Tuesday, November 30, 2010

suggestion for tonight's dinner

SMAKLIG MÃ…LTID! Or Bon Appetite! if you are french and not svensk

Hasselback Potatoes With Rosemary
What you need: potatoes (medium sized), breadcrumbs, fresh rosemary, butter and sea salt.
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F
2. Peel and wash the potatoes.
3. Slice into the potatoes about 1/5 inch apart. Do not cut completely through! Top each potato with a small knob of butter and bake them in the oven for about 25 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven, and sprinkle each potato with breadcrumbs, sea salt and some rosemary (rosemary is untraditional, so if you want to stay true to the original recipe, just leave it out).. Again top each potato with a small knob of butter.
5. Bake for another 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of the potatoes) or until golden on the outside and soft on the inside. You can also turn the oven to broil for the last 5 minutes of cooking to get an extra crispy outside.

This recipe came from Kalle Bergman, food writer for the Huffington Post. Besides being Swedish, it tasted great.

Today in the wood shop, students turned wood. Two made gavels, some made candle stick holders, and others finished the boxes they have been working on. I am headed for my own woodshop to clean and arrange and to assemble and finish the Greene and Greene styled cabinets.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Woodturning at CSS

Today several of my high school students worked on the lathe making various things. Clayton wanted to make a small ball bat which he says is to whack his older brother on the leg. Others practiced their skills with far less malicious intent. Samantha advised that there is a significant difference between karma and revenge. When you take matters into your own hands, like with a small ball bat, it's revenge and not karma. The small ball bat is not exactly the Clear Spring way to solve problems, but perhaps with a bit of skill demonstrated, big brother will back off without the need for whacking, and the ball bat is no more dangerous than other things an older brother might pick up.

I saved a .pdf file of the article about Clear Spring School from yesterday's Democrat-Gazette. You can download it Here,"EUREKA SPRINGS Private school fosters diverse learning styles."

One of the things not mentioned in the article is the CSS focus on conflict resolution, and skills in interpersonal relationships are probably the most important skills that children can learn in school. We routinely drop everything to help children learn how to get along with each other and resolve their differences, with justice and peace.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Becoming eager learners

Clear Spring second-grader Alena Guillory makes a box during shop class Wednesday afternoon. The Eureka Springs school encourages hands-on experiences instead of just reading about subjects.
Photo by Michael Woods
Clear Spring School is featured today in an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Below is a video of a blind woodworker in Canada who says, "You got two eyes, I've got ten.".

Besides housecleaning with my new floor mop extender in use for the first time, attending an afternoon arts and craft show and thus visiting friends, I extended my friendly competition with the Chinese this afternoon, by applying Danish oil finish to boxes. In addition, I have been sanding my latest cabinets to prepare for assembly. You can get a preview glimpse of the tongue and groove Greene and Greene inspired doors in the photo below.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"The Woodcarver" From Chuang Tsu

Parker Palmer, suggests this poem as an allegory for teaching.
Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lai said to the master carver
"What is your secret?"

Khing replied, "I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
on trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

"By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell-stand.

"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

"If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

"What happened?
My own collected thoughts
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood:
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits."
Simple, elegant... most of the work was on self, then with the self in control and alignment, the work begins. The results are ascribed to the spirits, and the teacher's job is to bring forth that which is unique.

Friday, November 26, 2010

black friday

Last night consumers were tent camping in front of stores to be first in line to get the best deals on holiday shopping. On what is called Black Friday, stores are hoping to turn the corner from losses to profits, as a large percentage of their earnings come after Thanksgiving sales for the Christmas holidays. As much as I love consumer confidence and the gradual restoration of economy, I am personally disinclined to fight the madness of holiday shopping.

In some home work shops, mothers and fathers are busy making things for their kids. Which scenario offers the most growth? Shopping or making? Which behavior sets the best example for kids? "I want that!" or "I can make that!"

The average time Americans shop during the holiday shopping season is 20 hours. Some shop more and some less. But did you know you can make some pretty cool things in less than 20 hours and avoid mall time entirely? You have 29 making days to go until Christmas. If you feel inclined to help the economy, buy tools. Top of the charts in this year's buying guide for the 6 to 12 year old is an iPad selling at a whopping discounted price of $458.00 today only. On the other hand, (literally) a great buy for kids is the 10 oz. Little Pro Claw Hammer American made by Vaughan and Bushnell and shown in the photo above. Unlike all the consumer electronics products on the market this holiday shopping season, it will last a lifetime.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I could be replaced...

This morning, I've been working with SketchUp, illustrating a small cabinet in 3-D. To take a break, I climbed under the kitchen sink and replaced the faucet, which had been leaking. Then I went out on the tractor to grade the road until I was driven in wet and cold from freezing rain.

This year, we are staying in Eureka Springs for Thanksgiving and we will be sharing the meal with friends. For the last hour, I chopped onions, and other ingredients to our contributions to the shared repast. I also did dishes. If it weren't for the plumbing, tractor driving, and computer graphics I could be replaced by a food processor and dish washer. But what joy would that be?

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers and friends...

My latest cabinet and SketchUp illustration are shown above.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

one day early...

Happy Thanksgiving. Today I get to work in my wood shop surrounded by my tools,  and with the knowledge to put them to use making things, which with care could last generations. I have an amazing amount to be thankful for, so I am starting my celebration one day early, and a day in the woodshop is celebration. You, my readers and friends, I add to my long list of things to be thankful for.

Yesterday was a great day in the school wood shop... more to be thankful for. Nick informed me that he wanted to turn a ball on the lathe. I told him, I don't think you have the skill and concentration for that yet. He proved me wrong. I gave him instruction, and he did it. I asked him, "Can you do it again without my directions?" "Yes!"  I doubt there are many educators in the US who would understand the full range of things that took place in that class or why they would be of such great value. The value is no in making a ball. You can buy one already turned in the Walmart craft supply section for 79¢. But can you shop for such concentration of eye, body,  mind and aesthetic discernment? Can you place a value on arising to meet a challenge, and proving your teacher wrong in his assessment of your skill and concentration?

The last two years, as some of my long time readers will recall, we went to New York to share Thanksgiving with my daughter and friends. Among remarkable memories was watching our friend Jane ride off in a New York taxi with a full cooked 20 lb. turkey braced in her lap as we traveled half the length of Manhattan. So this Thanksgiving will be a close to home one shared with friends at a more local level. You can read about our last couple thanksgivings by typing thanksgiving in the search block at upper left. The photo above is from two years ago in the Poconos.

I wish you all the best. The aromas that arise from the kitchen on Thanksgiving day are to be treasured. The wisdom of hands expressed through the preparation of food to be shared with friends is about as good as it gets.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

one size does not fit all...

Anyone with a body knows that  all bodies are not the same. And yet, tools lose conviviality when they don't fit, the hand, the arm, or the height.

Every time I mop the floor with our sponge mop, I argue with it, that it doesn't fit. Sponge mops are made for women of a height of 5 ft. 6 in. or so, and a 6 foot man is too tall to find comfort in the use of the tool. I have to bend over too far, and having googled and found no extenders available I made one myself. It is turned on the lathe with a 4 inch end sized to fit tightly in the inside of the mop handle, and with the remaining 10 inches extending its length.  I used J-B Weld inside the metal tube to secure the wood extension in place, and now, for the first time ever, I can stand up to my full height as I do my part of the weekly housecleaning. The handle extender is so simple I'm surprised they don't sell them at Walmart.

Beside the discomfort of bending over, there is a study described in Scientific American ...and Posture's Effect on Testosterone that sheds light on the relationship between male posture and development of the male hormone testosterone. Not only is being bent over a mop considered "unmanly" by some, it is also a posture that extends unmanliness throughout your life, through its effects on your hormonal balance. Mopping while extended to your full height may have beneficial effects while being bent over in subservience to the mop will not.

At one time, tools were made to fit the person using them. An example in the drawing above comes from Rudolph Drillis' article "Folklore and Biomechanics, Human Factors, October 1963. It makes me wonder, how often things are designed for the convenience of the manufacturer or the convenience of the shipper, and not the ease of actual use by the intended user.  Believe me, many things are made to sell to you without the actual you in mind. Rudolph J. Drillis had done an interesting study of ergonomics involving the peasants of Latvia that resulted in illustrations like the one above. There is a relationship between conviviality and our tools. Are tools shaped to fit, allowing us to convey a sense of joy through work, or are they awkward to the body distorting both the body and attitude as work is done? It is said that a poor craftsman blames his tools. Perhaps that is true. A craftsman may have the wherewithal to fix what is wrong with his (or her) tools and thus become an even better craftsman, or in this case, a more proficient floor mopper.

Monday, November 22, 2010

fixing shoes...

A reader, Randall, sent a nice essay about fixing shoes, Save Your Soles, by Barry Boyce.
“It is one of the perverse virtues of advanced civilization to have transcended repair and renewal.”

Entropy teaches us that things will break. And break and break and break. Falling apart, coming undone, deteriorating—this is indeed the lot of anything that comes into existence, and in particular of things produced by the human hand.
Fixing is not the same as making in the first place, but demonstrates (when successful) a power to forestall the inevitable. When unsuccessful, it still represents an active rather than compliant and dependent relationship to the objects that inhabit our lives. Your choice is to be either compliant toward consumer culture, or to rise up against it by fixing things that break and making things that last generations.

nursing things along

Despite how some feel that old things must be pushed aside for the new, there is some satisfaction to be derived from fixing, assisting or making do. Yesterday, I mulched leaves with the old lawn mower that just keeps running even though the wheels are nearly worn out. And then in the afternoon, I continued my friendly competition with the Chinese by attacking the worn out bearing of my 1/2 sheet Porter Cable sander with oil. The thing would no longer run at full speed, which indicated a crucial bearing was seizing in its rotation. A couple squirts of oil sent it merrily into action. And I derived satisfaction from not spending the money on new equipment.  "Why don't I buy a new lawnmower? Why I don't buy a new sander, too!" I could, you know. But there is some satisfaction in knowing that a bit of oil placed just so, extends my power over the inner workings of the device.  Temporary, yes, but isn't a new mower or sander, temporary at best? If I can extend the working life of the sander by 20% I have delayed its disposal and replacement, and also saved money, energy and materials. The small sense of control we gain from fixing and making do extends to nearly every other thing.

Can you help me to explain these things to others? Make, create, fix, sew, sow, Teach, teach by example, and help others to engage in the full scope of their humanity.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

trickled down or skilled up? your choice.

Warren Buffett, one of the richest and smartest money men in America has declared the trickle down theory promoted by conservative Republicans and called "Reaganomics" to be utterly disproved and completely false. He urges the rich to pay a greater share of taxes if the Republicans will allow it.

And so, what in the world does this have to do with hands-on learning? Plenty. When Manual Arts were first widely promoted in America, they were seen as having value in general education, meaning that they were important for all students. Why? What about the kids who never planned to enter the trades and intended to go to college and become executives? Executives of what? I ask.

It was widely understood that manual arts were a means of promoting the dignity and value of all labor, and that those who were exposed to making might see some role for themselves in fostering making and industry as an imperative throughout American culture and economy.

Following WWII, we set our nation on two divergent paths at the high school level... those who were going to college and those perceived as being intellectually inferior, who were suitable only for manual and technical training. If technical training was for dummies, how about craftsmanship and industry?

So the big problem with "trickle down economics" was the question, trickle down to what? If our educated elite knew nothing about skilled labor or the processes and rewards of industrial engagement, they would obviously not invest their energy or their resources in it.

And so, they (our "best and brightest") invested in the financial market, not in manufacturing efficiency and quality. They spent their extra money saved from our low tax rates on luxuries and opulent lifestyles. It was all rationalized by our becoming a "service economy" in which we would serve them. Then when flipping burgers became understood as a dead end, it became more advantageous to call us an "information economy." During the great recession, (which is not really over yet) for those losing jobs and homes it became a "no economy", while the rich continued to grow richer thanks to paying less than their fair share of taxes, and while our national deficit grew out of control.

Warren Buffet and many other American millionaires, believe they should be paying more taxes. Can it be any surprise that Buffett grew up in an era when they had shop classes as a part of general education? Not to me. Make, fix, sew, sow. We can't count on government rationale of trickle down to be of any help to any of us. In other words, DIY.

dancing to greater wisdom, intelligence and character

What in the world is wisdom, but the integration of character and intelligence blended by experience?

Education week has an article about dance, Schools Integrate Dance Into Core Academics discussing how the arts can put their best feet forward, by proving themselves in support of the rest of schooling.

Yesterday, besides working on my small cabinets, I went to visit an old friend who is dying of lung cancer. She offered her inventory of tool and materials to Clear Spring School and to ESSA for use by others. She was not a professional artist, but one who took great pleasure in exploring her own creativity, and gave encouragement to others through her sincere admiration of their work. Her tools passed into the hands of others is one more way to connect with others in creativity.

Dying from disease is not an easy thing and she is facing her last months with courage. I believe the arts have a way of making us whole, whether it is through the movement of the body or of the hands alone in shaping wood. My friend looks back on her own creative life with a sense of satisfaction and knowing her tools will remain in good hands is a good thing.

Go for it. Live your life to the full. Microsoft has a new means of digital input called the Kinect which senses the movements of your body through the use of a video camera, watching your every move. The world is very excited about it. It may have use beyond gaming in the development of dance and athletics. But there is special meaning to having created something real through your own imagination, effort and skill or with the close cooperative partnership with a great teacher.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

if you want to do (and do well), teach.

Teach what you learn, teach what you want to learn, there is no better way to accelerate learning than by accepting responsibility to teach. Years ago a good friend of mine  taught art in the Berryville Public School, and I would drive over some afternoons to assist in the classroom as a volunteer.  Besides having two or three masters degrees in various media, and a degree in arts education, my friend believed that teaching put him in an ideal position to learn from other people's mistakes and observe their experimentation. Teaching places you in the position of observer, not only of student work, but of your own. When you have the responsibility of showing how to do something, and you are learning yourself, there are no ends to the levels of refinement of product and technique. When you have accepted the responsibility to teach, even when you are not teaching, you wonder, how would I show this, or how would I tell how to do that? And those questions put one on an accelerated course of learning.

And so it is this morning that I embark on plan C. I had planned to make a Greene and Greene styled tool cabinet, but as I am often inclined to do, I had begun to over-complicate it with extra doors and drawers, and so I was beginning to forget the needs of my students for more basic techniques.  And I had begun overloading the chapter with things that require too much illustration and too many photographs. I have a limited budget for photos and a restricted page count and must offer a variety of projects to interest readers.

Plan C involves a change which will allow me to fine tune and better illustrate things that are essential to beginning woodworkers. And plan C involves the making of a box joint jig for the table saw, the results of which are shown below. The most exciting thing to me was that the box joint jig was made with no fiddling about. The perfectly fitting test joint shown was the very first set with absolutely no fine tuning required.

If you are not teaching and sharing what you have learned, you are actually missing out on your best.

 This goes completely against the notion that, "if you can't do, teach." I say, "If you want to do your very best, teach. You will thus assure your own growth."

In the photos below you can see the box joints cut with the jig I made this morning in about 20 minutes. The loose parts show the joint cut in white oak and the assembled joint is in elm. The purpose of the offset is to allow the use of 1/2 inch finger joints in 3/4 inch stock. Greene and Greene finger joints were generally square in shape and extended beyond the sides of the cabinets to allow them to used to decorative effect. I will use a round over bit to complete the G&G look.

Friday, November 19, 2010

starting to make

Yesterday I began working on a Greene and Greene styled tool cabinet, and the first thing is to make certain that the joinery I intend for the corners will work as planned. Greene and Greene cabinetry often displayed ovesized box or finger joints at the corners, and my first experiment was to form the joints with a box joint jig, 5/16 in. guide pin and 5/16 in. blade. It worked great  as you can see in the photo. But I met difficulties when using the set up on wide stock.

Today I try again with the jig modified and improved, which of course reminds me of the essential points of education. Have a student derived vision or goal, allow that student to face failure, and try again, and again if necessary. How often do schools these days offer failure as a means to proceed toward success?

The photo above shows greater success using a stacked dado blade and 3/4 inch hardwood spacer block. Below, you can see the fitted joint.

The nation's report card came out today, with Arkansas performing below average. In the US, 25 percent perform proficient or advanced in Math and 36 percent proficient or above in Reading. Thirty Seven percent in Math and 27% in reading perform below basic standards. Our failure is that without the engagement of the hands, reading and math are not made relevant to our children.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

differentiated instruction

There is a current discussion on the pros and cons of differentiated instruction on the Teacher Magazine website. Differentiated instruction is intended to provide teachers with a means to accommodate student's variations in learning styles, interests, and growth. Some argue that teachers have difficulty managing chaos and frequently shifting gears from one activity to the next. Many would rather stand at a blackboard and deliver chalk. Few have been adequately trained to do much more than that. It is also more challenging to measure learning success when that success is measured through a wide variety of learning expressions. Do you know your math facts? Well, let's see you dance!

The point of course is that children are individuals, not classes but unique. One approach is to disregard their variations as in conventional schooling. The differentiated learning approach places additional burden on the teacher to contrive various approaches with questionable success. A third approach is to do real stuff. Uncontrived learning in the wood shop potentially engages all areas of natural intelligence. For instance, music. Have you ever listened to a saw or hammer?

This morning the 10th, 11th and 12 grade students came up to the wood shop to build a bird feeder. They are making a visit next week to the convalescent center to share their study of birds with the residents who are often bored, depressed and feel neglected or abandoned by family. It is hoped that a shared interest in ornithology and the opportunity to see birds at the feeder will help alleviate some loneliness.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

project based learning....

The idea is that education should and must be hands on. Do real things and you will remember what you have learned for a lifetime. We learn faster, more thoroughly and retain learning longer when we use what we learn in real situations of making and doing real things that have real purpose. Project based learning is the next best thing, and a far cry from what most American kids get in school.

You can fix things for your own kids. Take matters in your own hands. Fix, make, create,  cook, sow, sew, harvest a lifelong love of learning in your own home and workshop. You can do with your kids and their hands what schools don't and won't until we have a true awakening to the value of hands-on learning.

every tool leaves it mark, every material has substance

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students continued work on toy cars for holiday distribution. When they arrive at the woodshop, they always ask, "can we have a creative day?" which in their parlance means, "can we do anything we want?" They love to let their imaginations and creative inclinations run wild.

Every day is creative day in the wood shop. Kids don't really just get to do what they want, as the tools and materials have qualities that must be learned, and that impose limitations on what the mind can conceive, and that provide the real foundation of creativity. Real tools, real materials, direct the creative effort into real challenges and failures and ultimate success. One of the things that can  be hard for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade students is the idea of generosity. Some get it easily, and some find it more challenging. First grader Alena told me, "I have lots of toys at home. I want to give all that I make to children who don't have so many toys."

Yesterday Richard Bazeley  in response to Emily Pilloton's Ted talk commented on the teaching of design, which is often taught independent of teaching of skill, and knowledgeable use of tools. It is easy to design things on paper, and to bring fine lines to perfect intersections, but in the real world, things have thickness and take shape from the tools we have available to give them that shape. On the lathe, the skew gives one shape, the bowl gouge another, unless of course you are so skilled, attentive and steady in the use of the skew or gouge, that you can do what you want with it. And then of course there is sanding for the rest of us. But hours of sanding surfaces to submission to eliminate tools marks is senseless agony when skill and proper tools could be put to work instead, and the results are never the same.

So how can one possibly teach design, without students having experience in the use of tools? It is what we face now in engineering schools, and what was faced by Calvin Woodward at Washington University and John Runkle at MIT when manual arts were first introduced as a necessary precursor to any form of engineering or design. There is always a greater perception of value in"design" because it is perceived as a higher point in an egotistical pecking order. But design without the understanding that hands-on making imparts to it, is lacking important ingredients.

Last night I went to a presentation on the new Crystal Bridges Museum which is being built in Bentonville, Arkansas about 50 miles from Eureka Springs.  It started as architectural renderings of lines laid on a landscape, and in reality a great architectural design is one that presents challenges for craftsmen to resolve. It can be seen more as a question than as an answer, and designers often get all the credit for posing the right questions. In the case of Crystal Bridges some of the questions have been an immense challenge.

There is a hope amongst locals that the emphasis on the arts in Arkansas brought by Crystal Bridges will have direct economic effect on our community. What it has done most so far, has been to help the local business people to finally get their hands on the value of our own relationship to the arts... that arts and artists are immense resources to a community. We are a long neglected economic engine that brings prosperity. And yet it is all framed in the very personal relationship we have with our tools, and the materials that take their shape within our own hands.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

today at CSS wood shop

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students began work on the lathe to make wood candle stick holders. I have given them a very specific shape to work towards, that of the classic candle stick shape made famous by American turner, Rude Osolnik. It is amazing that such a simple shape could be so challenging to attain. You have to first overcome all your internal willingness to accept whatever happens in the effort to control wood and tool. The skirmish  for attention is the first challenge, for when the mind wanders for a moment, the battle is lost.

Wyatt told me that beginning to turn on the lathe was nearly the best fun he'd ever had in school.

Examples of Rude's candle stick holders are shown at left.

"after school social and emotional learning"

Here is  a program of "after school social and emotional learning" in North Carolina. The important thing here is that schools are becoming aware that children have needs for growth and development beyond academics. The crazy thing is  that social and emotional learning are being addressed as an after school afterthought when they should be the first thought.

Ask a corporate CEO what he is looking for in the employees he would hire, and he will likely mention teamwork, creative problem solving, and personal responsibility (all aspects of social and emotional learning) long before he mentions standardized test scores.  The push for standardized testing often has very little to do with kids. It is a means for taxpayers to apply pressure for maximum effective delivery of content from teachers without regard to children's social and emotional needs. Standardized testing is used as a lever (or club) to hold schools and teachers accountable. In many schools, bullying and other social development obstructions are pushed aside during academic time because the teachers are too busy to address these issues immediately as they arise. That tells the kids what things are important and what not, and of course much of the problem has to do with class size. A teacher with 25 kids in a class can hardly know them, let alone take an interest in the social and emotional issues they face and stick to the script for the delivery of academic content at the same time.

Kids are instructed as to what values are important, by what we give time to and take time for in schools. After school is an afterthought, but better late than never?

Monday, November 15, 2010

the sloyd record

Some of my readers may be interested in the Sloyd Record, volumes 1-20 available from Google Books. It was edited by Gustaf Larsson from the Sloyd Teacher Training School in Boston, 39 North Bennet St. It provides insight into the early days of Sloyd training in the US and offers a bit of the philosophy behind it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

transform the world in shop class

Of course most of us know the value of shop class already. But it is well past time for the message to be getting out to others. One interesting thing you will note on this project is that they really haven't rally accomplished much yet. Lots and lots of talk, and it is best to cut to the last 4 minutes where it starts to get good. But with the publicity that comes from being featured on CNN, perhaps the message will get through.

Since I'm still not bored with my latest box creation,  have given it a final coat of finish and additional attention, including lining and felt pads, I share it again below.


As you may know, I live in the small town of Eureka Springs, which is doubly blessed. First the name Eureka proclaims discovery, the Greek, "I have found it!" made famous by Archimedes naked dash through the streets direct from his discovery of the means to measure displacement as he observed water spilling from his bath. I say doubly blessed because the name Springs, implies water springing forth unrestrained from the earth, just as human creativity springs unrestrained from the heart. And so, we here in Eureka Springs are a community of artists. People come here to walk the streets, breathe some fresh 0xygen and rediscover themselves. Nancy Gibbs in her Time Magazine essay, Eureka! tells that we are pressured to be more productive than ever, and that unstructured creative time is in short supply. My own view is that unstructured creative time gives greatest meaning to our lives by providing a sense of joy that enables us to cope with the rest of it. According Ms. Gibbs,
It seems we're on the verge of getting our jet packs--but no one has yet managed the time machine. Or better yet, the time expander. So we've got to play tricks on ourselves; schedule free time, however counter-intuitive that may seem. Deep immersion in a task--no distractions, no interruptions--can give the illusion that time itself is receding. We feel lighter, braver, our brains more nimble; we free ourselves to try and fail and try again.
We too often miss those Eureka moments in our modern lives, when creativity springs forth unrestrained from the heart/body/mind/hand/soul human complex. When was the last time you discovered something so compelling that you felt inclined to run naked through the streets overcoming all usual inhibitions? It can happen. Those moments allow us to feel fully alive, whole, contributory to the success of all. They could happen in schools if we were to let them, but we don't.

With the Eureka Springs School of the arts, I have been proposing a strategy to enlist corporate support. We have what they and their employees need. A way to buy time, refresh, and re-engage creativity. Being engaged creatively through the use of the hands is fundamental to human health, well being and efficiency. Eureka! It is a simple thing. Make, fix, create, plant, harvest, become whole. No need to run naked through the streets like Archimedes to proclaim what you have discovered. The beauty you have created will speak for itself.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

making pulls...

Today will be a quiet day in the wood shop as I attend to writing instead. You can see the pulls for the Greene and Greene styled boxes with the parts cut to interlock. After sanding, they were glued and doweled in place as you can see in the photo below. With signature, Danish oil and lining, the boxes will be complete.

For today's reading on the hands, creativity, and what we are doing and not doing in modern culture, read Nancy Gibb's aptly named Time Magazine essay, Eureka!

Friday, November 12, 2010

looking like a box

I have assembled my Greene and Greene style boxes and they are complete except for the addition of a pull as shown and a Danish oil finish. And, as you can see, my SketchUp skills are improving, too.

testing, testing

On the subject of Education, Shop Teacher Bob sent the following quote:
"Education research demonstrates that hands-on, project-based learning founded on constructivist principles is one of the most effective ways to learn. It leads to better ability to perform at a higher level earlier in their professional careers and thus to benefit the enterprise sooner and at higher levels than those who do not have such a capstone experience."
These are of course the same points made by Calvin Woodward and John Runkle when they first started manual arts training at Washington University and MIT in the late 1870's.

I have been asked by Fine Woodworking to do a small box to demonstrate the use of the tiny router bits, so I am making a small Greene and Greene styled box with box joint corners. First (after resawing and planing the stock to an appropriate thickness) comes the use of the table saw sled to cut the parts to exacting lengths. This requires two settings of the stop block.
Two settings of the stop block gives material for two boxes.

Next, I use a sled on the table saw with a guide pin to cut the finger joints. as shown in the images below. Now the box parts are ready to test router bits.

This technique of cutting box joints becomes easier with practice. Knowing just how tight to hold the stock against the guidepin helps. If you apply a lot of pressure one time, but simply just touch lightly the next, the distance between cuts can be distorted leading to a poor fit between parts. Practice, practice, and practice.
Use a  5/16 in. box joint blade and 5/16 in. drill bit as guide pin.
Trial fitted finger joints... a tight, but near perfect fit.

A Greene and Greene styled box joint

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today, sort of in the wood shop...

SketchUp is a challenging but powerful 3-D modeling program and I am making progress in learning it. Like many things, it is not just a matter of the mind knowing how it works, but also of the hands knowing how it works. Scrolling images through the illusion of 3 dimensions on a flat screen is a bit different from working in 2-D. At this point, I've learned to create objects and then fine tune and edit them so they fit together just like parts cut from real wood. Sorry, however. It is not as much fun as making things from real wood. My editor thinks it is a great way to check and confirm measurements. I will agree. But it is also less forgiving than working with real wood and the finished product is not a finished product. No tactile response rewards in working with keyboard and mouse.

 Today I met with the class from the Clinton School of Public Service to talk about the hands, community, craftsmanship, education and democracy. We will had lunch at Clear Spring School, I got to play tour guide and then wood shop instructor. My students from the Clinton School are shown in my pickup truck and got some time in the wood shop making sloyd trivets and flip cars.

My visitors were surprised by how small and personal Clear Spring School is, and that it is not at all representative of the general trend in education. In Arkansas public schools have been pushed into consolidation to squeeze more kids into larger schools, with more class offerings having less value, and in which students, and their personal inclinations and love of learning are squelched.

Some important points to remember about education are as follows:

Begin with the interests of each child.
Move from the known to the unknown,
From the simple to the complex,
From the easy to more difficult,
And from the concrete to the abstract.

One thing educators seem to have forgotten is the circular relationship between the concrete and abstract which I have illustrated in the drawing below.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

craftsmanship and community

I have a teacher and grad students coming tomorrow from the Clinton School of Public Service to get acquainted with the Wisdom of the Hands program and to visit the Clear Spring School.

These are the points we will be discussing.
  1. Purpose and power of hands on pedagogy?  Tools and busting the myth(s) of academic vs. non-academic learning.
  2. Does CS School provide an image of possibility for our emerging work? What about this school?
  3. Relationships with community?
  4. Specifics of the pedagogy of the hand?
  5. What should we be reflecting on in these times in which our reach for innovation, creativity is discouraged by the instrumentalism of standards-based learning, testing and the pedagogy it commands?
  6. Suggestions for program design for marginalized children in Little Rock through a new kind of learning space?
The first part of the Clinton School  list of query points is easy. As described by Frank Wilson, the brain and hands co-evolved as a behavioral system. Or as expressed by Jacob Bronowski, the hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Isolate the hands from the brain, and you have mindless work. Isolate the brain from the hands, and you have very little real intelligence available to you, as all new intellectual terrain is built through the use of metaphor. Even the capacity to sort and arrange lists of questions like the one above is derived from the functional capacity of the hands. It is a secret we will not keep to ourselves.

In the meantime, and today in the CSS wood shop, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students will be making toy cars for our annual holiday distribution. The photo at left is of this morning's class. The photo below is of bandsawn boxes being made by the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

tool test...

Every tool has its ancestry, its history, its tradition, its legacy, and its use. Tools have given shape to every facet of human existence, whether by human intent or thoughtless use. Each tool will also evolve into new forms. Some tools will occupy important places in our lives for generations, some will have their own brief generation, capturing our total attention for a brief spurt, and then be displaced by newer, flashier iterations of similar device. With all the bells and whistles of complex modern toolery, it can be hard to sort wheat from chaff. What tools will have lasting impact and which not? Land fills are filling up with discarded bells and whistles, but I have never heard of a landfill for hammers.

It seems nearly every iteration in tool design is intended to do one of two things. Open doors to new functionality, or make certain things easier to do. Who needs to become a master at anything with the world pushing relentlessly toward ever easier ease of use?

The router bits shown in the photo above, are from Amana Tool Co. and as you can see in the photo, the bearings on the 1/4 in. bits are remarkably tiny compared to a conventional router bit and are designed to go where larger bearings will not allow. For instance, in sign making, to rout the insides of letters with a conventionally sized bit would be a difficult task. These make that job easy. Fine Woodworking sent me these bits for review with the idea that they might be useful in box making. Like every new tool, ideas come calling. One I've thought of is making Greene and Greene inspired boxes with overlarge box joints. The tiny roundover bit would be perfect for routing between the fingers, something that would have been done in the Craftsman era with hand tools and sanding strips.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, 7th, 8th and 9th grade students will be working on their band sawn boxes.

Monday, November 08, 2010

turning around America

Or is it "Turning America around?" Woodturner Beth Ireland is travelling the US Turning Around America with her van fitted out with tools and sleeping space. She will be in Arkansas for a few days in April, and I am hoping to arrange a visit here to work with kids at Clear Spring School, and with adults at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA). So far in her travels she has taught 420 people to turn wood.

Beth says of her work,
"I want to empower people through the act of making objects with their own hands. I will achieve this by teaching woodturning and simple woodworking to as many people as I can, while traveling across the United States in a van that contains a mini workshop and personal living space."
One of the things you will notice is that woodturners "get it" with "it" being the relationship between the hands and learning, and the essential role that skilled creativity fulfills in human life. "It" seems to have been forgotten and neglected by so many in our consumer culture in which things must be easy in order to be accepted or acceptable. Make, fix, create, get smart, be happy, live the tough life, accept challenges. We need them, they make us whole.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


I am making progress in my use of google sketchup, a free 3-d modeling and design program. It is useful for doing drawings, but has a rather steep learning curve as the tools for 3-d design are remarkably different from 2-d, and because it requires rotation of views to be able to see what you are doing from a variety of angles. The drawing above is of a Clear Spring School flip car, a toy invented and made by students at CSS.
You can download the google sketchup, free version here, and learn it yourself. The functional version of the flip car drawing will be available through a Fine Woodworking blog post which should be available in a couple weeks. You can see the cabinet I've been sketching in SketchUp below.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

we think we're alone...

We think that humans and animals are pretty far apart on the evolutionary scale, that God and immortality are invested in one and not the other, and with it, a sense of divine purpose, or special purpose, or at least marginally greater importance. Oh, well. Human egotism has no bounds.

It may seem pretentious to talk about wisdom, which is the subject of this blog, and equally pretentious to talk about mastery as I did in yesterday's post. These terms may raise the question for some, who does he think he is? Let me assure you that besides reading the National Geographic at breakfast, I make enough mistakes to be humbled for decades to come.

This month's National Geographic (November 2010) article about the Mysteries of Great Migrations is about animal migration. It is mystifying to both scientists and the casual observer that small butterflies, large animals and birds can travel nearly the length of North America, and that they do so with such unrelenting sense of purpose.

The pursuit of mastery is very much like the relentless behavior that a pronghorn displays when moving to its winter range. From the article:
What is it that makes animal migration such a magnificent spectacle for the eye and he mind? Is it the sheer abundance of wildlife in motion? Is it the steep odds to be overcome? Is it the amazing feats of precise navigation? The answer is all of the above. But there's another reason why the long-distance journeys of wildebeests, sandhill cranes, monarch butterflies, sea turtles, and so many other species inspire our awe. One biologist has noted the "undistractibility" of migrating animals. A nonscientist, risking anthropomorphism, might say: Yes, they have a sense of larger purpose.

What the natural inclinations of humans toward mastery (once so encouraged) and the relentless behavior of animal migrations have in common is a sense of greater purpose. Engagement of each child in a sense of purpose should be one of the points on the Beaufort Scale of educational assessment. If we allow our children to be distracted toward powerlessness by the mundane, through products guaranteed to be user friendly and easier than ever to use without investment of time or the development of skill we will be alone. While the other animals of the planet are driven by higher purpose, we will have completed our descent.

Friday, November 05, 2010

preparing children for mastery

I have been reading George Leonard's 1991 book Mastery, the keys to success and long-term fulfillment. It was recommended by a reader. Leonard's first point is that American culture appears to be at war against mastery. Our we-want-it-all-now consumer culture does little to convey a sense of what mastery is about nor does it contain a sense of the potential rewards one can draw from it. Our fast pace of life does not allow for the rhythms of it that take place over extended time. In schools, we have the bell to tell when to drop what we're doing and head to other things. We have ends of terms and grades to tell that we are complete, long before any true mastery has arrived in our lives.

And so, what do we do to prepare children for a life in which mastery plays some part? Here are some guidelines.
  1. Children must be exposed to mastery in order to perceive it as an option in their own lives. Take them to places to see people whose mastery is an important component of their lives. Artist in schools programs can play an important part in exposing kids to mastery. Craft shows, art exhibits, museums, athletic and music performances offer others. Look for signs of mastery as exhibited within your community and share what you find.
  2. Set an example with your own life. You need not be a master, but need to be on a path.
  3. Schools are set up for dabblers. Engaging in a path toward mastery requires time for dedication outside schooling. Make time outside schooling for your child.
  4. Setting a course toward mastery is deeply personal, and personally demanding. Allow the child to choose and give your every ounce of encouragement to what your child has chosen. You may not be a master yourself, but can gain mastery in your encouragement of others.
  5. Help your child to understand that mastery is not dependent on aptitude, but on will. Encourage that will.
  6. Help your child to understand that mastery is a life-long engagement.
As described by Leonard:
The human individual is equipped to learn and go on learning prodigiously from birth to death, and this is precisely what sets him or her apart from all other known forms of life. Man has at various times been defined as a building animal, a working animal, and a fighting animal, but all these definitions are incomplete and finally false. Man is a learning animal, and the essence of the species is encoded in that simple term.
Today I will be taking snapshots of cabinet projects for the artists at Taunton Press to begin contemplation of the cover of the book. I will also sign a contract to begin blogging on the new Fine Woodworking website, StartWoodworking.com which will come live on my birthday, November 15.

My latest cabinet is shown below.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

the death of intelligence?

Howard Gardner's book Frames of Mind, 1983,  proposed that human beings are intelligent in a variety of ways. His theory of multiple intelligences became widely accepted. He won the MacArthur Prize and yet in the last 27 years, schools have become even more deeply rooted in reading, lecture and math to the neglect of other forms of human intelligence. We know without a doubt, that reading and math are important. But do we not yet know the intersections and relationships between the various forms of intelligence? That single types of intelligence do not stand alone, but rather are framed and supported by other forms? Do we not know that bodily/kenesthetic intelligence aids reading and math? Do we not know that kinesthetic and haptic intelligence frame and assist other forms? Do we not know that the movements of the fingers are directly related in the brain to its processing of numbers? Do we not yet know that dance is a form of mathematics, that woodworking is an expression of spatial sense, that football and basketball are tangible expressions of logic and teamwork and more? Howard Gardner came up with 9 distinct forms of intelligence which he isolated and described.  In the meantime, little has been done to develop an effective multiple intelligences approach for classroom learning. Teachers talk about it but most often have little training or time to put multiple intelligences theory into classroom use. And so we teach to the test and rely on standardized testing to measure our children's potential for success which ultimately has little or nothing to do with that which has been measured. To emphasize three basic forms of intelligence to the neglect of the others is to strip the foundation from those basic forms thus denying access to full potential for most students.

To emphasize two or three forms of intelligence in the modern classroom is archaic and presents a false sense of values, leaving most students in doubt of their own worth while depriving our culture of their potential contributions and intelligence.

Just for balance and discussion, I've linked to an article, Teaching to a Different Test, that says, "Teaching to the Test could be a good thing if we were testing for the right things." Unfortunately, it seems that the whole testing movement is not about kids, but about squeezing as much value as we can from teachers, whom we pay little and trust less, whereas in Finland where they have far greater success, they give greater training to their teachers and trust them to do what they are trained to do to greater effect.

Today, I'll be working on small cabinets, doing some prep work at school and working on text and captions for chapter 4.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

an open mind

Years ago, my sister Sue came home from school thinking that she had been insulted by her teacher, who said that "she has an open mind." And Sue thought that was just another way of saying "in one ear and out the other." But an "open mind", one willing to explore without preconception is the foundation of human advancement. Last night in my thoughts I was reminded of Walter RussellThe Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe. He was considered a "polymath" or one who excelled in a number of distinct areas. He explored the periodic table, and physics, while he was also an artist, an equestrian and founded his own university, having influence on a wide range of American intellectuals and scientists as well as those interested in the Occult. Walter Russell explained his own wide ranging contributions as being a matter of applying his mind while it was fresh. He shifted frequently between his various activities keeping fresh enthusiasm for each.

You don't really need to be a Ph.D to understand the wisdom of his approach. These days, some would regard Walter Russell as a joke since some of the studies at his university delved into love, sex and reincarnation. Most universities would prefer to keep the studies of the first two less formal and ignore the last completely. However, an open mind and the willingness to keep it continually refreshed by grazing a broad pasture is a philosophy that will carry anyone a good ways, and each of us in time will either be forgotten or make some small difference in the larger scheme of things.

Today, I will be finishing some small cabinets, installing hinges and glass and planning my next projects, while also maintaining an open mind as I too, contemplate the universe.
In the photo at left, you can see the nearly completed cherry display cabinet with lighter wood interior. The glass will be installed tomorrow. I have also been oiling more cabinets which you can see below:

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

child as...

Mario sent the following quote about US president Jimmy Carter from a Splintered History of Wood
"When I tire of the computer screen, I can walk twenty steps to my woodshop and immerse myself in my current project," Carter says. And why does an octogenarian, financially secure, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Emory University professor, Carter
Center (Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.) leader, and prolific author continue to make sawdust?

"What we need in our lives is an inventory of factors that never change. I think that skill with one's own hands—whether it's tilling the soil, building a house, making a piece of furniture, playing a violin, or painting a painting—is something that doesn't change with the vicissitudes of life. [Woodworking is] a kind of therapy, but it's also a stabilizing force in my life—a total rest for my mind." -President Jimmy Carter
Today, I have been thinking about the child as craftsman metaphor and what it contributes to our understanding of education. Nearly the same point could be made, through "the child as athlete", or "the child as musician," or "the child as builder," or "the child as farmer," or "the child as dancer," or "the child as..." and here I name all the wonderful human occupations that reflect the full range of serious adult human intelligences that are represented in Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind.

Today I am reading the latest issue of Wooden Boat (Nov/Dec 2010) and it contains an article about the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center in Sausalito, CA. Its founder, Myron Spaulding (1905-2000) designed and built his first wooden boat at the age of 16, and in addition to designing, building and sailing yachts, had a parallel career as a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. It is typical for healthy full dimensioned human beings to have a wide range of interests, and capabilities. Just as Jimmy Carter's wood shop is only a few feet from his computer on which he corresponds and manages a full range of other important projects, human beings including children must be encouraged in their full dimensions.

I am attempting again to turn my attention to the idea of a Beaufort Scale of educational assessment, and my first point is that it has no similarity to the artificial construct of standardized testing. Rather than only measuring math skills, logic and reading skills, it is concerned with joy of learning and the full range of human intelligences... the child as craftsman and athlete and more. It is a frame through which to bear direct witness to real learning as expressed joy. To see Archimedes sprinting naked in unrestrained enthusiasm for his discovery, is an expression of joy. It represents the top of the scale, and is what parents, teachers and students should be aiming toward in creating an educational model.
In the photo above, you can see the flipping story stick I use in setting up the router table for routing recesses for knife hinges to fit. In the trial fit at above, the hinge still protrudes too far. When I square the end of the routed groove with a chisel, I'll have a perfect fit.

Monday, November 01, 2010

election day

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 2, 2010 is election day, and millions who have not already voted will be headed for the polls. An equal number, discouraged by politics and bred to complaisance by public education and the sense that they are without power will stay home and not vote.

In the early days of manual training, it was thought that working with your hands in school regardless of your career objectives was preparation for democracy. It helped those who would not work with their hands to have a greater respect for the dignity and intelligence of all labor. It was seen to help those who did work with their hands to do so with greater confidence and intelligence, that would have impact on the full range of their participation in human culture.

Sadly, we abandoned those principles. Without laboratories and work shops in schools, students are confined and constrained without power and their advancement is dependent on their adjusting to it's structure. Belief becomes a matter of what we are told rather than a consequence of personal hands-on investigation.

It is interesting to watch, but presents a discouraging view of humanity as politicians squabble to gain greater power and voters are to easily persuaded to act against their own interests and intelligence.

So, just watch. If we see a major display of idiocy at the polls, I and a few of my readers will understand the cause of it, and mourn the loss of hands-on learning in American education.

Today I am working on my small cherry display cabinet, and as you can see, it has been glued and clamped. Tomorrow I'll fit the hinges in the doors.  Clear Spring School is off this week for fall  break and the ISACS conference.  If you have not voted already, please do so tomorrow! Did you know that the US added more manufacturing sector jobs in the last six months than in the last 10 years combined? Not a hard statistic to reach when you realize the massive loss of manufacturing employment during the Bush administration.