Friday, November 11, 2011

theory and practice...

This morning, I have been contemplating how difficult we have made things in school. It is difficult to sit still. It is difficult to keep one's attention on the subject. For the teacher it is difficult to keep children's attention focused on their lessons without becoming tyrannical. A local public elementary school teacher, commenting on the challenge of her work said, "Each day is like planning a party for 25 kids." And while that might sound like fun, it is also relentless. It is certainly not easy, even for the best. Children these days with all their digital devices and video content, who fall asleep at bedtime with the TV going, are not easy to entertain, let alone teach.

And yet, for children to learn is the most easy and natural of human functions. We are wired for it. When awakened by a fire for learning as Mike Rose describes in his blog post, Full Cognitive Throttle children are voracious learners.

The following is from the Great Didactic of Comenius, the first great text of modern pedagogy, which has been nearly completely ignored in the design of modern education:
1. "Theory," says Vives, "is easy and short, but has no result other than the gratification that it affords. Practice on the other hand, is difficult and prolix, but is of immense utility." Since this is so, we should diligently seek out a method by which the young may be easily led to the practical application of natural forces, which is to be found in the arts.
I was lucky in my youth to have a trained kindergarten teacher as my mother, and she kept my sisters and I busy with paper, scissors, glue, string, paints and clay, and so we learned that learning was not just about what happened in our heads, but what happened in our hands as well.

As one who came to teaching from being a craftsman, I understand the value of practice, and have come to understand that theory itself is not what captures children's fire for learning. At some point, learning needs to connect with their own hands just as it did for mine. Here is just a bit more from the Great Didactic:
7. The use of instruments should be shown in practice and not by words; that is to say, by example rather than by precept. It is many years since Quintilian said: "Through precepts the way is long and difficult, while through examples it is short and practicable." But alas, how little heed the ordinary schools pay to this advice.
That was written by Comenius in 1631, so you can see we've kept education heading in the wrong direction.

Today I'm working in my own wood shop. I started making a series of small jewelry boxes yesterday, and today should get to the point of making drawers. The textured and painted top panels can be seen above. The assembled boxes with drawer fronts can be seen below.

If your child is not catching fire for learning at school, turn off the TV at home and offer some real things that can be learned in his or her own hands. You can register to win a copy of my new book Building Small Cabinets by commenting on this post on the Fine Woodworking website. I would love for one of my regular readers to win.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Trying to speak to students is getting more and more difficult, even when you provide hands-on experiences. It's as if they want to hide in their little electronic caves. I wonder what they expect to get as an outcome. Why are they in college?