Saturday, February 19, 2011

it goes way back

A friend alerted me to a school at had profound influence on American crafts in that it was deeply entwined in the life of Wharton Esherick, proclaimed by some as "the Dean of American Craftsmen" for his contributions to the American craft movement. The Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama was founded in 1907 as a progressive school in which no child would ever fail. No testing and no homework. My readers who are interested in progressive education should visit their site and review their interesting history. Called the Organic School for most of its life,
It was called "organic" in that the central aim of the school was to "minister to the health of the body, develop the finest mental grasp, and preserve the sincerity and unself-consciousness of the emotional life." That is, the child was seen always as a "unit organism" in order for schooling to promote the growth of the whole child. In Johnson's view, education and growth were identical. The curriculum organization and the life of the Organic School were carefully informal. All grades, marks, promotions, and reports were thought to create only tensions of self-consciousness and were therefore omitted entirely. Students were judged only in terms of their individual abilities and hence extrinsic rewards were eliminated in favor of the intrinsic satisfactions of learning and growth. The measures of success of students, and indeed of the entire school, were to be based on creativity, spontaneity, interest, and sincerity in their lives.
That is a far cry from where we have arrived in American education in which children are constantly measured and sorted, but it is what you would witness first hand at Clear Spring School.

So, how can we fix things? First is to realize that learning and growth are the same, completely natural to each child. Give children tools and materials with which to create, learn and grow. Ease up, and trust the child's natural inclinations to lead him or her onward in learning and growth. Adults in education must be free to set examples of creativity and curiosity. Children are naturally curious about all kinds of things and their curiosity is often dulled and confidence diminished by the process of American education.

On another note, my daughter Lucy's Engineers Without Borders team at Columbia University is in second place behind the University of Arkansas in the voting at Planet Forward.  Her project is called "Implementing Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management  in Ghana." The UofA has a big lead, but you can still register and vote.

Many people are too lacking in curiosity and confidence for DIY plumbing. It is Saturday, and plumbers are expensive even when it is not. So when one of our washer faucets began leaking this morning, I went to the hardware store and bought what I needed to fix it myself. Do you know how much fun  it is to save that much money? Can you get the same sort of pride and satisfaction from watching someone else work (and paying for it) as you can by doing it yourself? No way.

Make, Fix and Create.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's about three posts' worth of thought in there! Good for those kids in Alabama, where education by the usual measures is in bad shape. But one thought about the pipe wrench. Imagine the thought that moved through the hands to design a wrench that would be strong but light enough, that would grip tight when you moved one way but come loose easily when you moved the other, and that would be small enough to work in the typical small spaces where plumbing generally hides.

Mario