Saturday, January 08, 2011

Cut short at both ends…

From the earliest days of the manual arts in schooling there have been misunderstandings of its value and usefulness in shaping the intelligence and character of all students. Many scholars held the position that hands-on learning was unnecessary for those of their kind. Working with the hands was messy and degrading, something that was to be avoided, escaped if possible. Educational sloyd, on the other hand, recognized the relationship between the hands and the development of intellect, and also promoted an understanding of the relationship between crafts and the development of character. I propose a third value, that of the relationship between the crafts and scientific intelligence which I have described here many times before. You cannot whittle a stick without becoming an intense observer of the qualities inherent in the material. So it is with all craft operations, and with the teacher’s invitation to witness the science that unfolds in our own hands, students can become lifetime observers of scientific reality.
And so it is, that by dividing our students into two classes, academic and technical, college prep and not, we cut them short at both ends.

I have been reading an interesting book about wood by Harvey Green, Wood: Craft, Culture, History. It describes how we took trees for granted, but then awakened to their value as we marched ever closer to their destruction. Perhaps it will be the same with our hands. We are perched at that point that those making and selling digital input devices propose that we escape them entirely. The fingers themselves and the awkwardness of learning to control them may lead us to self-tying shoes and automated nose pickers.

Of course, my very simple point is an invitation. Pay attention. Just as programs can track your every keystroke on the computer, to save your work from disaster, attention to the workings of our own hands are an enrichment. As described by Anaxagoras, Man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. Nothing new there except what we have ignored or forgotten. DIY, Make, fix, create.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what caused people to view manual work in this way. Maybe it's the fact that it can be painful at times, or that it involves struggle. Who knows. Now Doug, about that automated nose you think such a device could be used while driving? Might save lives you know!