Tools, Hands and the Expansion of IntellectI have already received the following helpful notes from Glenn Kleiman, executive director of the Friday Institute, author of the highly praised 2001 article Myths and Realities about Technology in K-12 Schools
Abraham Maslow (American Psychologist 1908-1970): “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” So what if the only tool we offer in education is a computer? As powerful as that computer may be, does it tempt children (or ourselves) to view all things as virtual or unreal? There is magic in the manipulation of real tools and real materials. They engage the heart and soul of the learner, and we are endangered by our abandonment of the commonplace and mundane tools that form the foundation of human creativity.
But there is more… research on gesture, the new field of embodied cognition, and MRI investigation of the brain reveal the significance of the varied and rhythmic use of the hands in the development of human intellect. We are made stupid when our hands are stilled.
Most American schools and homes are involved in a risky experiment in which the common tools of artists and craftsmen are abandoned. The Clear Spring School, a small independent school in Northwest Arkansas is different. We are on the cutting edge in the use of tools. In fact, our children make their own tools, from hand-carved ink pens based on the 1885 Nääs Sloyd model series to the looms our children use in weaving and textiles. When the child makes the tools used in his or her own instruction, there is a depth of interest and understanding that cannot be approached otherwise.
Keywords: tools, tool-making, computer, Sloyd, gesture, embodied cognition.
I certainly agree that children should have lots of experience with real tools and real materials, and that virtual environments should be an addition to, not a substitute for, hands-on activities of all types. While perhaps working with virtual environments is coming to be a new intelligence in Gardner's sense of multiple intelligences, it remains critical that we provide children with opportunities to develop all their "intelligences". (I say this as one who was not allowed to take wood shop in high school, since I was in the academic not vocational track, and who still likes to tinker and build.) Having children work with arts and crafts materials, legos, fabrics, wood, and all the rest is very important. Learning to use a range of tools is important, and having children create their own is very cool. The type of understanding children can gain from working with things they can build, disassemble, and understand is something that doesn't happen when they work with digital "black boxes." For example, one can see, understand, and explore the mathematics of ratios with concrete references through working with the gears of a bicycle, gaining types of insights that aren't available with a CPU.