Wednesday, April 04, 2012

expressions of engagement and of joy...

I was asked how can one measure and prove the value of woodworking education. Are there spillover effects, making a student better in math class because he or she had just spent 45 minutes using a tape measure, gauging proportions, considering fractions, checking for square and contemplating the shape of things? Anyone who had actually spent time in a wood shop would not need to ask the value of woodworking education. The unfortunate thing is that so very few administrators have actually spent time a the wood shop, testing and assessing their own mathematical, scientific, and aesthetic competence by doing real things.

Are there spillover effects from wood shop, making students better listeners, more observant, more cooperative in class, better able to integrate their feelings about success, better able to sense the relevance of their being in school? I think these can be observed.

But the value of woodworking is hard to measure in the exacting terms demanded by those administrators unschooled in wood shop and poorly observant of its effects.

A few years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts proposed observing expressed joy as a criterion for determining program success. Schools these days are rarely concerned with joy. After all, how can one measure joy on a standardized test? It seems such an abstract notion. But joy is real and too often absent in American schooling.

When we see students engaged at a deeper level, theirs according to the NEA is an expression of joy. When we see students enter a classroom and go straight to work without hesitation, it is an expression of joy. When students are hesitant to quit and move on to their next class, that is an expression of engagement and joy. When students go home from school and actually have something to share with parents about what they have accomplished in the course of the day, it is an expression of joy.

Unfortunately, our current fixation on statistical data causes administrators to overlook valuable anecdotal evidence, just as they completely ignore the value of the observations and contributions of early educational theorists like Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Montessori,  Dewey, Salomon and Cygnaeus.

Today in the CSS wood shop, first, second and third grade students will be making vehicles (toy boats or planes) for imaginary travel to Australia.  They are studying the continent, and getting there with all creative faculties intact is their first order of business.  Children tell me that wood shop is their favorite class. In a real world, one concerned with joy and expressions of joy as a measure of educational success, that would be evidence enough.

Make, fix and create...

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