Thursday, April 29, 2010

disdain vs. care

I was talking with my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students on Monday, hoping to inspire greater attention toward quality in their work. They told me that Chinese toys break and that wooden toys are better. "Don't the toys you make in wood shop break?" I asked. "No, we are careful with them," one student replied. Another mentioned, "If we break them, we can fix them ourselves."

Are there special qualities inherent in hand-crafted goods? You see my students' work in the pages of this blog, and can compare what you see with what you get in a happy meal. Robert Keable Row, an associate of John Dewey wrote in The Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, 1909, "...there is the impulse to, and interest in, personal ownership, which finds it fullest expression in those things we have (personally) produced."

When I mentioned in an earlier post that McDonald's should give tools in place of toys, I was only slightly kidding. Tools empower the imagination. Often toys leave too little to the imagination. Can it be that Chinese toys break because they receive abuse inspired by a quiet disdain from an absence of qualities they fail to represent?

The following is also from Robert Keable Row, 1909:
"The marvelous development of machinery for manufacturing, with all its accompanying advantages has had this disadvantage, that it has deprived the worker of a large part of the personal pride and joy he had in the work of his hands. It is not unreasonable to hope that shorter hours for the factory worker, cheaper and better transportation to suburban homes, training in manual occupations in the schools, growth of the arts and crafts idea, and development of an appreciation of the difference between machine made decoration and the work of the artist-artisan, may restore to civilized man in general, and to the city dweller especially, much of that joy in human production of which machinery has deprived him."
Sadly, that hasn't quite happened yet. Kids these days know so little of what they can create. So, was I joking about fast food restaurants putting tools in their happy meals? While I know they won't do it, no, it was no joke.

6 comments:

Pangolin said...

Tools for what though? How many kids today have ever held an honest piece of wood; not plywood or mdf or chipboard. How many women have you seen that can't cook with any knife bigger than a paring knife?

Hey, while you're looking at shop projects check out the lawn game Kubb. Blocks and pegs and it's harder than it looks.

Doug Stowe said...

Any kind of tool would do. Mechanics tools would be useful. Matt suggested sliderules in an earlier comment. I am particularly drawn to tools that shape wood. Spoon carving knives would be useful, and you would have an extremely hard time stabbing anyone with it if you went postal.

Even scissors are getting to be rare implements in children's lives. Can you believe that? We are so focused on putting high tech devices in our children's hands, that we have nearly completely forgotten the basics. I'll look at Kubb, Blocks and Pegs.. Thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

You've done good work if your students can see the value in the wooden things they've made.

Mario

John said...

>>Chinese toys break because they receive abuse inspired by a quiet disdain from an absence of qualities they fail to represent?<<

That disdain may also be a direct reflection of the disdain served upon the workers making the toys and the disdain of the corporate consumer economy served upon all real people involved, judging by some reports I have read about workers' conditions in Chinese factories and the greed of corporate owners.

John said...

>>Tools for what though? How many kids today have ever held an honest piece of wood; <<

Then it is up to each of use to also put a piece of real wood in those young hands. I do it myself at every opportunity.

--John
www.HistoricHomeWorks.com

Doug Stowe said...

>>That disdain may also be a direct reflection of the disdain served upon the workers making the toys and the disdain of the corporate consumer economy served upon all real people involved...<<

So what you suggest, John, is that children have a means through which to grasp aspects of the object that can't be seen or even described... qualities of feeling that are present despite the object having been perfectly made almost entirely by machine.

I'll offer a 15 year old quote from NPR... "(even) dogs have a way of knowing things"... suggesting that there are ways through which we sense aspects that are outside that which can be observed or explained.