Monday, July 02, 2012


In the early days of the introduction of Manual Arts in schools advocates of such training faced the same arguments they will face today. It is difficult and often impossible to teach large classes of students as you can in literature or math. Expensive tools and equipment are required. Students just don't have the skill for it. Wood shop will take time away from other "more important" academic studies. And yet, in the early days, administrators made space in schools, hired teachers, overcame their own reticence, and created manual arts programs because certain things were known, and in certain pilot programs things had been observed and demonstrated that convinced administrators from all across the US that manual arts education would enhance the learning opportunities for all students. It was noted for example that students learned academic subjects with less effort and in shorter time when their classes were balanced with those in the manual arts. Student interests, once aroused by doing real things overcame all obstacles and students, finding relevance to schooling in their own lives and to their own interests became more enthusiastic participants in their own educations.

In the early days, it was noticed that the character of the individuals who passed from the halls of learning was enhanced by the manual arts. This alone should help administrators and communities overcome reluctance. Charles Edmunds, in an address to the Eastern Manual Training Association in 1904 noted,
"The man who can make his hand productive and useful respects his neighor's person and property. The reason of this is readily ascertained, and it is because he can do things and make things. He can profit not by the cowardly abstraction of that to which he has not title but from his own skilled labor, supervised and directed by an educated mind, he finds his own reward."
No doubt most of us have at some point or another found our interests aroused, and having suddenly discovered a subject to be relevant to our own interests found learning eased. For example, I found it difficult to identify species of trees until I began using the woods from those trees, at which point the species and their variations became clear.

Tuiskon Ziller wrote in 1864, "Grundlegung zur Lehre von Erzihenden Unterricht" (The Principles for the Study of Education Instruction). He said,
"On the one hand, natural science, mathematics, grammar, history, geography, drawing, and singing should offer problems to the work-shop; and on the othger hand, practical experiences gathered in the manual work should make book studies the more easily learned."
I realize that I am but one voice in this discussion of the future of American education. There are millions of voices expressing what a mess we have made of things. My own solution may seem simplistic in view of the enormity of the problems our schools face. But when in doubt,

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

Jonathan Dietz said...

This video of Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis, President of the Boston Museum of Science, describes some of the background behind the absence of technology from school curricula: