Thursday, September 30, 2010

High Tech High

This video presents an interesting view of what high school education could be like. Larry Rosenstock, school founder, speaks well of the traditional role of the hands in learning, and I think you will notice that all at high tech high is not high tech. Sadly, I didn't see a woodshop. The High Tech High is a charter school, and I think it ironic that my earlier posted video is of Diane Ravitch speaking against the idea that charter schools can be the blanket solution to American educational crisis. The difference, and why I can agree with the High Tech High approach and still agree with Dr. Ravitch is that High Tech High is all about the hands. Many charter schools are not. The founder, Rosenstock, had taught carpentry for 11 years and had a long involvement in career and technical education.

Common sense on teaching

Diane Ravitch had been a supporter of the No Child Left Behind testing and then realized that it was a stupid idea and destructive. Now she says that testing should only be used for diagnosis of learning, not as the primary tool to reshape American education. Her assessment of the charter schools movement, merit pay, and the various means of undermining the value of teachers in schools is scathing, and truly worth watching. Her assessment of the use of student test scores as a means to diminish the value of classroom teaching comes toward the end.

I hope to get back to the discussion of a simpler scale for educational assessment, through which anyone visiting a classroom would see and measure the value of the learning taking place. Today, I have a development meeting and will spend most of the day in my own shop finishing up a couple cabinets for the small cabinets book.

The hands, our hands, present an inconvenient truth in education. We learn better, and more quickly and more effectively when our hands are engaged. What we learn hands-on, by doing real stuff is remembered longer and available long after lectures and read materials are forgotten. But it is so much cheaper to have kids bored in class, sitting with hands stilled, than to have students actually engaged in learning. And that my friends is the great shame of American education.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CTE and college prep merged

The best quote: Education must become hands on....

let us live for our children

"Let us live for our children" was the motto of Freidrich Froebel, inventor of Kindergarten, and when Uno Cygnaeus began the Finnish Folk Schools in 1866, he followed Froebel as his mentor and inspiration. To bring hands-on activities beyond the kindergarten years, he began the development of educational sloyd, which is still compulsory in Finland's schools. Cygnaeus is largely responsible for the culture of learning that is also the key to Finland's school success story. It all goes back to the simple motto, "Let us live for our children." The schools we have in the United States are evidence that we often do not.

The photo above shows the current 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade woodworking project, making boats. The small propeller on each boat was a design idea suggested by one of the students.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Finland's schools do get the best results.

I posted a link to this yesterday, but found the video to share, as I think this is very interesting and extremely important. Besides the fact that Finland leads the world in reading and math, they spend far less time on the subjects, and less money, for far better results. I could spend a great deal of time telling what the video describes, and so I hope you will see for yourselves.

There are a number of parallels between Clear Spring School and the remarkable schools of Finland, so while there are thousands of educational tourists flocking to Helsinki, there is a role model far closer to home.

While American CEO's want the three character traits in their employees, creativity, responsibility and teamwork skills, you will see those three things nurtured in Finland schools, while we in the US, spending far more money are investing in a culture of standardized testing and educational lunacy and failing our kids. The Finns engender those character traits without dropping the ball on the core subjects. In fact, I think the case could be made that they do best on the core subjects because they have laid the foundation for lifelong learning.

In the meantime, we must all remain undaunted by the challenges at hand, for they truly are at hand. Our hands have the capacity when engaged to create educational enthusiasm and the desire for lifelong learning.

Monday, September 27, 2010

because they are ready for it.

People in the US wonder how Finland schools can beat US schools so badly.
While we are busy pushing kids to read in Kindergarten, in Finland, they start at age 8 and yet, by the time they take the PISA exam at 8th grade, they are the top readers in the world even though they have been at it for 38% less time. Other differences are that they spend less time in school than Americans, and students will have the same teacher for more than one year.

At Clear Spring School, our teachers have their students 3 years and it is a system we swear by. The students, teachers and parents know each other very well. This article from BBC offers insight into the schools of Finland. "Why Do Finland Schools Get the Best Results?" One of the very simple things that educators in the US should know but don't... you can't push a rope. By waiting until kids are ready for school, you make the best use of their time there.

A friend of mine, Sal Wilson is building a timber-framed straw bale house next door to the Clear Spring School. I stopped this afternoon to take photos. The wood is yellow pine salvaged when the power company cut a right of way, and the trunnels are cherry. The workmanship is exquisite.

In the meantime, an article in yesterday's Arkansas Democrat Gazette tells that Arkansas is heading for last place among state universities (not in football, however). Only 19.7 percent of students in 4 year Arkansas state universities earn a degree in 4 years according to a report which claims that the schools are "severely underperforming." The tragedy of it all is that people don't have a clue that by engaging the hands, you can create educational enthusiasm which makes children become self-motivated life-long learners, the child as craftsman.

boxes and boxes

This morning in the CSS woodshop, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will begin making small tackle boxes for their fall campout in response to a request from their teacher. Wish us luck. Making a small box is not all that easy for children. In the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, students will also begin making boxes, but these will be done with matt board and fabric, and today they will just begin the design work, building models from folded paper. I've attached photos of my own pryamidal prototype.

On another subject, I have completed the award bases for the Arkansas Governor's Award for Quality. You can see an image of the finished award at

Sunday, September 26, 2010


This morning I am remaking some parts that I had cut to the wrong size, and it is easier to remake the parts than to adjust the size and fit of everything else. There are some more complicated ways I could address my problem by making changes in design, but for the sake of simplicity, I am re-planing fresh stock and re-cutting joints. It is always easier to redo when I have the materials available, than it was to have made the parts in the first place because the process is fresh in my mind and the tools at hand.

Can you see that all this has to do with standards? Each and every decision we make has to do with standards. In school, standards have been set for levels of knowledge. It is easy to measure what a person knows. From an intellectual framework, you can also measure what a person knows how to do, but that is on softer ground, as it is harder to actually do than to simply know the procedures. You can set and observe standards for behavior, and students are either in compliance with those or are disciplined or expelled. And of course those standards can be all over the map, with things accepted at one school and community being unacceptable in another. So when we talk about uniform school standards, we are really only talking about those things that can be most easily measured on a standardized test. And those things may reflect some commitment to learning and some natural intellectual capacity. But those things that are most easily measured are not the human qualities most predictive of student success. What about creativity and creative problem solving? What about the resilience of character that sustains disciplined follow through? And what about the skills and qualities of character that provide the foundation for real teamwork and leadership? These are the qualities most desirous in new hires according to American corporations, but are the qualities most neglected by standards in American education.

So, as you can see, it is impossible to think about a simple form of Beaufort Scale for educational excellence without first addressing the matter of standards, and the questions, "What are they, how are they to be set and by whom?"

Otto Salomon said that all learning should proceed from the known to the unknown, and as a craftsman, and not an expert in educational assessment and educational standards, I proceed with this from the foundation of what I know and step from there onto less sure ground. Should standards be a issue shared and discussed only by those at the top? Or can the metaphor, "child as craftsman" help us to see that the values instilled by craftsmanship allow a child to become self-assessing and driven by intrinsic qualities toward lifelong learning and success?

You may see that the standards movement is driven by those wanting to extract the most value from our kids, rather than by those who value them the most. Their strategy is to hold teachers accountable for cheap performance, rather than holding schools accountable for fostering and sustaining growth.  I have laid out three particular values, of creative problem solving, resilience of character, and teamwork, as being important components of assessment.  I will not ignore reading and math, but the assessment of those subjects should best be done at the beginning of the school year to help the teacher know what students needs are so that they can be addressed, and at the end of the year to know that progress has been made.

The real question is not how to set standards and what they should be, or whether those standards should be set at a community or national level, but how do we encourage children to set standards for themselves? That all has to do with craftsmanship.

Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand:
It is thus that the trained hand comes at last to foresee as it were that a false proposition is surely destined to be exploded. The habit of rectitude gives it prescience. It invariably discovers, sooner or later, that a false proposition, when embodied in wood or iron, becomes a conspicuous abortion, involving in disgrace both the designer and the maker. A false proposition in the abstract may be rendered very alluring; a false proposition in the concrete is always hideous. One of the chief effects of manual training is, then, the discovery and development of truth; and truth, in its broadest signification is merely another name for justice; and justice is the synonym of morality.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rising Above the Gathering Storm

Evidently, my use of a Beaufort Scale is appropriate, as others see the challenges of American education as a "Gathering Storm". You can download the .pdf version of the book Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future through the link above. I don't make a specific recommendation of the 582 page book, but know that when you look at learning from the vantage point offered by the hands, there is something useful to be found in everything.
The rise of new international competitors in science and engineering is forcing the United States to ask whether its education system can meet the demands of the 21st century. The nation faces several areas of challenge: K–12 student preparation in science and mathematics, limited undergraduate interest in science and engineering majors, significant student attrition among science and engineering undergraduate and graduate students, and science and engineering education that in some instances inadequately prepares students to work outside universities.
The situation for K-12 is dire, and the universities are worse. Being competitive in science and math requires that children actually be engaged in it. Making things serves at the core of exploration of material reality, and thus engagement in crafts serves as the most essential building block of science education. If we've become a nation of idiots more or less we should know that our hands and their engagement in learning are the solution one way or the other.

Industrial arts teachers have been warning about this "gathering storm" for decades as they watched wood shops in which kids did real things being replaced with "technology education" in which kids were often bystanders observing the effects of packaged learning modules. Industrial Arts Revisited: An Examination of the Subject's Continued Strength, Relevance and Value by Kenneth S. Volk was published in 1996. I am reminded of earlier research in which students were tested to see whether they learned industrial arts as effectively through lecture format as through actual use of machinery. I neglected to make note of the location of that research and if any of my readers knows how to find it please send me a link. For me, it raises the question,
"How finger blind would a person actually have to be to not know that we learn best, and retain learning longer when we have been engaged in learning through our own hands?"
The strategic implementation of the hands in learning offers the most reasonable and effective course for "Rising above the Gathering Storm."

Today I was at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts for the Eureka Springs Artist's Studio Tour,  demonstrating the assembly of small boxes. I also finished fitting the bridle joints as shown in the photo below. Now the glass doors are ready for assembly with glue. The bridle joint is exceptionally strong and particularly useful in making small cabinet doors. I also like it for its craftsmanlike qualities. You can see the intricacy of it, and while you may have no idea of the operations used to form the joint, you CAN see how it works.

Friday, September 24, 2010

mission cabinet

I am working on a mission style cabinet and a variation in walnut. Gustav Stickley should come to mind as it is made of white oak with wedged tenon joints. The more contemporary walnut cabinet has angled sides which thin toward the top due to the taper cut. The cabinets will have glass doors and glass in the front so that they can be viewed from both sides and are intended for a small collection of fine things. The last photo shows a bridle joint intended for glass doors. The joint is a bit complicated to cut, but has the rabbet in the back side so the glass can be fitted in place.

Anyone interested in helping with the Beaufort Scale might be interested in the concept "Authentic Assessment". And at


I've started working on a spreadsheet to lay out the particular factors involved in a Beaufort-like scale of educational excellence. It will take me some time to get it right, as observing children is not quite as easy as observing the effects of the wind. Part of that challenge is that while we can't see the wind, its effects are physical, and the effects of learning on a child are often unseen unless we are watching closely at subtle markers. Children often tend to keep things to themselves.

Here in Eureka Springs, at the last school board meeting, there was controversy concerning the growing class sizes at various levels in public school. Some parents are rightfully concerned that classes are often too large and that teachers are really student wranglers rather than educators. When there are 26 students in a class can a teacher be very observant of subtle effects of learning on each child? Is it enough that we have standardized testing as a substitute for direct observation of learning?

Anyone who lives with a child learns to observe subtle effects that would be hidden in a classroom and a simple scale useful to parents in observing growth in learning would be a useful tool in that it would allow parents to reclaim their rightful authority in student and school assessment.

One of the things that intrigues me in the "child as craftsman" metaphor is that while children are often unable to really talk to their parents about their school experience, craftsmanship lays learning out on the table where it can be much more easily observed in that it is expressed in physical form. Having physical evidence of learning is the perfect launching point for meaningful discussion of learning growth. Kids should be invited to talk about the things they make, and through that invitation, a parent can pry open the doors of the classroom and get a profound look at what happens in school.

One of the major questions in current education debate is whether or not parents are entitled to test data on school and teacher performance. Even the experts are concerned that testing can be severely misunderstood, is often inaccurate, and very often misinterpreted. Put that testing data in the hands of parents unschooled in statistics, and lacking expertise, and what do you get? It should be accepted that parents are the ones most entitled to information about school performance. That is really why we need new simple, easy to see and understand, direct means of school and student assessment that works and reflects real learning.

As I work on the scale, I welcome your insight and participation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

beyond useful and cheap

This morning, I am working on small boxes again, getting them ready for assembly. I am participating in a studio tour on Saturday and will demonstrate at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and needed work that can be done on location while I visit with guests. What could be better than for me to continue my friendly competition with the Chinese and kill two birds with one stone as I entertain worthy art lovers and guests?

The average Chinese worker may make about 40 cents per hour, so no American could actually compete except by striving to make things that fit a category beyond useful and cheap. We call it art. And yet, I suspect that we are missing a lot in our lives by not being the makers of the things we use and that are found useful by others.

We could have a revolution. It would restore a few things, including common sense and a sense of personal engagement in creativity. Make, fix, sew, sow, not meaning so so, but with total emphasis on quality and caring and sharing a higher calling than being the mere consumer of manufactured crap.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

National security tied to "made in USA"

Makes you wonder... what were they thinking? Between the balance of payment deficit, which is like having an open wound through which our children's future is bled, and the loss of American jobs and creative intelligence in the workforce, how in the world did they think it was OK to lose our manufacturing sector? And now they suddenly notice what they've done! We know better than to expect anyone to accept responsibility for it.

Those who actually make things have been pointing this out for years, and actually doing something about it.

Today at in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the first, second, and third grade students finished their trains with the second and third grade students shown in the photo above.

Watching as a parent you notice when children are engaged in doing real things beyond classroom memorization and worksheets. Even if your child is shy and inexpressive in words, the objects he or she has made invite conversation. By observing the things a child brings home from the wood shop, a mother might see the growth of her child moving from the easy to the more difficult, the known to the unknown, and the simple to the complex. She might even see things like growth in confidence and creative imagination. She might notice these things and giver her child praise, thus reinforcing the partnership between home and school.

Second grader Oakley told his mother that he wants to build a desk. He says he knows how to do it. He just needs some materials. His confidence is impressive. In the wood shop he applies himself with diligence. Two of the things that a parent witnesses in a child are growth of ambition and growth of confidence. Can you see how craftsmanship and the arts might provide an easy and direct means of assessment to revitalize our nation's schools? I will, in my spare time, set things into a "Beaufort scale of educational excellence". You are welcome to help. An interesting point is that the same relational scale applies throughout a child's education. In other words, you won't need a whole battery of standardized tests, each intended for specific grade levels when every parent and teacher is trusted as a witness of growth. And there is no stopping point in the development of craftsmanship.

My train making students asked, "Can we take these home today?" And it is important that children have that kind of feeling about their work.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

using gesture to teach math

what is a craftsman?

In order to extend the child as craftsman metaphor, it is important to examine the concept of "craftsman" and to see how it offers a more reasonable, more easily measurable form of school assessment requiring no experts or trained expertise, but is instead most deeply engaging of those who have the greatest interest in the success of each child. I heard an interview this afternoon with the director of the new documentary on education, "Waiting for Superman." He mentioned that nearly all parents are interested in the success of their own children. Its why he chooses to send his children to an independent school. until we develop the national will to make certain each and every child has an opportunity for the same level of success. Unfortunately, parents are rarely empowered to participate in meaningful ways that would help guarantee ALL children's success. If you are lucky enough to send your child to a better school, that's about as good as it gets. Waiting For Superman is somewhat controversial in that its focus is on charter schools and 5 children keeping their fingers crossed for admission to the opportunities that a higher quality school might bring. But I think we have bigger issues to discuss here than charter schools which will always be limited to a few students randomly singled out for success... A fresh look at student and school assessment has the potential of being even more revolutionary.

Both Richard Sennett, in the Craftsman and David Henry Feldman, in "the Child as Craftsman" essay extend the notion of craftsmanship beyond the traditional idea of making stuff. Sennett uses the term in his example of code writers for computers. And so, we can explore many things having a craftsman-like quality. Even the mathematician standing at the black board working through a quadratic equation could be examined through his or her display of craftsman-like qualities. It is easier to follow him or her to the understanding of a correct solution if the letters and numbers of the equation are written legibly and in the right order and with a craftsman's concern with personal expression rather than being carelessly expressed. There are even craftsman-like qualities involved in "crafting" today's blog post.

I keep going back in my thoughts to the old saying, "In Bali, we have no arts, we do everything as well as we can." In other words, "who needs arts when we have craftsmanship in everything? When each and everything is done with an eye toward the expression of quality and care?" There are qualities inherent within craftsmanship of caring and growth that reflect those qualities we would most like our children to learn in school and that most closely reflect what we want them to BE when they get out on their own as adults.

As I mentioned before, using what is expressed through the arts as a form of assessment is not an exact quantitative or statistical science, but rather one that can be reasonably well understood by anyone interested in taking time to observe and compare. It is like the difference between measuring the wind using the Beaufort Scale, or using an anemometer. The anemometer will tell you approximate wind speed in the abstract scale of miles per hour or kilometers per hour, but not its direct effect or the relevance of that effect on the sails and the performance of your boat. The anemometer is an abstract tool upon which we might easily become dependent but that is less descriptive of real circumstances. Testing in schools gives us an abstract view of educational reality understood by few. But do you want to know if your school is going 35 mph or whether it is performing in the best interests of your child?

As I've been saying, creating a new framework and user friendly means of assessment won't all happen overnight, and being a collaborative experience, you can help. As I see it right now, the Beaufort Scale of Educational Excellence will be a scale in which the four fundamental principles of educational sloyd will be linked with other discernible indicators of growth and health in confidence and love of learning.

Today is to be a busy day in the wood shop.

Monday, September 20, 2010

human connections start with touch

This was broadcast this morning on NPR. Human Connections Start With Touch. It followed another brief article about how physicians are becoming less sensitive and intuitive because they have become more reliant on expensive technology and are losing their hands-on diagnostic capabilities. The Fading Art of the Physical Exam. If indeed we are becoming a nation of insensitive idiots, it will be because we have neglected the wisdom of our hands.

busy day...

Today I had the 4th, 5th and 6th grade classes in the morning and the 10th, 11th, and 12th in the afternoon, an Etsy order to ship and an edited chapter to review, so I really should not have much time for the blog. So I'll make things brief, and quick.

I am continuing to develop a Beaufort like scale for educational assessment, and much earlier in the blog I had proposed that the arts be used as a primary assessment tool, and also that like the original Beaufort scale we needed both an at sea version which could serve in the classroom perspective and points of reference that would serve the parent watching from shore. The parent watching from shore is where the arts as assessment idea comes to the fore.

In the Theory of Educational Sloyd (both the book and theory developed by Otto Salomon,) a set of educational principles is laid out for the development of models and curriculum that I have shared many times before in the blog, so you may have them memorized and taken to heart. These are:
Move from the known to the unknown
Move from the easy to the more difficult
Move from the simple to the complex
Move from the concrete to the abstract
Through projects that capture the interest of the home and the child.
Again, I want to be quick and brief. These points are not only observable classroom principles, but can be witnessed in the objects of art the child carries home from school.

As you may know from having children of your own, there are many many things that children won't necessarily be able to talk about when they return home from school, but objective expressions of learning in the form of art, are quite expressive and descriptive of learning.

I want to go very briefly back to the earliest days of Salomon's school at Nääs. Salomon and his uncle August Abrahamson were Jews, and while it had been the heart's desire of Abrahamson and his wife to create a school for the education of the children from his surrounding area, their religion was a barrier causing distrust amongst the local Lutheran populace. In order to overcome this difficulty, Abrahamson set the policy that continued throughout the history of Nääs, even as it became a school for teachers, that education would be free and the costs borne by the Abrahamson foundation. First in Salomon's mind, therefore, was the relationship between home and school, and so, as Salomon developed models for teaching sloyd, he chose that the children make objects that reinforced the relationship between home and school, and gave the parents an important position in observing and reinforcing the child's growth in school. Making beautiful, useful objects was a means to reinforce the essential relationship between home and school that so many schools have neglected, particularly now that we have educational experts in charge of nearly everything.

What I want most to share with you this morning is that the fundamental principles of educational sloyd as described above are also observable results that fit a framework for assessment. And so, you can see how the parent notices in the things the child brings home from school, the developmental progression from easy to more difficult and from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. The parent need not be trained in the the arts or capable of assessing the merits of the arts in order to serve as witness to these marks of child development and learning progress.

You may have heard the story of the Columbus egg. If not, you can learn about it by typing Columbus egg in the search block at upper left. Otto Salomon had what he believed to be his own Columbus egg which I discussed earlier in the blog. At this point, I am beginning to think that this might be mine... that the arts can be used as a simple form of assessment that builds stronger bonds between home and school and gives the parents a long neglected handle on school success. Of course the narrative is not complete. There will be more to come and I invite your help.

Students always want to do new things rather than refine what they have done before, but practice is one of those things that apply to woodworking just as in everything else. Today's 4th 5th and 6th grade students worked again on Sloyd trivets. They were wanting to do new things from their own imaginations, but I was insistent and they did enjoy finding new ways to make their work easier and more interesting as shown in the sanding operation in the photo above.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

simple things can be a challenge

This morning, I am having a crisis of confidence in that I'm making small cabinets that I'm not sure of yet, and I've proposed a simple "Beaufort Scale" of Educational Assessment in place of an incredibly complex and esoteric methodology practiced and understood only by highly trained experts in statistics. And of course that is nearly impossible, right? We don't arrive at interesting places without walking on difficult and uneven ground.

The problem with the existing system of assessment is that it is concerned only with those things that are easiest to measure with standardized tests and completely ignores other important areas of child development. What we can't effectively measure we effectively ignore, and so to have a means of directly observing other things would be important. It would also be very significant to have parents and teachers acknowledged as able to make significant contributions in the matter of school and student assessments.

So far, I've been looking at what happens in the classroom as a key toward observing educational success, looking at things like teamwork, emotional and physical safety from bullying, and opportunities for creative multidisciplinary, multi-intelligent engagement in learning.

But what if you are a parent and wondering whether or not a school is meeting your child's needs for learning and growth? What are the markers that help us to see that your child is on a pathway toward learning success? Unfortunately, it is a bit like watching the effects of wind on a small boat offshore. We can see when the boat is becalmed, or we can see it knocked down by a sudden gust, or if we are lucky we may see it move in a steady pace across the horizon and feel secure knowing our children are onboard. My first parts of the scale are prescriptive in that they explain what needs to be done to make a classroom environment and learning experience more effective and meaningful. Now we get to the harder part... that of understanding what is happening in school even though we may stand onshore. Remember that we are working on two versions of the scale dependent on perspective of the viewer, in or out of school.

One of the simple observational tools that a parent can use to put things in perspective is joy. Does your child like school? Is he or she ready for it in the morning, and excited to report on school when he or she gets home? Or is school just a thing which must be carried as a burden of youth?

This is a teamwork exercise. You can leave me with my saw, out on a limb, or you can comment below or email at right.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

arrowmont stays put.

I seem to have come late to this news, but the Arrowmont Board of Directors has decided to keep the school in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on its current 14 acre site. It was being evicted by the Pi Beta Phi fraternity which after many years as host of the campus, had decided to sell to developers at a price Arrowmont could not match. It seems that hands-on learning was no longer an exciting enough service mission for the fraternity's current membership. The land had been given to the fraternity back when land in Tennessee was practically worthless and now it has become worth millions.

Fortunately, the residents of Gatlinburg decided that keeping Arrowmont in their own community was an important goal and a drive for community support by the mayor and city manager won the day as well as Arrowmont board support. They had been preparing to pick up lock, stock, and lathes and move to North Carolina. As a once in awhile faculty member I am relieved by this turn of events. Arrowmont's wonderful studios and a constant flow of newly energized hand work students will continue into the future, and donors can feel assured of their investment in hands on learning. Its woodworking studio shown in the photo above is among the finest in the world.

Staying put will not be an easy thing. Buying the property from the Pi Phis will add significantly to the usual fund raising challenge faced by every craft school. You can help. Or read about my own teaching experience at Arrowmont, Turning Left at the Hard Rock Cafe.

As you can see in the photo below, I am continuing my very friendly competition with the Chinese, by making things. The photo is filled with the lids for small inlaid boxes to fill holiday season orders. At the lower right are award bases for the Arkansas Governor's Award for Quality. I may not win the award, but I do get to make it. All this flurry of work is to get my usual production to the point that I can assemble, sand and finish small batches of boxes in my spare time without messing up too much else in the wood shop.

testing ain't everything

Unbeknownst to many American educators and politicos, testing doesn't reach into the important areas of school and student success. One of the things that corporate execs will tell you is that they are needing and wanting "team players." An important point in my Beaufort Scale for educational excellence is whether or not a school offers all students opportunities for teamwork utilizing diverse intelligences. One important aspect of teamwork is leadership development, but another equally important one is that each student can learn his or her own strengths and learn that each has important skills, intelligence and strength to offer toward a common goal. Kids quickly learn who is good at what and to value, reward and encourage each other's specific talents and contributions. One of the best ways for teamwork potential to be activated in school is through service projects. "I'll do this, and will you do that thing you do so very well?" is the perfect preparation for real world participation.

I am not sure whether this will be the 4th item on the scale, or whether it should be broken down in steps as specific indicators on 4, 5 and 6. One level of teamwork common in schools is that of the basketball, football or soccer team... but the common athletic team involves primarily kinesthetic intelligence, and not the wide range of skills that can be expressed through other kinds of team project. Athletic teams are usually selected by adults, controlled by adults (including who plays when) and are exclusive to those students selected for participation.

This time of the year students at Clear Spring School are busy preparing for the fall camping trip. It involves every child grades 1-6. All are assigned to "patrol groups" with each group having to take turns with specific important camping community tasks. The group leader and each position within the group are selected by democratic process (vote) within the group, and there are a variety of positions, each requiring specific skills. Each child has very clear responsibilities to the group and to the student body. Do other schools have this kind of teamwork opportunity in place? Certainly not all, but teamwork opportunities are essential to the development of each child. And so, you can see a complete and total disconnect. CEOs want teamwork, but they do nothing to help schools become the kinds of places where teamwork skills can be learned and they apply pressure for standardized testing instead even though it will never give them what they really want. I could say something mocking, sarcastic and stupidly appropriate here. Maybe "Duh." Teamwork is something you can't measure on a standardized test, but will be the measure of our culture, our civilization and our economic success.

I think you will see that effective teamwork is dependent on the previous levels of the Beaufort Scale of educational assessment. Kids must feel safe to express themselves and multiple intelligences (including the arts) must be equally treasured components of the curriculum in order for children's diverse contributions to be valued by all.

And so this is not ready for prime time yet, and I present it you, my team, as a work in progress. You can be thinking about teamwork as I work somewhat noisily in my wood shop. As a member of a team, feel free to connect via the comments or by email. Go team! Go.

Friday, September 17, 2010

standing on the shore...

The Admiral Beaufort Scale for wind velocity was created in two versions, one for land and the other for sea, and so, I'm working on two versions of my Beaufort scale for school assessment, one for use in schools by teachers and administrators, and the other for observation from outside that might best be used by a parent observing from home. The wind is the same whether on land or sea, but if you are on land, and not able to directly observe what is taking place in the classroom, you will still need specific indicators to monitor school progress and the well-being of your own child.

As with most of my woodworking projects, I am in over my head, making things up as I go along, and so, you may chime in at any point and help me out. It was reader JD who noticed that I need two scales or at least two sets of related markers depending on where you are standing when the wind blows, at home or at sea.

I realize that the few readers I have for the blog are not really enough to make a big mark on American education. But I am honored to have a few faithful readers, none the less. Today I got an email from Paramount pictures wanting me to sign a petition pressuring the Arkansas governor to do more testing and agree to new "standards." The idea is that now we have enough data to know what's needed for school reform and must demand change. It's funny to think, 200 years after Comenius, 150 years after Froebel, 100 years after Dewey and Montessori, that thanks to standardized testing some educators think they have arrived at the point of actually knowing what they are doing. Do you not see the absurdity of that? To the current batch of educational reformers, data mined from standardized testing is more real than direct, compassionate observation of real children. I was excited to see some fresh enthusiasm for educational reform, and then realized that there are those using it to continue screwing things up.

Make, fix, sew, sow, make do, do, learn, grow. The idea that testing will fix everything is a deceit, but there are real things in the world that are far more rewarding and compelling and at the end of the day, some having little or no notion of such things will awaken to discover themselves at the center of diddly squat.

Tomorrow I will address teamwork and collaboration as important observable unmeasurable indicators of school success.

assessment scale

Yesterday, I began creating a Beaufort Scale for Education, using the arts to formulate a scale through which parents and teachers untrained in statistics can observe, measure and create educational excellence. I'll be working on this for days, as I also have other things to do with my life, and I work best in short spurts between hours of hands on engagement... You can help via the comments function on the blog, or by the email link at right. If you think I am onto something and this is worthy of encouragement, let me know.

First children must be safe for creative expression. That means all bullying by students and school staff must be brought to an end. That is not as easily done as one might think. It requires training of all staff in conflict resolution and an active program to eliminate bullying to and from and within the school grounds. Bullying is always a two way street, and students are damaged at both ends. And so, moving from zero on the scale to one is not something that can come quick. It should be noted that verbal and emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse.

There are other things you can be preparing to do while you tackle number one aggressively in your spare time. Moving from one to two and three on the scale requires arts and PE, a growing commitment and regular engagement in each. We've had thirty years of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory which is widely known and accepted, and it is past time for us to act on what we know... that all children don't learn in the same way, are not smart in the same ways, and all children deserve opportunities to develop and demonstrate their full intelligences in schools, not only those who are "number smart" and reading smart. This too, is not an easy mark to make, as most teachers have been advanced in their educations based on number smarts and reading smarts, and the greater emphasis placed on these, traditionally in education makes the other intelligences appear of lesser importance. They are not. A school that does not apply equal emphasis to all human intelligences by allowing each child to discover his or her own meaningful contributions to culture and econony, does a disservice to all.

So here's the Beaufort scale so far as it has developed. It will be 10 points, more or less, rising to a full blown hurricane of learning and growth, and allow parents and teachers to see what they are getting from their investment.
1. Children are safe and the school actively supports each child physically and emotionally in expressions of their creativity.
2. Children are offered art, music and PE.
3. Children have a regular opportunity to express themselves and their intelligences through through a variety of crafts and art, music and PE as thoroughly as through reading and math and receive equal acknowledgment for their efforts.
One thing that a person might notice is that the failure in schools to acknowledge and validate non-discursive intelligence can be viewed as a subtle but widely accepted and commonly approved form of bullying, that allows one form of intelligence to unreasonably dominate others and causes children and society to suffer the effects. One of the consequences of No Child Left Behind legislation and teach-to-the-test pressures has been that arts and PE have been reduced or eliminated in many schools. Recess time has been curtailed or eliminated. Those are wrong steps if you are concerned about quality education.

If you want to see the original Beaufort Scale of wind velocity you can find a number of versions on-line

At this point, one in 7 Americans is living in poverty while some American industries are unable to find qualified workers. It is obvious that some changes are long past due. It was proposed that we were to become a "service economy" rather than an industrial one. It was sold to us all as a great idea. We then exported most manufacturing to developing nations, and have been diminished as a result. One of the only ways to fix that is through a renewed emphasis on quality education, which must include the arts.

Today in my wood shop, I am working on small boxes for an order, trying to figure out my next steps in making my tie cabinets, and working on bases for the Arkansas Governor's Award for Quality.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ingenious Britain

James Dyson, British engineer and inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner and other interesting things is working to restore the UK to its creative roots. This download .pdf file, Ingenious Britain, explains his view, which has a lot to do with increasing support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (STEM). Joe Barry alerted me to an article in this week's New Yorker about James Dyson which can be found here.

On the same subject, a friend was telling me about the woodworking program in a neighboring community. They have two large computer controlled routers in a room behind a glass wall, so the kids can see them go to work without ever having to touch wood. And there's very little more I can say about that.

do the math

When was the last time YOU factored a binomial equation? Perhaps, like most of us, it was in high school. You may have struggled with it and you may have been made to feel stupid and unworthy, or it may have come easily for you and you may have felt selected as being smart. It might even have been fun. Then again, you may have wondered, "This is OK, I can do it, but will I ever find some way to actually use it?" And the answer was "probably not."

It is widely accepted and completely unquestioned that the ability to do math is an important building block for reasoning skills, and even though most college graduates don't do much algebra, the ability to do it is considered predictive of success in higher levels of learning.

We have widely assumed that success in math is directly predictive of success in all else. But we all know what assumptions make of u and me. There is no direct evidence that our assumptions are at all correct, even though they have driven American education for over 100 years.

And so, I would like to work towards spelling out the means through which the arts can serve as the primary assessment tool to measure school and student performance. First of all, it won't be an individually assigned number grade, or an exacting percentage, but more akin to the Beaufort scale... based on directly discernible phenomenon, like a leaf turning gently in the wind or smoke rising straight up from a chimney or like a morning with the air so still that the sails of your small boat hang in breathless anticipation. The interesting thing about the original Beaufort Scale was that it allowed a common seaman without instruments or external authority to become a skilled observer of scientific phenomenon and take part in assessment of wind and weather that had direct application to the performance of his ship. The captain, the first mate and the lowliest hand on deck could observe, accurately measure and agree on exactly the same thing.

This morning you have the chance to participate in the creation of a Beaufort Scale for education... a conceptual tool that anyone can use to observe educational failure or success. It is time to extract assessment from the clutches of educational authority and place it squarely in the hands of parents, teachers, and the like where it can do the very most good in reshaping American education.

This act of creating a new scale won't be done in a single post, and I invite you to help me work things out using the comments function on this site, or by private email through which your thoughts and observations may support or help shape my own. I had mentioned before that assessment by the arts is a revolutionary concept. Revolution is not something that arises from the top down but from the bottom up, and just imagine parents and teachers empowered with a full comprehension of how to build great schools!

The first thing I want to state is that many parents send their kids to schools that they know to be unsafe, where they encounter bullying by students and derogatory comments from teachers and yet these parents send them having no other choice. I want to point out that the Beaufort Scale for education works works like that for wind, except that Hurricane force learning is the state to be desired rather than frightened of, and the zero is exactly what we think of as an absolute zero in education. A complete waste of time. In the Beaufort Scale for Education, it is the zero that is potentially the most destructive. The scale rises sequentially from stuffed still air at zero to a fully engaged whirlwind of human comprehension and creativity. The baseline, moving from 0 to 1 on the scale involves the question, "Is my child physically and emotionally safe?" And if you are having a tough time getting your child to go to school, the answer is "possibly not."

In my own Admiral Beaufort Scale of Educational Assessment, being safe to express oneself in the arts is a building block for everything else, and if your children are not creatively, emotionally and physically safe to express themselves in school, you had best keep them at home and teach them yourself, or find a school like Clear Spring in your neighborhood and invest there in your children's education. If there is no Clear Spring School nearby, be prepared to go to school as a parental hurricane, Beaufort number 10, raising holy hell to make certain that ALL children, not just your own, are physically, emotionally and artistically safe to create.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today in the woodshop

Today in the CSS woodshop my first, second and third grade students continued making their trains. This is a nice project, in that it is large enough that the students see clearly that it can't be done and taken home in a single class, and they are excited about the results. We use a simple method to connect the cars to each other using a bent nail and a wire fencing staple.

I want to talk just a bit about assessment and the role that the arts can play in bringing assessment out of the domination of standardized testing expertise and into the hands of the lay scientist... the parent wanting to see results and the greatest growth opportunities for his or her child.

Most standardized testing necessarily has to do with things that can be measured by a battery of questions having approved right and wrong answers. Even the essay portion of the SAT has to do with the following the rules of proper and effective writing.

And so, let's look at what corporations say they want in someone they hire. They want: creative problem solving, teamwork, and demonstrated responsibility. A schooling built on the basis of what we can most easily measure through standardized testing does not deliver on any of these three things.

I want to go back for just a moment to some earlier posts about David Henry Feldman's essay, The Child as Craftsman. I have been granted permission by the author to distribute it to interested scholars, so will send it to you if you make a request for it via email.

In the Child as Craftsman, Feldman offers three metaphors for schooling. I will grossly simplify: One the child is an empty vessel to be filled to his or her capacity by the nearly all knowing teacher. The second metaphor is related to Pavlov's and Skinner's work on environmental conditioning, and offers that learning is "a function of the environmental arrangements that a good teacher is able to make." The third metaphor is one derived from Piaget and other developmental psychologists, that the child goes through universal stages of development, and that these are natural and sequential for all children. Feldman uses A.S. Neill mentioned in yesterday's post as an example of an educator taking the Piaget metaphor to the extreme.

Feldman offers a "new metaphor," that of the child as craftsman, and simultaneously points us toward a different way of assessing performance and learning success.

He proposes "twin signs of progress toward a fruitful education for the future... 1) an increasing number of individuals engaged in and committed to pursuit of mastery of their field and 2) the number of novel, unprecedented, or unique contributions that occur in these fields." The interesting thing here, is that you don't have to be an educational expert, trained in statistics to walk into a classroom and observe whether or not it is fulfilling its mission. Assessment by the arts is the only way to measure the three things that American employers want schools to produce.

It is interesting that a trained and experienced educator CAN walk in to a classroom and quickly see its effectiveness. He or she will see students seriously engaged (or not). He will see students working effectively in teams (or not) and he or she will see evidence of creative problem solving in the form of projects at varying levels of completion (or not). A parent visiting the class can witness exactly the same thing, and has the additional opportunity of seeing the child's enthusiasm each morning as they prepare for school.
"What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy." - John Dewey
The new movie, Waiting for Superman was produced by Davis Guggenheim who would drive by 3 public schools on his way each morning to take his children to private school and felt a sense of guilt that he was unable to give the best quality education to others as well. I am looking forward to seeing the movie, as I suspect that Guggenheim was inspired by what John Dewey knew to be true. School should not be contrived but should be made authentic and true for each child.

Craftsmanship (and the arts) is the essential metaphor for the new education, not because it provides an alternate means to assess, but because it is really how we learn, how we grow, and how we become engaged passionately with the future.

On another subject the poll at right was interesting. Thank you all for taking time to participate. Just under half my readers were interested in woodworking. Just under half found my writing strangely entertaining. A full 91 percent were here for the philosophy of hands-on learning. I feel complimented by each response. Make, fix, do. There is growth and pleasure in the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

who decides what is important?

Who decides what's important and why is it important who decides? Those are important questions as we contemplate educational reform, and one of the things we've allowed to happen is for those who write the standards and devise the standardized tests to answer the important questions for us. When you write the test, you have chosen which matters of intelligence, which matters of character are important for our schools to "deliver" to our children and our communities. And you have chosen which of our children will be preselected for the greatest opportunities for success.

It is kind of a subtle thing, inexplicable, right? We all want our children to prosper. We want each to arise to his or her greatest potential. We believe that the experts know what is needed and what is right for our children. They are experts, after all. They study stuff in depth and they work hard at it. They have all the educational credentials to back themselves up. Besides, very few Americans really understand standardized tests, how they work, and what the standards should be.

But did you know that parents are quite capable of making assessments of their own? Did you know that parents could be reasonably empowered with tools for improving education without the standards and standardized testing that have come to dominate the movement toward quality education?

And so, why does all this matter? Artificially derived standards ride roughshod on individuality, diversity and creativity. They don't deliver the kinds of employees that corporations say they want. They limit the artistic options that have deeply engaged American learners. Carried to extremes they turn schools into sweatshops in which children are immersed in tremendous pressure during the stages of their development in which unstructured play is most essential.

And so that is why I propose that school assessment be made through the arts and that parents be empowered to make those assessments. I will have more on this later. In the meantime, I suspect some of my readers will not be familiar with the educational classic, Summerhill, A New View of Childhood by A.S. Neill. In this highly recommended text, teachers had been deeply concerned about one child who refused to read and spent all his time running in the woods until he decided that he wanted to become an engineer, and then quickly excelled at reading and math. As you probably know from having made a few quirky steps of your own, intrinsic motivation is a very powerful force and to assume that it is something that our children will not discover on their own is a mistake.

I had been in small alternative school study group back in the early 70's after having completed my own formal education and the problems of it were fresh on my mind. Being the son of a Kindergarten teacher and reading Neill's book set me up for a very long running interest in education.

Standards do not allow for the individuality and creativity of human expression. They don't allow for the variability of development in children. They are the collaborative efforts of a segment of society to control what happens in the future and may be the inadvertent tool of repression. And what I would like my readers to know is that despite what we may see occasionally on the news, a very small proportion of parents unable to cope, most parents have their children's very best interests at heart, and are capable of perceiving those things that bring them joy. From that position of authentic authority, parents are quite capable, given resources, of making the very best decisions for their kids and their schooling.

And of course that is why some parents and children choose Clear Spring School.

Monday, September 13, 2010

beginning sloyd

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students made trivets from Gustav Larsson's Book, Elementary Sloyd and Whittling. The project is a great way to introduce new-to-the-wood shop students to woodworking (I had a few) and it offers a good refresher course in safety for those students who have been busy during the summer doing other things. Even though most of the students had done this project before, to do it again offered the opportunity to improve skill and refine their work. Each and every woodworking scholar took pleasure in their work. At the high school level, we are beginning a Clear Spring School wood collection, and beginning to gather as many local species as we can. It should be easy to come up with at least 30 different species, and perhaps more, just from our local forests.


The ESSA class on bowl turning wrapped up yesterday in the Clear Spring wood shop, as led by Greg Thomas, a skilled and attentive turning teacher. A wooden bowl is a simple thing that requires a surprising amount of concentration. If your mind wanders the bowl gouge can catch rather than cut, tearing out a chunk rather than a thin ribbon of wood. It can yank the gouge from your hands, pull the wood loose from the chuck and destroy your work. It is why you always wear a safety mask when you work.

There are things that happen when we work to develop skill. Some of Greg's students were at the lathe for the first time. Some had finished the class and left with their work before I arrived to take these pictures. The point that is so often missed is that when we craft skilled work, the true shaping that takes place is within the self. And that is the point that is so often missed when non-craftsmen observe the use of crafts for developmental or formative purposes in schools. As Otto Salomon had observed, The value of the carpenter's work is in the usefulness of the object he makes. The value of the student's work, making the same object is in the student.

People take objects for granted. We are swamped by too many cheap and meaningless things. But whole schools can be built with crafts as both foundation and central focus. Early educational theorists, like Rousseau, Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Montessori, and Dewey, understood this but modern educators have completely missed this point. What you see in the photos above and below is evidence of learning and of growth, that can be the foundation of educational enthusiasm for children and adults. It is why I propose the strategic implementation of the hands. A young man or woman standing at a lathe gives shape to much more than wood.

Don't forget the poll at right. One day left to vote.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

Reader John Grossbohlin sent this link to an article in the New York Times, upending much of what we think we know about good study habits. Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

When parents set up study situations for their kids, idealized opportunities to cram stuff in their heads, how closely does that approximate real life learning conditions? You may not regard that as a valid question. You may not regard it as relevant. But kids and adults are natural learners. We just don't learn so well when we know the lessons to be contrived, artificial, with little direct impact and essentially irrelevant to our own lives.
Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.
Far better than study habits for kids would be the habit of doing real things that create a sense of relevance and relationship as a scaffold for what they learn.

Also on the subject of schools, Time Magazine's Cover Story for the week is about "What Makes a School Great." Part of the article is stimulated by a new movie, "Waiting for Superman," a documentary by the producer of An Inconvenient Truth. I have not had time to study the article, but it is very nice to see education taking an important place in the American discourse. Now, the challenge is simply to get people to better understand our hands. If we want education to move from the artificial and abstract to the concrete, reality based, experiential learning we all know most deeply engages us all, then the strategic implementation of the hands is the key to revolution.

Greg Thomas' bowl turning class for ESSA in the Clear Spring School wood shop is going well as you can see in the photos above and below.

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.

The British Disease

David Brooks took a look at the American economic problems from a useful historic perspective in his New York Times editorial, the Genteel Nation. He describes our current state of economic downturn and lack of confidence as "the British disease."
After decades of affluence, the U.S. has drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation’s wealth in the first place.
So how do we get back to our economic strength? We've got to make some real stuff, erase the balance of payments deficit by making what we make efficiently and at high standards, and seek greater meaning in the things we buy and spend money on.

Brooks points out that it isn't exactly socially acceptable for a graduate of the Ivy league colleges to go back to Akron to make auto parts, but that is exactly what we need... for the best and brightest to get into careers beyond "consulting and finance."

We now have schools in which there are few hands-on activities beyond the keyboard and worksheet. We have Ivy League schools and universities in which all teaching is by lecture. We have homes in which children are sedated by TV and video games and are no longer building things in their back yards. So we may have nearly laid waste a generation in that few know anything at all about their own real-hands-on possibilities.

Brooks also points out that one of the odd things about this recession is that there are so many skilled jobs that are being left unfilled.
Manufacturing firms can’t find skilled machinists. Narayana Kocherlakota of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank calculates that if we had a normal match between the skills workers possess and the skills employers require, then the unemployment rate would be 6.5 percent, not 9.6 percent.
So you can see that by failing to understand the significance of our hands and the wisdom they impart toward culture and economy, we have screwed things up.

In David Brooks editorial he takes on Michelle Obama, critically as follows:
The shift away from commercial values has been expressed well by Michelle Obama in a series of speeches. “Don’t go into corporate America,” she told a group of women in Ohio. “You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. ... Make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry.” As talented people adopt those priorities, America may become more humane, but it will be less prosperous.
But Brooks fails to see how what Michelle Obama proposes might help to alleviate the following:
Finally, there’s the lower class. The problem here is social breakdown. Something like a quarter to a third of American children are living with one or no parents, in chaotic neighborhoods with failing schools. A gigantic slice of America’s human capital is vastly underused, and it has been that way for a generation.
So, lets hope some good things come from the recession. Can you imagine Ivy League graduates becoming so inspired by hands-on learning that they put our nation back at work? Not just the white middle class, but those too, who have been so long ignored and whose talents have been wasted? We are way past due for a revolution in education.

It seems we have been coming to our senses and realizing we have screwed things up. We can fix things, too. You can start by fixing something that's broken. What's broken in your home today? Fix it yourself or at least try. Can't fix it? Let your kids take it apart and learn how things work. Get out the tools and paints and make messes in your own family explorations of real physical reality. Even the greatest things have humblest beginnings.

Friday, September 10, 2010

woodturning at ESSA

Today my classroom at Clear Spring School is being used by the Eureka Springs School of the Arts for a class in bowlturning taught by Greg Thomas. The class focuses primarily on one tool, the bowl gouge. Getting one sharpened at the right bevel is crucial to the student's success, so naturally the class began with sharpening, using a Wolverine jig mounted at the base of the grinder.

The students are turning Bradford Pear, a smooth cutting wood, that helps them to focus on refining their technique.

I received a small booklet in the mail today from Teachers College, that had been withdrawn from circulation and passed along. The title is The Trade and Training of the Carpenter and Joiner, published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1933. You really can't blame libraries for discarding books that are seldom read. This one, according to the date due card at back had not been checked out since 1943. But for those of us who celebrate the wisdom of our hands, to hold such things is a connection with things that we had best not forget. This slender volume is also a connection with people from the past, the unnamed authors, the people about whom the book was written and even that last person to check it out in 1943, a much earlier time in which our nation was also at war.

The booklet is fragile. The cover is broken loose. My favorite part is the university ID (Teachers College Library CU) spelled out in tiny stamped holes, both on the cover and on the title page inside.

My readers might enjoy this pdf article by Leon Botstein which had been published a few years ago in the New York Times, in response to the shootings at Columbine,Let Teenagers Try Adulthood. In his examination of schooling, Botstein suggests:
Secondary education must be rethought. Elementary school should begin at age 4 or 5 and end with the sixth grade. We should entirely abandon the concept of the middle school and junior high school. Beginning with the seventh grade, there should be four years of secondary education that we may call high school. Young people should graduate at 16 rather than 18. They could then enter the real world, the world of work or national service, in which they would take a place of responsibility alongside older adults in mixed company. They could stay at home and attend junior college, or they could go away to college.

For all the faults of college, at least the adults who dominate the world of colleges, the faculty, were selected precisely because they were exceptional and different, not because they were popular. Despite the often cavalier attitude toward teaching in college, at least physicists know their physics, mathematicians know and love their mathematics, and music is taught by musicians, not by graduates of education schools, where the disciplines are subordinated to the study of classroom management.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

geezers in garages

The age of American ingenuity seems to have passed or at least skipped a generation. Today, I want to celebrate a friend whom I've featured before in the blog, Bill Sherret. In his basement machine shop he's made every kind of steam engine model imaginable. Each is machined as a work of art. In his spare time, Bill made much of the cherry and walnut furniture in his home. It is a shame that not so many are inclined these days to follow Bill's example of ingenuity.

"Geezers in Garages" is my American version of Australian Mark Thompson's "Blokes in Sheds". If you want to see other basement and back yard workshops, type Blokes or Geezers in the search block at upper left. You'll find more, and below you will find my own geezer hangout. If you would like to submit your own geezer hideaway, take some photos and, I would welcome the chance to share it with my other readers.

Don't forget the poll at right. So far, no one has admitted coming here as a big mistake. You could be the first.

if not wall street?

Many people have been disappointed by their investments on Wall Street. Where does one invest if not on Wall Street? How about your own community? Small business has the greatest potential for growth, and the smallest aren't on Wall Street. If a sole proprietorship hires a single worker, the work force and maybe profits can double. The government thinks that "small" business is 500 or more employees, but they, as usual don't know jack. There are thousands upon thousands of very small businesses that are having trouble getting support from our bailed out banks and their growth might depend on you or others more willing to invest in community.

In the meantime, most trading and exchanges on Wall Street these days are driven by formulas that are actually unrelated to the actual performance of the company. Stock prices are driven up or down by government reports on hiring, inventory and consumer confidence, not by actual performance and profit. Firms like Goldman Sachs are there to make money whether the market goes up or down, and the more things go up and down, the better the investment banks make out (like bandits.)

Does any of that make sense to you? More and more investors are starting to notice and pull back from what is becoming regarded as a casino form of investing. The house wins. The investor often does not.

And so what are some investment opportunities? Look for organic gardeners, builders, rental property managers whose work you can support and invest in. Did you know you can loan money to your plumber and make 6 percent? Buy something that needs fixing that you can save and sell. Learn a craft. Get down to the most basic level. Start with your own growth as a maker and see where it might lead. It will lead, no doubt, to greater sense of community and reports on earnings that aren't printed out of a computer but that can be seen each day when you drive through your own home town. You might even make greater profit at the same time.

Today I am working on boxes, finishing an order to ship. I will also be getting the Clear Spring wood shop ready for a weekend bowl turning workshop with Greg Thomas, master wood turner from Fayetteville.

Don't forget to participate in the poll at right.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

hand work and community 2....

I have talked about this many times before. There are things that happen when we invest in each other. There are things that happen when we listen to real music rather than that on the iPod, or when we buy something someone we know made, rather than stuff made in China or some other still productive nation that was imported by multi-national corporations and sold in the big box store.

The things that happen are these... someone is encouraged in their growth. Someone is given meaningful employment that leads to greater participation in community life. Homes, schools and relationships are made more stable. People see value in their own lives and find hope. We begin to feel neighborliness or experience what Ivan Illich called conviviality. Next comes joy.

What we often have instead is a state that can best be described as benumbedness. But we had none of that today in the woodshop. I won't be lying to tell you that wood working is a favorite subject at Clear Spring School.

The photos above and below are of the current first, second and third grade project, and of the first grade students at work.

a compelling hypothesis

When at a turning point in my own education a craftsman friend informed me that he believed my brains to be in my hands. Of course that is an odd thing to say to someone. We all know that brains are stuffed in our heads. But is the total of our intelligence there as well? My friend's observation led me to examine the pleasure I found in craftsmanship, reexamine my own goals, and I became a woodworker as a result. What could be simpler than that?

It seems there aren't all that many craftsmen left. We have almost given up on manufacturing. We assign skilled trades a lesser value in our culture than work done requiring a college degree. Many of those with degrees find that there is nothing to do in their field. We made a national decision to outsource manufacturing to become a "service economy" and now have even outsourced accounting and law. The experts proclaimed that we would be an "information economy." In other words, we wouldn't need to make anything, or do anything and the only viable business left would be Google. But then Google would be a whopper, right? And its isn't really about information, but about advertising.

And so, as a member of the lonely band of the few craftsmen left, I have a few things to say. By abandoning the ideals of craftsmanship and hands-on learning, we have put ourselves and our nation in a very tough place.

My simple, compelling hypothesis? By taking more time to be cognizant of our hands, to take greater interest in them, we have the power to bring things to right, to raise standards, to increase dignity, to bring greater intelligence to our schools, our homes, our communities and our lives. Just as I was challenged by my craftsman mentor/friend to examine the intelligence in my own hands, I invite you to do the same for yourself and our nation. The hypothesis is one you can examine for yourself, with or without my help. And let's not forget the pleasure and the joy... there are feelings that arise in the making of real things. I can tell you all about it but it is best that you discover these feelings for yourself.

Today at the Clear Spring School wood shop, the first, second and third grade students will begin making trains.