Wednesday, January 11, 2012

big things start small...

Today in the wood shop, CSS first, 2nd and 3rd grade students will be making friendship boxes. Friendship boxes were once a tradition in American summer camps as they could be traded among friends and kept as symbols of that friendship.

There are dangers in our failure to engage ALL students in fixing, making and the creative arts. When some children are raised with a sense of intellectual entitlement, believing that they are the chosen few intelligent enough to grasp what they themselves cannot truly grasp, and that others are deemed capable of lesser contributions and are thus of lesser worth, we have a situation that will not sustain a strong middle class. I want to remind my readers that democracy and the middle class arose in the first place through the guilds and fine craftsmanship.

Most of the early proponents of the manual arts believed that all students should be exposed to making real things from real materials because not only did real work create greater intellect, it also pushed all students toward the development of greater character. For instance there are specific things that one learns in the crafting of beautiful and useful objects. A person will learn that making real things is not as easy as one might think. Thus those expressing skills beyond reading and math might deserve dignity and respect within the school culture. Then those who are acquainted with the processes involved in the creating of beautiful and useful objects are more capable of envisioning industries or enterprises in which the growth of skilled labor could be encouraged in others. Once establishing a sense of empathy and alliance with those who have creative skills, they might be inclined to do so.

In the case of the average Harvard MBA, we would find someone good with numbers but willing to export jobs since those jobs are little more than an inconvenient commodity to be acquired at the cheapest price. He or she will probably not have any experience in personal creative enterprises with real materials or management of muscle or time. He or she will have been educated to extract profit with little respect for those with the creative capacity, skill of body or mind to complete tasks which the MBA had too little experience to imagine in the first place.

There are many who believe that the rich have the ideas to drive the economy, and those ideas and the capital they provide, if left unburdened by taxes or regulation will blossom into success and prosperity for all. That principle might actually work if all were trained to accept their role in fostering the growth of others in their communities, and were willing to take actual steps in their own lives to put people to work doing creative things. But it is not easy to do these things, and most in positions of ease will not be bothered to do so.

What if ALL were to engage in a complete and total revival of craftsmanship and to understand its value? That's a thing unlikely since most have never been taught to understand craftsmanship in the first place. Even the poor these days are too often left untrained. But just imagine communities of craftsmen making furniture, doing fine creative work, not to be bought from Tiffany's or Sotheby's but from real people?

OK, at this point in things I'm just dreaming. But big things start small. Friendship boxes are shown above and at left.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

Tim Holton said...

Excellent entry, Doug. The denigration of manual labor is a disease in western culture. The delusion that we can and should jettison it should be unthinkable but has become orthodoxy. Those lucky enough to have lived in the great civilizations of the past would be horrified.

Yet most people today have some experience with the joys of real work and don't need much, if any, coaxing to imagine thriving workplaces where manual skills are honored and cultivated and work is meaningful. The problem is that people need to believe that meaningful work is an end in itself, worthy of protection, not a luxury to be indulged after we've got all the stuff we could possibly cram in to our houses, gotten for as cheap as possible--work conditions of those who made it be damned.

It may be a dream, but it's a dream that could shape the greatest part of the day for the greatest part of the people and enhance our personal and national well-being many fold. And so it's a worthy dream indeed!