Thursday, August 09, 2012

the artisanal inclination...

I leave this morning to teach at Marc Adams School of woodworking, and while I could make the drive in one day, I'll stretch it out to two so that I will arrive fresh and ready to teach. It is a task I take seriously. All of the students invest heavily in growth of their skill, hoping to make tangible objects that express care. I can readily understand their motivation. It's been my own during my 35+ years as a professional craftsman.

It is fascinating watching a baby as he or she first discovers the relationship between self and others, and discovers his or her own hands as a means of bridging that gap. As a new father I would hold my daughter Lucy in my lap and engage in play with rattles and watch her delight as objects would come within range of her touch. Not enough research has been done on the traditional means to systematically stimulate children's inclination to create, but I believe much of the artisanal inclination stems from the earliest days of infancy... as babies gain a sense that they can control their own relationship to the physical and cultural environment into which they've been thrust and are able to act creatively within it.

Most of my students at Marc Adams and in the various other schools and clubs where I teach are 55 years old or more. So all grew up before computers became so widespread. The readers of Fine Woodworking and other woodworking magazines seems to mostly be of the same age as my students. And so it seems that the artisanal urge may have reached its peak and it may be all downhill from here. Babies now are laid in beds with Mom's or Dad's iPhones to manipulate. Parents marvel as their babies manipulate the images on tiny screens, fancy rattles. Tools have been replaced by entertainment devices that offer little tactile engagement, just smooth and greasy to the touch. And as powerful as these devices are, any reasonable craftsman would wonder what we are doing to pass along an interest in real human creative to younger generations.

Diane Ravitch in an editorial points out that Michelle Rhee is wrong to blame teachers for problems in American Education. The real culprit is poverty. My view: Rhee is wrong and misinformed. There is an inclination in conservative politics to blame the workers for all problems. So if schools are doing poorly, blame the teachers. But Ravitch is right and Rhee dead wrong. Read it and see if you agree. In Finland where students far surpass Americans in reading, science and math, a social safety net makes certain that children do not live in poverty. If you don't have time for Ravitch's article, at least read the following:
Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations. As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.

Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.

This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?

Rhee and her fellow reformers say that poverty is just an excuse, but it is not. Poverty is a harsh fact of life.

Children who are homeless, who have asthma, who have vision problems or hearing problems will have trouble concentrating on their studies. Children who have a toothache may not do well on testing day. Children who don’t see a doctor when they are sick will not be able to perform well on tests. Children who live in squalor will be distracted from their schoolwork.

Make, fix and create...

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