Friday, August 31, 2012

arts integration in schools...

More and more educational institutions are coming to a renewed awareness of the value of the arts to engage children more deeply and passionately in learning. This article from Edutopia, School Transformation through Arts Integration tells the story of one school, and there are more. If you watch the video above, I would need to say little more.

The arts have an undeniable power to enrich and transform, whether we are talking about a single life or the lives within a family, a school or a community. Teachers, too are made whole when they too, are engaged creatively in the classroom. And yet, schools across the US have abandoned the arts as they have pushed teach-to-the-test methodologies and thereby failed to engage kids in learning.

But this story is not just about the arts as an abstraction. How can the arts have such power to engage? Can one play instrumental music, or paint or sculpt, or create art of any kind without the engagement of hands? And in hands we discover the true secret power of the arts. The engagement of the hands is the flow to, from and through the senses, allowing students to both sense and create in response, putting into direct action what they learn.

Even beyond the arts, the hands have many other important and beneficial roles to play in schools to which they were traditionally assigned before education plunged into the depths of the standardized testing craze. For instance in math, and in science.

School wood shops in their earliest days occupied the interesting juncture between art, math and science. One cannot do woodworking without putting math to work, and one cannot do finer work in wood without coming to a working scientific understanding of its qualities and structure. Many early woodworking textbooks explained the working qualities of wood and provided a foundation of scientific understanding that students might test for themselves through personal investigation as they formed objects of useful beauty. The scientific illustration above is from S. Barter's book, Woodwork, the English Sloyd.

To become lifelong learners requires that we give consideration to the power of our hands to test and transform. Engage the hands, hearts follow.

On another note, two of my articles previously published in Fine Woodworking have been republished in a compilation, Quick & Easy projects, available where magazines are sold until October 17, 2012. For blog readers who do not subscribe to Fine Woodworking, this compilation can be an opportunity to catch up on some of my better designs and techniques. On still another subject, the remnants of Hurricane Isaac came through last night and throughout the day, much tamed. We had almost no wind, only very gentle rain. Isaac is now headed north to bring much needed drought relief to other states.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Hi Doug,

    I found your blog yesterday through Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford and like what you are writing. I will begin working my way backwards. Are there any older posts that you would consider "must-reads"?

    Also, the width of the main column seems to be cutting off some of the right side of the videos.


  2. Chris, welcome to the blog. I'm sorry about clipping of the video width. The blogger template makes no allowance for variations in youtube screen size. You can click on the video and view it through youtube easy enough.

    Some of my favorite subjects are educational sloyd and kindergarten, as in those subjects, the real foundation of progressive education come to light. You can use the search block at upper left and explore. I have also written on this subject for a variety of print publications which you can find through a link in the column at right... Doug Stowe's WOH articles and papers. The hands literally touch every facet of our human existence and are thus the avenue through which we may become most deeply touched.

  3. Hi Doug.

    Your writings about hands and math and science got me to think of, that when I went to school, my physics teacher told us that there once used to be a class called physics sloyd.
    The idea was that the pupils made some illustration models for use in the class room. We were shown a model of a paddle wheel for a water mill (I don't know if it is the correct English term). And there were other model too. I can't remember them now. But that is definitely a blend of science, math and woodworking.
    It would be pretty easy to make a model of a fulcrum/lever and use it to explain that if a small wooden block is put on this end, it can lift 3 blocks of wood of the same size etc.
    By the way, have you checked out ?
    he makes some really nice things that could be challenging for the older classes.
    Brgds Jonas

  4. Jonas, I like that... physics sloyd. Making instruments for exploration of science and math is a reasonable activity for wood shop. In the Clear Spring School shop we made projectile launchers for the study of physics and trigonometry. So I guess that is sort of what they had in mind.