Wednesday, July 04, 2012

character and crafts... vs. principles, theories and facts...

We have this idea of things getting better over time, and yet if one looks at education, and then takes a good look at the number of young men and women in our prison system some things will be noticed about the failings of our current system of education. A blog reader had found it ironic that there had been no new books about Sloyd in over one hundred years, and while things may have changed, people and many circumstances have not. According to Charles R. Edmunds in his address to the Eastern Manual Training Association in 1904,
Statistics show... that of the five or six hundred hundred convicts who had been admitted during the year preceeding... nearly every one had attended public schools. This clearly demonstrates the fact that crime requires a more heroic remedy than the mere teaching of principles, theories and facts. These same statistics show that of this large number of criminals, only five or six were mechanics. Surely this information is of great public concern. It proves that those who understand the use of tools and machines have no need to resort to ways that are dark.
There was at that time a clear sense of correlation between learning to do real, honest making of beautiful and useful things and the development of character of individuals upon which successful communities are based.

Yesterday at Gannon and Benjamin, I watched workers in the boat yard. There were none standing around idly as lifting was required. Each attempted to anticipate how they might best help as they were guiding a pea pod safely down from the loft. There are ways that craftsmanship builds bonds of relationship between members of society just as they do within a small boat yard. Each craftsman looks to the other for support. Modern education is not very well aimed toward that.

Will Price, architect and founder of Rose Valley community told of his experience in his address to the same meeting of manual arts teachers, 1904:
A couple of years ago some of us tried to start some little shops at Rose Valley. I went to one of the oldest and best cabinet makers in the city of Philadelphia and asked him if he could get me two or three good, all-round cabinet makers. He said: "Well, I think I could get you two." That is, only two in a city of over a million people. I said, "I want young men." "Oh!" he exclaimed, "these men are so old they will probably die before you get them out there." He added, "You cannot find a young cabinet maker because there is no use for him, I can get you a good dowel sticker, or a good man on the lathe, or mortise machine, but there is no such thing as a cabinet maker in the cabinet making shop. " ... That is the situation in one of the most simple, direct and important of the crafts left to us. I would have to go to Norway or somewhere else to get men.
With a return of craftsmanship in American schools a great deal can be fixed. But this revolution in education should not only be for the children of the poor. The need for caring craftsmanship exists at all levels of community life.

Today I am still relaxing much more than is useful or normal for me as I take my break between my class in Maine and my activities in Boston. The 4th of July weekend is the craziest of times to be at Cape Cod. The video TED Talk embedded above is of Dale Dougherty whom I met at the Maker Faire the summer before last in Dearborn. Unfortunately making things is only part of the picture. It must be accompanied by the questions, "What shall I make?, What are its values? Who will it serve? Is it made with an eye toward beauty and as an expression of caring craftsmanship?" But yes, the culture of making needs to start somewhere and perhaps the first thing is to understand that making is of essence to our humanity.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Amen.

    In my own middle school woodworking class, I tell them at the beginning that the whole point of the course is to make something beautiful. Most, thankfully, rise to the challenge- see Gallery.

    Sadly, however, a few do not. These are the kids that spend more time around the belt-sander than hand-sanding. Their only desire is for what for them is the end-product- the grade- rather than the process. If I'm very lucky, I might awaken something within them. It is frustrating when it doesn't happen.

  2. Jonathan, a teacher friend had told me that he had the kids a pin point of time in their lives. With some he was able to leave a mark, but not with all. As teachers we would love to bat 100, but sometimes the best we can do is show up every day like Cal Ripkiin, Jr. and hope for the best. It can sneak up on us when we least expect it.

  3. Doug,

    Thank you for this post. I agree.

    In woodworking and other crafts, the consequences of your actions are immediate and right in front of you. If you saw off the line, the joint fits poorly. There's no talking your way out of it, no bailouts, no passing the buck, and no administrative meetings. What a contrast to most modern work.

    There's no moral hazard in craft work.

    Rob Porcaro

  4. Here is a great video I show to my students about making beautiful, useful things ( the Apple MacBook Pro):
    Jony Ive explaining Unibody Design which I think exemplifies the notion of craftsmanship.