Monday, February 28, 2011

Plato's men in a cave

Plato used an allegory to describe our human state, and to describe how we learn, and how we are manipulated to learn,  (or not learn) that scholars have called, "Plato's prisoners in a cave." He believed that the true purpose of education should be that of liberation of society from its delusions, that each, including the lowest among us, might live in the light rather than controlled darkness.

I am curious what other blog readers think this story tells us about education. It has been interpreted differently by different scholars depending on the points they wish to make. A tradesman might see another story.

One of the things I find interesting in Plato's allegory is that it illustrates how things can be seen differently from differing points of view, and one of the problems in American education is that we have divided education along class lines, of either the trades or academic advancement, whereas most early educators believed that all, even those of the highest academic advancement should learn trades fro the skill and character they impart. In light of this read Socrates dialog with Glaucon as follows:
[Socrates] Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.
[Glaucon] What do you mean?
[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.
[Glaucon] But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?
[Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.
Just open your eyes and look at the mess we have made of economy and culture by neglecting to reinforce each child's responsible, creative and productive inclinations.

You could look at Plato's allegory as being relevant to modern American society and politics. What do you think? Are there things we might learn from it? In the US, we have a huge number of people who are imprisoned by ignorance resulting from disinterest fostered by their schooling. Marching across the cave behind the wall, are those who attempt to control their thoughts.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

what is sloyd?

UK woodworker and blogger Robin Wood has an article on his blog, raising the question, "What is sloyd?" and he does an excellent job of answering his own question. Check it out. Read it. It is a great article. If you are looking for more reading material on sloyd, my articles written for Woodwork Magazine can be found Here.


What are fingerprints for? No, they are not just to tell one crook from another. The intricate whorls on each fingertip perform a very specific function according to this report from Discover Magazine. Fingerprints Are Tuned to Amplify Vibrations and Send Info to the Brain.
When a finger sweeps over a finely textured surface, such as a cotton sleeve or a wooden coffee table, the interaction sends a large range of vibrations into the skin. Specialized sensors called Pacinian fibers, the tips of nerve fibers, detect only a select few of the vibrations — those right around 250 hertz — before sending the signal to the brain, where the touch sensation is processed.
The intricate whorls on the tips of your fingers, not only engage with other textures as fingers slide over various textures, they amplify and filter the sensations to greatest efficiency and effect.

What other part of the human anatomy is arranged in similar ridges and whorls? Can you think of one? Can I be blunt? How about the human brain? Another one is hair. Some researchers have suggested that the direction of rotation of hair whorls on the human head is significant with regard to brain development. Who knows? The human body/mind is a complex mechanism that we still do not fully understand. And yet, we've constructed educational institutions that ignore much of what we do know.

For instance, that, "The hands are the cutting edge of the mind."-Jacob Bronowski
Make, fix, and create.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

college or career? Why not both.

The report from Harvard challenging the notion that all kids should go to college is under assault by advocates for the disadvantaged according to this article in Education Week. College for All Confronted.
The authors contend that their vision would expand opportunity for all students, especially those who face the dimmest prospects now because their education stops at high school. Rather than derailing some students from higher learning, their system would actually open more of those pathways, they say, by offering sound college preparation and rigorous career-focused, real-world learning, and by defining clear routes from secondary school into certificate or college programs.

"Every high school graduate should find viable ways of pursuing both a career and a meaningful postsecondary degree or credential,” the report says. “For too many of our youth, we have treated preparing for college versus preparing for a career as mutually exclusive options.”
The opponents to the report are concerned with further disadvantage being placed on the poor and disadvantaged:
"They’re arguing for different standards and separate tracks,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that focuses on policies to improve education for low-income students. “Every single time we create multiple tracks, we always send disproportionate numbers of poor kids and kids of color down the lesser one. Until we can find a way not to do that, then people like me will object.”

Mr. Schwartz of Harvard acknowledged that the report wades into “tricky terrain.” But he said that tracking is “when schools make decisions about what kids are capable of and what their futures are. It’s pervasive in our schools, and it’s a huge problem.

“But I wouldn’t confuse that form of tracking,” he said, “with trying to create a system in which by the time kids hit 16, they and their families have some real choices to make.”
Early manual training and Educational Sloyd proposed that craftsmanship practiced by all in schools would level the playing field and create a sense of the dignity of all labor, but their remedy was ignored, bringing us to our current state of educational disarray. David Henry Feldman had presented a new metaphor for education, "the child as craftsman" from which we can recognize the qualities of skill and character inherent in craftsmanship, that should be made available to all students of every social class, and race, regardless of academic potential, and that were offered to all students through Educational Sloyd.

If were were smart, we would ask every child to choose a trade as a cognitive supplement to academic advancement. Every cognitive leap involves metaphor and most essential successful creative metaphors are conceptualized from engagement in physical reality.

Don't expect scholars at Harvard or elsewhere to fully understand what you can only learn from your own hands. The Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity can be downloaded here.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my hands smart by making a chair for a "chairity" event in support of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. It is a quickie, made from old salvaged chair parts and a slab of spalted maple. The event is called "reArt" and with a few exceptions, the works are ones that have been passed along from collectors to be auctioned by the school to other collectors to raise money for the school. Five or six local artists have been selected to donate original work for the live auction. This chair fits the theme by reusing old parts. Some of the step by step photos are at left and more can be found in earlier posts. The chair back has been painted with green milk paint.

The "Watson" competitor on Jeopardy brings to mind an earlier post on the subject of distributed intelligence, What if we're not as smart as we think we are? What if intelligence has always been offloaded to the tools we use, and not necessarily invested only in what goes on inside our heads? If that is the case, (which it is) then we would be wanting to train our children in the use of all kinds of tools, thus enhancing their cognitive capacities.

make, fix and create.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The way to the brain

"The way to the brain, goes through the hand" was an expression common among Englishmen at Nääs one hundred and ten years ago according to Hans Thorbjörnsson, historian of the famous school for Sloyd teschers near Gothenburg, Sweden. I asked Hans to research the origins of the quote and he found that it was widely used and could not be attributed to a single man. I began trying to find that same expression on the internet to discover its actual origins, and found an almost identical expression stated as a principle of Montesorri schools. It is quoted in the prospectus of a new charter school being proposed in the Bronx, NYC.
“The way to the brain is through the hands.” This is borne out by the research of Piaget, which indicates that a child must interact with real objects, have time to investigate and test his ideas, and discuss his ideas with others in order to build satisfactory mental constructs. The Montessori approach uses a wide range of specially designed concrete materials that represent abstract concepts, particularly in math and language arts. This physical modeling fosters the internalization of accurate mental representations of these operations.
Maria Montessori founded her first school in 1907 and the American Montessori society was founded in 1960. You will note that use of that expression in relation to Sloyd came years before Maria Montessori's first school, and long before she became famous as an educator. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Can it be that anyone looking at oneself, without the delusions imposed by academic predispositions might observe and state the nearly exact same thing? Or perhaps, Maria Montessori had drawn upon a wide range of sources in formulating her theories and methods, as we each do today.

Here are two more direct quotes from Maria Montessori telling us that she had a clear grasp. “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence,” and “The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.” You can find these and a lot more here.

And so the question arises, can you examine your own learning experience and note the value of your hands in investigating and understanding material and cultural reality? I hope so. And then I also hope you will feel your way clear to do something about it. DIY, TIY

Make, fix and create.

In the meantime, the Providence, R.I. school board voted to send termination notices to every teacher in its many schools. No, it is not a joke. With the Republican conservatives in power and their "starve the beast" notions from the Reagan era that "no tax is a good tax," even if it supports education and fire protection, raising taxes to fix budgetary problems is not considered as a reasonable option. The same ideological infection is sweeping our nation, from Wisconsin south. Is it fair to say that we have become a nation of idiots? Heartless ones at that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

mind food...

This morning I have three small planes on my desk which must be packed up and returned to Fine Woodworking for photographs. I send them back with a sense of reluctance. I would keep them on my desk as food for thought if I could. They are beautifully crafted, a delight to hold, and they perform well the tasks for which they were designed. One must know that the designers and makers of these planes have taken great satisfaction in them.

I have little doubt that more of these will be bought than will be put to use. That seems to be the way with tools in the US. People collect them, while having too little opportunity to put them to use. But there could be worse things. I think that a person can get the same satisfaction and sense of physical power and control from handling a well crafted and finely tuned plane as from a finely made gun, but with some difference. The power of it is creative rather than destructive. And you can keep it on your desk instead of locked up. Meth addicts seldom break into homes to steal planes, and they won't be used by a family member to commit suicide.

This morning I'll have my first, second and third grade students back in the wood shop to work on dinosaurs. Some finished their long necks last week and want to make more. Wish me luck. They are a great bit of fun, but the process can be demanding. In the meantime, my daughter Lucy's EWB group project has been selected for broadcast on the PBS program Planet Forward. The program will be broadcast on April 8.

Some longnecks from this morning's class are shown in the photo above. Sherry Turkle, tomorrow's guest on Science Friday will discuss whether we have become too fond of technology at the cost of too little care for each other. It should be an interesting program as this link attests.
The photos below are testing the Veritas Detail Rabbet plane.

Make, fix and create

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

woodworking scholars

If you read yesterday's post quoting Otto Salomon, you may have noticed that he referred to students in sloyd as "scholars." As a part of general education, woodworking Sloyd was understood to be a significant contributory element to the growth and development of each and every child, and you can see how referring to students as "scholars," a term normally associated with academic learning would play a role in our understanding of wood shop. It would also delineate our expectations for what was to arise from it. This lesson was learned and taken to heart by some, and ignored by others who saw woodworking as being only of economic value, rather than a tool in the overall development of each child. This morning, as we watch continued democratic revolution in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and other African and Middle Eastern Nations, we need to also consider democracy in our own country. I will refer my readers to an earlier post concerning democracy and wood shop, containing comments by Charles B. Gilbert at the Eastern Manual Training Association meeting of 1905. A Passioned Plea. Mr. Charles B. Gilbert was one of those who had taken the lessons of Sloyd to heart. He was the Superintendent of Schools for Rochester, NY, and knew first hand, the value of woodworking education to all students.
"Democracy is not a form of government; it is a state of mind. It consists of a community of democratic people. The business of the schools is to train democratic people; and every teacher in every line of work should endeavor to bring up the boys and the girls to the feeling that they must be democratic--that they stand equal in opportunity and in obligation with all other boys and girls who are growing up."
In other words, when you use the schools to deliberately divide the students into two classes, "scholars" and trades, one destined to college and the other not, you have done irreparable harm, not only to the students but to society and the democratic principles we claim to hold dear.

If you want to do something about the Wisdom of the Hands, and restore our own society to democratic sensibility, please contact your own superintendent of schools and tell him (or her) she's been missing something very important. Perhaps Charles B. Gilbert could explain a few things to him/her.

The photos above show planes I reviewed today for Fine Woodworking and progress on a rustic chair made with old chair parts. The rustic chair will be given to a "chairity" auction to benefit the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

creating a sense of the dignity of all labor

The following is from Otto Salomon's Theory of Educational Sloyd:
"From a social point of view... it is of vital importance that the ordinary teacher of the school be employed to teach this subject (sloyd), for he is looked upon with great respect by his scholars--in many instances with profound respect--and whatever he puts his hand to, the scholars will not be ashamed to do, but rather take a pride in doing."
Salomon had noted that artisan teachers of sloyd were looked upon with indifference and contempt by their academic peers within schools. And so, in order to convey a sense of the dignity and worth of labor, teachers of all subjects should be trained in hand and eye as well as for head work alone.
"Persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labor at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work, and thus avoid the misfortunes which befall the ignorant and credulous through the impositions of knaves."
Salomon goes on as follows:
"Words alone will not inspire this respect; hence we conclude that the best way to instill into children a true and proper respect for rough, honest, bodily labor is:
1st. By introducing such work into schools of all grades, in order that all classes of the community may engage in it.
2nd. By the teachers taking both pleasure and pride in doing it themselves, as well as delight in teaching it intelligently to others. For what the teachers appreciate, the children usually appreciate."
In light of all this, you can see what a big mess has been made of American education and American culture and economy. Teachers are no longer respected and the American worker is in the pits. The poor and middle class have been abandoned, while Wall Street Bankers, having been bailed out by the taxpayer are making record bonuses again. Dignity and respect for labor would be considered socialist principles by those who only care for money, but they are the ones who have made the mess of everything, including American education.

Today in the CSS wood shop, the 7th and 8th grade students finished making their travel journals and the 9th grade students did woodturning. After school,

I've been taking beauty shots like that shown at left.

Monday, February 21, 2011

dignity and respect in the classroom

Noted educator Deborah Meier wrote a piece recently in the blog she shares with Diane Ravitch, Bridging Differences, about dignity and respect in the classroom. She wrote:
"a study done across national borders showed that people, when offered liberty, freedom, and dignity as choices, picked dignity as the thing they wanted most. I thought that was interesting. Being treated with dignity is, I suspect, part of our natural aspiration as humans. And while it can be crushed, it can also be restored. My experience in schools that placed faculty, family, and student dignity above all else was reassuring. Students came to us without expecting that this was ever likely to be found in schools; families who had similar experiences at being disregarded, patronized, talked down to, and shut out of their children's school lives responded when schools changed, too. Not immediately, but over time.

The same is true for the adults who work in a school—from custodians to secretaries to paraprofessionals and teachers. And principals.

I came into teaching in the early 1960s as a substitute teacher in South Side Chicago's K-8 schools. Then I became a kindergarten teacher—a position I held for many years. From the very moment I began the journey I was struck by the ways in which I was disrespected, as though that was the norm."
One of the points of educational Sloyd that was shared by many advocates of manual training was that developing a sense of the dignity and respect for all labor was crucial to the development of democracy. We seem to have abandoned that. Children of non-academic intelligences find little acknowledgment of their value within schools. An academic hierarchy puts American education in desperate condition.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students worked on their looms and some finished their hand made travel journals. The 10th, 11th and 12th grade students turned wood on the lathe and helped sand and finish the wood samples for the school collection. Make, fix and create.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

what you know vs. who you are...

The media has made a big deal this week about the TV program Jeopardy and the super computer named "Watson" beating two very smart human contestants. Is it any surprise that a computer could be programmed with huge amounts of trivia, far in excess of normal human capacity? But give that computer a pipe wrench and see if it takes pride and pleasure in successfully fixing your pipes.

In schools we have become so focused on turning our children into knowledge feedback mechanisms through standardized testing that we have forgotten that they will need to live in the real world and take part in the fixing and making of things. It is not what you know that makes you who you are, but what you can do, and what you have done.

Another important component of education is that of creativity. It has been said that every human creative advancement has come through the use of metaphor: "If this works as so, then that might work as so, also." Even when things don't work the same as projected from experience, the use of metaphor establishes the direction of exploration and investigation through which creative developments are achieved.

You remember the story of John Henry? There is a song about his competition with the mechanized steam drill. Sadly, I doubt that there will be any songs about Watson's competitors. We already know that Google is smarter than we are and watching two competitors attempting to beat Watson to the buzzer is not as heroic an exercise as John Henry swinging his heavy spike hammer all day to the point of collapse in utter exhaustion. But will computers be trained to take pride and pleasure in their craftsmanship and creative capacity?

Yesterday, I used my Kubota to pull logs from the woods that had fallen and are a good source of free firewood. So now I have a ready supply of wood for chain sawing and splitting for next year's warmth. There are children whose parents think that every thing in their lives needs to be bought and paid for and delivered without physical effort rather than accomplished through more direct means. What a disservice we have done!

And so, with that, I've said enough for one day. We know that the use of the hands makes us smarter, more deeply connected to human culture and more fully alive in confidence and creativity. So regardless of how smart our computers have become, and regardless of what happens or is not happening in schools,
Make, fix, and create...

You may have been watching the education crisis taking place in the Wisconsin State House, as teachers and supporters of education rally against the Republican governor' plan to cut teacher salaries, and strip them of collective bargaining rights. An editorial by noted educator Diane Ravitch tells the story. Why America's teachers are enraged:
There has recently been a national furor about school reform. One must wonder how it is possible to talk of improving schools while cutting funding, demoralizing teachers, cutting scholarships to college, and increasing class sizes.
Much of the conservative Republican strategy can be understood through their concept, "starve the beast." They believe that government should do as little as possible, and their best means to see that strategy come to fruition is for government to be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy rather than raising taxes and fixing the deficit. We witnessed the "starve the beast" strategy as the last administration pushed us into two wars which were unfunded by tax revenues, leading us into an economic crisis which the Republicans intend to use to force their dreams of limited and powerless and ineffective government to come true. And sadly, they are willing to use our children and schools and poor and middle class as pawns in their ideological Armageddon.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

it goes way back

A friend alerted me to a school at had profound influence on American crafts in that it was deeply entwined in the life of Wharton Esherick, proclaimed by some as "the Dean of American Craftsmen" for his contributions to the American craft movement. The Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama was founded in 1907 as a progressive school in which no child would ever fail. No testing and no homework. My readers who are interested in progressive education should visit their site and review their interesting history. Called the Organic School for most of its life,
It was called "organic" in that the central aim of the school was to "minister to the health of the body, develop the finest mental grasp, and preserve the sincerity and unself-consciousness of the emotional life." That is, the child was seen always as a "unit organism" in order for schooling to promote the growth of the whole child. In Johnson's view, education and growth were identical. The curriculum organization and the life of the Organic School were carefully informal. All grades, marks, promotions, and reports were thought to create only tensions of self-consciousness and were therefore omitted entirely. Students were judged only in terms of their individual abilities and hence extrinsic rewards were eliminated in favor of the intrinsic satisfactions of learning and growth. The measures of success of students, and indeed of the entire school, were to be based on creativity, spontaneity, interest, and sincerity in their lives.
That is a far cry from where we have arrived in American education in which children are constantly measured and sorted, but it is what you would witness first hand at Clear Spring School.

So, how can we fix things? First is to realize that learning and growth are the same, completely natural to each child. Give children tools and materials with which to create, learn and grow. Ease up, and trust the child's natural inclinations to lead him or her onward in learning and growth. Adults in education must be free to set examples of creativity and curiosity. Children are naturally curious about all kinds of things and their curiosity is often dulled and confidence diminished by the process of American education.

On another note, my daughter Lucy's Engineers Without Borders team at Columbia University is in second place behind the University of Arkansas in the voting at Planet Forward.  Her project is called "Implementing Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management  in Ghana." The UofA has a big lead, but you can still register and vote.

Many people are too lacking in curiosity and confidence for DIY plumbing. It is Saturday, and plumbers are expensive even when it is not. So when one of our washer faucets began leaking this morning, I went to the hardware store and bought what I needed to fix it myself. Do you know how much fun  it is to save that much money? Can you get the same sort of pride and satisfaction from watching someone else work (and paying for it) as you can by doing it yourself? No way.

Make, Fix and Create.

Friday, February 18, 2011

the hands, science and the arts.

 Man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. --Anaxagoras 500-428 BC

"It is the hand that enables the mind to realize in a thousand ways its highest imaginings, its profoundest reasonings, and its most practical inventions." --James MacAlister, Superintendent of Schools of the City of Philadelphia, 1882.

"The hands are the cutting edge of the mind."--Jacob Bronowski 1908-1974

There's not much new here. I keep saying the same simple things over and over again. The hands are incredibly complex in what they do, but I am compelled to share my simple observation that they are the neglected center of human physical and cultural reality again and again until schools awaken from their love of sleep and their obsession with standardized testing.

We know we each learn best, most efficiently and most thoroughly to greatest long-term effect when we learn hands-on. I really don't have to make this stuff up since it is something you can take time to observe for yourself. In dramatic contrast to what we know about ourselves, we've created a system of education in which children are required to sit for extended periods with hands stilled.  American schools are the most expensive in the world and are very, very far from the best. So, how do we get a handle on education reform? How do we get a grip on necessary change? Are we really so unobservant and intellectually impaired as to continue to neglect the hands?

When we started the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School our objective was to restore an understanding of the value of woodworking in schools as an integrated program leveraging the hands into position central to every aspect of learning.

And so it is with the arts. The arts are the clearest means to bring the hands into learning. With the hands come the heart. An essential bargain. But the challenge is not just to put the arts back in school as isolated fingers of a useless hand but to use the arts to provide a sense of relationship with everything else a child needs to learn in school. The arts bring the hands into essential play in learning. This is not a new concept that I'm just making up on my own. If you want to know more, read Comenius (1592-1670). He was the founding father of modern pedagogy, but seems to be ignored by most in modern education.

 I have been asked to help members of furniture society brainstorm a return of furniture making to American schools. And so I hope to help. What we need in American education is a friendly takeover by the arts, all the arts, not just woodworking and furniture design. We need potters, jewelers, theatrical performers and musicians, and all whose skills and interests have been pushed aside and marginalized in American education. We were the daydreamers in the classroom looking out windows for some small glimpse of real reality. What we can say is that where the hands are engaged, the heart follows, whether into the arts, engineering, medicine or science. And so my simple proposition is to arrange  for and ask for "the strategic implementation of our children's hands in learning."  Make, fix, create, demonstrate. DIY, TIY

Today I'll spend part of the day cleaning and putting my wood shops in order, and part of the day writing the last (but first) chapter of my new book, Making Small Cabinets.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

how to apply fundamental pedagogy

It is hard to sell that with which people have little or no understanding or personal relationship. And so it is with the arts. How can people get on board extensive school reform involving the arts if they have no clear grasp of how the arts perform to energize learning? One of the challenges these days is to get adults who have never used their hands in creative ways other than on the keyboard to understand the value and transformative effects of the arts. The "arts" are so abstract in people's minds. So how to make the arts "concrete"? We literally have to take them by the hand and lead them into doing it, just as we would take the hand of a small child to cross the street.

This week, my wife and I attended a Valentine's one act dinner theater put on by the students in the Eureka Springs High School drama department. Students served dinner and then performed, to a packed house. It was a comedy about relationships and dating and very funny. The acting was REALLY good. Timing between lines was meticulously rehearsed. And when parents turn out in force to support their children's performances, administrators get a glimpse of what parents and enthusiastic kids know to be really important in school. It is called learning first hand.

Last night we had a board meeting for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and were working to develop a strategy for getting corporate interest and involvement in the arts. Once again, basic pedagogy applies.
Move from the concrete to the abstract.
The first necessity is to bring human resource directors and corporate CEO's onto the campus to witness first hand the kinds of personal transformation that takes place when their own hands are creatively engaged in crafting, and making. Make, fix, create. Share what you learn and thus transform the universe, one man, one woman, one student, one child at a time.

Today I am taking a break from the wood shop and taking beauty shots of cabinets for the book.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Concrete vs. Abstract.

Even educators need to be educated, and educational theory applies even to those who have advanced degrees. One of the major hurdles in education reform and arts education is that there is a large part of the population that just don't get the arts. The arts are too abstract. Many are embarrassed by a lack of artistic skill. Many just haven't been exposed to the arts. The arts don't necessarily seem to do anything practical to fit the bottom line (except bring parents out in droves to exhibitions to see what their children have created.) And so in educational reform, we need to turn our attention to the hands. We can talk about the arts all day until we are blue in the face and about half those we're talking to just won't know what we are talking about. So we and all those concerned with the arts must rely on the personal leverage offered by the hands to expand our nation's understanding of how we learn and how we each learn best. The early pedagogist's principles  "Move from the known to the unknown" and "move from the concrete to the abstract" explain the strategy that applies equally well to children and adults. You start with what we all have dangling at the ends of our wrists. Our hands. I call this the strategic implementation of the hands, and the strategy is the same whether we are teaching kids, or whether we are trying to stimulate educational reform. We move from the known to the unknown and the concrete to the abstract. The hands are concrete, the arts are abstract, and the path of education toward the arts is laid stone by stone by the hands.

Make, fix, create.

Today in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, first, second and third grade students worked on a new model of dinosaur at their own request. The long neck, as shown above and at left.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Small time

Last night my wife and I attended a house concert here in Eureka Springs. The concert was performed by two singer/song writers, one from Canada and the other from North Carolina, who travel and write music together, Corin Raymond and Jonathan Byrd. The concert was poorly attended (in numbers) as it had been rescheduled from an earlier date that had been canceled due to snow. There was little time to get the word out. But the few people in the audience did little to affect the rousing performance by wonderful, skilled and creative musicians.

Anyone wondering about the hands, needs to sit and watch (and listen to) a guitar in the hands of an artist like Jonathan Byrd.

The music business is a funny one. Men and women are compelled to follow their inclinations toward things that bring them the most joy, and who can argue with that. For some that inclination leads to international success like those performers on the Grammy awards the night before. But for many, many others, "There will always be a small Time," which is celebrated by Corin Raymond's lead song and on his new album each of the same name.

My daughter Lucy's Engineers Without Borders project in Ghana is being considered for inclusion in a PBS series Planet Forward. You can vote on its inclusion in Planet Forward on PBS. And so, in so many things, we are lured forward by the big time, or the next big thing, AND there will always be a small time. People's lives being made richer within small communities or within the confines of a small concert hall.

The hands themselves are so simple. They touch and give shape to every facet of human reality and they do so without laying great claims for themselves.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, as you can see in the photo above, the 7th and 8th grade students worked on their hand made journals for school travel. My objective is to put it all in their hands, so we discussed learning styles as an introduction to the day's lesson. Students found that they were required to look, and listen and do in order to fully understand the process. We also noted that listening is more effective at some times than others. For instance, listening is of greater value when you are at that point in the process at which verbal instruction is most useful. Until that point, words tend to be a waste of time, and kids fed a steady diet of (to them) useless language, stop listening.

I have also been taking beauty shots for the making small cabinets book including this one: 

Make, fix and create.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just Enough

Azby Brown is an artist, writer, and teacher who grew up in New Orleans and lives in Japan where he works to help direct our global society towards sustainable living. His new book Just Enough, is about the traditional Japanese culture that kept long term sustainability in mind. There are lessons in it for all those of us who can see that intentional, thoughtful, hands-on living offers values that are most frequently lost in the scurry of our high pressure internet age. You can read an excerpt here: Bent by the Sun, Lessons from Japan's ancient traditions of sustainability.
Azby's simple but elegant line drawings illustrate the concepts presented.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 4th 5th and 6th grade students continued working on their travel journals and began work on their looms. The high school classes are off from school today following their weeklong travel to New Orleans. What a wonderful school to be associated with! Make, fix, create.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Getting a grip on love.

A pre-Valentines day musing.

First we know that human beings are not as rational as we like to think and love is one of those areas that defies rational analysis. I make no claims of being all that rational myself. My own interest is what I call the Wisdom of the Hands. So I want to invite you to take a “hand-centric” view of love in order to attempt to get a much better grip on what love is all about.

So, what do the hands tell us?

We perform in excess of ten thousand discrete hand operations each day with little or no conscious attention applied to their use. There are very good reasons for this. If each thing our hands did required deliberation, we would be less efficient in what we do. As one grows in skill in performing difficult tasks, the conscious attention required for that task is reduced allowing for further development and refinement of technique. This was demonstrated recently in research involving pianists of varying skill levels performing finger manipulations while being observed in an MRI machine. Pianists of greater skill performed more complex finger manipulations with less observable brain activity than those of having lesser skill, leading researchers to speculate that brain plasticity and well practiced skill had enabled more highly efficient neural pathways to be established.

According to the law of chaos and the concept of entropy, nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems. You can visualize this in action as a kind of centrifugal force. As things move farther from center and become more complex over time, they tend to get out of hand, less ordered and more chaotic. A friend of mine years ago had described love as the opposite of centrifugal force. It drew things together and made connections between them and brought them into order and relationship. So I would like to suggest that love is the opposing force to entropy and decay. It brings order from chaos and forms the human bulwark against entropy. Love may start with a feeling of emptiness or longing for completion, but at some point it requires that we reach out, touch and act consciously in service to others in opposition to entropy. That may in time, and with skill and practice actually restructure the brain toward greater love.

I want to make a Valentines day invitation. Pay greater attention to your hands. Adopt a hand-centric view. Do not leave them dangling. We associate love as being a brain and heart thing requiring deliberations back and forth and an impulse to fall into something inexplicable. But while the heart is looking for love, the hands are constantly finding it and making it.

In the meantime, the whole standardized testing scheme in American Schools is evidently based on some pretty fishy wishful thinking and exaggerated stats. Michelle Rhee, maven of standardized testing based school reform has come under scrutiny for misrepresenting her own actual classroom performance. Rhee faces renewed scrutiny over depiction of students' progress when she taught. While her students did improve, it was not like the miracle she claimed for herself and her kids as she jockeyed her way into a position of national leadership in education. If we come to a more progressive understanding of what kids really need to succeed, our schools and our children's lives will improve immensely.

Reader, Randall Henson sent this link to an article in the New York Times, When Factories Vanish, So Can Innovators-By Louis Uchitelle.
According to Susan Houseman, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute in Kalamazoo, Mich,
“The big debate today is whether we can continue to be competitive in R&D when we are not making the stuff that we innovate.” Houseman states, “I think not; the two can’t be separated.”
The hands, as stated by Jacob Bronowski, are the cutting edge of the mind. Restrain the hands, stagnate the intellect, shut down creativity. Still, some of us can make, fix, and create. Do it. Teach it. Set a living example for your kids.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roy Underhill on Sloyd

I seem to have started something through my articles about educational sloyd. Roy Underhill has done a program, "Who Wrote the Book of Sloyd?"

Perhaps now the subject will be reaching a broader audience. Or at least we can hope so. You can tell by watching the program that he's been reading this blog. He even mentioned the wisdom of the hands. Nicely done, Roy.

On Otto Salomon's grave, it says: Den gode är en makt även i graven, which can be roughly translated, Good can be done, even from the grave. What Salomon did to illustrate the wisdom of the hands lives on in all of us who are inspired to understand the full dimensions of hands-on learning.

In the photo above, you can see a variety of shelf pins used in the making of small cabinets, including some you can make yourself. The maple parts laid out counter-clockwise show the way.

waste to power

My daughter Lucy is a member of Engineers Without Borders at Columbia University, and her group has produced a video about their project in Obodan, Ghana, Implementing Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management in Ghana

Your can vote on the viability of their project. Please do. In the meantime, I have one more day to prepare for my very brief talk about the relationship between the hands and the meaning of love. I welcome your thoughts as I prepare.

One point of interest on the subject is entropy, a concept for which there is no accepted opposite, but for which I propose love. While things fall apart, love is the force that holds things or puts things back together. In the case of bricks falling off the back of the truck love is what would keep them neatly stacked rather than scattered a random pile. In the case of Egypt, love would be what kept the Army from firing on demonstrators, and love is what led the people to peaceful transition. In other words, love is what arises or what is expressed when something is given attention, hands-on. "Here, let me hold your hand as we transform the universe." It is a thing you will see in Lucy's team video. Make, fix, create.

On the other side of the coin, I am deeply concerned by the growing lunacy and destructive power among some American "conservatives". Kansas governor Sam Brownback abolished the Kansas Arts Commission to "save" the state $600,000. Kansas is the first (and hopefully last) state to dismantle its arts agency. Republican "conservatives" are well known as being enemies of public broadcasting, and arts funding. Those of us involved in the arts hope Brownback's lunacy will not mark the beginnings of a wave of terror on the arts. American creativity has been the engine of our economic success, but are we to sit back and harvest the economic benefits of it while and not lift a finger to sustain it? When it comes to bricks, some are willing to dump them off the back of the truck, along with artists and the communities they have made wonderful.

Update! The Republicans in the House of Representatives have submitted a budget proposal that completely eliminates funding for PBS and NPR. Please don't let them remain this stupid.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Is there a reason that we say "comes to his senses" when we discuss a man returning to sanity? When one is clearly delusional, do we not say he or she is "out of touch?" We think of intelligence being something that resides within the brain or mind, but is the mind  a thing whose boundaries are no larger than the space within the hard shell of the human skull? If we want children to care about who they are, to sense their full dimensions and creative capacities, we do so by setting the whole of their minds in motion, and the mind itself is not something apart from the full range of their senses. And so, I ask that we each pay greater attention to our hands, and reflect on their meaning.

We will have a warming trend in Arkansas, setting our accumulated snow to melt. This afternoon when it is warmer, I'll take the tractor to school and push snow from the drive. This morning in the wood shop, I'll begin applying finish to the last three cabinets for the book. I have some additional photos to compose, and then beauty shots to complete when the cabinets are done. I realize there is not much to say about the hands, even though I can go on and on in my discussion of them each day, relative to what a man or woman can actually do with them. They are much more for doing with than for talking about. They are the foundation of all human creativity, all human thought. Get yourself, your mind, your senses, in touch, Make, Fix, Create.

I suspect we are all feeling a sense of solidarity today with the Egyptian people. A non-violent revolution. Mubarak has stepped down and the celebration in Cairo and throughout Egypt is amazing. The whole situation informs us of what happens when people get out of touch...When you have rulers who are isolated from the day to day reality of their people. When their hands are not engaged in the service of others, this is what we've always gotten as a result. From one tyranny to the next. We are learning that the open hand is stronger than the clenched fist. Long live Democracy and the strong but peaceful common people of Egypt.

When I studied political science in college (my major), it was stated that no state can exist without the consent of the governed. What we are witnessing in Cairo is a triumph of non-violence and democracy. Today I am Egyptian.

Subscribers of Fine Woodworking will find my review of Amana mini router bits in the April 2011 issue that should be arriving in your mail boxes. One of my boxes made with the bit is shown in the review. Above and at left, you can see the Krenov inspired cabinet with the doors installed.

The cabinet shown at left is my freshly oiled Cherry and maple jelly or liquor cabinet.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

looking from the hand to love...

We know that the most important things in our lives are inexplicable. We are not necessarily rational beings, despite our protestations and delusions that we are. We weigh pros and cons, make lists of them, and then are swept away by a simple touch. Industries invest millions to try to figure things out. Love is one of those things that defies reason on the most personal level.  Research has shown that we often make our best decisions when we act impulsively, in contrast to whatever the prevailing wisdom might be.

I have been invited to speak for 10 minutes at our local UU church on the subject of love, having to do with Valentines Day.  I am one voice of several. Love is a messy subject that concerns us all, and so what do the hands grasp of love that our intellects perhaps do not? I invite my readers to share in the formulation and refinement of my thoughts for this brief presentation. Think about your hands and the relationships with others in your lives. An obvious suggestion is holding hands. What does that simple thing tell us about love? Help me out if you like. If not, proceed. Carry on. Make, fix, create. We may be rowing against the tide for now, only to be best prepared.

Today in my wood shop I'll be continuing to work on my final cabinets for the book. The key cabinet is shown in the photo above complete with a working door knob.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Struggle by R. J. Gale & Laziness by James J. Montague

Life is forever calling--
The school forever still,
And the lad who looks from its windows
Must hold him with a will.
Teachers and  books and playmates
Inveigle him to stay--
But wind and brook and open field
Call, "Up, lad! and away!" - R. J. Gale
Today schools in Northwest Arkansas are closed due to heavy snow, so will have a day in the wood shop and some tractor time moving the snow about.
My teacher says a little boy is just a worthless shirk
Who sits around inventin' ways for gettin' out o' work.
An' then next day he reads about a little chap named Watt
That watched the water boilin' in a battered irom pot.
An' loafed around the kitchen til he'd figured out a scheme
To have the hardest kinds o' work all nicely done by steam.
An' there was Robert Fulton, loafin' round the Upper Bay,
An' watchin' barges rowed along about a mile a dy.
Of course he knew that work was right, an' dodgin' it was wrong
But still he thought a boat had ought to push itself along.
An' while he sat there by the dock a swingin' of his heels,
He planned hisself a boat that run by steam an' paddle wheels.
Inventors almost every day is makin' somethin' new
To save a lot o' people work they used to haff to do.
The fellers gets along the best who sits around and dreams
Of how to stall off honest toil with labor-savin' schemes.
I don't care whet my teacher says, for all my life I've found
That it ain't work, it's laziness that makes the world go round.
If you are blessed with a snow day, enjoy. Make, fix, create. You never know what you might come up with. Both of these poems are from 200 Poems for Teachers of Industrial Arts Education.

As you can see in the photo at left, I am assembling the last cabinet for the new book.  The wood is black locust. After the glue securing the top has set overnight, I'll add dowels at the top, fit the door and add the internal hangers.

This article from the Huffington Post claims that 10 States are Running out of Smart People. And another article sent to me by John Grossbohlin addresses the problem of high school graduates being ill prepared for employment. Graduates, but Ill-Prepared:
Big Disparity Reported Between Getting a Diploma and College-Readiness Rates
If you want better news, you'll made to do it yourself. Again, Make, fix, create.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


I have been making a turn latch for a small cabinet as well as doing other things. I had two classes at school today, and if the snow comes tomorrow as expected, I'll get lots of shop time for the rest of the week. The turned knob fits through the hole being drilled on the drill press and the latch will be cut short, get some further shaping and will be glued in place on the knob's end. It engages a groove cut on the inside of the cabinet. Turn to open.

Blest are the horny hands of toil. -James Russell Lowell.
Work first, then rest. -John Ruskin

The Smell of the Wood
Oh, I like to open the door to my shop;
Each morning anew it elates me.
What incense is there, what perfumes so rare
As the smell of the wood that elates me.
The sunlight of a hundred years is there,
The winds from a thousand hills;
The dews from countless star-lit nights
And a murmur of mountain rills.
There's the feel of the orient and the jungle breath
In the smell of the wood that greets me;
There's the breath from rains and winter snows
In the smell of the wood that meets me.

What matter if others can sail the world around
And view all the grandeur for a year and a day,
I have ever ready a ship to command;,
A breath fills the sails and my boat is away.
It carries me back through the years that are past
Over wide oceans and far-stretching seas,
I have but to breathe and my journey's complete
I've traveled the world, though I sit at my ease.
Oh, the smell of the wood, what magic it holds,
(What treasures are ours oft least understood),
Though the walls of my shop encompass me round
I can sail far away on the smell of the wood. -A. E. Gray
Some of my friends from high places tell me that research to prove the value of the hands in learning is a wasted effort, as research is too often false in the first place. It does seem that human beings are not necessarily rational. We are more moved by feelings than by intellect and the recent Super Bowl game is an example. Forgive me if I have resorted again to poetry. By neglecting hands-on learning for our nation's youth, we are wasting lives. And so we have to make personal decisions. Do something about it. ASAP. DIY, and TIY (teach it yourself, as most schools are no longer giving your children much of what they need most).

My regular readers will remember my kind words about Costa Rica from my visit during the first week of January. Others, it seems have the same opinion, including Nicholas D. Kristoff of the New York Times. In his editorial, The Happiest People, he states:
What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists.

I’m not anti-military. But the evidence is strong that education is often a far better investment than artillery.

In Costa Rica, rising education levels also fostered impressive gender equality so that it ranks higher than the United States in the World Economic Forum gender gap index. This allows Costa Rica to use its female population more productively than is true in most of the region. Likewise, education nurtured improvements in health care, with life expectancy now about the same as in the United States — a bit longer in some data sets, a bit shorter in others.
Costa Rica has actually been measured for its happiness on an index which leaves the U.S. languishing in the dust. We're in 20th place. If we have become a relatively less happy nation of comparatively declining intellect, there are places we can look for a better role model. Make, fix, create.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A thought for today

Do you ever want to drill evenly spaced holes down the length of a board? This simple jig that I made this morning will allow holes to be drilled on center 3/8 in. apart for making weaving looms. After the fence is set in the right position, you simply drill the first hole, and flip the spacer out of the way to drill the next and so on. The idea is to make it easy enough that one of my students could do it.

From 200 Poems for Teachers of Industrial Arts Education, edited by William L. Hunter, Industrial Arts Dept. Iowa State College, 1933:

A Great Purpose in Art Education
A glance back over the ages impresses one with the universality of the art instinct--weak and struggling here, strong and virile there, but ever present, differing only in degree and kind. We find it woven and carved hammered and infused and generally breathed into nearly every known substance. Ever present, common to all, we find certain enduring qualities of patience, perseverance and sincerity, and the observance of certain satisfying principles and harmonizing laws. Our business seems to be that of perpetuating and defining this instinct for expression in the light of what the past teaches, the present requires, and the future promises. In the fostering of these instincts and the perpetuation of these standards lies the hope of tomorrow--a hope for deeper feeling, finer workmanship and nobler living. Our hope for accomplishment must be founded upon unbounded faith in childhood. Our approach must be thought out in the spirit of democracy. -- C.V. Kirby
C.V. Kirby taught carving, modeling and design at the Denver Manual Training High School in 1902.

One of the things neglected and forgotten about manual arts was the notion that those involved in making were also making themselves along the way. Character development was a distinct and valuable product that came from the wood shop. The following poem from the 200 Poems collected by William L. Hunter is a reminder of what we have given up when we abandoned manual arts education.
We all are blind until we see
That, in the human plan,
Nothing is worth the making, if
It does not make the man.

Why build these cities glorious
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world, unless
The builder also grows.-- Edwin Markham

Sunday, February 06, 2011

research truth

"It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false," according to this essay in the Public Library of Science, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, by John P. A. Ioannidis. Another interesting article on the same subject can be found in The Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science

The following is from Charles Henry Ham's book, Mind and Hand, 1886:
It is thus that the trained hand comes at last to foresee, as it were, that a false proposition is surely destined to be exploded. The habit of rectitude gives it prescience. It invariably discovers, sooner or later, that a false proposition, when embodied in wood or iron, becomes a conspicuous abortion, involving in disgrace both the designer and the maker. A false proposition in the abstract may be rendered very alluring; a false proposition in the concrete is always hideous. One of the chief effects of manual training is, then, the discovery and development of truth; and truth, in its broadest signification, is merely another name for justice; and justice is the synonym of morality.
If medical research can be so corrupt what do you think about the standardized testing movement? Do we have any idea what THEY are doing? Just trying to make a few extra bucks at our children's expense. Throughout modern American culture we witness what Jerome Bruner has called Factual Indifference. There is a cure. DIY, TIY Let the kids make beautiful, useful things. Let them dance and sing. Let them learn the truth of things and become observers of real reality. Make, fix, create.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

carpenter's hands.

Republished from the WOH blog, Sunday, November 11, 2007

One of the major challenges in American schools is that of maintaining a high level of civility. Schools are plagued by rude behavior, classroom disruption, and bullying. Teachers as a result, often leave the profession in as few as three years or less. So imagine, after spending 4 years on your college education, and with the amount of investment and debt that entails, leaving your chosen profession in discouragement. Imagine also, the students (and parents) who were disappointed in their educational aspirations by a faulty learning environment. Imagine the ultimate toll on the American economy of people left in the margins of economic utility and stunted in their creative power.

So what does that have to do with manual arts?

Here in the U.S. our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and in order to assert and protect that guarantee, the Constitution provides for separation of church and state. This means that in our state supported schools, organized worship and prayer, and the promotion of specific religions and specific religious beliefs are prohibited.

Many Christian conservatives in the United States promote the idea that organized prayer in our schools and the promotion of Christian values would lead in a restoration and revitalization of moral values and behavior in schools.

While I would not question the value of meditation or prayer, I suggest that Christ was a carpenter before he became so widely known and promoted as the Christian Savior. There are significant human values expressed in and learned from craftsmanship, and the greatest failure in American schools is not the prohibition of organized prayer, but the disengagement of the hands in the skillful exploration of learning and making.

I would like to share an old saying. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." Can you see a similarity between the word workshop and "worship"? Put the hands back in education, let our schools become workshops with children making things of useful beauty, and you will see other things happening as well. When children have the pride of self and confidence that arises from successful engagement in making beautiful things, civility will arise also. So the answer to improving American education is not to be found in hands folded idly in prayer, but in the carpenter's hands--- training, skill, service and devotion.

The photo above is a new type of door I'm making which is a cross between a board and batten door and a bridle jointed one. It could be called an internal batten door. It is made using standard bridle joint slots and a pieces of connecting wood planed to fit the slots. Only the outside boards will be glued, leaving the others to expand and contract without having effect on the size or shape of the door.

rehearsing discourse

I have this new theory, that human discourse and self-talk or internal dialog is so dominant within human consciousness because it was the last thing to develop and thus takes the greatest amount of cognitive energy and focus. This is based on Piano/MRI research which suggests that as a pianist develops greater skill in his or her hands, less cognitive energy and fewer cognitive resources are required to perform the piece. It has been surmised by researchers the brain functioning adapts for greater efficiency, neural shortcuts are formed between cells, thus requiring fewer cells to perform a given skilled task. To get words just right can take an incredible amount of energy, particularly when the outcome is extraordinarily important to us, when either the subject or relationship is important to our lives. We know that words and language can be spewed and spilled on overdrive, but there are times when our use of language must be as carefully crafted as a dovetailed joint.

I had a fitful night, with many things on my mind. Some things involved design on the cabinet I'm making. Those were the fun things allowing me to think in pictures and the ways things fit together. Then there is another thing nagging my mind that needs to be discussed that has to do with asking a foundation for support for Clear Spring School. Those words need to be well crafted, and believe me, it takes greater energy and is less fun. So, would it be any surprise that internal dialog might seem so dominant within the conscious mind?

Today, I'll be making some effort to communicate based on words that were crafted in the night. In the shop, I'll drill some pilot holes for assembly of things... holes that must be drilled before further shaping takes place.

In the poll at right, now closed, you can see that most of my readers are visual or tactile learners or learn best when all their senses are engaged. 100% of respondents identify themselves as other than primarily "auditory learners." One can thus see the problems inherent in telling each other things. Yackity-yack is not particularly effective, in schooling, inside the brain, or in life. Instead, let's utilize the strategic engagement of the hands. Make, fix, create.

Friday, February 04, 2011

PTA Wars, house wrens and the arts

With the shrinkage or loss of arts, music and athletics in many schools due to shrinking budgets and "teach to the test mentality," Parent Teacher Associations have been stepping up to the plate to provide funding for art and music teacher salaries and supplies. While one can find wonder in that, and feel awe for the generosity of parents and their commitment to the arts, the practice has not been without controversy. An article in Time Magazine last week called the situation, PTA Wars. Some parent teacher organizations in wealthier communities are offering their children advantages in the arts unavailable to poorer districts. Those parents in poorer communities are disturbed by the disadvantage their children face as a result. Some have filed suit.

Interestingly, you don't hear parents getting involved in matters of reading or math. It is as though they really do, in their hearts, know what children really need most. Attend to the arts and all else follows. Give the children something to read about that interests them (as the arts do) and then give something to calculate as we do in laboratory science and woodshop? Go figure.

Yesterday, I mentioned the Educational Sloyd principle, "move from the concrete to the abstract", and in that principle, we find that the arts are the actual concrete foundation of education, not a luxury to be provided by PTAs when they can afford it. We have things completely backwards in American education and our children and our collective future suffers for it.

Today I had a house wren visiting in my office and wanting to get out. I tried to swoop it up in a dip net to no avail. It is that time of the year when house wrens go into dark places looking for a suitable nest. I hoped to find a way to get it captured and released. Which brings me to the essential point of education. Do we restrain our children in boring and meaningless classes in which they perceive no relevance and feel no connection, or do we offer them capture and release through the arts?

I managed to coax the wren through the office door into the finish room by turning off lights. I was inspired by watching the Temple Grandin movie and wondered how birds think. Then I closed the door between the office and finish room and opened the door to the outside. With just a bit more encouragement the wren flew out. Is there a lesson in that for American education? By paying attention to the needs of our children could it be so easy? It is such a "no-brainer." I call it the strategic implementation of the hands. We all know we learn best by learning hands-on. But the challenge is to get American educators awakened to fundamental human reality.

As you can see in the photo above, I am starting the final project for the book which being a simple one will probably slide in as chapter one. I could turn Biblical and say the last shall be first, but I would rather just tell you what kind of wood it is. Black Locust, an uncommon Arkansas hardwood. You will see a bit more of it in the next few days and will see the entire step by step when the book is published.

Make, fix, create.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Turn them then cut them up

Today I've made door pulls for the Krenov inspired cabinet. James Krenov was well known for his hand crafted knobs and pulls which added distinction and interest to his designs. He regarded his work as "simple," though in actuality is was not. In the same way, Shaker cabinetry has been regarded as simple, though the skills required to attain that simplicity are beyond the scope of many modern craftsmen. In tribute to both Krenov and our Shaker heritage, my pulls for this cabinet begins with shaker styled pulls I turned on the lathe and then modified to better reflect Krenov's design.

You can see a bit of the process in the photo above. First turn the knobs to the same shape and dimensions (not an easy feat), then use the table saw to cut away portions of the turned shape, thus creating a hybrid, Krenovian Shaker. One more cut will be made to finish the shape.

John Grossbohlin came through with another interesting study of our failing schools. Study: Students need more paths to career success
"Education system needs to offer career-driven alternatives to a four-year college degree"

So how do we get there from here? An answer lies in Comenius, of all places. He says that it is cruel to ask students to do their work without offering a model of success to aim toward. We learn by moving from the concrete to the abstract. In most examinations of schooling the process is mired in abstraction, leaving the reader no clear path forward. So we end up wringing our hands and wondering "What to do, what to do?" A huge body of research tells us what we are doing wrong. We need models of how things can be done right.

My formula is simple. You can grasp it. With just a bit of will you can put it in force. It involves placing the hands at the center of learning in all schools and at all ages. Make, fix, create.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

thinking in pictures

I watched the movie Temple Grandin last night which I highly recommend to my readers. It is powerful, engaging, illustrative of the challenges of autism and provides some clear insight into the fact that we don't all think or learn in the same ways. It also shows that not thinking the same ways is a tremendous benefit to our society and our economy.  The real Temple Grandin helped in the production of the movie about her and assures that it is an accurate portrayal of  early her life. She was encouraged to explore her natural ability "thinking in pictures" by her science teacher. From her difficult beginnings, she worked to make animal husbandry practices throughout the livestock industry more humane and efficient, but of even greater impact, she has helped our society better understand the challenges of autism and the unique contributions some autistic children and adults can make to our culture. Her book, Thinking in Pictures, My Life With Autism is an important work for anyone who has come to realize that American education should not be "one size fits all."

Today in the wood shop, I'll be making knobs for the maple stand up cabinet, and starting the last cabinet for the book. And trying to keep warm. You might also enjoy Temple Grandin's Ted Talk, The World Needs ALL Kinds of Minds.

John Grossbohlin sent a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Poetry, Painting to Earn an M.D. Early manual arts educators stressed the importance of "not becoming one-sided" or narrowed in student perceptions of reality. Human health requires a broad engagement outside the realm of primary discipline. The arts provide a metaphorical context that is the key to creative thinking. All creative human endeavors are achieved through the application of metaphor, and if we want our children (and medical doctors) to be creative in their thinking, we offer them things like music, the arts and wood shop. But then our society at large has become "one sided" and some don't get it. Explain it to them. Use your words, or pictures or both. Make something beautiful and useful and let it speak volumes.

Some of my readers may be curious about how to install knife hinges. I use a router table technique to rout the mortises where the hinges nest in the ends of the doors as you can see. A picture is worth a thousand words, which should help to show the value of thinking in pictures.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

today in my wood shop...

It is snowing hard outside, and blizzard conditions are predicted for this afternoon. We seem to have passed the window of bad weather that makes ice, pulls down trees and power lines. So at this point, we can settle in and enjoy. I have been taking photos of my spoon carving knives for an article in Make Magazine and plan to head for the wood shop to build a fire and warm the space for work.

I have been involved in s brief flurry of messages from Frank Wilson and others exploring the ways we assess performance in schooling, which often is unrelated to what children need, a way of observing, measuring and assessing their own performance. And so, I have also been reflecting on David Henry Feldman's article "the Child as Craftsman." Frank said,:
I have more and more wondered when it will be understood that the most constructive and effective assessments come from the observations of the single individual whose goal is to develop and refine his or her own message. The most serious defect in both the logic and practice of exogenous evaluations is that there can be no lasting effect on the child or student unless the goal is to make that student a skilled and committed observer of his/her own work. Every artist knows this; every teacher who understands how learning “works” knows that the only critic whose opinion counts is that of the student who has clear, personally chosen goals and the skill to direct the process. Great teachers teach their students how to pay attention to everything they are doing.
My kids in the wood shop sometimes tell me "the wood doesn't like me." And I can assure them that the wood has no feelings one way or the other, but that they will have a better relationship with wood through practice and attention to its characteristics. If you look back on our history of science, The Royal Academy of Science in the UK, Jefferson and Franklin in the US, you see the close relationship between materials science and the making of things, and then the relationship between the making of things and every other facet of scientific knowledge, and then we make schools in which kids don't even make music. The sloyd educators precepts, start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the simple to complex, from the easy to more difficult, and from the concrete to abstract, laid out the steps for an ever expanding relationship with paying attention to everything one does.

The photo at the top is one I took for the article in Make Magazine. I'll let you know when it is published. The photo at left shows the nearly completed Krenov inspired maple cabinet, so I am nearly finished with the 7th chapter and beginning the 8th.