Sunday, September 30, 2007

These days, being a boy isn't quite what it once was, and if you would like a glimpse of what it was and what it again could be (at least for some), check out Ernest Thompson Seton's book Two Little Savages It may remind you of some aspects of your own childhood, or it may fill you with longing for the childhood you never had. Ernest Thompson Seton was a well known author and one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. The illustration above is from the dedication of his book and I think it will explain the deep attraction I feel for his work.

This morning I was in the Clear Spring Wood shop to work out details of a prototype for a book holder. Tuesday the 3rd and 4th grades are having a "read-in", a day dedicated to reading, which will be interrupted only by the hour or so making book holders in the Clear Spring wood shop. Tune in on Tuesday for a glimpse of a new design, and children at work.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Things men have made

Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.

And for this reason, some old things are lovely,
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.

Things made by Iron

Things made by iron and handled by steel
are born dead, they are shrouds, they soak life out of us.

Til after a long time, they are old and have steeped in our life,
they begin to be soothed and are soothing; then we throw them away.

both by D.H. Lawrence
You can go to Walmart and buy a huge jewelry chest on legs with doors and drawers for $78.00 (or less). Fridays and Saturdays are my days to compete with the Chinese. I make little boxes with love and care, which are sold in galleries at prices that would be considered outrageous in comparison to the prices of Chinese goods, but for an amount of income which would embarrass most Americans. Fortunately, I have my other work as a writer and teacher, both of which are part time, and most fortunately, all are related to my love of woodworking. Between all three, I can keep making boxes.

I am interested in the discussion going on in the pages of Woodwork Magazine that started as a letter by American craftsman John Grew Sheridan. He feels that the Chinese have directly copied his design for a stool which they are selling at a fraction of his cost. That can be a very tough thing to approach from a legal standpoint. And the legal expense can be gruesome. How can you prove ownership of a shape? And how can you prove damages to your sales of that shape? Lawyers get a much higher hourly rate than most woodworkers.

There are other issues...

Where does the intrinsic worth of a object lie? Is it in the shape and use of the object, or does it lie in within deeper qualities? The style of James Krenov's cabinets have been copied by multitudes of American Craftsmen, using routers in place of hand planes, missing essential qualities of construction and intent, and while a copy may look the same from a distance or under the glare of your built-in flash, those in the know and those with greater depth of understanding would see clearly the inadequacies of the copied work. It is a shame that we are so concerned about copying the look of things when we could be encouraging the copying of the integrity with which things are made. By doing so, we might bring some significant change in our shallow culture and a greater understanding of craftsmanship, leading to a better valuation of the craftsman's work.

I am reminded of a story about Japanese potter Shoji Hamada. It seems a young, brash potter was copying Hamada's work and like the master, leaving it unsigned. Friends of Hamada came to him and insisted, "You must begin signing your work to distinguish it from the work of this upstart!" Shoji Hamada responded, "when he is dead and I am dead, the worst of my work will be thought his and best of his work will be thought mine."

And then there are the words of Satchel Paige, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you." Could the best recourse to being copied be to keep involved in our own creative expression and caring craftsmanship, staying ahead of the pack and by leaping creatively beyond ourselves? Everything on the planet is derivative. Could we ever look at our own work in total confidence that it is derivative of nothing and of no one but what we ourselves did last? I suggest that we damn the torpedoes and blast creatively and qualitatively ahead.

I try to help my customers understand all the values of craftsmanship and design within my work and give credit to my sources of inspiration where I can. To do so conveys honor to both my source of inspiration and to myself. Those who choose to copy directly without adding personal touch or personal experience express their own failings of confidence and miss the wonderful opportunities that personal creativity and craftsmanship can provide. And I think that Satchel Paige might agree, they can copy where you've been but have no idea where you are going next.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I have been asked by Marc Adams of the Marc Adams School of Woodworking to teach a one day class, mentoring adults in the teaching of woodworking to kids. It will be held this summer, July 12 following my one week class in Making Decorative Wooden Boxes. Enrollment will be limited, and popular classes often fill up within a week or so of their announcement. The unedited course description for their catalog is as follows:
Wisdom of the Hands...
For those of us with a well developed love of working with wood, sharing that love with others is a "no-brainer." It arises from passion. Those who love children, whether their own or in their communities may think that because they are quietly occupied with their hands-on video devices they are in good hands and that adult guidance and attention are not required.

But the evidence linking damage to children's attention to learning and capacity for learning to the amount of time spent watching television or engaged in computer gaming is far stronger and more clearly documented than the evidence linking smoking, lung cancer and heart disease.

In addition, there is a huge and growing amount of statistical data, linking the effectiveness of learning and joy in learning to the engagement of the hands.

So what's a woodworker to do? Isn't it obvious?

But how do you get started? How can you keep your child safe? How can you encourage your child's confidence, creativity and skill? Doug Stowe will help.

He has been director of a woodworking program at Clear Spring School in Northwest Arkansas for 7 years, working with students of all ages. Articles about his program have been published in Woodwork, Woodcraft, CabinetMaker, and in Fine Woodworking On-line. In addition to reaching woodworkers with this vital information (preaching to the choir), his articles have been published in Independent School and Encounter magazines.

This class is hands-on learning for adults with the purpose of providing an understanding of children's needs and the educational opportunities that woodworking can provide. But even more, this is about sharing with our kids, the most important part of our lives as creative and enthusiastic life-long learners.

If you are interested, please contact the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and ask that you be notified as soon as next summer's classes are open for enrollment.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This afternoon in the Clear Spring Wood Shop our high school physics block began making a variety of launchers to begin study of ballistics and motion. Two students are working on a catapult and others are working on a variety of rubber band powered launchers. Pete Golden, the physics teacher is working on a launcher of his own, using the springy flexibility of a wooden strip to launch an object along a controlled path. In practice and experimentation before class, I made both a rubber band powered launcher and one based on the flexibility of wood. One was a success (after some testing and student suggested modifications) and the other somewhat of a failure. I'll let you guess which was which.

Learning is best when there is a sense of discovery. It makes things fun and funny. Our whole class was entertained as our exchange students from Taiwan and Japan worked through the operation of a cordless drill. There is a first time for everything. We were reminded that throughout the world, children are being given little opportunity for engagement with tools and materials. Seeing the enthusiasm expressed by these students tell us of the universal excitement that comes from creativity and seeing one's own ideas (whether successful or not) in physical form and tested in real life.

I should have pictures of finished launchers in a week or so.
There are mornings when I open the blog and wonder what more I can say. Two people slightly askew from each other in upbringing and experience can see things so differently... even becoming polar opposite. If you have no fundamental basis for judgment, you can begin to believe anything... Like what your politicians say on television for example. You begin to lose all basis for personal examination of fact and reality, and in doing so, you also lose your power as citizen and as human being. When you come face to face with people who live in such distortion of reality from lack of engagement with it, it can become a matter for personal depression and discouragement.

In making the weather vanes in the 6th and 6th grade classes last week, I was reminded of a book I have mentioned before, Defining the Wind by Scott Huler, which is about the history of the development of the Beaufort Scale. That was in an earlier time in which all citizens were encouraged to take up the challenge of scientific investigation. Each might become an expert on the wind by comparing what he or see saw in its effects as compared to a simple scale of observable phenomena. There were versions of the Beaufort scale for landsmen in which the wind might be measured by its effect on a leaf or the smoke rising from a chimney, and of course there was a version which allowed the common sailor to read the wind by its effect on the sails of his ship.

One of the interesting things in making our weather vanes was finding the balance point, the point at which the shaft of the vane should be attached to the base for smooth friction free rotation. Each weather vane, being student designed and student made, had a different balance point, requiring careful observation, marking and drilling for attachment.

Most schools and homes are not training our children to become successful observers of reality. We put their noses in books or in front of the television or computer screen and expect them to derive their opinions from experts. Is it any wonder that we have such people at all levels of government who are allowed to distort our perspectives toward their own purposes?

In Norman Greenspan's new book it is admitted that the war in Iraq is and always was about oil. There is strong evidence that the current administration had plans for that invasion long before 9/11 and that it was never about stopping terror in the first place but about gaining secure access to Iraqi oil and profit for a few select corporations at great expense to the American people. There is monumental shame in their hidden motives, and monumental shame in that we, the American people have allowed ourselves to be manipulated and damaged in this manner.

We all need the opportunity to learn from reality. Each of us needs to take time to be involved in the shaping of the world's essential materials if we are to be grounded in reality. Think of it as a form of inoculation. You pass a plane across a board and observe the curl of wood that arises from the mouth. That mouth won't lie about the sharpness of the steel, nor will it lie about direction of grain. It won't lie about your skill or lack of skill in its use. The scent that arises in the air won't lie about the species of the wood. Hold up a wet thumb. It won't lie about whether or not the wind is blowing. But allow yourself and your children to become anesthetized to reality by television, the distortions of the media and of politics, and you get a world pretty much like the one we have now. And if you haven't noticed, it is becoming a very dangerous place.

There is reason for despair and discouragement, but that is a reason to get to work. Join me if you can. The photo above is of Will finding the balance point on his weather vane.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Today in 5th and 6th grade wood shop, the students finished their weather vanes, except for painting and installation. The projects just keep rolling through. Next week these students will be working on 3-d topographic models of Mount St. Helens Volcano.
What would happen if we were to make some small effort to remember our roots...

text, texture, context from:
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin textra, from textus, past participle of texere, to weave.]

technology from:
[Greek tekhnologia, systematic treatment of an art or craft : tekhne, skill; see teks- in Indo-European roots + -logia, -logy.]

Also, from An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language By Walter William Skeat 1893
TAK, to prepare. See Curtius, i. 271, who gives the three main meanings of the root as 'generate,' 'hit,' and 'prepare,' and adds: 1 The root is one of the oldest applied to any kind of occupation, without any clearly defined distinction, so that we must not be astonished if we meet the weaver [Lat. tex-tor] in company with the carpenter [Skt. tatsh-an].
It was reported by anthropologists studying Borneo that there was a particular butterfly that the natives associated with the approach of the wild boar. When those natives had moved to the city for a time as brief as three weeks, they could no longer identify the butterfly.

Human knowledge is fragile. The mind clears itself to make way for new things. Modern technology in contrast to its roots is designed to erase the need for development of human skill and attention. But at the core of our humanity is the need to weave, craft, create and grow, to become expressed in text and in texture and in the gardens of the earth.

Roots anchor us to the earth, to our origins, and give indication of the vector of human development. But we are a world of cultures adrift and in states of collision, torn from deep roots. To create peace requires that we remember, dig deep and restore... for the nautical buffs among us... all hands on deck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop we continued making trains with the 1st and 2nd grade students, coal cars and cabooses. They showed me photos taken on their train ride last week.

The 3rd and 4th graders made the cargo to fill the wagons they made last week. the blocks of wood represent bags of flour, bushels of beans, corn and dried fruit, and all the rest of the essential foodstuffs required for a journey west. Each student had written a story about their imaginary family and had to plan the food stuffs and wagon loads in quantities based on family size. The photos above show Ozric and Bella with their trains, and Sierra's fully loaded wagon and story book. The wagon and contents are designed at 1/16 scale.
Richard Bazeley reminds me that Mr Ahmadinejad is the son of a blacksmith. At which level do we begin our fundamental discourse? In an era of outrage like our own, in which the peasants of the world are manipulated by despots to insure their subjugation, remarks like those of Columbia president Lee Bollinger are needed, and yet there is need as well to begin discourse at a more fundamental level.

In the American Crafts Movement, we talk about the narrative qualities of work... that a hand woven rug, a clay pot or a wooden box can convey ideas and information from the deepest levels of human reality. It is not surprising to me that the word text has the same root as the words textile and texture. The string of words flying relentlessly through the internet and the media found its beginnings in the knotting of a string.

And yet, we are creating a culture that is illiterate in the fundamentals of human expression. Is it any wonder that we are falling into a world in which the only avenues of international engagement are angry voices or invasion?

Richard suggested that if perhaps two presidents were to meet at a table they had crafted with their own hands, it would be a peace table of the truest sort. Across the street from Columbia University in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, is a table made and dedicated to peace by by Japanese American, George Nakashima. It is beautiful, large enough for many to attend, grown from the richest walnut and expresses the world's longing for an outward expression of the kind of peace that craftsman and artists have long understood. Perhaps we need to bring dialog and discourse to the most fundamental level. The narrative of the hands. Could we talk more clearly in that manner to the son of a blacksmith? Making a table of Peace? Very sadly, we've not had a woodworker in the White House since Jimmy Carter. George Nakashima and his first Peace Table in St. John the Divine are shown in the photo below. It was Nakashima's plan to place one peace table on each of the seven continents.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My daughter Lucy, freshman at Columbia University is at the edge of some major political drama this morning, with the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a speech and question and answer period with students. Many are outraged with President Lee Bollinger for allowing the tyrant a platform for his ideas, but I have confidence that Lee Bollinger and the students of Columbia can hold their own in an environment of free speech and open discussion.

One of the most divisive principles in human affairs is the belief within religious sects that special morality and values set each sect apart from its rivals. We talk about Christian values, Jewish values, Muslim values as though the fundamental human values don't exist. Various sects insist that without their role in shaping the values of our young, that society and culture would dissolve into chaos. In the early days of Educational Sloyd, there was opposition from Christians who found the idea that working with wood would impart essential values, shaping the morals of children to be a threat to their own religious control. Otto Salomon and his benefactor August Abrahamson were Jews in an earlier age of religious distrust.

If you put aside the war of words and of ideas espoused by those who wish to manipulate human culture for their own distorted purposes, we can discover a vast overlap in cultural values, each nation, each tribe, and each community. That overlap of essential human values is expressed most clearly and succinctly in the artifacts that result from the workings of the human hand. It may be expressed in the form of a rug from Iran, or a piece of John Townsend's furniture from early Providence, Rhode Island. The shaping of material into forms of usefulness and beauty is the fundamental moral act, expressing the height of human values and culture. Make something beautiful and it stands beyond question or challenge. Every act of creation is an act of synthesis, and every act of synthesis is foundation for development and expression of fundamental human values, even without the enforcement of doctrine and creed.

Today, throughout the world politicians and pundits will analyze the speeches of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Columbia President Lee Bollinger and the international affairs students at Columbia. As important as all that is (and it is important), I will remind that there is some important work going on in human hands, and that work may speak more clearly with less distortion and misunderstanding. It's not making bombs and missiles but creating beauty in the common objects that enrich our lives and make us comprehensible to all others.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This morning, I read the comics and went to the recycling center at Holiday Island. The recycling center has been particularly convenient because it, being unattended, is open on Saturdays and Sundays. The syndicated cartoon Cathy and the Holiday Island Recycling Center each offer interesting, though tragic insight into the mind (mindlessness) of the American consumer.

The Recycling Center is being closed due to the idiocy and irresponsibility of the people it was established to serve. It seems that people have a great deal of difficulty putting their recyclables in the right containers and the huge cost of decontaminating materials has made the center a major loss for the area wide recycling efforts. Every time I've visited the center, I've found evidence of mindlessness, ignorance and contempt... people dumping garbage and even dead animals in bins intended for the sorting of specific materials.

You can see in "Cathy" the mindlessness of the consumer mentality. The glorification of shopping as a major American pastime shows the idiocy of our nation. Cathy is an extremely popular comic strip whose consistent theme of shopping for useless and needless objects reflects one of the most popular American activities, far surpassing involvement in the crafts or athletics.

If we were a nation of makers, our core values would be those of quality and attention rather than price and expedience. At last, it seems the major media and even the Republican administration of George W. Bush, have come to an understanding of the impact of our consumer culture on the planet. Unfortunately, many Republicans and other idiots are saying "Isn't this wonderful! Once the ice melts, we'll be able to ship our Chinese made junk faster to Europe though the Northern Passage! (Polar Bears be damned?)" So the disgusting modern precept, "shop until you drop," becomes "shop until we've ruined everything." Then, no doubt, we will take pride and glory in what we have done.

If you need evidence of what a culture is like when the power of synthesis and the interest to learn have been stripped from education and the distractions of the media have claimed the soul of its people, read the cartoon above and join me on a visit to the Holiday Island Recycling Center before it closes on September 30, 2007.

Oh, by the way, did you know that there is a cause and effect relationship between the very small decisions we make as individuals and the wanton destruction of the rain forests, the loss of the world's glaciers, the melting of the polar ice caps and the direct sense of despair, depression, anxiety and powerlessness prevalent in our society? We have to claim power over the small things first. Make something. Discover the power you hold in your own hands. Change begins at arms length. Mine and yours.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Richard Bazeley, down under, is finishing his spring term in the wood shop, just as ours in the Northern Hemisphere is getting into high gear. Just as we all benefit from life-long learning, Richard has found new effectiveness in his teaching through the introduction of hand tools. Richard reports:
Today I watched my year 8 students shaping the parts for their footstools. The boys working with the sanding blocks that they made last week were patient, concentrating hard and absorbed in their work. I felt relaxed and could communicate easily with them. The student working with the power jigsaw and sander was anxious, needed more supervision and was much more difficult to communicate with.

The conclusion is self evident and the more hand skills I give the students the more evidence that I see. More learning can take place with a hand tool than with an electric power tool. I don’t advocate the total removal of power tools but I am reassessing the extent that we use them.
Richard has been blessed this year by having a voluntary assistant in the wood shop this year, putting things ship-shape and illuminating one of the challenges of providing hands-on activities:
You cannot run a woodwork room, attend staff meetings, curriculum meetings, appear at school council etc and expect to be properly focused on your teaching without a reasonable level of support. Teachers these days need to be aware of the background of their students such as their learning abilities and welfare issues. If we are to do this well and provide them with a safe well managed environment we need support staff and adequate facilities.
School boards and administrators often choose short term appearance of economy and success over long term goals of providing quality education. Any surprises there? It seems that such choices are the plague of humanity. We don't see very far down the road. Part of the purpose of this blog is to create a vision that carries the wisdom of the hands as expressed by the endless chain of human generations onward as shared growth and personal expression. We may be working on things in the isolation of our own wood shops and classrooms, but when we look up from the work and discover others doing the same things we find our loads lightened, our challenges diminished and our power in ascendance. Richard, keep up the good work.
Yesterday I attempted to address the issue of why hands-on education is left out of the formal learning environment. It costs more. In essence, it is the same decision we make when we choose cheap consumer goods. We spend hard earned money on objects that are on their way to the landfill within weeks of their purchase. They make little or no real impact on the quality of our lives other than the temporary distraction they provide and the loss of time and money that could have been devoted to greater things.

So it is with education that fails to include the hands. Lessons are quickly forgotten as they are perceived to have very little real value or relevance in young lives. Even the things that are most important for children to learn are tuned out by children who become bored by the failure to engage their needs for movement and physical involvement. In the meantime, children are sorted by testing along the illusory hand/brain divide, and regardless of where a child falls along that divide, there is loss of culture, loss of understanding and loss of human potential.

This is one of those things that you understand easily if you have been involved in making things and learning through your hands. It is one of those things that you may never understand if you haven't had that chance. I can point to countless examples of highly educated men and women who through the good graces of family and friends have been encouraged to pick up some tools and discover the great depths of their human character... potential that had lain hidden and dormant as a result of their education. There is the greater tragedy of the poor... A story our cities tell... vast human potential left dormant amongst buildings of an earlier age in which craftsmen carved, and constructed great beauty to last generations, using skills that are now abandoned.

So, there at the end of your arms are objects of great sensitivity and expression. We take them for granted each day. The fingers at the keyboard, trained to act in seamless harmony with thought hit every letter as intended(most of the time). A revolution can start one woman or man, two hands at a time. Take a moment to observe and a moment to wonder. You may discover something very important.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This morning, I would like to explore the reasons the hands are left out of the learning environment.
1. We are largely unconscious of our hands as they perform their function in seamless integration with the brain... seamless at least as long as they aren't challenged by learning something new. The acquisition of skill, at nearly anything (except test-taking) is hard to measure and not considered important. For all practical purposes in modern education as in business, if you can't measure it, it doesn't exist; nor does it deserve our conscious attention.
2. Most teachers, due to their passage through university systems have been heavily screened by the rigors of testing to eliminate all but two basic learning styles. It is challenging for teachers to teach outside their innate learning styles, and to ask them to do so offers poor to mixed results.
3. Those students who learn primarily by listening or reading can be taught very cheaply and effectively through lectures and textbooks, cheaply delivered to large numbers of students at a time. Unfortunately there are seven or eight learning styles and we would prefer to leave most children behind rather than spend resources engaging them in effective education. In the meantime, quick learning through lectures and books, even for those students that fall within that learning style is no guarantee of long term retention.
4. Delivery of hands-on experience in learning is more costly, as it often involves smaller groups of students, more intensive engagement with teachers, and greater prep time.
5. Testing measures short-term retention of educational material. Long term retention and the potential of eventual use of learned materials is more difficult to measure, and is therefore not considered as a goal in a test driven educational environment.

In essence, we leave the hands out because to include them costs money. We cheapen the educational experience of our children because we care more about the expense than about the long term consequences in their lives and their impact on society.

There is a second factor. Huge numbers of college graduates in the United States and throughout the world, rest on the laurels symbolized by their degrees and diplomas, while laying claim to the heightened respect of others, and feeling personal assurance of advanced intelligence and their rights to higher pay, greater security and personal influence. To propose that there is wisdom of the hands, applicable directly to the course of culture and society, is a revolutionary concept (at least in these times). My point isn't to disparage the significance of the hard work these graduates have applied toward our unfolding human culture, but to take the liberty of suggesting that they are not alone. Try going for a day without a working toilet and check the status or your civilization. Forgive me for rocking the boat, but look around. You will see the seas rising over the gunnels, as we are called to accept change.

We get the society and culture we are willing to pay for and give to. But we can change things. Please take what you read here to heart. Test these principles in your own hands. If you find meaning in these words, make something. Learn--practice--grow. Your making will get better. You will set an example that children will notice. Take them by the hand and help them to begin something wonderful.
A friend Jackie sent me a link to a program called "the Woodpile" in which children are given the opportunity to assemble and glue scrap blocks discarded by construction sites. It is a great program in that children who have learned only the computer and electronic games are given at least a very small chance to actually engage in working with real materials with all their tactile qualities, mass, weight and solid form. It is also a sad commentary on the state of our children's education. Playing with blocks was the kind of thing previously learned in preschool and commonly part of normal play in most homes. It has been cleanly erased from much of the educational landscape as children's time is structured to eliminate real play, and as they are left with only one tool to explore, a powerfully engaging one that carries them deep into entertainment and guarantees their successful escape from reality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The photos at left and below are of our 5th and sixth grade project for the week. They have been studying weather and wind, including the Beaufort Scale, so today we began making weather vanes which we will complete next week. In preparation for today's class, I supplied 1" square poplar stock with a slot cut in the end sized to fit 1/4" plywood. The students designed their own tails for their weather vanes, and shaped the ends of the poplar stock to come to a point. This project involved hand saws, scroll saws, design using pencil, paper and scissors. Come back next week to see the finished weather vanes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

For any readers interested in the history of Sloyd following Otto Salomon's time as director at Nääs, this paper by Tapani Kananoja might be of interest. Interestingly, Carl Malmsten, mentor and teacher of James Krenov was director at Nääs for a time after 1920. He agreed with some other critics that the model series were too restrictive of creativity and was among those who opened the teaching of Sloyd to more experimental design.
The images below are from today's lessons at Clear Springs School. In the 1st and second grades, we started their trains by making engines. The 3rd and 4th grades began westward expansion by making their own wagons.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I am home from my trip to Detroit, and am getting ready for classes tomorrow. Jack McKee sent me a review copy of his book Woodshop for Kids It has some great projects in it, but more important, it has great advice. Kids can come up with projects, but parents and teachers need to keep them safe and to help them discover the techniques that lead to a safe and satisfying woodworking experience. As I read through, I find so many ideas that so clearly reflect my own experience in the Clear Spring wood shop. Along with Richard Starr's book, Woodworking With Kids, this is a book I highly recommend.

On another matter, you may be interested in downloading Bengt Svensson's 1902 model series from his website Click on the CD cover of the 1902 model series on the left of the opening page and then scroll to near the bottom on the next page where you can click for download.

Bengt is a sloyd teacher in Sweden who collected an entire Nääs model series from a community in Sweden, where they had been saved for many years in the homes of former sloyd students. I hope to begin some discussion of this valuable contribution to Sloyd history as I have time available in the coming weeks. The photo below is of Model I in the 1902 series, courtesy of Bengt Svensson.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The photo above is my box making class at Woodcraft No. 321 in Sterling Heights. The time was too short, and it seemed that we had to go too lightly through some of the things we wanted to cover. But each student was able to take home a box reflecting his own effort, his own learning, his individuality and the beauty of wood. Tomorrow morning I fly home to prepare for classes at Clear Spring School.

As an interesting note, I asked my students this weekend, "How many of you are 'hands-on learners'? All hands shot up. There seem to be a lot more of us than most schools seem to know about.

By coincidence, if there actually is such a thing, Trevor Smith, my shop assistant for the weekend, had read an earlier article I had written about Sloyd and used it to help parents in his high school hands-on physics class come to a better understanding of the role of the hands in learning. Trevor has developed an advanced physics curriculum for his high school using rocketry and robotics. His class has become extremely popular on the campus of one of the finest high schools in America. He had noted that in most classes, students watch the clock and can hardly wait to be dismissed, but that it is different when the students are engaged in making things.

This is from Trevor:
I look forward to future conversations
about how we might continue to provide and find new avenues to provide rich educational experiences through hands-on learning. You have confirmed for me what I have been learning through my own students that there is something quite special and dare we say "magical" about engaging students brains in their own learning through the use of their hands. I tell my students that it is just another type of problem
solving. They seem to get this because they hear the term "problem-solving" in their other classes. I tell them that the problems presented in my classroom will require the coordinated efforts of their brains and hands.

We are gradually building a network, a language, and a persuasive body of shared experience. Thanks Trevor, for joining hands.
Some time ago, when anthropologists were trying to figure out what to call our species they came up with the term "homo sapiens" which means "wise" or "knowing man." At that time, we were not "evolved" to our current state. There were no big-box stores or Walmart shoppers, just men and women up to the usual: wars and other expressions of mindless inhumanity. As we review the current state of our culture and our disastrous impact on the natural environment, we might consider the naming of man as "wise" as a classic example of wishful thinking. There was hope in the naming. It describes our potential, but rarely the reality of our behavior or existence.

There is another name for us, our species, that is more widely used, that of "human being" which suggests a passive quality and a stillness. Wishful thinking again. There is no stillness or "being" to be found in the relentlessness of human activity. Even when our bodies are stilled, we are surrounded by the things we have set in motion, the whir and rattle of motors and the silent but powerful streams of electrons connecting us to thoughts, sounds and images from far beyond.

At one time another name was proposed for us, homo faber, man the maker.

So here I am this morning at the edge of Detroit, Michigan "motor city," the home of Henry Ford and the automobile, reflecting on the day to come, making boxes. There is something at the core in each of us that calls our hands, hearts and minds to make. There is a stillness of being and arrival of spirit that comes from simple things... A sharp plane passes along a rough edge, leaving soft smoothness in its wake. There is something more in the whisper of that plane than our civilization writ large can comprehend. So we learn, one heart, two hands, at a time. There is a movement in it.

For the homo sapiens and humans among us, we are talking about wisdom, and being. It is the stillness that arrives in quiet hand/heart-driven creativity, like what Henry Ford felt in his own shop before he set too many wheels in motion. As we have seen, things can get out of hand.

But we can take things back... Grab life in our own hands... Make things of usefulness and beauty... Grow, learn, gain skill, get better, then teach our children to engage in the sensitivity of craftsmanship. It is a reversal of sorts, an end of wishful thinking, the arrival and expression of wisdom. With a little bit of shop time, some remediation of the hand, some restoration of dignity to craftsmanship perhaps homo sapiens and homo faber might come to mean the same thing.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Today at the Sterling Heights Michigan Woodcraft Store, we made sleds for the table saws, then cut miters on small boxes and fitted bottoms. Tomorrow we assemble the boxes and make lids. It is a great class of enthusiastic woodworkers and we will have finished boxes to show tomorrow.

Friday, September 14, 2007

You may have noticed the wheels we use on projects in the Clear Spring wood shop. We make them ourselves from round ash and hickory scrap that comes from a handle factory in Missouri. On Monday I drove up and filled the back of my Subaru with as much as I could imagine using over the next two years or more. I cut them into thin rounds on the table-saw and then drill axle holes on the drill-press, using a jig I developed to hold them at center on the drill-press table. In an hour or less of my own prep time, I can make enough wheels to keep a number of children inventing vehicles for hours. If we were to buy wheels at the local hobby store or through a mail order catalog, they would cost a lot of money and not allow the same degree of creativity as the ones we make.

Today I fly to Detroit and will be teaching at the Sterling Heights Woodcraft Store on Friday and Saturday. I'll post some photos from the class. The wisdom of the hands isn't only for the young. But what you develop while young can be yours for a lifetime.
Of course, Clear Spring School isn't the only school in America doing what we do in the woodshop. The School In Rose Valley has a program led by Mike Nowell

Mike describes the hidden value of woodworking education. What he says applies to children of all ages.

The Hidden Agenda of Preschool Shop
by Mike Nowell

Visitors, prospective parents and new school parents are often taken aback by the thought of three and four year olds engaging in woodworking. Their general focus on either the novel "cuteness" of small children plying full-sized tools or the potential dangers of same can distract them from seeing that there is quite a bit more going on in the program than children learning how to nails together pieces of scrap wood. While the following list of the program's intentional structures and rules teamed with the explicit and implicit messages and lessons conveyed to preschool children is considerably less than exhaustive, my hope is that it provides a glimpse behind the curtain of what's really going on in Shop.

* I get to build almost anything I want: My ideas are valued.
* I must do my own work: I am capable. I am responsible.
* I must finish what I start: I value my own ideas. I am mindful of resources.
* I only take two or three pieces of wood at a time: I can consider the needs of others.
* I am taught how to use tools safely: My teachers care that I am safe. I am trusted.
* There are not enough hammers for everyone to claim one for him/herself: I can share. I can be patient.
* There are not enough teachers to help everyone at once: I can take turns. My classmates and I can help each other.
* I can't always finish my project in a single period: My ideas are worth extended effort. I can postpone my gratification. I can weather disappointment.
* It is okay to make mistakes: Learning new skills takes time. I don't expect myself to be perfect.
* My teacher takes notes about my work: My efforts are valued. I can reflect on my actions and choices.
* My teacher is "silly": My teacher enjoys working and playing with me.

Together, the children and I are building a good deal more in Shop than the wooden artifacts suggest.

The photo above is one of Mike's students at work. More photos are available on the school's wood shop website.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The two objects shown in the photo are prototypes for projects to be done next week in the wood shop. The first and second grades are studying community and will be visiting our local steam train. We will be making our own from steam engine to caboose as an integrated studies project. The 3rd and 4th grades are studying westward expansion and are making their own covered wagons. Prior to making their wagons, they've planned their trips and selected the supplies they will need on their journeys west.

I woke up the last three nights from a singular dream. You know how dreams can tend to be preposterous? This dream was about various people taking great pride and pleasure in their work. I was reminded of the irrationality this dream when I stopped at a fast food restaurant for lunch. The staff was in a panic. The manager was berserk. A buzzer was going off and would not go quiet. She hollered at her employees, "Can't you make this order go off the screen?" "Why won't this order go off the screen?" No doubt there was something in the computer which timed order fulfillment and would indicate to her bosses, the near tragedy of her management. Another question that might have been asked in a lower volume, and that might have shown the kind of human compassion that stands at the core of successful business: "Has this customer been taken care of yet?"

Anyway, I'll keep dreaming, loving the work I do, thanking my very lucky stars and wishing my dream for others will come true.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This afternoon, we had our weekly meeting of Wood Club, a program to offer high school students extra time in the wood shop. Today the more advanced wood turners worked on bowls turned from mesquite, while beginning turners worked on spindles, learning to cut beads and coves. The photo at left is of Dylan.
Today,the students of the 5th and 6th grades at Clear Spring finished the scroll sawing of their Pangaea puzzles. Some had followed instructions to the letter, some had not. Some, listening more closely to instruction, had better success in the development of the finished object. As a teacher, it makes it easier when they listen. But the learning may be better when they don't. In the Manual Arts by Charles A. Bennett, he quotes Charles Bird, Supervisor of Manual Training in Leicester, England, on the Discovery Method or "heuristic" learning:

It will hardly be denied that the normal child possesses in a marked degree such characteristics as curiosity, inquisitiveness, a love of prying into things, of questioning and doubting, which are frequently amusing and sometimes embarrassing. Of his originality, adaptability, resourcefulness, and independence there can be no possible doubt. It is these characteristics, so preeminent in their importance as assets in after life, which a reasonable system of educational handwork can stimulate and strengthen. It is greatly to be feared these characteristics have not been strengthened by rather weakened by the educational method of the past.

For this purpose the children must be allowed to depend upon their own thought and judgment in doing things. If the work given be interesting in character, and not too difficult for mind and hand to fashion, surely the children may be allowed to exercise their whole powers upon it without let or hindrance; the cause is discoverable, and it is the business of the teacher to see that the children discover it. Let the children see, think and do; later may possibly be the time for explanation, surely not before….

There is a discoverable reason why one method is better than another, if it be better; one tool more adapted to the purpose in hand than another, etc. If we wish the children to develop a reasonable judgment in all things, as we surely do, we must on no account discover for them what they can discover for themselves.

Uniformity of method--- in other words, the teacher’s method--- is not even desirable. What is wanted is that each child find its own method. If the children reveal themselves, the teacher can act from sure knowledge of strengths and weaknesses, of needs and necessities. Other wise if the teacher supplies the method, the children are robbed of their natural inquisitiveness and curiosity, and may become mere storehouses of dead information. A little patience and a cheerful manner are all that are required to bring out the innate courage and capacity of the children, and cause them to attack their work with an intelligence, a vim and a vigor delightful to observe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I will be at the Sterling Heights Michigan Woodcraft Store for a Two Day Box Making Class, this Saturday and Sunday, September 15 and 16. If you know anyone in the Detroit area that might be interested, they can e-mail the store at or call them at (586) 268-1919 to learn how to register. It should be a fun class. We'll make boxes and probably talk about and use the wisdom of our hands.
Photos for today: Top left carving kindergarten pointers in the 3rd and 4th grades. Creative toy-making/practice day, 1st and 2nd grade class. 7th and 8th grades, a nearly completed set of geometric solids. Today they cut the triangular pyramids and turned the cones on the lathe.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The following is from Dr. Felix Adler, founder of the Workingman's School in New York City, and was published in The Moral Education of Children 1892:

I …wish to speak of the value of manual training to the future lawyer and clergyman, and to all those who will perhaps never be called upon to labor with their hands. Precisely because they will not labor with their hands is manual training so important for them--in the interest of an all-round culture-in order that they may not be entirely crippled on one side of their nature. The Greek legend says that the giant Antaeus was invincible so long as his feet were planted on the solid earth. We need to have a care that our civilization shall remain planted on the solid earth. There is danger lest it may be developed too much into the air-that we may become too much separated from those primal sources of strength from which mankind has always drawn its vitality. The English nobility have deliberately adopted hunting as their favorite pastime. They follow as a matter of physical exercise, in order to keep up their physical strength, a pursuit, which the savage man followed from necessity. The introduction of athletics in colleges is a move in the same direction. But it is not sufficient to maintain our physical strength, our brute strength, the strength of limb and muscle. We must also preserve that spiritualized strength which we call skill-the tool-using faculty, the power of impressing on matter the stamp of mind. And the more machinery takes the place of human labor, the more necessary will it be to resort to manual training as a means of keeping up skill, precisely as we have resorted to athletics as a means of keeping up strength.

There is one word more I have to say in closing. Twenty-five years ago, as the recent memories of Gettysburg recall to us, we fought to keep this people a united nation. Then was State arrayed against State. Today class is beginning to be arrayed against class. The danger is not yet imminent, but it is sufficiently great to give us thought. The chief source of the danger, I think, lies in this, that the two classes of society have become so widely separated by difference of interests and pursuits that they no longer fully understand one another, and misunderstanding is the fruitful source of hatred and dissension. This must not continue. The manual laborer must have time and opportunity for intellectual improvement. The intellectual classes, on the other hand, must learn manual labor; and this they can best do in early youth, in the school, before the differentiation of pursuits has yet begun. Our common schools are rightly so named. The justification of their support by the State is not, I think, as is sometimes argued, that the State should give a sufficient education to each voter to enable him at least to read the ballot which he deposits. This is but a poor equipment for citizenship at best. The justification for the existence of our common schools lies rather in the bond of common feeling which they create between the different classes of society. And it is this bond of common feeling woven in childhood that has kept and must keep us a united people. Let manual training, therefore be introduced into the common schools; let the son of the rich man learn, side by side with the son of the poor man, to labor with his hands; let him thus practically learn to respect labor; let him learn to understand what the dignity of manual labor really means, and the two classes of society, united at the root, will never thereafter entirely grow asunder.

A short time ago I spent an afternoon with a poet whose fame is familiar to all. There was present in the company a gentleman of large means, who, in the course of conversation, descanted upon the merits of the protective system, and spoke in glowing term of the growth of the industries of his State and of the immense wealth which is being accumulated in the large cities. The aged poet turned to him, and said: "That is all very well. I like your industries and your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?" That is the question which we are bound to consider. Is this civilization of ours turning out men-manly men and womanly women? Now, it is a cheering and encouraging thought that technical labor, which is the source at our material aggrandizement, may also become, when employed in the education of the young, the means at enlarging their manhood, quickening their intellect, and strengthening their character.

Now, if you've made it all the way to this point, tune in tomorrow for more pictures from the wood shop.

Jack McKee, author of Woodshop for Kids sent the following note:

Trying to get people interested in wood working with kids is kind of like trying to pump out the Titanic, nevertheless, once you've helped a group of kids build something their excitement is contagious. You would not believe (you would Doug) how many parents of those hands-on learners have come to me and said something like, "you know its amazing, but since my child took your class they are doing much better in school." The wisdom of the hands, I guess.

I do have quite a few things to say about woodworking with kids. Any interested adult can help kids build. Building tops, and puzzles, and boxes and stools is not rocket science. Hand tools, only, to begin. Don't even think about power tools. Start them young, really young. Kids can use saws and hammers at 3 or 4 years old. What they remember is not the details of using tools but idea that they can build.

I didn't start out to teach kids woodworking. I was staying home taking care of my two boys and needed time to work on the house so I was always looking for ways they could entertain themselves. I was awake enough, however, to notice how much they liked it. If they had a couple friends over they could while away an afternoon without too much help. And they were careful. When I later volunteered in the schools I noticed kids weren't having a lot of fun. At the very least the little woodworking projects I set up were fun. Later, I worked at a Montessori school doing "shop" class with 3-6 year olds and taught (and still teach) a summer woodworking class. These classes taught me kids can do much more than I had thought. I am still amazed how much they like it.

As any carpenter knows, the little details of any new area of woodworking take time to work through. If I've done anything, its work out a lot of those details on how to work with kids and what kinds of mistakes they make. Its a matter of spending the time setting things up so kid will be successful. If you don't have the details worked out its easy for kids to get bogged down and discouraged by detours. There are enough detours in woodworking even if things are going right.

All in all, woodworking with kids is the most fun, interesting and meaningful woodworking I've ever done.


The image above is work by one of Jack's students.
The Clear Spring High School students finished their coat hooks today, so we will be ready to hang them in their hall way later in the week.--just in time for the arrival of cooler weather.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Jack McKee who has written a book Woodshop for Kids sent me the photo at left. Jack says, "A little kindergarten girl, Amanda, gave me that car after I had admired it. I tried to turn it down but she was insistent. It is
representative of the way kids build and their generosity and I love it."

I also love that car. Its design presents an understanding of the interior space rather than the exterior dimensions and form, turning the car from an impersonal object to a much more personal feeling of occupancy and engagement.

I am pleased to announce that one of my high school students, senior Paige Goodman-Wolven, won Grand Championship in the woodworking competition at the Carroll County Fair. Her box made in last year's woodworking class will go on to regional competition. Paige's box is of her own design, made with spalted maple, cherry and black walnut. Please don't ask me about the secret drawer. I'll never tell.
A Canadian Professor John Olson helps to clarify the relationship between Sloyd and Vocational education as follows:

Excerpted from: The Moral Dimension of Making Things
Beyond technique to culture

'Sloyd', for example, in the Scandinavian tradition unifies learning about form and matter in the same making process. The point is that things are made for a purpose, and, when well made, are beautiful. The question of fitness for purpose, and the fitness of the purpose, arises as part of the making. Making things —Sloyd— did not stand outside of general education; it was part of the goal of education for work —but also for life— a unified idea. As Kananoja,(see article notes) speaking from a Scandinavian perspective, points out:

Cygnaeus clarified the concept ‘education’ or ‘upbringing’ in his many writings. He did not want to limit general education to the mere acquisition of knowledge and skills for the work force and to make the pupils unthinking imitators of technologies and artifacts. Rather, he wanted to educate them for carefulness, accuracy, creativity and dexterity.

Sloyd originally was part of a general education which included work as an educational concern. Work education, being then within general education, is the germ from which a more comprehensive view of education grew; at least in the conception of Uno Cygnaeus and those he influenced. Work education was not to one side, but central to general education. If we retain the original spirit of Sloyd, or making things, then we have an idea that does not separate work from life through separate vocational training, but continues to ground education in the idea of work and life as being integrated.

The full text of this article is available Here
1. Saw off from board with rip saw a suitable piece of wood a little longer than the finished length. Remove this piece with the cross-cut saw.
2. Cut it in its entire length in the form of a square in cross section. Cut the corners, making a regular octagonal prism.
3. Round it to a regular cylinder. Taper the end as shown in drawing. Measure the length and cut off.
4. Round the end as shown in drawing.

Exercises.--Sawing off long cut, cross cut, convex cut with knife.

The instructions and image above are from the Fundamental series 1890, and provide the next step in the use of Sloyd in the classroom, immediately following Models No. I and No. II. What I found in last week's lesson with 3rd and 4th grade students is that it takes a great deal of concentration and continuous attention. There are many other ways for students to develop these skills. Computer games can call for similar attention and concentration, but in gaming when the mind wanders and the game is lost, nothing real has happened. In fact, win or lose, the time "spent" is of no real consequence except in view of its irretrievable loss. When the attention and concentration are closely controlled while a student is engaged in Sloyd, the results are real. If we are training our students for lives of fantasy, distraction and entertainment, computers and gaming might be just the education they need. If we are hoping their lives might encompass more, think about real tools, real wood and Educational Sloyd.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The following is from Charles A. Bennett's book The Manual Arts

"…we who would appreciate art and handicraft find that it takes a lifetime to gain the mastery of even the painter’s art; and when we think of sculpture and metalwork, cabinet-making, textiles, jewelry, the building of a cathedral, a great bridge or machine, we realize how impossible it is to fully appreciate work in all these arts and crafts. With our human limitation, the span of a single life is not long enough to include so much, yet we desire the power to appreciate the good in the arts and to help others to do the same.

So we are led to try another and easier course. We throw aside the philosophy of Froebel and seek to store our minds with facts about the arts, in the hope that by this means we may reach our goal of appreciation. We search the latest books and magazines. We read what Mr. A. says of the opinion expressed by Mr. B. concerning the work of Mr. C. We find that Mr. D. does not agree with either Mr. A. or Mr. B. on several important points and we take little satisfaction in knowing their combined opinions. When we are honest with ourselves we admit that we do not appreciate the real thing they are writing about.

Like the young clerk in the draperies department of a downtown store, we can talk “arts and crafts style” or we can discuss the report of the latest exhibition and quote good authorities too, but we are conscious of the fact that this is not appreciation. We know that appreciation involves feeling and this newspaper reading has begotten no art feeling in us. We would not only know about art, but we would feel—-we would respond to the influence of the art; we would have the artist’s emotions transmitted thru us, and this we find does not come about thru the medium of words merely. We must see and touch and do; we must get our knowledge first-hand; we must learn thru experience.

In learning about the art, we have avoided the thing itself.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Today I added some new tools to the Clear Spring wood shop. I wanted marking gauges that would work with a pencil, rather than a pin or blade. Those kinds of gauges are hard to find, so I made my own using the Hamilton marking gauge made by Jeff Hamilton as my inspiration. These aren't as beautifully crafted as my Hamilton gauge, but they were cheap and we are on a tight budget.
Weekend reading from Google Books Follow the link and type in The Manual Arts, Title and Charles A. Bennett Author. Charles Bennett was the publisher of the Manual Arts Press and had a long history of his own in the development of the manual arts movement in America. You may find particular value in Chapter III. The Development of Appreciation. You may already have an understanding why the computer as a single tool, despite its power and efficiency is not the answer to the educational needs of our children. Charles Bennett adds some well crafted remarks from the beginnings of the last century to our modern discussion. Children need saws and hammers and the tools of the craftsman if they are to understand the values inherent in our civilization.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Today at the Clear Spring School the high school students made natural "crook" hangers from tree branches for their new classroom based on drawings from Eric Sloane's book, A Reverence for Wood. The process used in making the hooks was to saw the tree branches to length, secure them in a vise and use a hand plane to cut a flat surface for mounting. Then the ends and edges were whittled, sanded and formed to avoid sharp edges. On Monday we will mount them on boards so they can then be hung for use in the hallway at school. We also studied the use of natural crooks in both ship building and architecture in preparation for their next block.
The Wisdom of the Hands Program at Clear Spring School was established to prove the usefulness and relevance of woodworking as a tool for general education. I want to spend just a minute to describe how projects are designed to be relevant at the various grade levels.

The guiding principles of project design are drawn directly from educational sloyd. The first is that the project should be useful to the child or his or her family. In addition to this, we use woodworking as a tool to integrate learning activities, so we design projects to be directly relevant to whatever the students are currently investigating in their classrooms.

The second principle is that each lesson should build incrementally on the skills acquired in prior lessons. We attempt to adhere to this principle through a gradual introduction of various tools and by gradually increasing the complexity of the projects.

Fortunately, all this planning doesn't fall on my shoulders. My fellow teachers at Clear Spring School are a whirlwind of creativity. They have lots of ideas, and because they as so closely involved in planning wood shop activities, they rarely miss a class. It is too much fun, and they work with me to assist the students while making each project for themselves. Now that we have several years experience in the wood shop, the most successful lessons can be repeated, making planning and preparation easier. The teachers all have favorites they hope to do again.

We hope that other schools will find our model useful. While Clear Spring School is very special, perhaps unique, there are teachers all over th US (and the world) in schools both public and private who know that their children need their lessons to be brought to greater meaning through the deep engagement that hands-on learning brings.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This morning in the Clear Spring School Wood Shop, the 5th and 6th grade students made Pangaea puzzles using the scroll saw. the 7th and 8th grades students continued work on their Geometric Solids, making pyramids and turned cylinders on the lathe. Next Tuesday, they will continue the project, making triangular based pyramids and turned cones. The top photo shows Jessica Turner's Pangaea. Next, the oceans will be cut and made into puzzle parts. The photo at left shows a cylinder being formed on the lathe-- A perfect introduction to this fun tool.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Today in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, the 3rd and 4th grade students made Kindergarten pointers from the Nääs Fundamental Series. We started with yellow pine and then attempted to carve cherry. I forgot to take my camera this morning, so I don't have photos of the students at work. But they liked the project so much that they want to do the same one again next week and get better. You can see from the photo that there is room for improvement, even in the one I made, front, center. With the 1st and 2nd grades, we made Sloyd pencil sharpeners, as shown in the photos. his afternoon, the 7th and 8th grade students made geometric solids, making prisms, cubes, and rectangular shapes while also learning to turn cylinder forms on the lathe.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The illustration at left is from Otto Salomon's book Teacher's Hand-book of Slöjd, 1904. Educational Sloyd proposed woodworking as a useful component of general education, not something only for the lower classes as vocational training, so models demonstrating techniques were often dressed in gentlemanly apparel, even showing the chain of a pocket watch.
On labor day, I want to talk about the dignity of labor. I grew up in my father's hardware store. He bought the store while I was in junior high and I worked weekends and summers until I graduated from College and went looking for higher pay. My father treated everyone who came into his store with courtesy and respect, and his genuine warmth brought many customers into the store who would not have felt welcome at the mall.

Louie Siebenaler was a large man, always in greasy overalls, who came in with his short and thin son-in-law, Coy. Both were always covered in grease head to toe; hands, arms and faces filthy from dismantling old cars at the junk yard. Another friend Ted Reser was a blacksmith, with huge arms and hands, his overalls covered in the soot and coal from the forge. Ted had a particular pride in his muscular physique and believed that he appeared much younger than his age. He was in his late seventies when I knew him and he worked hours at the forge each day.

We have a fixation on appearances and look in all the wrong places to find cause for our pretense of dignity. We admire those with fine homes and cars while we overlook and ignore those who may have dirt under their fingernails. And yet, if a sense of dignity is earned, then I ask, "by whom?" If dignity is deserved, it might be best borne by those whose bodies bear the markings of their service and their labor.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

John Chocholak, who trained as a concert violinist and is now a machinist and high school "shop" teacher (Ukiah, California) shared the following:

At my high school we just put 8.5 million dollars into rebuilding our "hands-on" industrial technology programs. State testing and the rush to raise scores has caused many of our students to take remedial academic classes instead of our welding, machining, auto, wood and drafting classes. We have state model programs (some recognized as national models) that are slowly getting smaller because of the rush to send everyone to college.

Academic proficiency is very important (but) an extra English class in place of a wood shop class is an assault on the ability of students to make choices and pursue a possible life long interest in creative, fulfilling work.

Free play in the "sand box" was great when I was a young child. I learned a lot of stuff there. As an adult my shop is my "sand box"; my free play time there helps me cope with life and enjoy the work I create with my own hands.

I love sharing this wonderful stuff with my students.


Charles H. Ham's book, Mind and Hand, in his description of the ideal school suggests the shop where students make things from wood and metal as being the next step in progression to follow kindergarten. Kindergarten as it was envisioned by Froebel was a time of exploration of objects and creative play. Why should that stop, ever in the lives of children or adults?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I was listening to NPR today, a report about poverty in America, particularly the working poor. It was a good subject for labor day weekend. There are many people in America who work two jobs to make ends meet, and still live in poverty. I hope for those, labor day brings a day of rest with pay from both jobs.

One of the topics discussed was called the ladder. Many people in America have the opportunity to climb the "ladder" of success, moving from one position to another, taking on higher levels of responsibility and pay. But for the poor, the ladder is often short. Lacking education the ladder might lead from fry cook to sales and to local management, but very seldom beyond.

As a craftsman, I have had my own ladder. The growth is without limit. When I learned and mastered the making of mortise and tenon joints, dovetails came next. Mastering dovetails, there has always been some area in which refinement might add to the value of my experience and product.

There is a great deal to be said for craftsmanship. It is not a common topic for discussion. Here on labor day weekend, it could be.

A hand friend of mine Dr. Frank Wilson, sent me an article from the Columbia University Alumni News about Joe Youcha a Columbia graduate who runs a program for disadvantaged youth in Virginia. It is about the development of craftsmanship. In this day and age, I regard all those who do not have the opportunity to develop craftsmanship as being disadvantaged, if not in money, that at least in spirit.
Monday, September 3 is "labor day"... a day to take off from work, established as a holiday in celebration and appreciation of "labor". Labor by tradition and reputation is a thing to be avoided if possible, and to be saved from by the acquisition of technological devices. According to Wikipedia: The holiday began in 1882, originating from a desire by the Central Labor Union to create a day off for the "working man".

I think it is time to rethink the concept of labor and to ask the question, "from which human activities does dignity arise? Does dignity arise from what we have been given, or from what we have earned and kept for ourselves? Or does it arise from what we have learned and made and given in service to others?

I think labor day should be a day to explore the concept of dignity and how it arises in the heart of the worker as he or she explores craftsmanship, service and growth.

If we want the world to become a better place in which we better meet our responsibilities to our natural environment and each other that better place will arise from labor.