Saturday, September 11, 2010

the most compelling argument...

The most compelling argument for hands-on learning cannot be made. There are no words for it. All we can really do is talk around the subject and tell or demonstrate what we feel. If you are here looking for statistics, you may have come to the right place, but statistics won't be enough to clinch the case. We have statistics about all kinds of things that never lead to change. If you are looking for academic authority for these perspectives, what you will find instead is the voice of a man who works with wood.

My wood shop is a mess. With the start of school, and with travels to New York, I have not gotten enough time in it. Today, I am cleaning a bit, but also simply noting more, being observant of those quiet qualities that arise within me. There are simple things that take place when one takes wood and tools and begins to shape wood. Whether working curved as on the band saw or lathe, or flat with cabinetry makes little difference if you can make the material cooperate, conform step-by-step to what already exists as a notion within your mind's eye. It is an affirmation of self, of power, and of humanity.

I prefer to start with rough wood. It's texture is hostile to the touch. There are splinters and the wood must be tamed and earned as my collaborator and best friend. To take coarse material and pass it across the jointer and make it smooth and beautiful provides the first glimpse of its readiness to yield to human touch. That is a powerful moment in which I begin to understand the wood's potential and my own. When my senses have been dulled by other things, and I turn rough wood to smooth and begin to sense its beauty, I also begin to sense joy.

I have realized that it is nearly impossible to reshape American education if my students know so little about themselves and their own hands-on creative capacities. There are important feelings that arise when one is empowered with tools and materials to create real things. I can tell about that.

I can spend thousands of posts pointing toward academic agreement amongst scholars that what I say here is right and true. I will probably continue to do that. But at my best, I can point you toward the wood shop and other hands-on creative endeavors and what they can do for you. The most compelling argument for hands-on learning arises in our own hands as we fix, make, create, plant, and care for. When you have done these things with your mind's eye alert to their pedagogical value and I tell you that those are the things we must be doing with our children both inside and out of schools, your own wisdom of your own hands will tell you that I am right.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:54 AM

    All we can do is to keep doing what we love. We can tend the garden, even if we can't control the weather, as Tolkien put it.