Tuesday, December 27, 2011

a plea for skills based learning...

My wife and I enjoyed another day at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and enjoyed introducing out daughter Lucy to our new  favorite area destination. There are some wonderful things about the museum. The collection of early works showing the wilds of our great continent through the eyes of our nation's earliest artists is made more poignant by the lush American wilderness that surrounds the museum itself.

Today I am making more boxes. It is a thing I normally do this time of the year. If you were standing in the shop watching, you might think it is a near mindless operation as I stand at the table saw, making cut after cut, but there is an intense observation going on as the materials is evaluated moment by moment in order to select the best flawless piece of wood for each part.

There are foolish assumptions made about skilled behavior... That it is mindless, That it can be performed without benefit of cognition, and that those who perform it are evidently capable of nothing more.

Years ago, I took a tour of the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago with a college class. The tour guide was careful to explain to us that just because we saw a man with his head down on his desk, he was not "doing nothing," but rather was deeply engaged in thought.

With the current misunderstanding of the qualities of cognition involved in skilled labor, a similar warning should be stated wherever tactile cognition takes place. Just because a man or woman's hands are busy, does not mean their minds are absent, or that their work is absent minded.

There are values of character and intellect that best arise when the hands are busy making things of useful beauty, making music,  or serving others in a myriad of intelligent ways. To leave the earning of skill outside the efforts to reform American education is the greatest foolishness of our age. Skills based learning should be front and center in the debate.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous3:58 PM

    Well said indeed. If your mind is not totally there as you pas wood through the saw, you can end up with a serious injury.