Wednesday, December 15, 2010

no shop time today...

I will get no shop time today. We are taking the high school students to my favorite lumber dealer in Arkansas where nearly all our native species are sold. The purpose is to add to our school collection of native woods. Sometime during the day I hope to connect with a writer for the Boston Globe who is writing an article about woodworking in schools and who was referred to me by Miguel at the North Bennet St. School where Gustav Larsson had his Educational Sloyd Teacher Training School. Thanks in part to my articles creating an interest in sloyd, North Bennet Street School has resumed classes for the Elliot Middle School after a one-hundred and thirty year break.

This evening, we have a meeting of the board for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and it is my once a year turn to make dinner for the board. I'll fall back on my old reliable, spinach enchiladas.

Froebel's Gliedganzes is an awkward word for a simple thing, related to Aristotle's concept, συστοιχία often translated as "series". Just as a child is an individual, growing in concern for his or her larger memberships and identity in family, community, state and nation, the concept of gliedganzes, or "member-whole" also helps to explain the wisdom of the hands program. In essence, you can look at botany as a stand alone subject, or you can look at it as a member of science and scientific investigation, and you can look at woodworking as an independent subject or as a doorway to the world full of investigatory opportunities. One of the huge problems with the way we teach is that subjects are confined and divided, while all the new and exciting things are happening in the spaces between disciplines. Part of the reason for this is that most if not all human creativity takes place through the application of metaphor. "If this works, here, perhaps the same may be applied there..." is the means through which science advances. (And of course the creation of metaphor is a right brained activity most easily accessible when the hands,left and right, are engaged). When we use what happens in one field of knowledge to begin exploration of another, we expand our fields of investigation in profound and exciting ways. And when we present dead info to kids, we diminish their enthusiasm for learning. Welcome to the world of rampant pin-headery boom boom, and a world in which students and too many adults don't believe in science, and don't know how in the world to find Arkansas or any other place on a map.

Using less offensive and less colorful language I stated the American educational dilemma pretty clearly when Matt Crawford quoted me as the introduction to his best selling book Shop Class as Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work:
“In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
If we have become a nation of idiots, and there is mounting evidence of that we are, we can point to our failure to engage our children's hands in learning as the primary cause. Make, fix, create... And build opportunities for others to follow suite. Americans are all concerned about education, but until we see that the solution lies in our own hands, very little will actually be done about it.

There is an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal, "A Box or a Spaceship, What Makes Kids Creative?" As we focus more and more on test scores and teaching to the test, children's creativity has taken a nosedive. If we want our nation to regain it creative edge, we will need to pay more attention to things like wood shops and less to the distraction of standardized testing.
"Researchers believe growth in the time kids spend on computers and watching TV, plus a trend in schools toward rote learning and standardized testing, are crowding out the less structured activities that foster creativity."
As mentioned by friend and blog reader John Grossbohlin, this is one more area in which those with common sense and hands-on learning experience would not have needed the research to understand the tragedy of what is happening in American education. We must take matters into our own hands.

The photo above is of our visit to Nations Hardwoods in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, where I've been buying hardwoods for over 35 years from Huland Nations. The students were fantastic, attentive, and exactly the kind of seasoned well-mannered travelers I have learned to expect at Clear Spring School. We gained over 20 samples for our collection of Arkansas hardwoods. If you would like to read research from Purdue confirming the value of hands on learning click here. I had a very nice conversation with Linda Matchan, a writer for the Boston Globe whose article deadline was this afternoon. I don't know if the Wisdom of the Hands will be mentioned in it, but I hope to receive a link that I can share with you sometime in the next few days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep spreading the word! Good work with the kids at the lumberyard, too.

Mario