It won't help. Put quotes around it, "teaching quality" and you will find that everyone is concerned about the quality of teaching, but few care about the teaching of "quality." Putting wood in the hands of students, demonstrating how they can attain quality in their work, noticing when they do, and giving them the chance to do it again and again... it becomes a habit that grows beyond the woodshop.

Should we be teaching quality in schools like Sarah suggests? Perhaps it should be the first thing, or the only thing.

Additional reading on the subject of quality can be found at

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

You might be interested in the following link concerning Intrinsic Motivation in relation to the cutting board project and the student response.

Intrinsic motivation involves the following factors:

Challenge: People are best motivated when they are working toward personally meaningful goals whose attainment requires activity at a continuously optimal (intermediate) level of difficulty.

Curiosity: Something in the physical environment attracts the learner's attention or there is an optimal level of discrepancy between present knowledge or skills and what these could be if the learner engaged in some activity.

Control: People have a basic tendency to want to control what happens to them.

Fantasy: Learners use mental images of things and situations that are not actually present to stimulate their behavior.

Competition: Learners feel satisfaction by comparing their performance favorably to that of others.

Cooperation: Learners feel satisfaction by helping others achieve their goals.

Recognition: Learners feel satisfaction when others recognize and appreciate their accomplishments.

Most school settings are dependent on extrinsic motivation, grades, approval of teaching staff, etc. When you are able to shift the learning environment from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, you help your students become lifelong self-motivated learners. The woodshop does it.
The 5th and 6th graders decided to delay the project they were scheduled to start today so they, too, could make cutting boards as presents for their mothers. A question came up, "why would we work so hard sanding something that will be cut with knives anyway?" A good question deserving answers. Some of the things that came up... "to see how smooth and beautiful we can make it!" "because its for our mothers!" "because it is good practice." I was glad to have one more chance to show them the method for bringing out the beauty in the wood, and to see them so deeply engaged in their work. They compared each others efforts, to see how smooth they could make theirs, and there were a great number of sincere ooohs and aaahs in the room. The photo above is Killian at work.
It is truly surprising that with as much as we know about the intentional use of language to deceive and confuse, that we would place so much trust in the written word. With the internet, it is worse. With blogging and text messaging, meaningless unedited content is spewed forth at an alarming rate.

With the widespread use of photo manipulation software, we have learned that what we see is not to be trusted either.

I can imagine a day in which the only things we will be able to trust as real or with meaning will be those things beautifully crafted by the human hand. Our choice... the tower of Babel, or the home workshop. One is infinitely more appealing than the other.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Today in woodshop, we made very small cutting boards from walnut in grades 1 through 4. The 3rd and 4th graders did better at paying attention to the grain and the effects of the papers as we moved through grits, 120, 180, 240 and 320. It was a great exercise in developing attention and to gain a better understanding of the potential quality and beauty available in working with hardwoods. Too often, children speed through their time in the woodshop, and part of my intention in this project was to get them to slow down and pay more attention to the changes in the material resulting from their efforts.

The surprising thing the students told me was that they were surprised that such a simple project could offer them so much fun.

The photo at left is of Clear Spring 7th grader Rachel with her puppet. At last it has legs!
The following is by James T. Downey His business website is


I was first entranced by bookbinding because of the tools, I think, and the joy that came from watching my teacher work with them. I have many tools, from the large guillotine which stands in the corner patiently, to the small lifting knives that I have made from an old hacksaw blade, the edge carefully beveled and rounded so that it will separate paper or leather from board without cutting or tearing. I keep most of my small hand tools in an old optician's cabinet, the thirteen drawers each no more than a couple of inches thick and about eight inches square. The drawers are labeled, hand lettering over little slivers of marbled paper, each held carefully in a little brass plaque, though I almost never have to look for the label to know where the tool I need is. My hand reaches out, opens the drawer, almost automatically.

This sometimes surprises me, because by and large I am a clumsy man. But in my shop I can achieve a level of grace that could make an athlete envious. It is extremely rare for me to hurt myself at the shop, even though I am regularly working with scalpels sharp enough for surgery. Mostly, this is because I'm concentrating on what I'm doing. But partly, I think, it is because of my love of the tools themselves, and the respect with which I handle them.

This isn't a respect borne of fear for their sharpness. It is something more... something that is almost spiritual. When you use a tool, it tends to take on the shaping of the use, and of the user. It will conform to your hand, wear in such a way that it actually becomes more suited to the task, until in some ways it is easier to use the tool correctly than to use it incorrectly.

I think that this is why old tools, well made and well loved tools, are so valuable. When you take them to hand, you can feel the right way to use them. Some of the time that went into shaping that tool, training it for use, can be shared from one craftsman to the next. So long as the tool is loved, cared for, and properly used, it continues to accumulate knowledge, storing the wisdom of the hands that use it.

Recently I have acquired some tools designed for applying gold leaf to leather, a technique considered by many to be the height of the bookbinder's art. I wasn't properly trained in gold tooling. This was my own fault; I had not taken full advantage of the time that I had with my mentor, diverting my attention to other matters, not knowing (as he did not know) that he had cancer which would take him from this life when he still was young at heart and had much to teach. After he was gone, the love and affection I had for this man made me greatly regret my limited vision. I had poorly used the time I had with him, missed the opportunities he offered me. It was a hard lesson to learn.

So all I have is a rudimentary knowledge of gold tooling. But I have these tools. I got them from another bookbinder, a man who retired some twenty years ago. He had heard of me, and contacted me to see if I was interested in buying his leather tools. It is noteworthy that he didn't actually offer to sell them to me until he came to my shop, met me, and saw what I did. I think I passed some sort of test because he quoted me a price for those tools which was just enough to be sure I was serious about wanting them, but still well below what he may have gotten for them elsewhere. He told me that he didn't know how old the tools were... he had bought them used from a retired bookbinder himself, when he was a young man. I suspect that at least a couple of them are quite old.

So these tools have passed into the hands of another generation. It will take me some time of training myself, perhaps getting some guidance from other bookbinders who are familiar with this aspect of our craft, before I will begin to understand all of the lessons that the tools have to offer. But the tools are patient, and I have a lifetime to learn.

James T. Downey

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tomorrow the 3rd and 4th graders at Clear Spring will be sanding 5" x 7" pieces of walnut, making small cutting boards for their mothers for Mother's Day. The idea is that they can see what happens when a piece of wood is well sanded, and its inherent beauty is awakened by the application of an oil finish. The sudden depth and beauty of walnut was one of those things that captured my interest as I was beginning my woodworking career. It will be interesting to see if it has the same effect on the children of Clear Spring School. Anyone want to place a bet on the outcome?
Yesterday, a woman at Books in Bloom gave me the crocheted book mark shown in the photo at left. She said that she had put a couple in her purse not knowing what for, but having heard my talk, knew that I would be interested in having one. It is truly an example of the wisdom of the hands and also an example of the kind of exquisite beauty most are abandoning in our digital age. Thankfully, there are still some in our culture that understand the significance of working thoughtfully and attentively through the creative powers of their hands.

On another note, the news this morning described serious thumb problems children are having from their compulsive use of digital input devices in gaming and text messaging. Hand problems are nothing new to the world. But the development of debilitating hand problems from such inane activities is particularly distressing to those of us who know the creative powers of our hands, and who take pleasure in knowing that the beauty we create can last for generations.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The following is the talk I delivered at Books in Bloom this afternoon. It may be too long for anyone to read on the internet where few people have patience for such things, but I promised some people from the audience that it would be posted here.

For those of you who may read here regularly it may not have any new ideas, but let me know what you think...


First, it is unusual for a how-to writer to be invited to speak, and since most of what we write is dependent on visual aids, drawings, and photographs to be clearly understood, for a how-to author to be standing at a microphone is like parading as an emperor down Spring St. without clothes.

Actually I’m using a bit of foreshadowing at the moment since I plan to bring up the emperor’s new clothes later in the talk. Remind me if I forget.

This morning, I want to bring up three old sayings that are in an odd way related. The first is Chinese… that a picture is worth a thousand words. I would add to that saying that a thing of great beauty is worth a thousand pictures, and it is interesting to note that the written Chinese language, unlike our own consists of pictograms based on visual images.

The second saying I want to add is from the Island of Bali in Southeast Asia. When queried about Balinese culture, a man replied, “In Bali, we have no art… we do everything as well as we can.” I offer this quote to inspire some thoughtful reflection on our own culture.

The third saying is one that we’ve all heard time and again from the earliest days of childhood, Practice makes perfect.

Welcome to the May Festival of the Arts, and welcome to Books in Bloom. For some, writing may not seem an art in the same sense that painting is an art, or in the same sense that sculpture is an art. On the other hand, for some, writing is the only art. It is interesting to note, that woodworking has never been traditionally regarded as art but merely a “craft,” so as a woodworker, a craftsman and writer, I would like to address the arts.

I came to be a writer by following a path the Chinese refer to as “happy wanderings.” I am a woodworker who began writing about woodworking and I have since become a teacher as well in order to explain to others the incredible value of grasping and engaging the world through our own hands.

In human existence the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. In happy wanderings, you may go one way for a while and then, “bump,” something happens and you make a meaningful change in another direction.

In 1976 I began woodworking as a career. In 1994 Lin Welford invited a representative from her publisher to visit in Eureka Springs to search for other writers. Lin suggested to my wife Jean Elderwind, our local librarian that I meet with this representative about the possibility of writing a book on woodworking. I looked at the publisher’s catalog and I turned down that opportunity, thinking that I preferred to write a why-to book rather than a how-to book. So, that door being closed (I thought), I began trying to work on my why-to book and found that the subject of woodworking was far too broad to find a convenient starting point.

It was then that David Lewis called from F&W publications. He had walked into Nelson Leather Co. while he had been in town, had been shown my boxes by Jim Nelson, and went back to Cincinnati knowing that he wanted me to write a book. On the phone he said “I want you to write a book for us about boxes.” I said, “I don’t want to write a how-to book, I want to write a “why-to” book.” He said, “Give me 16 projects of how-to and you can put as much why-to in that you want.” In the course of that conversation I became a writer, and I also walked to a threshold of awakening about egotism and the exchange of creative ideas, about writing, the value of words and what it means to offer words that are backed up and illustrated by direct action and that make some effort to empower others in their own direct action and growth.

So now I want to talk about that first old saying: A picture is worth a thousand words. It is easy to see that writing is a form of story telling. It can be said to be narrative in the same sense as the story I just shared. A craftsman’s work is also narrative. Whether making a simple box or a beaded tapestry, the work describes the maker’s life, his or her level of expertise and understanding of the material. It describes the maker’s relationship to others and to him or herself. In fact the work can also be seen as being descriptive of the culture in which it was created. Archeologists have long been aware that the story of a civilization can be told through its artifacts and simple objects created by craftsmen.

There has been a smugness rampant in academia that has been too widely accepted in modern culture… that the written word is of greater significance than the visual image or the well-crafted object. In fact the level of advancement of civilizations has been wrongly measured by such a simple thing as whether or not it has a written alphabet without regard for the beauty of its crafts or the harmony with which it lives with its environment. I turn to the Chinese to remind us that words are not supreme to the visual image despite the state or our current culture.

Now, I want to discuss the second saying. In Bali, they have no art. They do everything as well as they can. In the United States and in the modern world, we have work that we call art in order to distinguish it from the vast quantity of meaningless objects that fill our lives, objects which were created without personal human attention, feeling or aspiration. We fill our lives with objects made by machines, marketed through television advertising, which we buy to fill the void left in our lives by the abandonment of our own creative aspirations. These objects quickly lose our interest and attention only to be deposited in landfills that form a permanent blight on our global environment.

There is merit in repetition. Practice makes perfect. By repeating ourselves we refine what we do. By repeating ourselves we have the opportunity to refine what we say, and if you will allow me the luxury of repeating myself, I consider the concept "art" to reflect the shame of our culture, and yet within "art" is the potential of our redemption. Please listen again and help me with this if you think I could express it more clearly. In Bali they have no art. Here we have the concept "art" because we need terminology through which to distinguish the carelessly made objects devoid of human feeling or emotion from those decorative objects that we buy as luxury items to convey a hollow impression of greater sophistication. (Here I am foreshadowing again. Think of the emperor.)

The important thing about art is that most people make it for most of the right reasons. We create because it is encoded in the character of every human being. If there were an instruction book for the successful operation of a human being, it would state:

Needs water, food, tools, material and creative opportunity in order to maintain mental and physical state of health.

The sad thing about art is that it has been pushed into a corner. Instead of everything being art, art is painting, sculpture, and objects with very little basic utility, and having only decorative use.

The third saying is about practice. Practice Makes Perfect. We may stand before a large white canvas in a museum with a small red dot at one corner, the whole of it masquerading as great art and forget to ask, “Where is the practice in that?” And if there is no practice, can there be perfection? Practice seems to be a relic of the past. The interesting thing about the concept of practice is that it requires both repetition and some level of measurement to which it is compared. It’s about getting better and it also implies that there is an editor, or a listener, or an observer within, taking note at which point corrections or improvements need to be made. We have come to a point in our culture in which art often stands alone as something from which craftsmanship is estranged and irrelevant. And a sad thing someone told me once was as follows…”if you can sell it, it must be art.”

Now I want to go back to the emperor’s new clothes.
Matti Bergström, a professor and neurophysiologist from Finland, said the following:

The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is enormous. Their discrimination is almost as good as that of our eyes. If we don't use our fingers, if in childhood and youth we become "finger-blind " this rich network of nerves is impoverished-which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwarts the individual's all-around development. Such damage may be likened to blindness itself. Perhaps worse, while a blind person may simply not be able to find this or that object, the finger-blind cannot understand its inner meaning and value.

If we neglect to develop and train our children's fingers and the creative form building capacity of their hand muscles, then we neglect to develop their understanding of the unity of things; we thwart their aesthetic and creative powers.

Those who shaped our age-old traditions always understood this. But today, Western civilization, an information-obsessed society that over values 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. They will look at a volume of poetry only in terms of its potential market, missing what it reveals of our shared humanity.

So here we go back to the emperor. He stands in a flight suit on the deck of a carrier in front of a banner proclaiming, “mission accomplished”, but he also stands in the check-out line with us as we shop for cheap things at Walmart.

If Matti Bergström is correct, the loss of the hand's role in education results in flat people, 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. Get busy. Write. Make something. Practice. Get better. Spend your time creatively.

What if everything that came to life, delivered by our caring and courageous touch was "art?" As in Bali, It could happen again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Today I'm busy trying to compose a 20 minute talk/reading for the Books in Bloom Literary festival tomorrow. You know it is hard for a craftsman to get up in front of an audience without his or her normal visual aids. If I can show a box, or a photo, or even a drawing to the audience, I can feel at home, but tomorrow's talk is bare. It is ironic how uncomfortable the literary world can make one feel, and yet, I know that many of the people who write can't make a thing. So, as I work on my talk, I'm remembering to keep it light and to keep it fun. If it also enlightens and makes fun, that is OK, too.

We also had the Artrageous Art Parade in Eureka Springs today. I am somewhat saddened that art always is concerned with being different or unusual or new, rather than with being well done, excellently proportioned, and exquisitely crafted. The idea that if it is different, it must be art, is not one that I can accept.

The photo below is of the Books in Bloom entry in the Artrageous Art Parade. The Girl on the back of the Mustang convertible is my daughter Lucy.

Friday, May 04, 2007

This is the beginning of the May Festival of the Arts in Eureka Springs. We have more artists per capita than most cities, and a reader's poll in American Style magazine named Eureka Springs "18th Small City in America" among the "top 25 Arts Destinations." We were actually competing against much larger cities. With Santa Fe, population 93,000 claiming the top spot you can see that our small city of 2,500 did quite well.

There is merit in repetition. By repeating ourselves we refine what we do. By repeating ourselves we refine what we say, and if you will allow me the luxury of repeating myself, I consider the concept "art" to be the shame of our culture, and yet within "art" is the potential of our redemption. Please listen again and help me with this if you think I could express it more clearly. In Bali they have no art. Here we have the concept "art" because we need terminology through which to distinguish the carelessly made objects devoid of human feeling or emotion from those decorative objects made with feeling and emotion that we buy as luxury items to convey an impression of greater sophistication.

The important thing about art is that most people make it for most of the right reasons. We create because it is encoded in the character of every human being. If there were an instruction book for the successful operation of a human being, it would state:

Needs water, food, tools and materials in order to maintain mental and physical state of health.

The sad thing about art is that it has been pushed into a corner. Instead of everything being art, we see it as painting, sculpture, and other objects with very little basic utility, and having primarily decorative use. With the full blown, hands down application of the Wisdom of the hands, we can change all that. What if everything that came to life, delivered by our caring and courageous touch was "art?" As in Bali, It could happen again.

You might enjoy looking at spoons by Norm Sartorius. He sells them as "sculpture" in order that others might come to an understanding of what he invests in their value. Some of his spoons are shown in the photo above.
If you look at yesterday's word, heu·ris·tic, you will see that it has three different meanings, two of which didn't exist in my Webster's New World Dictionary from my college days. The use of academic jargon is part of the problem in today's world. Instead of discussing things in language approachable by common readers, conversations fall between cracks in the academic pavement where they are understood only by those falling in at the same time.

The Wisdom of the Hands exists at the point where "the rubber meets the road." While I know there are important academic conversations going on, yesterday's word, heuristic calls for practical effort. Experimentation. Efforts to apply new and old techniques and then to observe and measure results. In that sense, I believe heart and soul that the simple use of woodworking to give greater depth and meaning to the education of our children is a proven formula that deserves replication. The scholars will debate and score points and in time common sense will reveal that the hands are the essential element in the engagement of the heart in learning and life.

I tried reading some of the academic controversy, and found that it is so much more interesting, so much more engaging, so much more fun and so much more productive to spend time in the wood shop. Join me there and find out for yourself. The common ground for any conversation concerning human beings should start with the use of our hands.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I heard a statistic this evening that gives cause for reflection. Less that 3 percent of college graduates are subsequently employed in their chosen field of study. Can that be true? I know that even if that number is an exaggeration, the numbers would still be alarming. But in an economy as fluid as ours, new occupations are created each day, calling for sets of combined skills unimagined at the time of the job applicant's birth. In the meantime, we educate our students based on the experience from the last generation.

I learned a new word this week:


1. Of or relating to a usually speculative formulation serving as a guide in the investigation or solution of a problem: “The historian discovers the past by the judicious use of such a heuristic device as the ‘ideal type’” (Karl J. Weintraub).
2. Of or constituting an educational method in which learning takes place through discoveries that result from investigations made by the student.
3. Computer Science. Relating to or using a problem-solving technique in which the most appropriate solution of several found by alternative methods is selected at successive stages of a program for use in the next step of the program.


1. A heuristic method or process.
2. heuristics (used with a sing. verb) The study and application of heuristic methods and processes.

[From Greek heuriskein, to find.]

Heuristic education isn't efficient. It involves trial, error, discovery and exploration of the unknown. It most commonly involves the hands, and is at the core of the great debate mentioned in the earlier post.
When I present my how-to writer's manifesto on Sunday it will be a very minor skirmish in a clash of titans. Noam Chomsky and his crew believe that the brain developed in consequence to language and that linguistics have been the driving force in human development. So, it would only make perfect sense for the fantasy writer's world to eclipse the how-to world of the hand. Frank Wilson and many of the other hand guys (and gals) think that the brain developed in step-by-step harmony with the concurrent development of the hand.

No doubt, the Chomskyites will win hands down on Sunday. How can you argue with poets? They really don't care what they're saying as long as it sounds good and brings applause.

But Sunday, I will state my case, with some humor and forbearance. It is a first shot in a long process. And anyway, Noam Chomsky won't be there.
On Sunday, I'll attend a book signing for my new book and DVD at Books in Bloom, the annual literary festival sponsored by the Carroll Madison Library Foundation. My wife, Jean, is one of the organizers of the event and she has been involved all year in lining up the brightest stars from the literary world that they can afford on a limited budget.

There is a small tent in the gardens of the Crescent Hotel for less notorious authors like myself to do readings from our works. That can be a challenge for a how-to writer. We are so dependent on drawings and photographs to help us tell part of the story. To stand before an audience and just read, will be like standing naked.

I plan to deliver the following how-to writer's manifesto...

It seems that life in the 21st century is a busy one. There are so many choices of entertainment and distraction that it is hard to get any work done. And of course there is the Internet, a powerful tool that provides a sense that the whole world is right at our fingertips. But when we go off line, the same drippy faucet is dripping its drip, the deck is in dire need of refinishing, and there are countless other things that need fixing or making or are just about to break.

Do you ever feel like the DVD of your own life is spinning in its slot, the drive is on fast forward and your own remote is in the hands of others?

Let’s push the pause button for just a few moments and reflect on our own small community of writers.

There are great writers that we all know and love who have the power to whisp us away through time and space, distracting us from concerns, and placing our consciousness outside our own bodies, into the lives of created characters far removed from the real situations of our own lives. Those are the writers that get the big bucks…the ones who entertain and distract. Their words carry us into feeling states from which we ultimately awaken to lives unchanged.

How-to writers are a bit different. We write about small things that empower others to cope, to fix, and to make. We inspire readers to get up, put down their remotes, head for their basements and garages with eyes and hands directed toward improvement, change, betterment and growth. So let’s reflect on our power and direct it with some shared vision.

Can you imagine what a visitor to a museum would think if they had never had a chance to make anything? Would they look at the real Mona Lisa and marvel at brush strokes made by the human hand? If they’ve never held a brush, have only engaged the world through a mouse and keyboard, will they have the power in their own souls to connect with the vast human legacy that only clicks-in when there is texture, the warmth of the human touch, and a sense of one’s own power to create?

So, there are a couple things to go over before we push play.

The first is that we as a small community of how-to writers must come to an understanding of the powers that lay in our own hands. We, more than most, know the wonders of our own creativity. We, more than most know the forces and means inherent in the human soul to improve the reality of the day to day and the here and now. Let’s acknowledge the incredible value of who we are and what we really do. We empower. In the face of a consumer culture with the masses driven to consume WE inform and instruct: how-to, why-to, encouraging others to build and make better. Perhaps some of us may have been tempted by the unrelenting forces of fantasy to write the great novel instead, but perhaps we should remember there is no more important calling for today’s age than that of the how-to writer.

The second thing to consider while we are still on pause is the strength we are can give to the future. Knowing the importance of our own hands, the feelings invoked in our own hearts by our creative efforts, let’s stand resolute in our support for hands-on education in all our nations schools and for all our nations children. Let’s think of ways to expand what we have started. How about tools in ALL schools? Can we do more to spread the hands-on education resolution? Let’s consider new things, too! Let’s put our collective wisdom and power to work.

OK, push the play button. On with the show!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Clear Spring School campers are having a wet trip. It has been raining all day and will continue through tomorrow. That will create challenges. We don't really grow from having things presented us on silver platters, and the opportunity to rise above these kinds of difficult circumstances should be built into every school curriculum. I can tell you from past trips what they are going through, but I can also tell you from past trips that they are making the best of things, learning what they went for and much more.

Seeing Mario's students cutting dovetails yesterday gave me an idea. One of the things I've noticed with the elementary school students is that they are lacking an observational awareness of the surface qualities of the wood. So for the 3rd and 4th grade classes, I plan to have a sanding day. The idea is to give each a piece of black walnut and 4 pieces of sand paper in various grits. This should lead them to a willingness for closer observation of all their woodworking efforts. I'll let you know next week how it turns out.
Mario Nunez sent me the photo at left of his students cutting dovetails at Erie Community College in Buffalo, NY.

I have observed that woodworking is one of the clear ways that students can engage with materials in a dialog concerning quality, and that if one can manage to look objectively at his or her own work and master its quality, that mastery can be extended toward other endeavors. We build upon the past. The kinds of experience Mario's students gain in cutting dovetails will serve them in many ways. You can see the results of the student's work in the photo below. Very good for a first set!

"Many, perhaps most, people never get an opportunity to do dovetailing, but every human being, man or woman, may acquire from it the habit of doing well whatever he or she is called upon to do."-- Otto Salomon

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The first and second graders at Clear Spring have been studying clocks and telling time, so with help in the wood shop, they've made their own. Some were decorated as cats like the one shown in the photo, and some were decorated as koalas inspired by their concurrent study of Australia. At this point in my teaching, I am convinced that nearly anything you study in school can be reinforced and made more interesting by a bit of time spent in the wood shop. I also believe that in time, others involved in education will come to the same understanding.