Sunday, May 01, 2011

Not waiting...

I watched the movie "Waiting for Superman" last night about the faltering state of American education. It does a pretty good job of documenting the state of angst among children and parents facing the dilemma of schools that offer near-certain failure as their end product. That we have so many poor schools in the USA is a continuing nightmare for families and embarrassing for our nation. I can't imagine anyone watching the children and parents in the film without wanting us to do a much better job.

The movie lays blame on poor teachers, and if you were to watch the movie AND try to figure out someplace to point the finger of blame it would be at the teacher's unions and the inability of administrators to fire teachers who don't measure up. If you were to watch the movie hoping to find a solution, it would be the charter school movement, even though statistically, charter schools show performance measured at equal to or less than that of the schools they hope to replace. So, if you are waiting for "Waiting for Superman" to present clear answers, or hope for American children don't wait.

What we need most is a clear vision upon which to proceed.

One art teacher told me that what we've discovered, you and I, in this blog, is the "philosopher's stone of education." It is nothing complicated. It is nothing new. It works. It applies to all students regardless of social class, sex, race, or ethnicity, and it applies whether or not children have been read to and nurtured and prepared for learning in their homes. It offers dignity. It offers growth. It fits those who are going to college, and it fits those who for a variety of reasons will not.
Where the hands are engaged in learning, whether through arts, crafts, music, science, or athletics, what we learn hands-on is learned at greater depth, to greater lasting effect. Where the hands and mind are engaged as partners in learning through the development of skills expressed as meaningful accomplishments, there are transforming effects on the character of the child.
I don't know how I could be more precise. "Waiting for Superman" presents a complex problem. How do we get a grip on American education? With our hands.
Don't wait. Superman isn't coming. But YOU ARE SUPERMAN when your own hands bring wisdom, and when you offer your hands in transformation of education. Don't wait, Make, fix and create.

I've been retaking some photos for an article in American Woodworker Magazine, on making a sliding book rack. Math is not simply numbers, but also involves "spatial sense" which is the foundation of geometry, but also key to the making of things. I use a process of flipping objects as a way of developing symmetry in the fitting of parts and in the design of symmetrical objects. So how do you mortise or drill in from both sides of an object to get perfect alignment from both sides? That is the hidden subject of the article, and as you learn how to make the sliding book rack you also learn other things through your own exercise of spatial sense that forms the foundation of mathematics, engineering and human culture. The photo below shows the use of a flipping set-up piece for locating the fence and stop blocks (left and right) for drilling mortises that intersect perfectly at the center of the stock.


  1. What a great post! "Don't wait Superman isn't coming, but you can be Superman" and a great tag line. Keep the ideas coming!

    Jeremiah Dyke

  2. Jeremiah, I enjoyed seeing what you are doing with hands on math. Isn't it interesting that the solution to our educational conundrum has been present all the time... that we have learned to use our hands so mindlessly and with so little regard, that we have completely misunderstood their powers?

  3. Anonymous9:44 PM

    i have to caution anyone watching "Waiting for Superman" as it presents a very one-sided view of education that is not as pervasive as some would have us believe. There have always been mechanisms to remove poor teachers. These lie in the hands of administrators who most often are reluctant to apply these as they take time and documentation. Many administrators do not want to involve themselves in the process, nor are they equipped to be curriculum leaders. As a teacher and teacher educator I am tired of teachers being painted as the problem of education. The system is flawed, but so is the community that does not support teachers and schools, financially, politically, as community assets. I direct you to an excellent response to the film by Diane Ravich available at It has become way to easy for those outside of public education to criticize and denigrate the institutions.

  4. Yes, I agree. Superman does present a a one-sided view... that of the corporate entities behind the charter schools movement. There are American corporations planning to make big money from it. As I mentioned in my blog post the charter school movement isn't not what it is cracked up to be. So the movie is OK at showing the angst of parents and children facing poor schools, but screwed up on solutions.