Friday, October 19, 2012

Making things real by making real things...

This morning I am packaging hundreds of box lids to deliver to the engraver. While the lids are being engraved on the underside (to provide and effective surprise), I and my assistant box maker will be applying Danish oil to the last of the bodies of 300 boxes. There is always satisfaction in making real things that offer useful beauty. To hold something in your own hands that represents the culmination of your own efforts and imagination is a powerful tool for engagement.

In schools, we put children at desks, eliminate their opportunities for hands-on, tactile creative expression, and then expect them to sit still, and act attentive, but compliant. What were educators thinking when they arrived at that model of learning? Very sadly, our current schools have proven that for many, or even most children, that model is ineffective and often has the reverse effect. Instead of engaging children more deeply in learning, it leaves children estranged from their natural inclination to learn.

When I was in college, my friends and I would ask each other, "what do you plan to do when you get to the real world?"We clearly understood, that even college was an isolating institution, rather than one that led to greater engagement in real life. But open the doors of education wide. When you make something of useful beauty, you ARE engaged in real life. When schools become places of artistic expression and creativity, we will advance American education and increase student enthusiasm for learning.

Can you observe this principle in your own life? Do you think I'm just making this stuff up? The comments function of the blog will allow you to share your own observations.

Make, fix and create... 


  1. I love reading this blog. The half-baked notions that rattle around in my own skull seem to take some comfort in knowing they're not alone.

    I was a pretty talented draftsman as a kid and can remember my middle school art classes being a terrible ordeal. It was the early 1970s and the curriculum had been newly revised around the modern notion that the entirety of "Art" had been transported beyond the mere reproduction of the visible. In my recollection, we spent two years "exploring" design fundamentals using nothing but white glue and coloured cardboard. The utterly useless products of this effort existed in a space beyond any evaluative measure, apart from that particular teachers' personal opinion. The one thing I excelled at suddenly transformed into a source of crushing anxiety. All my grades suffered.

    High school art classes weren't nearly as bad, but it wasn't until my final year, when the art class was "outsourced" to a local technical school, that I finally got my first proper art instructor. We had a model! We did gestures and long poses! We studied proportion! We did big terracotta sculptures! That class changed my life. I dropped the vague notion I'd had about studying psychology and decided to go to art school.

    It bothers me that very few talented kids get proper instruction at an early age, when it could do so much to advance their abilities. While it's sad that the education system seems to devote so little thought towards those children who's talents might lay outside the three Rs and sports; one positive change since my school days is the invention of the internet. I'm glad that today's kids have a chance to explore their interests and get advice from tons of other like-minded people.

    This is one of my favourite blogs. Thanks for keeping it up.

  2. Paul, I'm glad you enjoy reading here. Part of the problem with education is the matter of educational expertise. Most of us are experts on learning, how we learn and how we may learn best, and for most of us, hands-on learning from actual experience is best.

    But the study of education is often estranged from practical experience. Teachers are not invited to examine how they themselves learn and thence implement instruction on what we know about ourselves and how we learn best. Instead they are asked to manage classrooms, devoid of the kinds of activities that engage kids. It is a formula for disaster for all but those whose learning styles are to sit quietly and listen. 20% at best.