Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Mentors and mentoring...

I spent part of the morning at Gannon and Benjamin Boat Works on Marthas Vinyard after taking the ferry from Woods Hole and was invited to the run of the place to take photos and to talk with boat makers including Harry Ricciardi who is rebuilding a Danish folkboat from stem to stern. Harry had graduated fron NYU, had gotten a job in advertising, but when the economy collapsed asked Ross Gannon for work. While not even knowing how to hold a hammer, Harry showed sincerity and enthusiasm that Ross evidently liked.

Harry proves himself as his skills grow by working on his own boat. At this point he's replaced sawn and steam bent ribs, restored the floor timbers including the long bolts securing the iron keel. He is converting from clinker construction to carvel. Because it is a skill he needs to possess. When he shows skill he gains the opportunity to work on other boats. At this point, besides being an enthiastic hand to do whatever he is asked, he's become a skilled painter of boats. Gradually, in the process, Gannon and Benjamin gain an employee with skill and confidence. It is better than school for Harry. He's never bored. And Ross is the perfect mentor. He trusts Harry to learn best by making mistakes.

At the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship this last week, I had the luxury of enough time to do some boxes that challenged me creatively, and thus demonstrate a taking of risks essential to artistic engagement for my students to observe as they worked on their own projects. This can be a valuable tool.

I got an email on this subject from a homeschooling blog reader with a particularly precocious 4.5 year old son who seems to have a great interest in woodworking and all things mechanical. The parent asks:
I am asking you for your advice about the best ways and projects to teach myself - should I be seeking out a mentor or classes for myself, or can I teach myself the basics to keep him engaged for the next few years until he is old enough and ready to connect with mentors and classes in this area himself?  He is so eager and engaged, and any insight or ideas or direction you can provide to me would be deeply appreciated!
A few years ago I was in our local northwest Arkansas airport waiting for a flight to a conference on hands-on learning in Detroit. A small family was there, the father was engaged in a magazine, the mother was engaged in a book, and the small daughter was sitting quietly with her doll. (now the parents and children would be sitting with their iPhones instead) The son, about 5 years old was studying the escalator. His hands were following over and over again the black plastic railing as it made its bend, and his eyes were glued to the steps as they disappeared into the floor level. My thought at the time was that if his parents could ignore him long enough he'd become an engineer. Still, it is best when parents take an actual interest in fostering and modelling engagement as my reader hopes to do.

I think every parent could enjoy woodworking with their kids. They need not be particularly good at woodworking to do so. The most important thing in my mind is that parents should be modeling a following of their own creative bliss, whether in woodworking or something else, but it needs not exactly duplicate the interests of the son or daughter. If a parent provides the tools and some materials, a bit of instruction on how not to hurt oneself with tools, a bit of watchful oversight, acknowledgment of growth of skill as it occurs, and a place to work, a son or daughter will be given a foundation so much greater than almost any parent in this day and age is willing to provide. Add to that an oppoortunity to see work of inspirational quality, whether in craft shows or museums and the opportunity to visit real craftsmen at work, and even without becoming an artist onself, a parent can foster the growth of a creatively inclined child.

All that said, however, for a parent to take classes and connect with mentors, models behavior that would be great for children to observe. I will be presenting a lecture on the importance of hands on learning at Eliot School on Friday night. Click the link to learn the details. The video embedded above helps to explain why technology needs to be taught in schools.

Make, fix and create...

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