Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Self-efficacy is a psychological term which describes a state in which one feels capable, in control of things, confident, competent, etc. So this morning, I want to mention two ways in which a person can gain a sense of self-efficacy. One is by doing something oneself, as in the field of crafts. When one manages to get his or her hands to engage successfully in doing a skilled task, a sense of self-efficacy results. The other way is to get others to do your bidding for you. Tell a person to do something and when they do it, you gain a sense of control over circumstances and relationships in your life. As I often repeat myself in the blog, this is a subject I've written about before.

Much of self-efficacy in modern life comes to us second hand, not from what we do for ourselves but that is done for us or enabled by others. We turn the key in the ignition, back the car out of the drive, and go to the store. We may have a sense of self-efficacy as we drive the car from one place to another, but when the car for some reason won't start, and we lack the means to fix it, anger can arise in equal measure to the sense of lack of control over one's life. A flat tire is a larger matter to one who does not know how to change a tire.

According to Wikipedia,
"Understanding how to foster the development of self-efficacy is important for policymakers, educators, and others in leadership positions, and to anyone seeking to build a happier, more productive life."

Some of us choose to become craftsmen for the simple sake of self-efficacy. When one holds a chisel in the left hand, it being well trained through experience in the grip, angle of blade and position of cut, and the other hand holding a mallet, it being well versed in the amount of force to apply, a sense of self-efficacy is present in action, and is drawn forth as a result, strike by simple strike, from the first skilled cut to the final result.

One can see the simple human dilemma... Either we find a sense of self-efficacy through our own actions or through the efforts we make toward the control of others. It may explain why some of those nations where people must work hard to survive are among the happiest on Earth. It is a rather sad situation in one sense. As we have vast political forces aligned in ideological and political struggle, what our world really needs most is for each individual to be able to draw upon the most natural source of self-efficacy, that of crafting something of integrity and useful beauty through the use of skilled hands... Thus taking matters and learning into our own hands.

On a similar track, I got a call from Richard Burman who is working on a documentary about the hands. He was wanting some descriptive text about the relationship between the hands and science. These days nearly everything in science is described in terms of margin of error and statistical significance, which largely takes science away from the masses and places it firmly in the control of an academic, statistics obsessed minority. It is the same with education. And yet, it must become known that the arts, crafts and science go hand in hand. You cannot successfully whittle a stick without making a scientific hypothesis and engaging the hand, eye and mind in scientific observation. That we fail as a nation to understand this leaves us dumb as a post, no dumber. At the least the post, firmly rooted in the earth knows which way's up.

Make, fix and create...


  1. It is interesting that the new Next Generation Science Standards ( ) have dispensed entirely with an expectation that students develop any hands-on skill or tool knowledge.

    In stead, the emphasis is entirely on the "Engineering Design Process"-

    Defining and delimiting engineering problems involves stating the problem to be solved as clearly as possible in terms of criteria for success and constraints, or limits.

    Designing solutions to engineering problems begins with generating a number of different possible solutions, evaluating potential solutions to see which ones best meet the criteria and constraints of the problem, then testing and revising the best designs.

    Optimizing the design solution involves a process of tradeoffs, in which the final design is improved by trading off less important features for those that are more important. This may require a number of iterations before arriving at the best possible design.

    Yet I'm not sure how one can develop a sense of self-efficacy with any sense of technical skill.

  2. Educators want to limit the process of education to those things that can be taught least expensively and easily measured. Wissenschaft rather than Kenntnis... knowing about rather than knowing how to actually do. I had a student tell me, in response to a question, "I know that." "Then show me," I asked. Students often are allowed to think that they know it all. Add that to the problem of being that age are really thinking you know it all and those outside of your age group are idiots...

    But students that are exposed to real things can be persuaded.

  3. Anonymous5:04 AM

    My son needs a new chicken coop, as the old one slowly falls apart. He thinks I'll be doing the building, but it's going to be more like one of your classes. By the end of the process he'll know a lot more.


  4. Mario,
    You will both harvest more than just eggs. Hew ill harvest the satisfaction of knowing he could do it himself, and you the pleasure of extending your own skills into a new generation. Both of those are self-efficacy.


  5. Anonymous6:57 AM

    It won't be quite the Tom Sawyer experience, but more like a collaboration that we can both enjoy. He works with his hands already, as a chef, but he needs to learn some woodworking skills that will serve him well throughout his life.