Thursday, April 26, 2012

the charcoal burner...

Click to enlarge

The following is from Friedrich Froebel's notes on his classic book Mother play (Mutter und kose Lieder) regarding the charcoal-burner. Froebel portrayed the charcoal burner, as lowly as he might appear, to be a person having noble purpose in the larger scheme of things.

In Mother Play, Froebel used songs and finger play to engage the child in learning about his family, his community and himself. And in doing so, he described a method in which mothers could become purposefully engaged in preparing their children for school and later citizenship. In this short piece you can see Froebel's recognition of the importance of hands-on learning.
By using his hands, the child learns how much may be done with the few things within his grasp, or, in other words, how much he may accomplish without reaching beyond the narrow boundaries of his own little life. That Englishman was perfectly right who wrote a whole book to prove that the hand is a witness of God's fatherly love and goodness.*
Mother, seek to form in your child the habit of looking at his hand from this point of view, in order that he may never injure either it or himself by its misuse, but may through productive and creative activity rise into the image of God.**

And as you teach your child to respect his own hand, teach him also to respect those who work with their hands. Waken his gratitude towards, and consideration for, those through whose labour he is blessed with food, clothing, and shelter. Teach him to honour each "toil-worn craftsman," however humble his calling, who wards off danger from individuals and communities, and whose labour directly furthers the
welfare of mankind.

Without the charcoal burner, where were most of our technical arts? Without his patient labour, where were those chemical researches which have solved so many of the secrets of Nature?

* The book to which Froebel refers is presumably The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments, as evincing Design, and Illustrating the Power. Wisdom, and Goodness of
by Sir Charles Bell. Published as one of the Bridgewater Treatises, 1832 ; ninth edition, 1874 (George Bell & Sons, Covent Garden).
** ironically, in his time, Froebel was accused of being insufficiently "Christian".
In further commentary, Froebel notes
"We have recognized the eye as the medium between man's inner being and the spiritual world. In like manner the hand is a special medium between the inner life and the surrounding material world."
In the blog I have mentioned many times that craftsmanship is a form of moral training, different from that of being preached to or being punished. We either do something with care, earned expertise, and through a sense of deeper relationship or we do not, and there is a natural inclination within each child to aspire toward demonstrations of craftsmanship. Susan Blow, in her commentary of Froebel, Symbolic Education, 1894 says,
"Theories of moral training vibrate between the equally pernicious extremes of coercion and feeble indulgence, because thought oscillates between the perceived necessity of doing right and the instinctive sense that virtue implies voluntary choice, and that power to choose aright can only be developed by long exercise in right choosing. It seems at times that by a slow inversion the outward may become an inward "must" and the imperative of external command melt imperceptibly into the imperative of conscience. Influenced by this latent assumption we make much of formal obedience, and expect that by some subtle process of moral alchemy mechanical habit may be transmuted into spontaneous energy. In the recoil from this view arises the conviction that external drill and discipline tend not to fashion the will, but either to break or stiffen it, and with a burning feeling of the sanctity of the individual soul we denounce the outer compulsion which cramps, fetters and destroys the free energy of spirit."
There is a third path toward the evolution of moral children within a moral society, that being craftsmanship.

Today, I am preparing for my show in North Little Rock on Saturday, and working on a box to house the ashes of a woman's husband. I am trying to turn that project into a short article to publish either on the Fine Woodworking website, or in my box making blog.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

David Katz said...

The Jewish Talmud records a tale of the undervalued charcoal burner who proves to be a great sage and humble man.
The sages of the academy found new respect for Rabbi Joshua who made his living burning coal. His perspective as a man connected literally to the fuel upon which society thrives was a valuable lesson for the less connected scholars of the ivory tower.
The literary contrast between the white ivory tower and the black hands of the charcoal burner is profound.
My students and children know this story well….