"As we continue to emphasize -- almost exclusively -- the economic, vocational purpose of schooling, and we tie that to a particular technocratic kind of assessment, that is, the standardized, high stakes test, we end up with an education system that narrows, rather than expands, and certainly doesn’t befit a democratic society...We know from research that particular subject areas are de facto being addressed less in our schools: the arts, music, literature, history, some of the social studies."If you look back, the same dilemma in American education has been with us for some time. I was reminded of this by recent reports on the decline of engineering in the US, related to our failure to launch enough young engineers to fill the positions available for them. Calvin Woodward of Washington University was considered one of the two fathers of manual arts in the US, and like John Runkle at MIT, started his manual training program because his engineering students, most deficient in practical hands-on experience, were coming to university unprepared for success. It was a situation very much like today, and so it is worthwhile to look back. (Though very few are looking in that direction.)
In Dec. 1885, Dr. Woodward spoke at a public gathering in Boston at the invitation of various leading citizens including the mayor, the superintendent of schools, the governor of Massachusetts, and the president of MIT. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"We are students of words; we are shut up in schools and colleges and recitation room from ten to fifteen years, and come out at the last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or eyes, or our arms... In a hundred high schools and colleges, this warfare against common sense still goes on."And so Dr. Woodward stated the problem that is still with us today. He also proposed a simple one line epigram for educational reform. He said, "My educational creed I put into six words, Put the whole boy to school." As you and I know from our own learning, where the hands are engaged, the heart and mind are also engaged and the whole boy (and girl) follows. From the vantage point offered by our human hands, we know where the arts, music, manual arts, laboratory science, field trips, camping, nature studies and so many other fields of human adventure fit in American schooling and why they are too important to continue to neglect. Neglect the hands on the other hand, and intelligence and educational enthusiasm wither on the vine.
Make, fix and create.