Friday, August 26, 2011

opening the doors of education...

Education in America has been limited by its academic perspective. Credentials are gathered by standing in line, going through motions, sitting still, doing abstract things unrelated to physical and social realities. Is it any wonder that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and so many other leaders in industry were college drop outs? Got a good idea? School might not be the best place for it, but if you are a solid learner, you can make use of anything. I read that Steve Jobs attended Reed College for a time before dropping out to do better things, like founding Apple Computer. While in school he only went to classes he was interested in. For example, he attended a class in calligraphy and others in philosophy. You can see his interest in calligraphy reflected in the desktop publishing revolution that Apple computers brought to the industry along with a huge collection of fonts to every home computer on the planet.

If we really wanted the American culture to blossom, and for our economy to surge into an American renewal, it would be by empowering the arts in school, so that children would be exposed to method as well as knowledge. We need to bring artists into schools, to teach things like calligraphy, book making, woodworking, gardening, much more music, cooking and the like, and we need to use those creative expressions as the foundation of all other subjects. Writing? Give the kids something to write about? Math? Give the kids real problems to figure out. Our students will arise to exceed our expectations.

I am still in my review of Aldous Huxley's writings, and have moved on to his essay, Heaven and Hell. In it he notes (as have others) that the only metaphors available to us for the exploration of abstract concepts (like heaven and hell) come from the concrete reality in which we live. This is the same point that George Lakoff makes in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. If we want children to be creative beyond their kindergarten years, we must give them the tools for it. Metaphors provide the basis of all human creativity, and those metaphors must of necessity be drawn from real tools, real processes, real understanding of concrete phenomenon.

When we understand the role the hands play in human development, in the growth of character, intelligence and creativity, we also understand the role of the arts and the necessity of bringing an increasing number of artists into schools and applying their hands in the education of our children. Of no surprise to my regular readers, understanding the role of the hands in education also provides a clear rationale for woodworking education. Woodworking in schools is still important despite the concerted effort of many school administrators to do away with it.

Today I am making a new size box to replace a "mini-box" I had made earlier in my career. It is scaled down in size and I hope it will be of interest to museum shops. It is shown in process in the photo above. I have also been having planning meetings with teaching staff at Clear Spring School to map out the use of the wood shop for the new school year. My article about making a sliding book rack can be found online at American Woodworker here.

The craftsman working with wood gives shape to the material, but also to him or her self. As we seek the ideals of craftsmanship, we shape ourselves in its image.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous6:05 PM

    Years ago in a past life I taught art in a suburban high school. I used to tell the principle that the art department was the only place in the building where we started with reality and built an abstraction from it. In the rest of the building all they ever dealt with were abstractions.

  2. Early educators said that we should start with the concrete and move to the abstract. Now all the concrete subjects are considered electives or enrichment and of lesser importance than the abstract "core" curriculum.

    And so we have huge numbers of kids who are disinterested in learning.

    I am not sure how to reverse the thinking on the value of the arts.

    But we can keep talking about it and demonstrating it.