Saturday, September 01, 2012

Mr. Tate...

Mr. John William Tate, headmaster of the Beethoven St. School in Chelsea, London, 1885, described years later his introduction of a wood shop and its effects. He had realized his school was fitting kids out "for the desk or counter" and little else. So he added a roof to a small section of playground and began building tools and workbenches under the guidance of the school janitor who also had carpentry skills.
The lads took to the work as ducks take to water. It was most popular. Even the caretaker* acquired a new dignity; he possessed a knack which they lacked; he was looked up to in a way that he had never been before.

Meanwhile, I began making myself a bench and bought a new set of tools, and attended several courses of lectures and demonstrations with workshop practice at the City and Guilds of London Institute, thus qualifying myself for supervision of what I saw was proving an absorbing and interesting experiment.

The boys who longed for the time when they should leave school and dress as gentlemen and go to the City, began to have new and enlarged views of life and the dignity of labor; and enjoyment in work and production took hold of their minds, especially when they saw several of the class masters eagerly bent in the same direction and working out of school hours in the workshop, which, whenever the door was unlocked, became a rendezvous for the favored elder boys who were privileged to enter its portals.

I may say here that we never had the slightest difficulty with discipline. If a boy in the fullness of spirits was too exuberant and troublesome, it was enough for me to say to him that he had made a little mistake, that this was a workshop not a play-shop, and that, if he could not realize that fact, there were many boys eagerly waiting who would gladly fill his place. This always had the desired effect of sobering the boy, and I never remember having to go further.

*janitor, J.T. Chenowerth
It is interesting what happens when teaching to do and teaching by doing takes root and takes hand. It also takes heart. School wood shops can still be transformational in the lives of kids. When children have an interest, as they will when allowed to do real things, real learning takes place that involves growth of character and intellect.

The following is from Bill Nye, the Science Guy:
And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can–we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.
Make, fix and create...


  1. I fail to see the connection between the insights of Mr Chenowerth and the ironically uneducated comment from Mr. Nye. Perhaps you were simply looking for an opportunity to use Mr. Nye's recent fulmination and forced it into service?

  2. I take it you find offense at my mention of Mr. Nye. There is a relationship between science, science literacy, and the engagement of the hands through practical work like that offered by Mr. Tate.

    You cannot successfully whittle a stick without forming a rudimentary hypothesis, or without cultivating the capacity to closely observe material reality. And so the use of crafts in schools can incite children to take a greater interest in reality.

    I'm sorry if you don't see the connection. Some folks believe that belief is whatever you choose to believe and that if you believe it makes it true. And then there's real life that Mr. Nye was referring to. An examination of real life will inform most that dinosaurs were extinct long ago and that the fossil record goes back over 6000 years.

  3. Mr. Nye's comment is not offensive as it is truly uneducated. I disagree with Mr. Nye's comment precisely because behind it there is a set of presuppositions that require him and us to ignore reality....the real world. Mr. Nye would like for us to ignore the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He would have us ignore the fossil record itself. He would have us ignore the reality of irreducible complexity, and on and on.

    And so, I am left with the impression that his statement, has little to do with a sincere desire to understand reality, but is more the polemic that arises from a tightly held faith in an doctrine that refuses to acknowledge what is to be seen all around us. It is ultimately an unthinking, uncritical position.

    This, it seems to me, is antithetical to the simple, sincere, and honest desires of Mr. Tate.

  4. Jeff, which part of Mr. Nye's comment would you regard as uneducated? that we need engineers, problem solvers, scientifically literate voters and tax payers? I didn't mention the 2nd law of Thermodynamics in my post, and I'm not sure where his opinion on that matter is of consequence to my original post.

    We could just go back to reading the bible over and over in schools, but I get the impression you have something else in mind. Fill me in.

  5. It is clear from Mr. Nye's comment that he elevates a scientific theory of origins as a litmus test for rational thinking. He is saying in essence. "OK, you Neanderthals [pun intended] who reject evolution, please don't force your kids to believe your archaic superstitions....[wait, here it comes]....because we need rational, thinking, scientific minds if we are going to solve our problems." This is not only an uneducated statement, but illogical and patronizing. Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, etc. were somehow able to think quite creatively and rationally without a materialistic view of human origins.

    [My references to the 2nd Law, irreducible complexity, etc. were to just point out that there is scientific evidence that flies in the face of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Closer to your heart, I wonder how Mr. Nye can explain how aesthetic sensibilities and creativity are naturally selected?]

    Secondarily, as a product of the Enlightenment, Mr. Nye seems to think that our problems are primarily technological. Well, one need only read history and look around to see that the Enlightenment project of Decartes and Co. has been an utter failure and precisely because of its materialistic philosophical underpinnings. Our central problems are cultural in nature, not scientific. It is not because of a lack of engineers and scientists that a person opens fire at a Batman movie. It is not because of a lack of engineers and scientists that obese children spend hours playing video games. It is not because of a lack of engineers and scientists that our politicians are corrupt. And having read and enjoyed your blog for quite some time, I believe that you understand this. Most of your editorial commentary is aimed squarely at cultural trajectories that you believe are in need of reform.

    I would suggest that if men and women thoroughly believe that they are just a bag of chemicals...the result of impersonal materialistic and deterministic forces, then they will abandon what it means to be truly human. This has manifested itself in our culture on many levels. We have abandoned precisely the image bearing activities that you cherish....the desire to fix...and to make...and to create.

  6. Jeff, I think you are maybe making too much of this. I can agree with somethings that a person thinks or says without that being a tacit endorsement of everything that person has ever thought or said.

    And just because I quote someone in the blog and agree with what he or she had said does not mean that the discussion needs to go quite so deep.

    I appreciate your reading and commentary and thoughtful inquiry.

    I have quoted Herbert Spencer before in the blog because he had some good and relevant things to say about kindergarten. For many, Herbert Spencer would never be quoted these days because he had expressed racially insensitive views about which I certainly in this day and age I and many others would not concur. but those views would not necessarily make him wrong about kindergarten.

    Human beings are by nature, multidimensional, somewhat narrow minded, and sometimes disturbed, deluded, mean spirited, arrogant, kind, thoughtful, and the full range.

    Still whatever your view of Nye, I believe that he makes a valid point when he suggests that children and our own futures were based on better understanding of science. And wood shop can be a concrete activity that builds confidence and curiosity for scientific observation.