Monday, May 25, 2009

Johann Friedrich Herbart 1776-1841

From Umriss pädagogisher Vorlesungen by Johann Friedrich Herbart as translated by Otto Salomon in The Theory of Educational Sloyd 1892:
"Every growing boy and youth should learn to handle the recognized tools of the carpenter, as well as the ruler and compass. Mechanical dexterity would often be more useful than ability in gymnastics. The one helps the spirit, the other the body. Elementary schools should have workshops, though they should not actually be technical schools. And every man should learn to use his hands. The hand holds the place of honor at the side of the power of speech in raising man above the beasts."
Herbart was a predecessor of Friedrich Froebel, and had not yet arrived at the understanding that the use of the hands advanced the development of intellect for all students. But he advanced the notion that all children needed the understanding that the use of tools and the hands could provide to the spirit. “He believed that every child is born with a unique potential, his Individuality, but that this potential remained unfulfilled until it was analysed and transformed by education in accordance with what he regarded as the accumulated values of civilization,” and it took the use of tools and hands to thus form his moral character.

I want to thank all those who have come here through the New York Times link. One visitor raised the question that he believed Matthew Crawford's essay was in opposition to higher education. It is my premise that the hands are essential to the education of all students. There should be no line between the education of the hands and the education of the mind. The education of the mind alone without the contributions of the hands could reasonably be seen as a potential endangerment to human culture. It is called "being out of touch," and we can see the effects in our current banking and investment led economic fiasco.

In other words, there is nothing wrong with higher education that the hands can't fix.

On another slightly different subject, I went to get the oxygen sensor replaced on our Subaru this morning and the mechanic was complaining about the cars that are poised to put him out of business. The complexity of cars and their specialization of parts and repair procedures are making it very hard to compete with dealerships... Almost completely gone are the days of DIY. Of particular interest to my mechanic are the cars that no longer have dipsticks to check the automatic transmission. The conclusion we reached is that being engineered by virtual dipsticks, the real ones are no longer required.

I can remember a time not very long ago when dash board lights were called "idiot lights," because they were there for the observation by idiots. People of a higher level of intelligence wanted real gauges because they were interested in observing such things as voltage and oil pressure.

Back in those days, I had a small red Toyota pickup truck with a carburetor. When it quit on the roadside far from home one day, I got out my Swiss army knife, took the carburetor apart, cleaned it and adjusted the float. I will always remember the sense of accomplishment and confidence I felt. That simple experience might inform the reader of the means through which manual training and manual competence might affect the spirit of the individual. Have some doubts about all this? You can test what I am talking about in the laboratory of your own hands. Plant, fix, make, nurture, care, tend, sew, cook bake... there are lots of words (when put into action) that lead you, dear reader toward real growth of both intellect and competence.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:03 PM

    I am one of those who found you through Mr. Crawford's article. I have seen some of the things he (and presumably you) have experienced in the "knowledge economy". However, I've also been exposed to the other side.

    Engineers like myself are often seen as strictly practitioners, with our focus on the application of physical principles to manipulate our environment. However, engineering education has become as academic as philosophy these days, with little emphasis on how our designs actually become physical structures. I had the fortunate opportunity to learn field surveying and work in underground mines -- exactly the type of "dirty jobs" work that Mr. Crawford talks about.

    I enjoyed his article, and I have perused some of your blog as well. There is some great information in both, and I look forward to using some of the material to promote some deeper learning that emphasizes hands-on work.