Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Augustus Herman Niemeyer (1754-1828)

Augustus Herman Niemeyer was a professor of Theology at the University of Halle who proposed that education should promote the harmonious development of all the faculties with which man is endowed. For this he recommended the use of manual arts:
"Aptitude in various handicrafts strengthens the body, and, at the same time, provides a useful form of activity, and serves to occupy the weary, idle hours, especially in the monotonous existence of the household... Carpentry is acknowledged to be the most suitable of all, on account of the complexity of the work and the tools, and because it does not put too great strain upon the strength of the young... Above all, it is well that the young should become familiar with the ordinary tools of a household, of which, moreover, one has such constant need -- for example, the saw, axe, gimlet and hammer, etc. To keep these things anxiously out of the children's reach is the most certain way to reduce to helplessness, and, in the time of need to make them more liable to injury."

Today Clear Spring School and all the area schools are closed due to snow and extreme cold. That gives me a much needed extra day in my own shop and the chance to be even better prepared when school resumes.

Readers of Wooden Boat will enjoy David Kasanof's monthly column Fo'c's'le entitled "Hooks, Rags and Sticks." He points out that when you see photos in Wooden Boat, everyone seems to be doing all the right stuff, which indicates they are probably neophytes... "no one is spitting to windward or stepping on a line or bleeding on the teak." and "Only neophytes always do stuff right." It takes a bit of experience at something, confidence perhaps, to do things in a manner that a neophyte would consider wrong. In order to be creative at something and to express mastery, generally requires us to be breaking somebody's hard and fast never to be broken rules. I can tell you that my success as a woodworker and teacher is as much dependent on breaking as many rules in number as I have tried to follow. There are some hard and fast rules concerning nature, but those having to do with man's response to nature are a bit more on the loose side. And there are more things to be done with a table saw than a straight line rip.

But Kasanof's title for his article is really about what we do with language. As one who grew up in my dad's hardware store, I can quickly discern the meaning of thingamajig, and whatsit. It is a matter of acute listening to what the mouth and hands say in unison. And it seems in my mind at least, if not in the column, that there is an inverse relationship between doing things the right way and calling things with the right terminology... which leads me to share a lingering question... What impact are computers having on the ways we learn, the ways we teach? As we poke around on our own, googling what we think we may need to know, I have this suspicion that learning is becoming far less social and as a result, we may be on the verge of losing a clear and concise useage of nomenclature. That thing we used to call "the mast", will become that "sticky up thing," and the propeller, the "spinny around thingy," and the rest "whatsits" for as we become less versed in the verbal sharing of information... common terminology falls out of common useage. We run the danger of knowing things which we are incapable of sharing with others... except for those of like mind and interest, whom we stumble upon on the world-wide-web.

As far as Kasonof's observation, however that neophytes do things right. I have been sailing enough to know that isn't true. It's just that photographers don't take pictures of the dumb-assed things we do. It is like the messy shop that you never see in woodworking magazines. And yet, when you happen to see a messy shop, you know that more is done in it than in most, and it is likely the kind of creative environment that few clean shops can come close to approaching. To David, I thank you for your reflections, and urge you to keep steering with your feet.

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