Saturday, August 21, 2010

the child as craftsman assessment method

A few days ago, I posted on the subject of David Henry Feldman's metaphor, The Child as Craftsman, and today I want to share Dr. Feldman's exploration of assessment. Our fixation on assessment is what drives our continuing "no child left behind" like testing psychosis, even within the Obama administration.

Testing is a holdover from earlier metaphors discussed in the earlier post, which for the sake of making my writing a bit easier this morning I won't repeat.

And so, how does one measure progress in schools in which each child is craftsman. Feldman suggests two measures, both of which came up recently in our small conference at Dearborn. To quote Dr. Feldman,
"The first is simply a restatement of the educational aim of engagement in a more precise form; to the extent that greater numbers of individuals find fields to pursue, find work that engages their energies and through which they derive satisfaction, education can be considered to be making progress."
Imagine this relative to the level of disengagement we too often see in American classrooms.

Feldman's "second criterion of educational progress" follows from his thoughts about creativity. That if
"education is done well, creative contributions will tend to take care of themselves. In other words, an education which fosters sustained commitment, satisfaction and joy in accomplishment will naturally lead to occasions that require one to go beyond the limits of one's craft. To reach the limits and find yet another problem to be solved, a goal to be achieved, an idea to be expressed, a technique to be worked out--these are the conditions which favor creativity.
Feldman concludes,
"I submit that the twin signs of progress toward a fruitful education for the future are; (1) an increasing number of individuals engaged and committed to pursuit of mastery of their fields and (2) he number of novel, unprecedented, or unique contributions that occur in these fields."
Feldman states further,
"If young children were prepared for a future of craftsmanship it might be possible to strike a better balance between the inculcation of basic skills and the encouragement of human expression; a balance, I hope, that does full justice to the universal and to the unique in each of us."


  1. Thanks for another great post. I sometimes think of creativity as a pie with 3 main ingredients (or cut into 3 pieces). These are passion, discipline, and freedom. As it happens, the acronym for that is PDF, which is "taken," if you will. However, I tend to not rearrange the order because I believe passion appears first in a young creator. Discipline develops over time and freedom is something that is either granted or fought for. Obviously, this is a much more basic way of discussing what you have explored through the work of Feldman and other experts, but I thought it was worth throwing into the mix.

  2. I would say that there is an important 4th ingredient which I will write about tomorrow. It is one that Dr. Feldman's book Beyond Universals in Cognitive Development points toward but doesn't completely spell out. How to express it clearly is still rumbling in my brain.

  3. I love Scott's comment. On my own blog lately I've been exploring some preliminary ideas that apply especially to pre-schoolers: Allowing and providing for the development of will, attention span and process all seem important to me in the early days for eventual success in bringing passions to fulfillment.

  4. Cindy, you never hear of public school educators talking about the development of will. The preference seems to be that will lay dormant, in the belief that will and willfulness are expressions of the same thing. So they work on reading skills when they could be working on more fundamental child development concerns.

    When a child sands wood to perfection, or saws carefully to a straight line, that is will. When a child will not follow directions and is disruptive of the interests and activities of others, that is willfulness. And ironically the activities that develop will often help alleviate the conditions that bring expressions of willfulness. When a child is engaged deeply and fully in the manipulation of materials, he has little time to disrupt or challenge the teacher in ways that are destructive of classroom discipline.

  5. Yes, the idea of will as something related to development seems to be common in Europe and non-existant here. It has not been an easy concept for me to grasp although I can relate it to my experiences with handwork, especially my early ones. Having a muse is not enough. She must be shown to the work table and then struggle past all the barriers to sustained attention. It's harder to get past the barriers if we don't experience will in our very muscles.
    Here comes another book suggestion: Educating the Will by Michael Howard was required reading for a class I took at Sophia's Hearth about working with parents and young children. It's been awhile since I read it but it contains an interesting section on thee different "will" approaches to carving a spoon.

  6. Cindy, you re right that will is not a common subject for educators in the US. Waldorf educators talk about it, and I have a book Will-Developed Intelligence about handwork in Waldorf schools.

    Thanks for your book suggestion. I'll look for it.

    Your observations of will as being something that resides even within the muscles is illuminating. In attaining something within a craft field, there's the muscular sense that what one is doing is within the range of one's strength, and skill (or outside of it) and the perception of what skills and strengths must be gathered toward accomplishment. Then there is the self talk about rationale, the internal discussion of goals, values, rewards, etc. Not a simple subject, but of value to investigate.