Saturday, January 24, 2009

Prescription for education, Mrs. Ida Hood Clark, 1905

Mrs. Ida Hood Clark was the supervisor of manual training in the Milwaukee Public Schools and this is quoted from her presentation to the Eastern Manual Training Association conference, 1905. Think of this as a prescription for what ails us in education today.
" is a poor education that does not teach our boys and girls to walk and run, skate and swim, ride and row, throw and jump, for upon these physical powers joy and health and life depend much more than such formal studies as arithmetic.

"So this bodily or physical culture has an assured place in this reasonable curriculum which fails signally if it does not produce vigorous bodies, and warm hearts just as surely as informed minds. So connect manual training with a movement for larger school houses, less number of pupils to a teacher, ampler play grounds, suitable physical culture gymnasiums, and you will transform the children into taller, larger, stronger men and women to whom useful toil will be a joy.

"I need not speak of the value of manual training to the artisan class, nor of its value to the future surgeon, scientist and all whose avocation requires deftness of hand, but I do wish to speak of its value to the future lawyer and clergyman. Just because they will not be called upon to labor with their hands is it so important to them in the interest of an all around culture, in order that they will not be entirely crippled on one side of their nature."
This was written before the rising of the business class in the American economy... before number crunchers, CFOs and CEOs. If Mrs. Clark were writing today, these and politicos would be on her list, urgently requiring education of their hands. And who would have guessed that these being so crippled would cripple our economy as well?

So, how do we move from what we have now to the more idealized education Mrs. Clark recommends? She prescribed an answer for that as well. According to Freidrich Froebel, inventor of Kindergarten, education is a two way street. Through "self-activity" the pupil explores and expresses in equal measure. Through the "gifts" Froebel designed, students were offered a means to systematically explore physical reality, and through the associated "occupations," students were encouraged to express their learning in an outward and creative manner. Crafts and manual arts were the ideal means through which to express learning. So, rather than adding manual training as one more layer in an already crowded curriculum, Mrs. Clark (and many others) proposed manual training as the means through which every subject could be integrated, or "correlated" using the term then in use, and brought to greater meaning and life. She provided examples of how this was to be done, but if you want to see a living example in this time, in which history, mathematics, chemistry, social studies, language, and the arts form an integrated whole, plan a visit to the Clear Spring School woodshop.

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