Sunday, October 02, 2011

children are not clockwork...

There is an article in the National Geographic this month about the development of the adolescent brain... why teens do what seem to be stupid, crazy things, and it is obvious that not all of us are wired exactly alike, and not all develop at exactly the same pace. We ought to notice this a bit earlier. For example, some children begin walking as early as 7 or 8 months, and some begin as late as a year or more, and where a child lies in that window of development means almost nothing relative to the child's long range development. But lay on a grid, and put a child into classes where children are all measured and expected to develop and mature at exactly the same pace, and you will have created severe limitations for some children, leading them to assume that they are not and will not be capable in certain areas. Math and reading are examples.

We are now, in American Schools, pushing kindergarten students to read and as a result create children in which reading is a chore and task to be avoided rather than the pleasure of opening the whole world for their examination.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book the Outliers tells that most professional hockey players are born in the months between November and February, because at the time of enrollment in youth hockey programs by year in school, those students are the largest and most well developed, and have a clear advantage in early play. Once you are promoted or demoted based on ability and measured unfairly against peers, it seems the die is cast. But children are not clockwork, and schools have their ways of imposing as many limitations as can be imagined, in that instead of opening to children's unrestricted natural abilities, they run kids through like the developmental clockwork they truly are not.

What is the answer? Remove standardized testing. Make schools and teachers more cognizant of the ranges of natural development. Make classes multi-year, thus allowing children who are struggling with a difficult subject greater time to get it at their own developmental pace and without being made to feel stupid. Promote late blooming.

So how does all this relate to woodworking? To make something from wood is dependent on a confluence of developmental markers. Strength of hand and mind, as well as dexterity in both hand and mind. One must be able to conceptualize a series of interrelated steps toward a goal and focus clear attention on each step. But there are those who have come to the wrongful conclusion that hand work is mindless. It is not.

I have begun using counting on fingers with students to help them to better remember and conceptualize the steps required for making wooden objects. This is using the part of their brains, the intraparietal sulcus, in which both counting and control of the fingers takes place. We are having profound effect in that students in the first second and third grades are remembering the steps without me having to repeat them individually for each student. Can you imagine how this same process could be applied in math? It takes only four steps to factor a quadratic equation and most math problems can be solved single-handedly.

The way it works is this... When the first step is described, the student touches the little finger with his or her thumb. When the second step is described, the student touches the second finger. Proceeding on, when the student reaches step five, the thumb alone is held in the air. Using both hands up to 10 steps can be memorized and remembered. My first, second and third graders made it up to step 6 in making pinwheels last week with almost no repetition of instruction.

American educators have claimed that our poor performance in the PISA studies is due to the poor who drag down scores in urban areas. A new study co-written by a professor from the University of Arkansas has found that even students in affluent suburbs are severely lagging behind schools in other developed countries like Finland, Norway and Japan. This study indicates that we can no longer blame urban non-white school children (or their teachers) for the failure of American schools to meet international standards.
"Being from an affluent suburb, unfortunately, is not a guarantee of world-class performance," --Jay P. Greene, the 21st Century professor of education reform at UA.
On a more pleasant subject, there is a small scale agricultural revolution taking place in the suffering city of Detroit. What greater pleasure can one find than seeing the things one has planted and tended grow to fruition and economic value to one's community?'The Gift Of Detroit': Tilling Urban Terrain by Jon Kalish

Make, fix, create and plant...


  1. Hi Mr. Stowe- I'm slowly starting to *get* your notes here; I think. e.g. "late blooming". YES! why not have asynchronous educational themes for students? why do kids have to be "held back" and all the unnecessary stigma associated?

    The manual learning aspect of what you prosthelytize* is so crucial. it resonates with me at a very deep level as this is how i grew up and learned. It is one of the few advantages I feel I have in my software engineering field. a large part of my capacity developed from so many hours in dad's shop making model airplanes and learning how balsa wood splits under certain kinds of cuts and inputs. Ever try carving an airplane propeller from a block of wood? I did that when I was 7 and am fairly certain that these very complex intuitive practices are what sustains me today.

    * apologies for using a loaded word, but I think in this setting is appropriate and not critical in a negative sense

  2. I think of moving from a head centric view of human reality to a hand centric one is a sea change. So perhaps proselytize is OK.

    At Clear Spring School, students are grouped in classrooms consisting of 3 grades, so the same teacher has the same kids for 3 years... plenty of time to make certain important learning is covered at a time consistent with the child's natural development.

  3. Doug, I enjoy reading your posts from time to time and felt compelled to comment on this one, I couldn't agree more. I come from a generation, I am 63, that at least when I was in school back in Ohio, if you weren't going to commit to college, you had no business being in the counselors office as you probably weren't worth spending time on. My parents influenced me somewhat, but I wound up in the U S Air Force in '67, and better for it. Now two of my granddaughters, 9 and 12, are already facing the pressure of "do well or get passed by", being sure to get in the "right" catholic high school, taking all the right college prep classes, in grade school!!, etc, etc. I sit and marvel at the computer skills my 3 year old grandson has, he picked up my iPad for the first time last week while we were up visiting, and he handled it like he has used it for months. He has learned a lot of this himself

    I consider myself a late bloomer. I did pretty well for myself working for the same company for 31 years, starting out as an hourly employee and getting promoted up to some positions of responsibility. I also "taught" myself woodworking over the last 25 years, the Franciscan high school I went to didn't offer wood shop, I can hang with anyone in the kitchen, we didn't have home ec in an all boys high school, a lot of what I have learned I have taught myself. Sorry for the long rant, but I think the parents and the educators of the students today need to adjust there focus. Now out to the shop :) Rick