Monday, June 08, 2009

today in the wood shop

Today, I am again engaged in my friendly competition with the Chinese, by making parts for small boxes. Also, I have meetings at Clear Spring School about planning and changes in the coming year. I have been struggling with the writing of the first chapter of the Wisdom of the Hands book, and the challenge is in keeping the tone light and fun to read. When we see what we are doing in the education of our children, the 30 percent of high school students who drop out in discouragement and frustration with school's seeming irrelevance, it is a bit hard to be upbeat, and yet, the hands are an interesting and engaging topic. With the exception of rare and tragic circumstances, we all have them, so every reader whether on-line or holding the pages of a real book have hands, and also fingers and thumbs, though in the woodworking community some may very sadly have fewer than normal.

There is an important thing that our two ages of man have in common. We are rapidly moving beyond the manual age in which things were done by hand, to the digital age in which things are done by fingers alone, each with a special nesting place on each key. Next will be the age of the cramped thumb on tiny keyboard. Oh, my God, we are there already! We can call this new age "thumbal" as distinct from manual or digital, as the only key to admission will be a membership in twitter and some kind of hand-held thumbnal device for the input of 140 character tweets. Well, at least digits and thumbs are parts of hands, and perhaps you can see that the hands are still the driving force of human nature and creativity, even if things have become a bit cramped.

Is this the destiny of man? To move from the broad motions of plane on wood to thumbs on tiny cramped keyboards? To move from a wide ranging creative engagement to tweet?

I am reminded to take a deep breath. Let the chest and diaphragm expand to their full dimensions. Thumbs on tiny keyboards tend to restrict the full breath and dimensions of our humanity. I'll remind that Abraham Maslow said that if the only tool we have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. My own addendum: If the only tool we have is a hand-held thumbnal input device, designed and created by others, our only response will be to meekly tweet calls for help expressing hopelessness and despair.

In the interest of brevity, perhaps I've already said too much. (This last line, almost a half tweet, contains 63 characters of the allowed 140)


  1. Doug, these are great ideas to ponder. Thanks for laying them out. My mind is awash in all of this at the moment, as I just received my copy of Matthew Crawford's SHOPCRAFT AS SOULCRAFT book. I am only a dozen or so pages into it, but am already eager to get his take on this. I can relate to him very well, and have often had the same thoughts, i.e., what good am I doing here????" It just seems like much of what I do in my administrative role has no finite end! Oh, and I join the 60-year-old clan this coming Sunday...maybe that is making me take additional stock of what is worth doing!

    Cheers from NC, JD

  2. JD, teaching is one of those things that you never really see the impact of what you have done, unless you live a very long time. Administration of teachers fits in the same category. What kind of learning environment have I sustained? Is it better for what I have invested here?

    It is a luxury these days to have the kind of work that is physically measurable in the moment... "I got that done!" or that has finite and definitive objectives. "Finally that table is a finished form that I can sell or be paid!" But in the long run, even craft work has those same qualities. You are lucky if you have seen results in your lifetime. "Have I really made a difference?" and that requires a feedback look somewhat different from the tactile one that takes place when the sand paper and hand smooth a rough surface.

    It requires a larger view that pulls in other considerations. Like, "have I sustained an environment of mutual respect and has my tenure offered refinement over what was before?"

    The educational system is the Titanic writ humongous. How do we turn such things and refine their course? It takes place in the day to day, just like sand paper on a rough board.

    Personally, I am very glad to see people of your sensitivity in the position you are in. I know you care deeply about your students. You may not always know how to make things right, but the bottom line for an administrator and a craftsman are the same... did I invest care and sensitivity in my work?