Friday, March 18, 2011

wisdom of the body

I am at the point now of hinging and assembling the inlaid boxes I am working on in the shop. Making boxes has become such a refined process in my shop, with each process so well rehearsed, that I take comfort in the routine. I am working on 40 boxes at one time, and It is nice to know from my years of making these things that they will be sold and find homes where they will be enjoyed. The making of things over and over again is similar to what a musician does to prepare for a performance. One of the challenges in school is that of helping students to get over the "been there, done that" expectation that everything must be new. Some things we do over and over to get right, and then when we get them right, we attempt to reside at that level of work until the next step in our growth becomes obvious.

NPR's program Performance Today has been featuring a series on the Art of Practice, which can be found on the Performance Today Website, and the interviews with musicians about their practice can be found in a column at right on the website.
We hear remarkable performances on Performance Today, but so much of a musician's time is spent off-stage, doing something dramatically less glamorous: practicing.
The process of doing something over and over again with an aim toward growth, adds rhythm to a person's life, whether you are a musician or not.

This morning I had an interview with a reporter from the New York Times wanting to know about woodworking with kids. The article should come out in the Home Section of the New York Times on March 31. There are many things about kids' woodworking that most in the US do not know. One thing may be of particular interest to New Yorkers. The most prestigious university for teachers in the US, Teachers College at Columbia University, was founded to teach teachers how to teach woodworking to kids, as woodworking in schools was seen as a means through which to build intelligence and character in all children. But it seems that since that time, we've forgotten the important role of the hands in learning.

The New York Times reporter asked about the origins of the name of my program the Wisdom of the Hands. I explained that it came from a 2000 Stanley Kunitz interview on NPR when he had been named Poet Laureate of the United States. Kunitz had made comment during the interview that poems are "born of the wisdom of the body." I must inform my readers that intelligence is also. The hands are the primary source of human wisdom and what they create is the expression of human intelligence. We have created schools in which we treat the body as an inconvenience, but we had best begin remaking schools and schooling to utilize the ways in which engagement of the body mobilizes the whole child as learner. Woodworking is one way to re-engage the body, as it engages all the senses. One would not think that to be a matter difficult for anyone to grasp, but then of course these days some may be completely out of touch.

This article, Keys To Finnish Educational Success: Intensive Teacher-Training, Union Collaboration investigates Finnish teacher training and why their schools lead the world in effective education. The following is from Henna Virunnen, Finland's Minister of Education:
Our teachers are really good. One of the main reasons they are so good is because the teaching profession is one of the most famous careers in Finland, so young people want to become teachers. In Finland, we think that teachers are key for the future and it's a very important profession -- and that's why all of the young, talented people want to become teachers. All of the teacher-training is run by universities in Finland and all students do a five-year master's degree. Because they are studying at the university, teacher education is research-based. Students have a lot of supervised teacher-training during their studies. We have something called "training schools" -- normally next to universities -- where the student teaches and gets feedback from a trained supervisor.

Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work and they test their own pupils. I think this is also one of the reasons why teaching is such an attractive profession in Finland because teachers are working like academic experts with their own pupils in schools.
Finland was the original home of educational sloyd, and students begin woodworking in Kindergarten. How do I know that? I visited the wood shop in the University of Helsinki where kindergarten teachers are trained. Finnish students begin reading at age 8 and surpass American students in 37% less time, while learning two national languages and English. Rather than trying to test their way to success, the educational system gives the teachers training and trust, and they rise to do their best.

Just in case you think I goof off during the day, I've posted a photo above of the boxes I've assembled . Next comes sanding, routing, more sanding and then finish.

Make, fix and create...

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