Friday, August 21, 2009

hands on generation

A reader made the following observation:
I'll give you credit for an original theory, but with the hand held devices the latest Western generations have had, these are the most hands stimulated kids in history. You think woodworking class a few times a week can compete with texting, playing PSP, typing 100 words a minute, and playing with various other gadgets I can't even imagine? Hand eye coordination is the best it has ever been thanks to first person shoot em ups, those kids are now being recruited by the military to fly armed drone aircraft.
There is a difference between the gaming and manipulation of hand held devices and the manipulation of real material with real tools, and the level of satisfaction that a child receives from real accomplishments can be an order of magnitude higher than that derived in twitter. Unfortunately, this can't be merely explained to be understood.

Yes, the proliferation of hand held devices does tell us that this generation just like so many before it is compelled to engage the world primarily through its hands. But look at the posture of a kid texting with thumbs, verses the posture of a child actually creating something. We are being narrowed in our range, not only of action but of perception as well.

Maslow said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, all the world's problems look like nails. If we want our children to be problem solvers, we need to give them a range of tools. Not just powerful computers, but the fine instruments, large and small that provide the cultural foundation of our humanity.

I can hardly expect many to understand this. We are no longer a culture of makers. We're consumers of mass quantities instead.

Sure, it is glamorous to sit in a room in Phoenix and blast terrorists through the sites of a drone in Iraq, using the raw power invested in your quick quivering thumbs. But try making something that is real. It is far more interesting and can last for generations. And sadly, if we don't teach our children to be makers, guess what they will become instead?

The following is from Charles H. Ham, 1886:
It is the most astounding fact of history that education has been confined to abstractions. The schools have taught history, mathematics, language and literature, and the sciences, to the utter exclusion of the arts, notwithstanding the obvious fact that it is through the arts alone that the other branches of learning touch human life.
I will remind my readers that the creative use of the hands is also the means to raise interest in learning. You can see from the way children relate to hands-on electronic devices, the power of the hands to engage their interest and attention. But don't they deserve something better to do with their hands than tweet?


  1. Poopyman10:33 AM

    I don't think you ever claimed it was an original theory, as your DK reader claimed. It is not.

    Educational Slojd (Sloyd) was a Scandinavian movement among (probably) several others which tied physical and mental learning together.

    From the "Teacher's Handbook of Slojd" ( (sorry for the long link):
    "The aim of educational slojd.

    What, then, is the aim of educational slojd? To utilise, as is suggested above, the educative force which lies in rightly directed bodily labour, as a means of developing in the pupils physical and mental powers which will be a sure and evident gain to them for life."

    Just wanted to note at least one historical precedent.

    I completely agree with your assertion that manipulating hand-held devices is fundamentally different from the manipulation of real material and real tools. The nature of the problems being solved is fundamentally different, and the choices required to solve those problems are enormously different as well.

  2. "Maslow said that if the only tool you have is a hammer, all the world's problems look like nails. If we want our children to be problem solvers, we need to give them a range of tools. Not just powerful computers, but the fine instruments, large and small that provide the cultural foundation of our humanity."

    Yes! This quote elegantly sums up my whole argument about why computers should not be a primary focus in the elementary, or even high school classroom.

    A computer is just a fancy tool, which to use of the words of another Montessorian, John Snyder, "amplifies human thinking".

    You might enjoy his thoughts on computers, Doug:

    See the very end for John's letter.

  3. I didn't discuss Sloyd or Salomon in my DK post, but I think if you type sloyd in the search block above, you will find my relationship to educational sloyd, and the articles I've published to return it to the attention of educators and woodworkers. I perhaps should have listed Cygnaeus and Salomon in my list of educators, but very few of the readers in DK would have had any idea whor or what I was talking about.

  4. Each generation adds something new that was not before them. Each generation loses something old, which the previous generation took for granted as common knowledge. Yet, one must wonder at, and needs to examine, what the current generation is gaining and losing.

    Is it possible, even probable, today and tomorrow's generation are gaining a future where one will destroy other human beings, without one emotional thought that flesh and blood humans are dying as a result of his/her work, while working at something so remote, it is like a computer game, where you never have to feel empathy for the people you kill, such as a soldier might. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may disappear, but won't our enemies be more inclined to inflict maximum pain on us through terrorism, for our lack of feeling?

    Will our posterity become so technologically focused, they will no longer look at the Pyramids with wonder and awe, no longer see beauty in art, and no longer create individual things with their own hands, because they lack the patience? How much will such things lead us away from our own humanity? I love computers and I accept today's generation will play computer games or whatever becomes popular. Yet, even as I see people walking through my neighborhood, cellphones in hand, talking to someone somewhere; I wonder if we are not isolating ourselves? There are ramifications to all of this.

    There will always be some crafts people, even if it is only those who cannot handle the Tech Age, who will do crafts. Just as the 20th. Century fundamentally changed the human race, so too, the 21st. Century will fundamentally change the human race. How do we wish to be perceived as 21st. Century human beings?

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  6. Our hands have evolved in a way that provides us with an amazing variety of grips and grasps. The more we use our hands and finger in rich ways, the more we develop rich levels of dendritic connections in our brains...and further develop our hands!