Thursday, July 12, 2012

Interests of the child...

I call upon readers to examine their own lives.

You have probably noticed that when you are enthusiastically engaged in a subject, you are able to express greater intelligence at the very same time. Does this point require an entire blog post, or is it something you know for yourself without me saying a word? I hope the latter.

In Educational Sloyd, the first principle was to start with the interests of the child. Interest is our greatest gift as learners, and is the quality of character that brings our own intelligence to the fore. And yet we structure American education so that too many students, by the time they reach 8th grade, are no longer interested in what they can get from school. I have called it the four D's of American education. Disengagement, Discouragement, leading to Disruption, and Dropping out. Children who are not creatively engaged in school often become disruptive of the learning by others. When they drop out from school, some educators are relieved to see them go. But what a tragic waste. The blame is then put on the kids, when it is really the structure of the school at fault.

When you begin to understand that crafts formed the foundation of science, you may also begin to understand the role that crafts can play in schooling. There is no better way to engage the mind of the child in learning than through the application of real tools on real materials in the creation of beautiful and useful things. As I've said so many times before,one really cannot successfully whittle a stick without making a rudimentary scientific hypothesis.

Instead, we have allowed our children to become tools of technology, idle consumers of stuff, bored stiff with education at all levels.

When in Boston, I visited with one of the founders of Sprout & Co. a group of educators attempting to start a new charter school in Sommerville, Massachusetts. I learned that Alec Resnick, one of the founders is a reader of this blog. The following from their website could be taken as their mission statement:
Sprout is a community education and research organization devoted to creating and supporting the community-driven learning, teaching, and investigation of science. We're united by a passion to reclaim science as a richly personal and creative craft.
So what isreclaiming science? At one time all human beings were observers of their surroundings. What was observed was shared with others in their communities, in part through the making of real things. Now science has become so statistically removed, beyond the understanding of most that it is losing its capacity to inform. Real life has begun to lose interest for too many. The lessons that can be observed from it become lost on those who have lost all sense of self-efficacy in pursuit of scientific understanding.

The hands actually have the power to reverse all that. Purposefully engage the hands in the pursuit of knowledge and expression of intellect.

This article,
Arne Duncan Reports College Completion Rates Rise By Half A Percentage Point.
Half a percentage point is not much improvement. While American college completion rates were once the highest in the world, we have hover around 16th place.

On another subject, I talked to the current owner of 7 Harcourt St. once home of Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training School in Boston. The owner had taken woodshop in 7th grade and still has the mahogany table he built in school. He was unaware of that early part of his building's history and he's offered me a tour of 7 Harcourt next time I'm in Boston. I sent photos, floor plan and text concerning 7 Harcourt to him, so he will be aware of his building's special place in the history of Manual and Industrial Arts.

The image at the top is from the Harvard Gutman Library, filed under the title
"Defectives, Feeble-minded: United States. Massachusetts. Waverly. School for Feeble-minded: Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded.: Sloyd Models.
Series: Social Museum Collection"
I think you can see that Harvard and other institutions of higher education have been a large part of the problem in American education, not recognizing the intelligence expressed by the hands through the making of beautiful and useful objects. While in Boston, Paul Ruhlman, who teaches high school woodworking at Buckingham, Brown and Nichols School in Cambridge told us that a disproportionate number of his woodworking students become orthopedic surgeons.

Make, fix and create...

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