Monday, October 29, 2012

competitive advantage...

One of the things that we do as human being is to select fields of interest based on what we perceive to be our own competitive advantages. Among siblings and within peer groups, children and adults will choose areas of interest that allow them to gain competitive advantage in gaining recognition, self-differentiating themselves from each other. For example, two children within the same family, equal in nearly all ways will choose different emphasis on activities, with one developing athletic advantage, and the other academic. No doubt, this natural process is part of the foundation of the success of the human species, giving us a variety of bases and perspectives for creative problem solving.

School, on the other hand, has been described by Sir Ken Robinson, as a mine in which particular students are  extracted from the earth of humanity, while heaps of slag in the form of non-useful human beings are pushed to the side. A farming analogy would be that of separating wheat from chaff. Some few are chosen for advancement based on a too-narrow definition of human intelligence.

A more reasonable system of education would offer a wide range of possible options for student success. This is essential for two reasons. First, all children need to have opportunities as human beings to see themselves as competitively responsible for contributing to human culture, economy and community. Secondly, those who may not have developed skills in one area or another, need to bear witness to the valuable contributions offered by others, to see the level of work and engagement required as each contributes unique qualities to the necessary matrix of human engagement.

All children need to become at least a bit engaged in making, even when they have no pre-ordained interest in it. This is necessary in order for the value of skilled making to be understood as a cultural and economic value.

Not long ago, the powers that be in the United States, an academic and political elite, decided that we as a nation would no longer need to compete with other nations in the manufacturing of a wide range of necessary goods... We were to be a service economy, and then when most realized that that would mean flipping burgers in fast food restaurants (which too, requires skill), it was announced in the press, that we would be an "information" economy, in which bits of data would form the basis of economic value.  But in a true healthy economy and culture, the making of real things of useful value must play a very strong part.

In the mail on Saturday, I received a catalog from the Japan Woodworker  which I will pass along to a former student, Easton, who is studying to become a blacksmith. Don't be deterred by the power tools shown on the opening page of their website. They have some of the finest chisels and saws for fine craftsmanship made in the world, even though most are too expensive for the common woodworker.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will be finishing their pencil boxes and high school students will work on their cigar box guitars.

I am all set to deliver 300 boxes, and have been asked if I can make 500 more.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

Mario Núñez said...

Thanks to the way schools work, I didn't find out until well into adulthood that I found the most satisfaction by working with my hands.

500 more boxes. That's going to keep you busy for a while.

Mario