Friday, September 07, 2012

the hands run deep...

I have been writing the blog here since 2006 and at this point have made over 3,000 blog posts, each of which offers (with some repetition) insight into the profound relationship we have (as individuals and human culture) with our hands. Some mornings I wonder what to repeat next, but there are some great voices to be found here that deserve to be expressed again and again. As the hands touch every facet of human development and human culture, there is no shortage of insight. As we learn most efficiently, most deeply and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on, it is the great shame of modern schooling that we fail to allow the hands to take the lead in the education of our kids. William James, as one of the famous founders of modern psychology, was an advocate for manual arts in school for the following reasons:
Constructiveness is another great instinctive tendency with which the schoolroom has to contract an alliance. Up to the eighth or ninth year of childhood one may say that the child does hardly anything else than handle objects, explore things with his hands, doing and undoing, setting up and knocking down, putting together and pulling apart; for, from the psychological point of view, construction and destruction are two names for the same manual activity. Both signify the production of change, and the working of effects, in outward things.

The result of all this is that intimate familiarity with the physical environment, that acquaintance with the properties of material things, which is really the foundation of human consciousness. To the very last, in most of us, the conceptions of objects and their properties are limited to the notion of what we can do with them.

A 'stick' means something we can lean upon or strike with; 'fire,' something to cook, or warm ourselves, or burn things up withal; 'string,' something with which to tie things together. For most people these objects have no other meaning. In geometry, the cylinder, circle, sphere, are defined as what you get by going through certain processes of construction, revolving a parallelogram upon one of its sides, etc. The more different kinds of things a child thus gets to know by treating and handling them, the more confident grows his sense of kinship with the world in which he lives.

An unsympathetic adult will wonder at the fascinated hours which a child will spend in putting his blocks together and rearranging them. But the wise education takes the tide at the flood, and from the kindergarten upward devotes the first years of education to training in construction and to object-teaching. I need not recapitulate here what I said awhile back about the superiority of the objective and experimental methods. They occupy the pupil in a way most congruous with the spontaneous interests of his age. They absorb him, and leave impressions durable and profound.

Compared with the youth taught by these methods, one brought up exclusively by books carries through life a certain remoteness from reality: he stands, as it were, out of the pale, and feels that he stands so; and often suffers a kind of melancholy from which he might have been rescued by a more real education.
From William James Talks With Teachers. The failure to engage children hands-on in the earliest years of their educations, will leave them almost forevermore, out of touch.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more to William James. I especially like the part regarding how children look upon fire: It is definitely not seen as a chemical process, but precisely as he describes.
    This year our children have excelled in swirling glowing sticks around in the air after dark, awestruck by the scenery of an orange glowing pattern "magically" appearing in the air.
    I believe that a lot of these "hands on" experiences can easily be applied allready in the kindergarden and in the Kindergarden class.

    I transported my cider equipment down to the local kindergarden a couple of years back, and the children helped in pressing the apples. It was a huge success.
    First we tried to see if we could squeeze juice from an apple merely by pressing it in the hand. We couldn't. Then we ran the apple through the grater (I don't know if that is the correct English word). Then one of the 3 year old girls tried to squeeze the pulp, and this produced some juice.
    So I have a feeling that they learned something hands on that day.