Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dr. George Wilson's reverie for the hand. 1856

"In many respects the organ of touch, as embodied in the hand, is the most wonderful of the senses. The organs of the other senses are passive; the organ of touch alone is active. The eye, the ear, and the nostril stand simply open: light, sound, and fragrance enter, and we are compelled to see, to hear, and to smell; but the hand selects what it shall touch, and touches what it pleases. It puts away from it the things which it hates, and beckons towards it the things which it desires unlike the eye, which must often gaze transfixed at horrible sights from which it cannot turn; and the ear, which cannot escape from the torture of discordant sounds and the nostril, which cannot protect itself from hateful odours.

Moreover, the hand cares not only for its own wants, but, when the other organs of the senses are rendered useless, takes their duties upon it. The hand of the blind man goes with him as an eye through the streets, and safely threads for him all the devious way: it looks for him at the faces of his friends, and tells him whose kindly features are gazing on him; it peruses books for him, and quickens the long hours by its silent readings. It ministers as willingly to the deaf; and when the tongue is dumb and the ear stopped, its fingers speak eloquently to the eye, and enable it to discharge the unwonted office of a listener.

The organs of all the other senses, also, even in their greatest perfection, are beholden to the hand for the enhancement and the exaltation of their powers. It constructs for the eye a copy of itself, and thus gives it a telescope with which to range among the stars; and by another copy on a slightly different plan, furnishes it with a microscope, and introduces it into a new world of wonders. It constructs for the ear the instruments by which it is educated, and sounds them in its hearing till its powers are trained to the full. It plucks for the nostril the flower which it longs to smell, and distills for it the fragrance which it covets. As for the tongue, if it had not the hand to serve it, it might abdicate its throne as the Lord of Taste. In short, the organ of touch is the minister of its sister senses, and, without any play of words, is the handmaid of them all.

And if the hand thus munificently serves the body, not less amply does it give expression to the genius and the wit, the courage and the affection, the will and the power of man. Put a sword into it, and it will fight for him; put a plough into it, and it will till for him; put a harp into it, and it will play for him; put a pencil into it, and it will paint for him; put a pen into it, and it will speak for him, plead for him, pray for him. What will it not do? What has it not done? A steam-engine is but a larger hand, made to extend its powers by the little hand of man! An electric telegraph is but a long pen for that little hand to write with! All our huge cannons and other weapons of war, with which we so effectually slay our brethren, are only Cain's hand made bigger, and stronger, and bloodier! What, moreover, is a ship, a railway, a lighthouse, or a palace? What, indeed, is a whole city, a whole continent of cities, all the cities of the globe, nay, the very globe itself, in so far as man has changed it, but the work of that giant hand, with which the human race, acting as one mighty man, has executed its will." --Dr. George Wilson on the Hand - 1856
And so why do we not make deliberate use of our children's grasp of the world in their educations? Today we have an open house at the Clear Spring School and I will be set up with a work bench, some tools and children's work to explain to visitors, the strategic implementation of the hands.
"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do." -Comenius.
In other words, children's activities, their hands-on explorations, are a useful resources that educators should use, not waste, for in wasting their most natural inclinations, we damage them in ways only succeeding and preceding generations may understand.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Just as one practices the cutting of dovetail joints, words may be crafted as well. Poetry is a literary form for which the concept "crafted" applies, for it is often reworked in the same manner as one would take thin shavings from a plank.

I have been waking up in the night with certain clarity about how certain things about the hands and the way we learn can be best expressed. And yet, when morning comes, I struggle with my thoughts. Where, now, is the clarity, precision and beauty of language I had experienced in the night? There is surely a poem that could be crafted from those fleeting thoughts.

Today in the wood shop, I'm making a small cherry cabinet that will serve as a prop when the editor comes from Fine Woodworking to take photographs for an article about making bridle joint doors. At some point the thoughts from last night's lucid dreams will gain clarity. That may be today, or tomorrow or the next day. Much of what a good writer, or a good woodworker does is to connect with the unconscious. And that connection is one that sneaks up on a person, rather than being tackled to the ground and beaten to death. There is no time schedule for the integration of one's innermost thoughts.

Make, fix and create. As you do so, as your hands are engaged in creative exercise, those doors are left ajar, that separate the conscious and unconscious minds. This is precisely why Jean Jacques Rousseau said,
"Put a young man in a wood shop, his hands work to the development of his brain. He becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman."
Put your own hands to work on your brain. It is not rocket science, but merely the application of hand to mind.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

metaphors for learning...

1. Children are empty vessels but of varying volumes. The teacher fills them up to their capacity. This is the classic approach.
2. The Biological and psychological urges model. Students are sets of biological and psychological urges and the teacher's job is to combat or control student urges through the use of conditioned response psychology. Doesn't this sound like fun? Both Skinner and Freud would like it.
3. Blank Slate metaphor: B.F. Skinner approach to teaching. The teacher, through a system of rewards (test scores and grades)gives direction to the student's growth. If the student's slate is already scribbled beyond comprehension and use, refer back to metaphor 2, or administer drugs.
4. Stages of development: Children are growing both in physical size and intellect. It is the teacher's job to recognize the stage of development and offer the appropriate lessons, reading, math, etc. timed on the basis of that recognition. This is the Piaget model.
5. The child as craftsman, a metaphor presented as an alternative by educational psychologist, David Henry Feldman and essentially ignored:
To see a child as a craftsman means to see him as a person who wants to be good at something. It also suggests that the child continually takes pride in accomplishment and has a sense of integrity about his work, regardless of the actual level of the work produced. The notion is somewhat akin to Robert White's competence motivation, except that White's notion implies more of a need to feel mastery over uncontrolled forces in the environment. The child as craftsman no doubt is moved by what White refers to as "effectance motivation," but the metaphor is intended to go beyond this to include a more direct link to specific fields of endeavor and to suggest why some activities are so much more compelling to a given child than others...

Perhaps the most important implication of the metaphor is to suggest that it may well be the main purpose of education to provide conditions under which each child will identify and find satisfaction through a chosen field or fields of work.
Readers interested in the child as craftsman metaphor might enjoy Daniel Pink's new book Drive: The surprising Truth about What Motivates US. You can read an excerpt here, in which Pink describes research by Harry Harlow and Edward Deci with rhesus monkeys in which intrinsic motivation is revealed. I would postulate that intrinsic motivation is what drives the craftsman. It may also explain the child at the back yard basketball hoop and those relentless free throws when no one is watching. It may explain why someone would dedicate his or her life to the arts or literature, while knowing that the pay may not be as great as that offered in banking or grand theft auto. For those who do not understand the value of intrinsic motivation, or its potential for application in schools, I recommend a healthy dose of the arts.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, we had creative day and some students in the first, second and third grades made small pieces of furniture for their own use, tables, benches and a ladder. Some made tops, another made a sign for the Clear Spring School open house on Saturday, 1 to 3 PM. In addition the students helped me to make new flag poles decorated with geometric solids as shown below for their patrol groups. The school camping trip will be next week.

Today I am working in my own shop and having meetings at school.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

forgive me as I repeat myself...

Nothing new here. As a craftsman, I repeat myself over and over in the same motions, and by paying attention, I learn new, small, simple things which demand further practice, and refinement, and so from watching closely, you might see incremental growth. Over the course of a maker's life, you might see more dramatic effect.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, I've been asked to help the students prepare for their camping trip. They will need new flag poles for their patrol groups, as the ones they have used in past years have been lost. It is a simple thing.

In the blog, I am trying to collect my thoughts for an essay which I hope to submit as an Op Ed piece to the New York Times. Why the heck not? Others do it on subjects far less important to our children's futures.

In my own woodshop, I'm getting ready to make a small cherry cabinet to serve as a prop for illustrating an article on making bridle joint glass doors.

By watching closely you might notice that my mission over the years from when we first started the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School gradually changed. At first the mission was to prove the value of woodworking education, and then as I became much more deeply immersed in educational sloyd and pedagogical history the mission became more fully that of advocacy for hands-on learning, for it is that which proves the value of woodworking education, the arts, music, dance, internship, basketball, soccer, and all those experiential activities that we no longer allow time for in American education.
In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
"I write this in the belief that, for all-round development of the brain, there should be in elementary and secondary education much more training of the hand, and of the power of expression through the hand, than is customary in the too bookish tradition which has come down to us from classical humanism. Such a subject as history is too apt to pass without challenge into the circle of those subjects which are taught out of books and from a literary point of view. We have to claim it as falling into the scientific division of the course not less than into that of the humanities. And there is need in the teaching of it for the use of the hand and of the constructive powers. From this point of view, handwork in the elementary school is not such a subject by itself as a form of expression ancillary to several branches of the curriculum, namely elementary science, geometry, geography, and history." --Sir Michael E. Sadler from Educational Handwork (1906)
And so, things are very simple here. Not much happening. Forgive me as I repeat myself. Since schools seemingly have the subjugation of intellect to boredom as their primary objective, you must take matters into your own hands. Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

strategic implementation of the hands...

In 2001, when we started the Wisdom of the Hand program at the Clear Spring School, part of our purpose was to demonstrate the continuing value of woodworking in schools. I know that some of my readers are here for the woodworking, but please have patience, for there are greater issues at stake. I quickly realized that the reason woodworking was no longer seen as relevant in American education was that educators no longer acknowledged the role of the hands in learning. The suggested role for the hands in American schools is for taking notes, turning pages and nothing more. Thus teachers' methods became tied to text books, and students hands became tied, their intellects stifled, and their characters diminished. In other words, the loss of woodworking in schools is a symptom of a far greater misunderstanding.

Education wasn't always so messed up.

The following is from John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), founder of modern pedagogy.
"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them."
And this:
Artisans do not detain their apprentices with theories, but set them to do practical work at an early stage; thus they learn to forge by forging, to carve by carving, to paint by painting, and to dance by dancing. In schools, therefore, let the students learn to write by writing, to talk by talking, to sing by singing, and to reason by reasoning. In this way schools will become workshops humming with work, and students whose efforts prove successful will experience the truth of the proverb; "We give form to ourselves and to our materials at the same time."
If you are wondering how to fix American education, it boils down to a simple strategy,

The strategic implementation of the hands.

In the last few days Eureka Springs has had torrential rains. Some parts of the state have had deadly tornadoes. Some of our students have had difficulties getting to school due to road closings from high water and a few have had to evacuate their homes due to possible flooding. So naturally the students have had an interest in making boats. Each class, from elementary through high school has wanted to do the same thing. Can you see the psychic implications? Can you see how making boats might be a therapeutic endeavor, given the rains that never seem to let up? While Joah was carving on his boat, Hendrik remarked, "Joah's Ark." The sun is out now for a bit this afternoon, and more rain is expected tonight.

In the photo series at left, you can see how to drill for ball point pen inserts to fit a turning blank. First drill using a drill press and standard 1/8 in. bit. The shop made fixture holds the stock vertical and in the correct position so the hole is roughly centered. Next, use a longer bit to finish the hole. This one was 12 inches long but I ground off part to keep me from breaking it. In fact, this is the third one I bought before working out the bugs in the method. I broke two and the third is the charm. To keep from breaking the bit, it has to go in and out smoothly and in small increments so that chips can be cleared frequently. I also use wax on the tip to lubricate the bit and prevent it from overheating.

Some of my readers may remember the flood of 2008 when our Beaver Bridge was under water for over a month and there were questions about whether or not it might be permanently damaged. We have the same worries again this year due to the heavy rains and flooding of Table Rock Lake as you can see in the photo below.

The skills you develop in your own hands may become important to you sooner than you expect.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"the DIY Revolution Starts Now" ???

This month's Wired Magazine is running the DIY revolution as its cover story. The cover is a Rosie the riveter wannabe holding a futuristic plasma cutter or other kind of sparky thing in place of the clenched fist. (Is that a real tool?) The pose nevertheless is triumphant. The lead article is "How to Make Stuff," and it proclaims, "If You Can Think It, You Can Build It." OK, now.

I take all this as a step in the right direction. It's about time that we became less a nation of all-consuming didiots, and returned to our human roots as makers of anything and everything that meets our legitimate needs and doesn't harm the health or happiness of our children, neighbors or planet. The magazine, however offers rather puny rewards when it comes to suggested projects. Want to get your iPod to do new things? Or how about sculpting particle board to resemble a lunar landscape using your computer controlled router that cost you $3,000.00 dollars? It looks like cratered particle board at the end of all that incessant routing. There's nothing with real beauty in sight among the "25 Awesome Projects", and I guess that is the direction DIY is going these days.

At least there's a display of real curiosity. And things have to start somewhere.

Some things will offer lasting beauty. Some makers will become curious about tools of all kinds and discover that there are rich traditions in their use. They like you may become curious about the things that inhabit our museums, and how they were made. In these things, there's hope for us all.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Meaning of a Liberal Education

In 1909, Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, delivered an address to the New York City High School Teachers Association. That address is best remembered from this quote, which I have repeated before in this blog.
"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."
It is always challenging when a whole speech is reduced to a single quote. But I have found a web address at which, The Meaning of a Liberal Education can be read in its entirety online and place Wilson's quote in clearer context. Wilson when viewed may thus be seen as more moderate and less harsh in his reasoning than that single quote suggests.
"There is one sentence with which I always open my classes, a sentence quoted from Burke, in my opinion the only entirely wise writer upon public affairs in the English language. Burke says, “Institutions must be adjusted to human nature; of which reason constitutes a part, but by no means the principal part.” You cannot develop human nature by devoting yourselves entirely to the intellectual sides of it. Intellectual life is the flower of a thing much wider and richer than itself. The man whom we deem the mere man of books we reject as a counsellor, because he is separated in his thinking from the rich flow of life. It is the rich flow of life, compact of emotion, compact of all those motives which are unsusceptible of analysis, which produces the fine flower of literature and the solid products of thinking."
In other words, Wilson would not fail to see the reasons for children to be placed in better touch with reality. Without the plane, the saw, the chisel, the aspirations of humanity, what would we write poetry about?

On yesterday's topic of effective doodling, expert doodler and corporate facilitator John Ward suggests the following:
"It comes after I've taught them to do blind contour drawing (with a 12" piece of black thread) and addressed the notion that doodling has great potential because it tends to quiet the monkey mind and put one in tune with one's subconscious. In this mode, "mindless" can be spun as "mulling," a way to shut off your yapper while someone else is talking.

But doodling can be elevated to MINDFUL and super-conscious if one wants to raise the stakes. The next time you find yourself doodling, pause and look up (most people are intently looking at their doodle when they're doing it) without lifting your pen. Look up and start doing a blind contour drawing of anything, ANYTHING that catches your eye. The mind state change is almost instantaneous. You don't and shouldn't pay any attention to the marks - just the act of actively looking and marking."
Try it and let John or I know how it works for you.

Make, fix and create. Not only will you inhabit your own life with physical beauty, you may discover something worth writing about.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

doodling and stuff

I have been having conversations about learning strategy with our 7th and 8th grade class and their teacher, and it is somewhat difficult in a classroom with bench vises and a variety of tools. Students' hands become engaged at any and all opportunities, and those noises can be distracting. I realize that students hands are expected to be taking notes. But to be engaged trying to transcribe words onto paper may actually interfere with the process of anchoring fresh input to the child's foundation of prior experience. How can you say ahaaa, when you are trying to get someone else's words down on paper? And how can you write and listen at the same time, each requiring engagement of the same parts of the brain? And so what about doodling? Teachers, used to the highly discriminatory college model of information management tend to think of doodling as evidence of distraction, but it is not.

I bumped into a student from my last summer's class for teachers at ESSA, "The Brain, the Hands and the Arts" at the grocery store. Michael is a teacher in a neighboring community and had taken the class to help improve his own teaching effectiveness. He was excited to see me, as it gave him the opportunity to tell me how much engagement of his students hands had brought to his classroom success. He said he's told all his fellow teachers about what he had learned and how he has been applying it to his classes. A teacher's success is found when his students surpass him, and I'm expecting great things beyond the reach of my own hands.

If you watch carefully the inner workings of your own mind, you may observe that the note taking model is not necessarily what it is cracked up to be. As you begin to attempt to write down what the professor is saying, aren't you actually taking your mind off and missing what he or she has been saying next? And so here comes the value of doodling. Because it involves a different part of your brain, you can do it while listening. In fact, the research shows that it increases memory of what you have heard.

Robin was student at Clear Spring School who doodled during math class. She got in trouble with her teacher for making paisley doodles on the desktop. Rather than stopping her sketching entirely, her mother encouraged her to doodle on her jeans as a compromise. When she would come to wood shop on Monday, one leg would be covered with exquisite paisley patterns, on Tuesday the next leg would be covered. On Wednesday, that pair pair of jeans would be in the wash and Robin was working on a next leg. The important thing to note was her perfect scores in the class. She later went on through four years at the University of Arkansas with straight A's in class and is now working on her masters degree.

And so, how do we reshape classroom learning to be more effective? If the hands are engaged, the mind is not necessarily distracted, but may actually be more deeply engaged than would be the case if the hands were stilled. The following is from CNN:
"It's generally thought scribbling indicates daydreaming, but a study published... in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology says doodling may actually decrease those wandering thoughts and help focus the mind."
You can download the full paper What does doodling do? here.

And so, how do we develop effective classroom strategies for engaging the hands (and mind) during boring lectures and discussions? There are all kinds of wonderful, quiet ways to engage the hands creatively during lectures and discussions that should be used. If American corporations can use these strategies and the best corporate trainers in the US understand them, why not use them with kids in school?

Today in the wood shop, I am finishing my small products so I can ship them on Monday. The photo above is from an earlier production run.

Make, fix and create. Teach what you know. Allow children's hands to be creatively engaged toward the development of character and mind.

Friday, April 22, 2011

4/22/11 in the wood shop...

Happy Earth Day, 2011.
Today, I am engaged in my relentless friendly competition with the Chinese (and every other developing nation,) as I make small things for sale. I have an order to fill for Appalachian Spring, in Washington, DC.

I have certain advantages in this process. I can look out over our small acreage and see the woods that I use in this work growing through each season, and so the things I make are deeply and personally woven to and from the fabric of my own life and that of my community and natural environment. Can you catch at least a small glimpse of how that works and how it might impart wonder within one's own experience?

Tonight my wife and I will attend a small concert by local musicians Don and Scott to benefit the Clear Spring School. Don's music and Scott's exquisite harmonies have been delighting our small community for over 30 years. The concert will be held at 7 PM at the Gavioli Chapel in Eureka Springs. Tickets are $15.00 at the door. The venue is small, and intimate and if you have not purchased tickets in advance, plan to arrive early as the performance will likely be sold out.

Years ago, Don Matt wrote a song that he said I had inspired. I take these words as a particular challenge.
Consecrate my actions on the altar of attention.
Let me be awakened to this life.
And so there are things I can describe in this blog, that can only be fully known in your own hands, through the application of your attentions, and intentions not mine. And so this is an altar call for all hands.

The photos at left show a new idea in my woodshop, making easier the process of jointing edges on very small parts. It is a "jointer fence" for the router table which allows the user to take uniform cuts from the edge of a small object just as one would using a much larger jointer. The advantage of this new wood shop addition is that it allows you to see exactly what you are doing, and the router bit is almost completely buried in the fence where it poses absolutely no risk to your fingers, even though they are close to the action. To make this jointer fence, I used a 1 1/4 in straight cut router bit, and pivoted the fence into the cut until the bit was completely buried in it. Then I removed the fence from the router table and made a 1/16 in. deep jointer cut along the edge from the end to the opening left by the router bit. This creates an offset which allows the fence to perform like an actual jointer cutting 1/16 in. per pass along the edge of the stock as it is moved from right to left.

Make, fix and create. Share what you have learned with others in your life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

are video games the answer to education?

Some say yes. A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool, By Judy Willis MD. I am curious what you all think. There are obvious things happening when a kid practices basketball. He or she has a clear way of measuring success reaching goals that are clear and attainable. And thus you can see a kid standing at the hoop for hours after school perfecting his or her free throw technique. Now, we see kids playing video games with the same focus and intensity and we would like to capture that for their education. Besides, it would be cheap and the video game producers could make a large fortune by displacing teachers in the classroom. Are they missing something in their machinations? Are there dangers of the Einstellung effect and of children becoming narrow-minded, wide-bodied, anti-social pinheads from too many hours fixated on computer screens when there is a real world that might be calling them to attention? We are about to find out, as that seems to be the direction things are going.

On this same depressing subject, Microsoft and Edutopia have teamed up to sell us on the idea that gaming is the new future of education. In an upcoming Edutopia conference, Jane McGonigal is keynote speaker. Her premise described in her book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is that real life should be made as exciting as video gaming. A review of her book can be read here: Upgrading the World: Could real life be made better by making it more like a videogame? For many of our children and young adults, perceptions of reality HAVE been broken or at least twisted out of shape. Video gaming has already changed some things for the worse. Children are having increasing difficulties paying attention to lessons that come from real people and involve reasonable shared cultural values and that require interpersonal face to face problem solving. Don't hold your breath for things to get better. When Microsoft dollars are invested in change it is hard for reasonable people to stand up to the buzz.
The photo is of a Japanese maple, as a reminder that there is a real world out there that might interest kids if we were to take the time to engage them in it. The tragedy of American education is that we do not.

Today the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students have been teamed with high school mentors for their fossil and rock hounding adventure using the mallets and chisels the students made in wood shop. We could have them anchored to keyboards instead. Which strategy do you think works best to create students ready for real world adventures in learning?

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Behavioral rigidity

A very dear friend (I was born on his birthday) mentioned the German word Einstellung that refers to a person's predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though there are "better" or more appropriate methods of solving the problem. The term seems to explain why proponents of school reform might think that testing would be the means of fixing schools since testing was what led them to believe there was a problem in the first place. Another term for Einstellung is "behavioral rigidity."

Blog reader John Grossbohlin sent this article, N.Y. day camps face state crackdown on games. Of course we all want our children to be safe. We want them to avoid injury. But do we want them stupid, too? Einstellung. It was a concept explored by Abraham S. Luchins through an experiment called the Water Jar Problem.

The photo is completely unrelated to this post. It is of dogwood leaves in the fall. Wrong season. But what's wrong with surprise?

In the meantime, and on your own time,

Make, fix and create.

effective surprise...

Researchers studying music are attempting to understand why some causes emotional response and some does not, as described in this article in the New York Times, To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons, by Pam Belluck.
"Research is showing...  that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.

And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns."
Jerome Bruner's concept of "effective surprise" should have been a thing explored by the writer for the New York Times, as it helps to explain why some executions of musical works are merely that, executions, leaving the work dead, the listener as much so, and some are awakenings. In explaining effective surprise, Bruner quotes Yeats,
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone.
And so teachers, too, should learn to think in the marrow bone. Effective surprise is a tool that wood workers utilize in creating lasting work, or that a chemistry teacher seeks to engage in the laboratory to capture the lasting interest of his scholars. Get it?

The photo above was simply selected from my collection of original photography. Even photography makes use of "effective surprise."

Today we had "creative day" in the wood shop for the first, second and third grade students at Clear Spring School. It is a kind of a teacher's nightmare, as I try to be attentive to each scholar, as they ask for this and that, and need help and materials to make things that have captured their own particular interest. But it is immensely rewarding to see what the children come up with and to witness their enthusiasm. Two of the first grade girls wanted to make stools, and three of the third grade girls wanted to make doll beds or cribs. 

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

a means, a method, a strategy

Those of us who understand the value of hand-on learning have the opportunity of pushing things in our own direction for the benefit of those children we teach. Mothers and fathers in their own homes, have the opportunity of turning off the TV, restricting the use of computers and offering nights in which children and adults are engaged in crafts, even if those crafts are as simple as those involving paper, scissors and string. We see and bear witness to what we can make of our own lives.

In schools, the challenge can be greater. Teachers are measured on their children's performance, and little allowance may be offered for teachers to experiment in bringing the hands into greater use. I repeat Jerome Bruner from yesterday's post, "In so far as possible, a method of instruction should have the objective of leading the child to discover for himself."The most certain way to push learning into the realm of discovery is the strategic purposeful engagement of the hands. When we do inter-classroom staff visitations at Clear Spring School, we are asked to look for signs that the school mission is accomplished. That mission is: Together, all at Clear Spring School promote a lifelong love of learning through a hands-on and hearts-engaged educational environment. And so part of what we watch for as observers of each other's instruction is effective means to bring lessons to the student's hands that they themselves may participate in direct discovery.

Bruner talks about a thing he calls "effective surprise." And I'm sure you can remember times in which you've been surprised by what you have discovered. These moments of awakening that catch us off guard, are the times that learning is most effective and best remembered. They happen in science and in the arts. In other words, surprise, surprise. While administrators come up with all kinds of complicated strategies to attempt to improve American education, the most effective means was right at our fingertips all along. It is time for teachers to take matters in their own hands.

Today in the CSS woodshop, 7th and 8th grade students will continue drawing on the drawing boards and using their self-made T-squares. The 9th grade class will practice wood turning.

Make, fix and deliberately create.

Monday, April 18, 2011

In so far as possible...

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will begin making abacuses, and the high school students will return to projects we temporarily abandoned for last week's Turning Around America experience. The following is from Jerome Bruner's book On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand.
"In so far as possible, a method of instruction should have the objective of leading the child to discover for himself. Telling children and then testing them on what they have been told inevitably has the effect of producing bench-bound learners whose motivation for learning is likely to be extrinsic to the task--pleasing the teacher, getting into college, artificially maintaining self-esteem. The virtues of encouraging discovery are of two kinds. In the first place, he child will make what he learns his own, will fit his discovery into the interior world of culture that he creates for himself. Equally important, discovery and the sense of confidence it provides is the proper reward for learning. It is a reward that, moreover, strengthens the very process that is at the heart of education--disciplined inquiry."
The hand is constantly seeking the truth and thus finding it. If we want our schools to succeed in their goals, and for students to grow toward success in life, we must ask for a revolution in which classrooms are replaced by laboratories and workshops, in which students can pursue both the arts and science and discover themselves. Bruner's book was written in 1964. Charles H. Hamm's book Mind and Hand, proposing the solution I seek was written in 1886. Imagine what our schools would be today if we had applied wisdom to education when it was first available to us. The photo above is from 2003 and the 7th and 8th grade class making birdhouses of their own design. The photos at left show today's upper elementary class project, making abacuses for the study of math.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Backwards science... the de-emphasis of discovery

Most people have no idea of the value of manual arts in school. We abandoned wood shop at about the same time we began severe cuts to laboratory science and began to ignore the students' need for experiential learning. It has had bad effects.
"Above all, political discussion is stunned by a delusion about science. This term has come to mean an institutional enterprise rather than a personal activity, the solving of puzzles rather than the unpredictably creative activity of individual people." --Ivan Illich, Tools of Conviviality
"The history of science is studded with examples of men "finding out" something and not knowing it. I shall operate on the assumption that discovery, whether by a schoolboy going it on his own or by a scientist cultivating the growing edge of his field, is in its essence a matter of rearranging or transforming evidence in such a way that one is enabled to go beyond the evidence so reassembled to new insights."-- Jerome Bruner, On Knowing, Essays for the Left Hand.
The consequence of this "reassembly" is knowledge held deep, beyond a normal span of time that is readily accessed through clear memory rooted in the senses and organized as experience.

We teach chemistry and physics and other forms of science, devoid of opportunity for personal discovery. Text books are arranged by theory, not by actions or activities that lead children to think, explore, formulate hypotheses, test their own principles, and discover relationships between things and within themselves.

Is it therefore to be any surprise that adults question the foundations of science, and that American idiots have systems of belief based on what they are told by persons in some perceived relationship of authority?

One cannot whittle a stick without becoming engaged in hypothesis and discovery in its most simple form. The arts and sciences at their best are integrated spheres of discovery, and he or she who starts as a craftsman is engaged simultaneously on the foundation of science. The hands search for the truth and are thus constantly finding it. Now the question becomes, "how do we make schooling an act of continuous discovery?" I suggest the strategic implementation of the hands. Turn our schools into workshops and laboratories.

Make, fix and create. Discovery follows.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If it's baroque, fix it.

I was pleased to learn that one of my blog posts, Slow Making, has been selected for inclusion in the UU World Magazine which is sent to members of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the US. The editor described my writing style "as baroque yet subtle." He said,"I find it both demanding and rewarding." Some editing was required. The version of the post that will appear in print will be improved over its first publication in this blog. Writing is just like any other craft. You get better at it by doing it, and despite my efforts to have a plain and effective voice, just as in the making of beautiful things, my own character and wandering excentricities show through.

I've worked with a variety of editors and each has helped me see just a bit more clearly how I write, and each has helped me in finding my voice. That is not to claim that necessary improvement in my writing is complete. We human beings learn best by doing and we would all be better writers if we were first doing things worthy of writing about, and about which we feel passion. An editor can cut the writer's long meandering thoughts (photo at left) into short sentences,  but if meaning and passion aren't there in the first place, writing is in serious trouble.

What does it mean if one's writing style is baroque? According to blogger Mark Dominus, in a baroque writing style, "The sentences are long, but always clear, if read with care and attention." Dominus states, "I like being required to read with care and attention. I'm good at it, and most modern writing does not offer the reader much repayment for that talent." So I will not apologize for word lines that wander, but cut true the pencil lines marked on wood.

My challenge is to keep things simple... to state my case as clearly and concisely as a fine line in furniture or in a box, so readers don't have to work quite so hard to get my point. Aside from that there is little that I can tell you that will make sense or make your life more meaningful unless you are concurrently observing the wisdom of your own hands.

Make, fix (the baroque) and create.

Friday, April 15, 2011

new tools

While Beth Ireland was here, she offered instruction for me to make more of my own lathe tools , so it is something I will be doing later with the students at Clear Spring School. In the photos at left are a spindle gouge and hollowing gouge I made following Beth's guidance. As you can see, the steel used is from 1/4 in. Allen wrenches, and the octagonal shape of the stock provides staging areas to begin grinding the shape of the tip. One of the important things about making your own tools is that you can shape the tool to control what you want to make, rather than allowing the tool to dictate shape. Making your own tools vastly improves your real creative opportunities. Making one's own tools also requires a craftsman to be particularly attentive to how it works and thus also become more knowledgeable about the materials to which the tool is applied.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

some polish, some ride

I am spending a couple days reorganizing my wood shop. It is important to do it every now and then to keep things fresh and in optimal efficiency. I need to haul out lots of scrap wood to make things a bit neater when an editor from Fine Woodworking comes in May to take photos for a couple articles.

Beth Ireland told me about a friend who has ridden her Yamaha 650 in or through each of the 50 states. Her friend explains: "Some polish, I ride." There are many woodworkers who take delight in having their tools, just the right tools, expensive ones, the best they can afford. Sometimes these tools are expensive ornaments that get little or no use. I can relate. Tools can be so beautiful, so expensive you want to have them, keep them dust free and polish them to perfection. But the best polish comes in using them. An interview with Toshio Odate on the Fine Woodworking website describes the importance of using the things that a craftsman makes:
Indicating the rich, warm patina of a tremendous plank table in his kitchen, he (Odate) mentioned the idea of the “user’s finish”—the fact that no piece is really complete until, 50, 100, or 300 years down the road, the thousands of users’ hands handling a piece have given it the true finish, one that the maker could not give when the piece was assembled. It speaks of the present-day craftsman imbuing his or her work with their intention and sense of social responsibility, and projecting that skill and care towards the future, where further generations will be able to feel the woodworker’s spirit with them still.
The same can be said for tools. They become more beautiful and meaningful through use. So polish AND


Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

turning around America day 4

This was our 4th day of Turning Around America, and our third day of woodturning classes for kids at the Clear Spring School. Beth had an extra day available and did not want to leave without teaching our first, second and third grade students to turn on the lathe. As you can see, what a great day! I want to publicly thank Beth Ireland for a wonderful 4 days. She is a thoughtful teacher, and as I expected, I learned even more than my students. Today I finished my second wood turning tool. And it is such a great pleasure to craft wood with a tool I made myself. Try it.

Beth found that our kids, being used to making things in the wood shop, had creative ideas about their work that many who had not had such experiences before did not. And so it raises the question, "Why in the world don't we give all children the opportunity for woodworking in school?"

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

filtering learning styles and intelligences

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, we have another day of Turning Around America lined up as Beth Ireland teaches the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students. Lately, I've been talking about the use of scaffolding to advance children in their learning. Today I've done an illustration of the more nefarious effects of our system of education, that of preventing the advancement of non-academic learning styles. It is a simple thing, not requiring a whole lot of explanation. This has been my third day of woodworking with Beth Ireland, and her second day at Clear Spring School. She is a natural born teacher, and her visit has been inspiring for me as well as for my students. As I expected, I am learning a lot, and today I made a new lathe tool which even my students could make.

Monday, April 11, 2011

turning around America day 2

Today, Beth Ireland brought Turning Around America to the Clear Spring School wood shop to teach the making of wooden whistles. The 4th, 5th and 6th did sculptural forms sawn, rasped and sanded from wood. The 10th, 11th and 12th grade students used the lathe. Our students are a bit unusual from the students Beth usually teaches, in that our students are already actively engaged in making things from wood. The skill of our students impressed Beth, but our students were also impressed with what they were able to make under her guidance. Ozric said of his whistle, "This is the nicest thing I've ever made."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

schools, reading and poverty

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has a new report which can be downloaded from their website, showing the connection between reading proficiency at third grade, the effects of poverty and dropping out from school prior to completion of high school.

Many lay the blame on failing American schools on the schools themselves or on their teaching staff. But the profound effects of poverty on student success as described by this report tell another story.
"Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.

For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don’t finish school rose to 26 percent. That’s more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.
One might assume from this study that one of the handles we might have on accelerating learning in American schools would be to more effectively push children's reading success at an earlier age. According to the report,
"Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma."
People reading such reports, should first read a book called How to Lie with Statistics, because there are very simple ways to manipulate data to create additional emphasis raising the weight of particular ideas that you want to put forth. In one line of the report it states "One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers." In another statement it mentions the "22 percent who have lived in poverty." One in 6 seems like a pretty hefty number, until you realize that it is only 16.67%. In other words, and slightly under emphasized in the report, poverty is a significantly greater problem than the simple matter of reading ability at the 3rd grade level. Those driving the discussions of school reform in the US often seem more interested in tweaking small aspects of education than in addressing the root cause of poor performance, poverty. Here in Arkansas, 57 percent of Arkansas public school students were from low-income families, a 12 percent increase from 45 percent in 1999.

I'm not sure how educators can reconcile all this with the experience in Finland's schools where they do not begin teaching reading in schools until age 7 (our second grade), but then far surpass American students in reading by age 15 as measured in PISA testing. Better readers in 25% less time should be the headline capturing the attention of American educators, but it is not. One of the differences in Finland schools is that teachers are better able to time "reading" to "reading readiness", and can spend the early years focusing on other important components of child development, like cooperative and creative problem solving, and even wood shop.

Can it be that spending more time in recess and creative activities might offer children in poverty greater success and opportunity in school? Please don't hold your breath waiting for American educators to come to their senses. But,

Make, fix and create.

The image above is of my reliquary of wood which contains samples of 25 Arkansas species. The piece is inspired by the old children's game "Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors and see all the people." My small maple chapel is peopled with the woods of Arkansas.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

today at ESSA

Beth Ireland and Turning Around America spent the day at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. We had refreshments, hot dogs for lunch, and students had the opportunity to make whistles and turned pens. Members of a local turning club came to support Beth in her efforts. You can see some of the process in the photos at left and below.
It was most interesting to see a complete woodworking shop carried in the back of a van, leaving enough room for sleeping, book making and Beth's life on the road. Tomorrow we will spend about an hour preparing for children's classes on Monday and Tuesday.

Friday, April 08, 2011

building on a base of knowledge

If you understand the concept of scaffolding, you will also understand a few of the basic principles suggested in early pedagogy. Followers of Pestalozzi including Otto Salomon, laid their principles out as follows:
Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the concrete to the abstract, and from the simple to the complex, building upon the interests of the child.
Today, I am launching myself on a learning adventure in that this is (for me) the first day of "Turning around America." Beth Ireland arrives today and we are planning a bit of time in the Clear Spring School wood shop in preparation for tomorrow's demonstration and hands-on learning at ESSA. Saturday, 9-4 PM!!!

When you already know something about a subject, you are in the best position to learn more. And so I am looking forward to what I can learn from Beth to supercharge my own learning (and teaching) as she takes her turn teaching my kids and in my community. I expect my students to learn a few things as they already have time invested in the lathe. I will learn even more, because I have even greater time invested in building my own knowledge working and teaching on the lathe. Get it?

We have a few things backwards in education in the US. If you go to a university, they will first present the theorem, then present the proof. The assumption is that what they present is true, and yet, it is difficult for students to integrate knowledge without experiential foundation for it's support. Bruner, Pea and others have described that as scaffolding, a construct that supports advancement in learning.

In teacher's colleges, students should start with practice teaching on day one. In chemistry students should start in the lab. What is there about this that people have so much difficulty understanding? In other words, I am here to present an otherworldly notion.

Make, fix and create. Do first, learning follows.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

a test of wills?

Felix Adler, in his address on the value of manual training, delivered to the National Conference of Charities and Correction, Buffalo, 1888, considered the matter of will as it relates to both the children of poverty, and the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite.
"... history, geography and arithmetic are not, as a rule, interesting to young children, especially not to young children of the class with which we are now dealing. These listless minds are not easily roused to an interest in abstractions.

Secondly, it is a notorious fact that intellectual culture, pure and simple, is quite consistent with weakness of the will. A person may have very high intellectual attainments, and yet be morally deficient. I need hardly warn my reflective hearers that, when emphasizing the importance for the will of intellectual culture, I had in mind the intellectual process as applied to acts. To cultivate the intellect in its own sphere of contemplation and abstraction, apart from action may leave the will precisely as feeble as it was before."
What Felix Adler proposed for both classes was for children to actually do things in school and thereby become acquainted with physical reality, through investigation of how things actually work, and are made. Engagement in physical reality as craftsman and creator was viewed as essential by Adler and others of his time to the full development of human qualities and character. Instead of memorizing answers, as proposed by one side or another, the idea was to investigate and inquire, and test in physical reality... Not just make stuff up, or accept what had been made up by others.

This morning I see that the American government is at a crisis point, in which tea-party activists are pushing for a government shut down to make their point. It is claimed as a test of wills, one vs. the other, but things have gotten out of hand. They seem to be detached from the real everyday needs of the American people. Where were shop classes, laboratory science and the arts when we needed them most?

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

turning around America

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, first, second and third grade students will be finishing their looms, working on name plates for their desks (they are learning to write their full names) and will do a bit of paper sloyd, as they are developing their measuring skills.

We are also looking forward to this weekend with woodturner Beth Ireland. Her project Turning Around America is bringing her to Eureka Springs for one day at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and then two days with the students of Clear Spring School. The event at ESSA on Saturday is open to the public, and it will be a great chance for newbies (of all ages) to get their first chance at turning on the lathe.
"I want to empower people through the act of making objects with their own hands. I will achieve this by teaching woodturning and simple woodworking to as many people as I can, while traveling across the United States in a van that contains a mini workshop and personal living space." -- Beth Ireland 2010
Beth has now taught 1900 people in her quest to teach woodturning in all 50 states. In other words, Make, fix and create. Our humanity is most fully expressed through our hands.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

viewing the scaffold from within

I am still working on my attempt to use a diagram to come to a better understanding of educational scaffolding. I find it fascinating that my use of the term scaffold in the blog, now has me targeted for advertising and email related to real, physical scaffolding for sale, but I guess that loss of privacy is the price I pay for sharing my own exploration of educational principles with readers in this blog. Maybe someday the technology will become smart enough to know the difference between educational scaffolding (a metaphorical use of the term) and physical scaffolding like someone might use on a construction site or want to sell on eBay. Don't count on the Internet for being smart, yet, which is part of the point of my discussion today.

I've mentioned that there are two traditional uses for scaffolding. One is to lift the worker to a particular height. The other is to serve as structure within which a form is constructed. Both are applicable to the concept of educational scaffolding, but to see the scaffold as that form within which the student's scholarship is formed, invites us to look more closely at the legs of the scaffold itself and to examine the relationship between the student and those components of his or her growth.

If you view the scaffold from within, as would the student whose life is under construction, and look at the four corners which have you surrounded, those are technology, a teacher or mentor, a culture of inquiry (or not) and your own personal experience. Any of those could be at various times, the principle component leading to your educational success. In an earlier time in which the pencil might  have been your only tool in the classroom, the teacher/mentor, your own experience, and the culture of learning would play balanced roles in your growth as a scholar.

One of the things I've been noticing is that students in the classroom are having increasing difficulty in paying attention and following directions. There has been some speculation among educators that the computer is actually changing the ways we think and learn, and as you poke keys and move impulsively from website to website, you may notice the same changes in yourself.  If you visualize the scaffold from the point of view of the student, you see that technology has become the major component in children's lives and learning, dwarfing the relationship with a mentor and even dwarfing the student's relationship to his or her own experience. The role of culture in our current technology dominated scaffold could be described as "translateral" in that it expands the child's relationships outward as with Facebook, etc. (not upward) without regard for future growth or the growth of cooperative inquiry.

I discussed this today with my 7th and 8th grade woodworking scholars and one noted that technology teaches about things, but that real teachers help you learn how to actually DO real things.

It seems like no one is concerned.  Maybe you and I and a few like-handed souls rowing against the growing technological cacophony can do a few very small things to stem the tide.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Mr. Mens, meet Mr. Manus

The motto at MIT is one that most wisdom of the hands readers would appreciate, Mens et manus, which means mind and hand. It should probably be spelled as a single word as the hand and mind are functionally entwined except in those cases in which men or women work thoughtlessly with the hands on the one hand or in complete separation from reality on the other. The following essay is by David Brittan and was published by the MIT Review in November/December 1995, and is republished here with permission of the author.

Mr. Mens, Meet Mr. Manus By David Brittan

My pal Dickie, an accomplished woodworker with whom I sometimes collaborate in the role of slightly retarded apprentice, likes to satirize the lowbrow status of his craft. Explaining some technical point, he'll say archly, "It's all in Barclay's monograph on beveling or "Surely you've read Wallace on studs." Then we'll both have a good laugh and go back to our scraping and banging.

As it happens, there really is a classic literature of woodworking. Asher Benjamin, a Boston builder of the early nineteenth century, summed up his wisdom in volumes such as The Builder's Assistant (1800) and The Practical House Carpenter (1830). Minard Lafever, who signed himself "architect and practical builder in the City of New-York," published The Young Builder's General Instructor in 1829. It was intended as a follow-on to the copious writings of the British builder Peter Nicholson—the Bob Vila of his time—whose name was known to all who shoved a plane.

Naturally, these books are full of helpful hints. They offer rules of thumb for sizing newel posts and gluing planks, and tips on fitting veneer to a curved surface ("prepare a quantity of hot water and put the veneer into it, and there let it remain until it becomes as soft as a piece of leather"). But more than that, they offer geometry. Reams and reams of geometry. To read Nicholson on handrails is to wrestle with pages of tricky operations on line segments and with diagrams so elaborate you might think you were splitting atoms, not wood.

Contrary to its image, woodworking is not all handiwork. In fact, the more one learns about it, the more one wonders why it is classified as a manual trade—and the less one wonders why it has been a haven for rebel intellectuals Although parents may despair when their child throws over a prep-school or Ivy League education for a career as a carpenter or joiner, and although the ranks of woodworkers are swollen with refugees from physics and English Lit. whose former colleagues grumble that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, working with wood is as much a mental activity as a manual one—as much mens as manus. There are no minds wasted here.

The Euclidean mysteries of joinery and construction are one thing—the dovetail or mortise-and-tenon joints that divide fine furniture from cheap, the well-fashioned beams that divide solid dwellings from deathtraps. But the tools and materials are a study in themselves. They are quirky enough to challenge the keenest intellect and completely baffle the rank beginner (that would he me).

On short acquaintance with the craft, I will venture my own rule of thumb: the simpler the tool, the harder it is to use. Electric table saws and routers afford speed, precision, and a comfortable distance from the mechanical properties of the lumber. Handsaws, planes, and chisels force you to experience wood at the level of cellulose fillers and resin—as bundles of splinters, in other words—and grant success in direct proportion to your skill. It is with such humble implements that woodworkers spend the bulk of their time.

Because the tools of the trade have changed little since the Romans, a body of lore has had a couple of thousand years to grow up around each one. For example, a clean cut does not saw itself; it may require any number of cunning devices— from a wedge placed in the kerf (the slit made by the saw) to keep the saw from binding, to a line of masking tape that prevents plywood from splintering—all of which the woodworker must learn or be laughed off the shop floor.

These subtleties are multiplied by the number of subspecies into which each tool has branched. There's the firmer chisel (firmer than what I couldn't tell you), which has a flat blade without a bevel. The mortise chisel is for cutting rectangular holes, or mortises, in furniture legs. The pocket chisel is not at all what it sounds like (it resembles the firmer chisel but has a beveled blade), the butt chisel even less so. Then there are those cousins with hollowed-out blades, the gouges. And the saw's taxonomy would fill several pages.

Sandpaper is the simplest tool and also the most dangerous, especially in the hands of an amateur. The cherry mantelpiece I just completed appears ravaged by time. "It looks like a real antique," says Dickie, putting the best face on things. But age alone could not account for flaws like these. I have sanded down crisp corners, thinking I was doing the wood a favor. I have rubbed right through the thin veneer on an expensive piece of cherry ply, leaving a bald spot that Dickie has been good enough not to mention. I have overlooked the milling marks created by the lumber yard, allowing them to soak up dark stain in the pattern of a bar graph. I have even made ripples on surfaces that were once calm. Obviously, I should have read Spence and Griffiths on the importance of the sanding block: "Never use just your hand to hold the abrasive paper when sanding flat surfaces," they warn in a latter day handbook. "This will sand away the softer part of the wood, giving a wavy surface."

From time to time I fantasize about an alternative career in furniture making. It must be satisfying to create lovely, useful objects that you know will outlast you, and to tax your mind in the process. But the motto of Gustav Stickley, the great turn-of-the-century furniture designer, is a strong deterrent: "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne." If I apply myself now, I might manage a decent rocking chair by the time I need one.

David Brittan is currently is the editor of Tufts Magazine.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students finished looms, windmills, books and did exercises in paper sloyd. The 10th, 11th and 12th grade students worked on  business card holders as an exercise in their study of economics.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

slow making

We've all heard of the slow foods movement. The idea of making things quickly, too easily, thus providing empty calories for the creative soul is a notion we should explore, and thence avoid as unhealthy for the human spirit. Blog reader Amy sent the following quote from a novel, Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin:
"It was a good thing for me to learn a craft with a true maker. It may have been the best thing I have done. Nothing we do is better than the work of handmind. When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast; even speech using the voice only may go too fast. The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time. Purity is on the edge of evil, they say."
One of the things that can slow a person down in woodworking is the knowledge that what one makes can last a hundred years or more. When an item is crafted with useful beauty in mind, it transcends not only the years it may last, but also the need one might feel to hurry in its making. What are the few extra minutes to do things right when each moment of attention is witnessed in the finished piece for such a lengthy span of time? What's the rush in the light of generations?

We have become so impulsive, so undeliberative in our actions, that I urge my readers to contemplate the very slow making of things. Can we invest greater mind through the application of conscious attention of greater magnitude in the making of the things that fill our lives and awaken our sense of beauty? And what would the effects of such actions be?

It seems that much of our hurry is driven by the metaphor, "time is money." But time is not money. It is the opportunity to invest care, carefulness, attention, listening. What if our new metaphor for time was craftsmanship?

Make, fix and create.

the anti-tiger mother approach

Time Magazine has an article this week about Finland's Educational Success-the anti-tiger mother approach." I'm very interested in Finland in part because it was the home of educational sloyd, and also because their educational method comes closest to our own at the Clear Spring School. I also presented a paper at the University of Helsinki and visited the wood shop there where kindergarten teachers learn to teach woodworking to their students, so I have been following the success of Finland's school model for some time. There are many educators from around the world wandering off to Finland to see what they can glean from Finland's methods. You can save big money by visiting here in Northwest Arkansas and would likely be just as blown away by what we are doing at the Clear Spring School.
The Finns are as surprised as much as anyone else that they have recently emerged as the new rock stars of global education. It surprises them because they do as little measuring and testing as they can get away with. They just don't believe it does much good. They did, however, decide to participate in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And to put it in a way that would make the noncompetitive Finns cringe, they kicked major butt. The Finns have participated in the global survey four times and have usually placed among the top three finishers in reading, math and science.

In the latest PISA survey, in 2009, Finland placed second in science literacy, third in mathematics and second in reading. The U.S. came in 15th in reading, close to the OECD average, which is where most of the U.S.'s results fell.
The closest competitors are China and Korea where they use an oppressive rote memorization technique rather than one stimulating hands-on learning and student inquiry. So here in the US, we have a choice. We can either crack the whip and lose our creative edge and crap-can our joy of learning in the same snap, or we can move more clearly and firmly in the direction offered by Clear Spring and the hearty Finns.

The photo above is of students testing the mineral exploration tools they made in the Clear Spring School wood shop.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

the creative act

"The act of imagination is the opening of the system so that it shows new connections. Every act of act of imagination is the discovery of likenesses between two things which were thought unlike. An example is Newton’s thinking of the likeness between the thrown apple and moon sailing majestically in the sky. Hence, the ‘discovery’ of the laws of gravity." — Jacob Bronowski
A friend last night was explaining to me that Newton's discovery was not from an apple falling from a tree, but from his speculations, as to how hard an apple must be thrown to circle the earth as dos the moon. We thus see that discovery is not merely a passive thing that happens to one in the course of time, but is a thing that takes place on the active side. When asked how he knew what he had discovered was true, Newton, answered, "I've done the calculations."

"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it." — Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent of Man)

And so we can see that we'd best not create schools for the distribution of knowledge but for the stimulation of inquiry.

make, fix and create

Friday, April 01, 2011

at a land grant university

Today I am at the University of Wisconsin where my daughter is considering graduate school. We've been walking around the beautiful campus and I've been thinking about Jonathan Baldwin Turner who as father of all the Land Grant colleges in the US believed that every state should have a great university. The idea of course was to put education in the hands of the more common people. How about that?

His work led to the enabling legislation through which the University of Wisconsin was created. Surprisingly, he was a great friend also of the manual arts and a reformer against classical lecture based learning which too many have adopted in his absence. The following is from his Griggsville Address, May 1850:
"...a classical teacher who has no original, spontaneous power of thought, and knows nothing but Latin and Greek, however perfectly, is enough to stultify a whole generation of boys and make them all pedantic fools like himself. The idea of infusing mind, or creating or even materially increasing it, by the daily inculcation of unintelligible words--all this awful wringing to get blood out of a turnip--will, at any rate, never succeed except in the hands of the eminently wise and prudent, who have had long experience in the process; the plain, blunt sense of the unsophisticated will never realize cost in the operation. There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what thy really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."
"The most natural and effective mental discipline possible for any man arises from setting him to earnest and constant thought about things he daily does, sees and handles, and all their connected relations and interests. The final object to be attained, with the industrial class, is to make them thinking laborers; while for the professional class we should desire to make laborious thinkers; the production of goods to feed and adorn the body being the final end of one class of pursuits, and the production of thought to do the same for the mind the end of the other. But neither mind nor body can feed on the offals of preceding generations. And this constantly recurring necessity of reproduction leaves an equally honorable, though somewhat different, career of labor and duty open to both, and, it is readily admitted, should and must vary their modes of education and preparation accordingly."
 I have to wonder what would happen if the powers of social networking were applied to the situation that we have in American education. If twitter and facebook could bring real live revolutions to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, what would happen if we were to use the same powers towards the adoption of hands on learning? To make, fix, and create  are movement in direct opposition to mindless consumerism which has become the enslavement of the middle class. Working for cheap goods is the same thing as consuming empty calories, in that they provide no nourishment for the creative spirit.

Make, fix and create. Use social networking to share what you have done. We might just have a revolution on our hands.

taken by the hand

On the one hand it just feels great to make things. On the other, the hands help us to understand what it means to be a human being. And so, by neglecting to get our children hands-on engaged in their learning, we simply forget some of what is most essential in the development of their character and intellectual capacity.

I continue to welcome many new readers to the blog, directed here by the article in the New York Times.

If you are new here, I invite you to give greater consideration to your hands. They do thousands of things each day for which we give them little notice. They sense the world around us and then shape it in ways that have in most cases made it more hospitable to us, and yet we give them little credit for their contributions to human life.

Anaxagoras was the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who first discovered nous, or mind, and he also said that "Man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands." And so you can see that the acknowledgement of the role of the hands in shaping human intelligence is not a new thing, but rather something you can explore for yourself.

Make, fix and create. Then create opportunities for others (particularly children) to do the same.