Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A statement of pedagogy...

Comenius, the father of modern pedagogy recognized the child's need for complete sensory engagement in learning, but the specific role of the hands as an instrument of learning has never been so clearly stated (to my knowledge) as it is here in this blog. We all can observe on our own, without statistics, and even without scientific instruments to precisely measure, that what we learn hands-on is learned more deeply, more enthusiastically, and to greatest lasting effect. And yet, we fail to make use of that broadly agreed understanding in the design of our children's education. There lies the stupidity and neglect inherent in American education.

I hope to change a few things in part through a statement offering clarity. We'll call it "the strategic engagement of the hands".

According to an article in the New York Times, teaching Algebra is a dumb thing to do because it is too difficult for too many kids. Is Algebra Necessary? It might be that more kids would do better at Algebra in the first place if it were made hands-on. In fact research has shown that students have a profound level of improvement if they are taught to gesture in their understanding of algebraic functions. Thanks, John for the link. It seems that there are those who would choose to make education less demanding, whereas it could be made even more demanding if we were to first make it relevant to what children would like to accomplish. The following comment was posted to CNN in a discussion of this matter.
Liz: As much as I disliked math most of my youth it is a necessary subject. The biggest problem is teachers just teach right out of a book without actually understanding themselves in many cases the actual applications where the subject is relevant. Combining real world uses with the math the students learn is far more beneficial then doing away with the subject. I know when I changed colleges and the math classes were taught in a way that was relevant to my career path as a computer programmer it actually started to click. Schools traditionally just teach it out of a book with some crap word problems about trains. In this day and age they need to get more visual and more indepth to how important the math is. July 31, 2012 at 10:44 pm
Liz makes sense to me, but what she says is common sense and unlikely to be taken seriously inAmerican education.

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher from down under, has been showing me his stuff in cutting mitered parts for small boxes using a miter box. I'm away from home at the moment, but will show a more complete series of photos when I retun to Arkansas.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, July 30, 2012

lip service...

One of the things that may begin to happen as I and others remind that the hands are essentional to learning is that more and more educational institutions will begin to claim hands on learning, while simply offering lip service to it.
lip service n. Verbal expression of agreement or allegiance, unsupported by real conviction or action; hypocritical respect: "Lip service continues to be paid to resolving regional conflicts, but there is no sense of urgency" (Henry A. Kissinger).
The point is that it is easy to claim hands-on learning without actually making a real committment to it. I received an email from Mary, a retired teacher in Australia, who had discovered the blog when researching her remembrance of Sloyd being toaught to boys when she was in high school. She described her own teaching experience as follows:
"I spent most of my working life as a teacher of Geography in High Schools. I always felt that  using their hands to make things from the culture or country we were studying helped students to understand and remember more.  We cooked food or painted on silk or did Tie  Dyeing or made models of Desert landforms or wrote and performed plays for Indonesian puppets or made flower leis from Polynesia.  I tried to find some manual activity for each term. I was regarded as a bit crazy by some other members of staff  but I was Head of Department so I was able to keep at it and encourage my staff to do likewise (In fact I gathered around me a set of amazing teachers who were more inventive than I in coming up with new ideas for physical activities.) Since I retired from teaching about 10 years ago I know that all of those activities have gone from my department because "There is not enough time to teach all the content if these extra are added"  What rubbish!!! It is doing all that hands on stuff that gives interest and meaning to the "content" I was particularly pleased with very many letters I received on retirement  from students who thanked me for making Geography more interesting. What they did not realize was that those interesting activities were developing their intellects."
Getting hands on learning in place can be done at a variety of levels, and some will warn not to let hands-on learning get the upper hand. Some of course won't understand the importance of it in the first place. Some teachers will like Mary will go against the flow and knowing their children's needs will make an effort each week to put the hands into play.
You can recognize a school that gives more than lip service to hands-on learning. Within its walls, you will find the arts, woodshop, theater, music and laboratory science. In addition, you will find teachers like Mary who try to bring the hands into all things. All of education within those walls will be experimental rather than set, leading to unknown outcomes. And you can expect the outcomes to be far better than what we have now in American education.
7 Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

putting youth to work...

I am often amazed how few good ideas we have here in the US when it comes to engaging our youth in their futures and in our future success. This article from NPR, The secret to Germany's low youth unemployment, describes the role of German industries in putting young people to work. KP in VT asked in a comment below in which he provided this link, "Why can't we do that?" It seems that American industries are too often divorced from social concerns, but that could be fixed. Instead of stripping human resources to bare bones, American corporations could make a decision to invest in our children's futures. We should hold them accountable for doing so.

In working with my adult students, I notice that some have particularly well developed hand skills and some do not. Skill is not just a matter of how the hands are placed on the work or on the tool and their ability to go through the motions required but also of how the hands sense and impart what's happening with the tools as wood is cut or shaped. It is one thing to do the right thing as you are instructed to understand, but skill also requires sensing whether or not the right goal is actually accomplished as the hands do what they are instructed to do. Getting an early start in the development of this sensitivity lays a foundation for the availability of skilled hands throughout a child's life. The following is from Gustaf Larsson's 1902 book, Sloyd:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says, "Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."
This is a thing that should be researched, and it would be interesting to develop a means to test Crighton-Browne's hypothesis with modern students. Do fingers sliding over glass, (our current preferred engagement in technology) gain the sensitivity required to do work with real materials in case at a later point in life, one would desire to gain skill in real work?

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Conclusion day 5...

I finished my small cabinet making class this afternoon, but was so busy making certain my students' needs were met, I forgot to take pictures. Everyone learned a lot, and was pleased to have had the luxury of a week in the wood shop with like minds doing fine woodworking.

I got a nice book in the mail from the director of the Eliot School, and written by a  woodworking teacher with 41 years of teaching experience. It Wood Be Fun by Michael Bentinck-Smith offers a great deal of practical advice and interesting projects that would be fun for any child. He suggests his book is like a "toolbox for parents. It contains all the information you need to work successfully with young children including supportive advice culled from years of experience."

As I have told many folks, you don't have to be a professional level woodworker to get started woodworking with kids. As Michael suggests,
"learning to use tools, to measure carefully, to cut accurately, to smooth thoroughly, and to bring a woodworking project to completion can have implications for a child's well-being, concentration, self-confidence, work ethic and patience that will affect all other ares of life, including classroom learning. Not to mention the sheer joy involved in working together—parent and child."

Make, fix and create...

day 5...

This is my fifth day of making small cabinets at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and so it will be a very busy day. My students may have some cabinets nearly finished by the end of the day.

The point of this blog is not to promote the trades in particular, but to promote an understanding of how the hands help us all to become wise, meaning a combination of  being intelligent, with greater character, sense of connection and responsibility.

Arising from the stupidity that came as human culture began to assume that the hands and brain were separate instruments with one having greater value than the other, was the idea that all students should go to college and that college offered the only path to success. A report on NPR yesterday described apprenticeship programs that would offer top students another choice. A different Road to Work, Bypassing College Dreams.  Afterall, the thing of greatest concern to most of us, and to most parents is that children be directed to meaningful and productive lives.

On a very personal level, ALL students in school should be given the challenge of making beautiful and useful things. While I do not have a simple term for the power to create, it is the foundation for greater interest in learning, and just as those who may not learn to read are missing something crucial to their success, those who know not how to make, fix and create are missing a quality equal in importance to literacy in the expression of human culture.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Small Cabinets day 4...

Cutting bridle joints
Today, students were assembling doors and cabinets and beginning to install hinges, so we have made great progress. I had been concerned about how much we would be able to get done but it looks as though the students will have enough done by the end of class tomorrow that they  will be pleased and  I relieved.

Part of the challenge is that even adults learn best at their own pace, with one-on-one instruction, and if schools would begin to understand that,  and teachers were allowed to offer that kind of attention, American education would advance hand over fist. But please don't hold your breath.

Today I went to a TV filming studio green room where  a small film crew is making a  promotional video for Clear Spring School. As always for television it is a challenge to get things reduced to an essence that leaves a lasting impact. I can hardly talk about the hands without going on for many sentences, as the hands literally touch every facet of human physical and cultural realities.  But the question came up, how can I explain the relationship between the Clear Spring School and the effective promotion of life-long learning? Well, it works like this. We start with the interests of the child. As the child's interests are honored and nourished within the school, the child's interests and attention grow far beyond the school walls. As the child takes greater responsibility for his or her own learning needs, confidence grows and learning becomes a life long endeavor.

In educational Sloyd, it was believed that classroom teaching should only be used at the  introduction of  a new project and that the variations in learning style and rate required individualized instruction for deepest effect. When instructions are personalized to ascertain the interests of the child, and individualized to each child, the students find school to be worthy of their undivided attention.

Whether you are an adult or child,

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

in a nutshell...

Ralph is making his small cabinet with dowels.
I have the third day of my ESSA small cabinet making class this morning, so this will necessarily be brief and hopefully concise.

Here in the US in the 60's and 70's we decided to divide high school education into two parallel forms, either preparing students for the trades or college prep. The idea was that it was no use teaching kids what they needed for college if they weren't going there, and it was no use teaching kids preparation for the trades if they were going on to bigger and better things. Forgotten in all that was that there is no better means to develop character and intellect than through the use of the hands. But few cared. We were becoming less of a manufacturing nation, racing head first into an "information age."

So we became less wise, (Anaxagoras had said we were wise because we have hands), and the hands themselves became impediments to the distribution of of knowledge, which could be done most efficiently through the eye by books, and through the ears by formal lecture. And those who were ill prepared to learn efficiently by those two means were generally abandoned, denigrated and marginalized by American education as being "slow learners."

The truth is that all children develop physically, emotional and intellectually at different rates. We know that some children may walk at 7 months, and some not until 12 months or later, but that is not predictive of their future intellectual development. But when it comes to reading, if children are not reading in Kindergarten in the US, we have panic attacks about their future intellectual competence. In Finland, where Sloyd is compulsory for all students, they begin reading at age 8 instead of 5 and far surpass American students at age 15 in 25 percent less time while enjoying more recess than any other children in Europe, learning 3 languages and also beating American children by far in science and math.

At this point, we have the institution of American education so screwed up, it calls for a revolution. All the mainstream proposals to fix things are in the wrong direction. The trades have been denigrated and marginalized as the realm of dummies, as we have been taught to overlook the huge intellectual resources contained within the relationship between hand and mind.

Too many of those who are given the advantages of higher education are distorted in view, and lacking in the forms of character that would lead them to successful lives that contribute at full capacity to the culture of humanity.

If you wonder for a few minutes one day why we have become such a selfish nation, how we have become so out of touch from things, and so unfulfilled in our daily lives, please consider how the hands even though they have  been marginalized can put us back in touch.
Kent is making his small cabinet with wedged tenons

The photos above and at left are from our third day of making small cabinets at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Small cabinets, day 2...

This was my second day of class, making small cabinets at ESSA. The students have determined the sizes of their small cabinets, and are involved in cutting the bridle joints for the doors. Each student has chosen a particular type of corner joint that they wanted to learn by the end of class, so each cabinet will involve variations of the students' choosing, including size and choice of woods.

I have been too busy to read or write in the blog, so if you want you can dig deep and catch up on the earlier posts about Educational Sloyd. Sloyd was a system of woodworking education, that recognized the clear relationship between the development of character and intellect. If we've become a nation stressed over lack of character, and saddened by stupidity, Educational Sloyd offers a means of getting a handle on things. Take Finland, for example where Sloyd training is compulsory and students by the time they are in 8th grade lead the world in reading, science and math, and while most speak three languages even though having almost no homework and the most recess of any nation in Europe. Type Sloyd in the search block at upper left and see what comes up, or scroll down to the right and find the link to my published articles scanned from print.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Small cabinets class, day one...

I have 6 students this week at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts having had two cancellations at the last minute. I am attempting to tailor the class to each student's learning needs, which means that 4 types of joints are being cut, each student's cabinet is being made to their own size specifications, and from a selection of three Arkansas hardwoods. We learn best when we have the challenge of thinking about what we are doing rather than just going through set-ups determined by others. So in addition to the small cabinets I hope we will display at the end of the week, the student's learning will be obvious to all.

You can see a bit of progress in the photos above and below.
Stated aim of the Guild and School of Handcrafts, 1888:
"seek not only to set a higher standard of craftsmanship, but at the same time, and in so doing, to protect the status of the craftsman. To this end it endeavours to steer a mean between the independence of the artist— which is individualistic and often parasitical— and the trade-shop, where the workman is bound to purely commercial and antiquated traditions, and has, as a rule, neither stake in the business nor any interest beyond his weekly wage".

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

arts and crafts...

According to Eileen Boris in Art and Labor, Temple University Press, 1986, the term "Arts and Crafts" was coined by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson a British lawyer turned book binder who had been a friend of William Morris. Cobden-Sanderson viewed art as the "engine of social change," and in that would have been aligned in thought with Comenius, father of pedagogy who, in the 17th century believed that the craftsman and his work would arise at the same time. Cobden-Sanderson believed that the purpose of the arts and crafts movement was to "bring all the activities of the human spirit under the influence of one idea, the idea that life is creation, and should be creative in modes of art, and that this creation should extend to all the ideas of science and of social organization."

According to another follower of Ruskin and Morris, C.R. Ashbee, "The arts and crafts workshop provided the conditions under which men, and not merely objects, were made." And so what happens when we leave children out of touch from their own creative capacities? Do they then choose other means through which to express their poorly developed social selves?

John Grossbohlin sent this link to a local New York report on two school principles who had visited Finland and further confirms what I've been sharing in this blog. Their conclusion was that American schools keep pushing and pushing youngest students before they are ready for reading when they actually need to be allowed to develop at their more natural learning pace. The video is not well done, but makes the same point I've been making in the blog for years. As I've said here before, you can't push a rope, but you can get one irretrievably tangled. When at the University of Helsinki, I visited the university wood shop where primary school teachers were being trained to teach woodworking. If the US has become become a nation of nincompoops, you and I can guess why.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

easy as 1, 2 or 3?

Home Depot has come to the realization that things need to be simplified, or dumbed down, or that contractors need to be available, or they'll lose sales... As once would have been All-American fix-it DIY types are falling from of the woodwork into a new cultural abyss, we ask. "Skills? What skills?" We don't seem to have hem anymore. This link is to the New York Times. A Nation that's losing its toolbox.
Ask the administration or the Republicans or most academics why America needs more manufacturing, and they respond that manufacturing spawns innovation, brings down the trade deficit, strengthens the dollar, generates jobs, arms the military and kindles a recovery from recession. But rarely, if ever, do they publicly take the argument a step further, asserting that a growing manufacturing sector encourages craftsmanship and that craftsmanship is, if not a birthright, then a vital ingredient of the American self-image as a can-do, inventive, we-can-make-anything people.

That self-image is deteriorating. And the symptoms go far beyond Home Depot.
As we become a nation of well entertained nincompoops, many may never know the pleasure of having made something beautiful and useful of their own design with their own hands. I can't think that would be a very good thing. In fact, shameful, me thinks. Thanks, John for the link.

I am preparing for a week long class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, building small cabinets. Starts Monday.

Make, fix and create...


Each and every tool is designed to amplify the seven original creative motions of the human hand (shown at left by Rudolph J. Drillis). Each tool is intended to provide greater control, greater strength, in areas of greater or lesser scale or at greater distance than the bare hands themselves. And so it is natural for mankind to feel inclined toward tool use, and to find pleasure in the ownership of tools and the skill developed in their use. To own a fine tool imparts a sense of greater power and in this there is a direct correlation between tools and guns.

I have this sense that our national obsession with firearms is a response to the loss of power and control over our lives, with guns serving as a sorry substitute for tools suited to real acts of moral courage and craftsmanship. With swords beaten to plowshares our culture would be less inclined toward fantasies of gun violence and safe again for kids to go to the movies without fear.

I am curious when our nation will awaken to understand that owning guns may not be an expression of courage but of cowardice? Of those who feel the need to carry guns, I wonder what in the world they could be frightened of?

As our nation mourns yet another senseless act of gun violence, I suggest a means through which we might become a safer, more humane nation. There is a peacefulness in craftsmanship... There is a sense of self and self control that comes when a man or woman applies skill through the use of tools in the creation of useful beauty from wood. Put real creative (rather than destructive) tools in the hands of kids and teach them to express care through their use.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hand cut mitered boxes...

Richard Bazeley sent photos of a box design his middle school students are making using mitered corners and all hand tools. In addition to what you see in the photos, the lids can be shaped and pulls added, thus giving the students the opportunity to experiment with design and enjoy personalizing their work.

I had gotten an inquiry from another Australian woodworker, wondering about ways to cut miters without having a tablesaw. As Richard shows, it's possible, though not easy. Richard's students are cutting their miters using miter boxes and hand saws. A bit of paste filler is required to cover small discrepancies of angle or length. As with many of my mitered boxes theirs are assembled using tape to pull the corners tight as the glue sets. The bottom is plywood, nailed in place.
There are two common causes for a poor fitting mitered joint in a box. Either the angle can be off, or the opposite sides may not be exactly the same length, which then causes one or more angles to be off. For that reason, mitered corner boxes (if you are looking for perfection in fit) are best cut with tablesaw, sled and stop block. But as a tool for learning, boxes of any kind are useful even when the joints are not quite as tight as the pickiest woodworker would like and may need filler.

A student can learn many things when making a box... about wood, about tools, about measuring and geometry, about him or her self. In Richard's boxes, the lid rabbet is sawn first along the edges using hand saws, then rabbeted with a rabbeting plane. With the exception of stock preparation, the whole thing can be made with hand tools, which in itself is a valuable lesson.

Thanks Richard for the photos. Today I continue to prepare for my small cabinets class and keep on cleaning the wood shop.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

the honesty of craftsmanship...

"It is only by labor that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labor can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity. It would be well if all of us were good handicraftmen in some kind, and the dishonour of manual labor done away with altogether." ― John Ruskin
I have been reading Art and Labor by Eileen Boris, which chronicles the impact of Ruskin, Morris, and the arts and crafts movement on life and labor in the US. We now seem to have largely forgotten the connection between craftsmanship and the development of both economic success and moral character within society. That connection was known and widely accepted in the early days of the arts and crafts movement in the US. Organizations like the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, and Hull House in Chicago, promoted craft activities for all as the means of building a more viable, successful and peaceful social structure. These days, the rich seem to have the notion that they have no responsibility to the poor... which leads me to ask, "Has there ever been a craftsman running for office in the US ashamed to reveal his income tax records to the American people?"

Today I will continue preparing materials for my class next week at ESSA, building small cabinets.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

dog days...

These are the dog days of summer, relentless heat that started weeks ago, and I was grateful to have been in Maine with cooler temperatures during part of June. A person can begin to feel a bit wrung out. Tomatoes in planters on the deck have turned out to be a poor investment. Between a massive, juicy green tomato horn worm devouring every leaf on one plant (I plucked him loose and hurled him into the woods), and the lack of adequate sun in the first place for the others, my second year of container gardening has been no better than the first. In gardening, I am a slow learner and it appears I need to find a better place to farm or give up.

In the shop, things are always just a bit better. I'm preparing stock for my class on making small cabinets and will offer my students a choice of walnut, cherry or white oak. It is so satisfying taking raw lumber and processing it into well surfaced parts.

I was asked for a quote about woodworking education to be used on the North Bennet St. School website, and so what I offered (subject to editing) is as follows:
"Woodworking in schools provides a cutting edge for the engagement of the mind in learning. Students who may be disinterested in academic learning are more deeply engaged in schooling when they get the opportunity to find success working with their hands.

On the other hand, students who are already successful in formal education acquire qualities of character in wood shop that make them better citizens, and more appreciative of the contributions made by others.

Regardless of a student's educational objectives, whether to enter college, or trade school, those things that are learned hands-on are learned more deeply and to greatest lasting effect."
While here in the northern hemisphere, the dog days of relentless heat are barking, and real dogs are panting heavily in what ever shade they can find, in the southern hemisphere, second semester of school has commenced. Richard Bazeley in Australia sent photos of his high school students at work on cabinetry, which involved three sessions working and learning at a local cabinet making shop. The cabinet maker was paid for his time and materials, thus bringing him into the educational process, but also engaging students in a real life outside-the-school learning opportunity. Richard said of the experience,
"This is a very efficient industry and so the students got to hear about and see the amount of the calculations and precision that is required to achieve a quality outcome. We worked to the millimetre and at times to the half millimetre.
I learnt a lot from the experience and hope to build more of this into what I teach in the future."
Next his students will begin making small cabinets of their own design, and having had a taste of real world experience will help them to know the importance of close tolerances and lead to greater success.

While we remember that ALL students benefit from hands-on learning like that a wood shop can provide, we must not forget the economic benefits of wood shop in preparing students for actual employment in the careful use of their minds, eyes and hands. Paul Ruhlman at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge notes that a number of his woodworking students have become orthopedic surgeons... a trade even the most successful and dubious parent could be proud of.

I had this interesting experience retrieving data from a recalcitrant hard drive. I could no longer get my computer to recognize a 160 gig. external hard drive upon which all my photos were stored, so learned from my internet research that literally freezing (below zero) a freezing hard drive might allow its data to be successfully retrieved. I put the hard drive sealed in a zip lock bag in  the freezer for  5 hours and then connected it wrapped in bubble wrap and sealed in zip lock for insulation while it downloaded to another external drive. Who would have thought such a thing might work? There is no reasonable explanation, but it does work. While it took over an hour I've successfully transferred my files to a new storage device. Yippee. If you have a challenging hard drive, freezing it may be the  first thing  you will want to try.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Today in the wood shop...

Use a dial indicator to measure at front and back of the blade
Adjust table saw top until blade measures the same front and back.
New sleds take only a few minutes to make and last years.
I have a break between adult classes to get ready for an ESSA class on making small cabinets, AND I am swapping out table saws, making room for the new Saw Stop saw I purchased in the spring. I took apart my wonderful almost new Grizzly saw which will be picked up for a new owner on Saturday.

The SawStop is a beautifully crafted piece of equipment, but requires complicated not so easy to accomplish set-up, indicating it was designed by engineers, and not with your basic consumer in mind. Squaring the blade to the table is a challenge. If you don't know which way to turn a bolt in the first place (a common situation these days for most consumers), you can spend way too much time getting things right. On my saw, the four bolts securing the top to the arbor/trunion assembly were so tight they made me question my own sense of which direction.

Of course, the saw will work right out of the box (after getting all the parts assembled), but to tune it up to give the best possible cut requires a dial indicator and some expertise in the use of it, but also the body and hands of a capuchin monkey to get in where the adjustments are made, and the strength of a gorilla to get enough torque to loosen the necessary bolts. In any case, with the blade square to the miter gauge slots, I am now making or adapting the necessary sleds to return to making beautiful boxes and any other kind of interesting woodwork that crosses my mind.

A friend had noticed that the high school in a neighboring community is attempting to make the point that they offer hands-on learning. Of course that can be a big point for advertising, since everyone already knows that those things that ARE learn hands-on are learned at greater depth and to greatest lasting effect.

Hands-on learning should be a no-brainer, but it's not actually as simple to accomplish as one might think. It requires the arts, music, laboratory science, wood shop, and means offered to all students (even those going to college) through which ALL learning (even the most abstract subjects) may be correlated and can be put in touch. Is it enough that some students are offered wood shop but that history and math remain untouched? It is easy to claim "hands-on learning" but it takes a lot more than a simple declarative statement for it to be true. I'll be curious whether the Berryville High School actually invests in it. Hands-on learning requires that teachers step down from their ivory silos and get busy redesigning classes and curricula with the hands in mind.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, July 16, 2012

a twist of rope...

As a kid, I loved to play with ropes, tie knots, etc. There are things you will learn about ropes either by handling them yourself, or by watching the subtleties of how another person handles rope. I was reminded of it this morning as I was coiling the cord of the vacuum cleaner, which like a good rope, tends to make a better coil if you remember to give each loop an eighth or quarter twist with one hand as it lays up in the other.

Yesterday, I was thinking about consciousness, and there is a difference between consciousness as a sense of self, and consciousness as it plays out in the real world. I guess the one could be called "self-consciousness" while the other in which we take into consideration the needs of others, including the fostering of human culture is of a more profound nature. For example, the coil of rope shown in the photo above is from the Port of Helsinki on the deck of a wooden boat. Rope is actually an imprecise term, as what it would actually be called would reference what it was used for and its size, and whether you were speaking Finnish, Swedish, English or some other language, YLMV. Still the coil of rope speaks in a language more universal. It was laid with care, each loop being laid with a quarter twist to keep it laying in perfect order. It was laid as though it mattered how it was done, and it did matter in three ways. First, the way it was laid made the rope available to play out without further attention and without tangling at the feet. It mattered also in that it showed the seaman's sense as to the importance of detail, showing that he or she actually cared about his or her work, and was conscious and caring in the performance of it. Third, it showed that the seaman cared about him or her-self, knowing that he or she would be viewed by others with regard to how the work was done. It served also in a special fourth way. It alerted any passers-by like myself, that the vessel was sacred ground, in which great care was the norm and was to be admired and not messed with. In that way, the coil of rope might serve either as welcome or warning depending on the character of the viewer at hand. Can you imagine schools in which such craftsmanship was the norm?

Yesterday we met a friend and attended the The Magic Flute performed in Bentonville, AR by the Inspiration Point Opera Company from here in Eureka Springs. Every summer opera students from all over the US gather here to practice their performance skills, while putting on three different operas for our local enjoyment. In preparation, they rehearse all three each day. They bring a lot to our community, and we know that many of the students we watch on stage may at some point become opera greats, following in the footlights of others who've spent summers here. One could not watch such a fine performance with a sense that there was something unconscious about it. In order to witness ( by both eye and ear) what we did in yesterday's performance, it was first necessary that a whole cast of people work and practice, and hone their skills to the point at which self-consciousness passes from view, and consciousness of larger self emerges as the expression of creative art. In a very simple way, this expression is like the careful coiling of a rope.

This all may seem unrelated to education. One thing you learn from play with ropes is that it is ineffective to try to push one, and from that comes the old Southern expression, "you can't push a rope." When it comes to kids in schools, it is far better that they be pulled by their interests than forced by our own, in which case we are boring them and wasting their time and ours.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Edgar Cayce...

Is the future ahead of us where it can be seen, or behind us where it can be understood? Edgar Cayce was an American clairvoyant whose most famous prediction was that California would drop into the sea. It hasn't yet, but parts of it are headed there in geologic time.

According to legend, Cayce was having trouble in school and discovered that by sleeping with his head on his books, he would know and remember their contents by morning, and so that raises the question, is consciousness a necessary part of learning or even required? What part is played within the unconscious mind? Julian Jaynes in the Origins of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind proposed in his review of scientific experiments that consciousness is not required for either thinking or learning.

This month's National Geographic has a short article on the decline of cursive, and a longer article on the decline of languages. With the loss of cursive, we have no idea what we are actually losing except that the fluidity of hand, ink and thoughts on paper are a bit different in subtle ways from keyboarded stuff. The fluid transmission of words on paper through trained muscles in the hand would be a thing of no consequence to most. In fact, if one approaches education without any understanding of the relationship between the hands and brain in learning, the decline of cursive might be seen as a good thing.

In the case of languages, the consequences may even be more dire. With one language disappearing from the human communicative capacity every 14 days, we will all be speaking in one of three major languages (English, Mandarin or Spanish) in no time, and in no other, but in doing so, will be losing valuable culture, content and perspective. Can the full breadth of human culture be expressed in these three languages? How much will we forget of our relationships with each other and to the planet?

In the National Geographic article on loss of languages, one of the languages described as nearly lost is a Central Asian language, Tuvan. In Tuvan, what stands in front of you is the past and what lies behind, the future. It is an interesting juxtaposition given George Santayana's comment about the past... Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. In the future, the past is probably sneaking up on the unwary. In a culture in which proper regard is given to history, looking forward to the past makes sense, and if things do move in cycles, I look forward to the return of wood shops to American education.

Making is also a language, but of the hand and eye, rather than of voice and of text. Much of the human story is told through artifacts of human creativity. We may learn quite well by falling asleep in our books, but not so much by failing to make.

Have at it. Grab a tool and get busy.

This morning I went to buy lumber, waited for a severe thunderstorm to pass after the wood was loaded in the truck and I managed to make it back to Eureka Springs without getting my walnut and white oak lumber wet. Looking back, but with no pretense of clairvoyance, I somehow knew that could happen.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 13, 2012

consciousness and intelligence...

I've been reading Julian Jaynes book, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and it offers insight into why intelligence expressed through the hands is not considered to be intelligent at the same level as those things that do not require practice and skill... they tend to become automatic and unconscious and must be in order to be expressed with any significant degree of apparent ease and expertise. The following is from Dr. Jaynes:
Examples of how little we are conscious of our everyday behavior can be multiplied almost anywhere we look. Playing the piano is a really extraordinary example. Here a complex array of various tasks is accomplished all at once with scarcely any consciousness of them whatever: two different lines of hieroglyphics to be read at once, the right hand guided to one and the left to the other; ten fingers assigned to various tasks, the fingering solving various motor problems without any awareness, and the mind interpreting sharps and flats and naturals into black and white keys, obeying the timing of the whole or quarter or sixteenth notes and rests and trills, one hand perhaps in three beats to a measure while the other plays four, while the feet are softening or slurring or holding various other notes. And all this time the performer, the conscious performer, is in a seventh heaven of artistic rapture at the results of all this tremendous business, or perchance lost in contemplation of the individual who turns the leaves of the music book, justly persuaded he is showing his very soul! Of course consciousness usually has some role in the learning of such complex activities, but not necessarily in their performance, and that is the point I am trying to make here.

Consciousness is often not only unnecessary; it can be undesirable. Our pianist suddenly conscious of his fingers during a serious set of arpeggios would have to stop playing.
So a natural assumption made by most, particularly by those primarily engaged in activities where hand skills are not required is that the expression of skilled hands is a mindless activity. But even things so well practiced and rehearsed that they may be performed unconsciously are valid expressions of human intelligence in that they represent investments made by human consciousness.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The look of feeble-mindedness..?

Defectives, Feeble-minded: United States. Massachusetts. Waverly. School for Feeble-minded: Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded.: Sloyd Class.
Series: Social Museum Collection, Photo by William A. Webster 1903
It is truly amazing what you can find at Harvard. Do you really think these boys are defective or feeble-minded? Much of the stupidity present in academia stems from the failure to understand the relationship between the hands and the development of intellect. The judgment that skilled hands are not a matter of intelligence is a most anti-democratic notion, but one common to academia. More examples can be found here.
Manual Arts training was also seen as a way of dealing with truancy and children engaged in crime as shown in the photo above that was filed in the Harvard archives under crime, truancy and Sloyd. A crime greater than what these boys may have committed is our nation's failure to understand the role of the hands in the creation of character and intelligence.

Make, fix and create...

Interests of the child...

I call upon readers to examine their own lives.

You have probably noticed that when you are enthusiastically engaged in a subject, you are able to express greater intelligence at the very same time. Does this point require an entire blog post, or is it something you know for yourself without me saying a word? I hope the latter.

In Educational Sloyd, the first principle was to start with the interests of the child. Interest is our greatest gift as learners, and is the quality of character that brings our own intelligence to the fore. And yet we structure American education so that too many students, by the time they reach 8th grade, are no longer interested in what they can get from school. I have called it the four D's of American education. Disengagement, Discouragement, leading to Disruption, and Dropping out. Children who are not creatively engaged in school often become disruptive of the learning by others. When they drop out from school, some educators are relieved to see them go. But what a tragic waste. The blame is then put on the kids, when it is really the structure of the school at fault.

When you begin to understand that crafts formed the foundation of science, you may also begin to understand the role that crafts can play in schooling. There is no better way to engage the mind of the child in learning than through the application of real tools on real materials in the creation of beautiful and useful things. As I've said so many times before,one really cannot successfully whittle a stick without making a rudimentary scientific hypothesis.

Instead, we have allowed our children to become tools of technology, idle consumers of stuff, bored stiff with education at all levels.

When in Boston, I visited with one of the founders of Sprout & Co. a group of educators attempting to start a new charter school in Sommerville, Massachusetts. I learned that Alec Resnick, one of the founders is a reader of this blog. The following from their website could be taken as their mission statement:
Sprout is a community education and research organization devoted to creating and supporting the community-driven learning, teaching, and investigation of science. We're united by a passion to reclaim science as a richly personal and creative craft.
So what isreclaiming science? At one time all human beings were observers of their surroundings. What was observed was shared with others in their communities, in part through the making of real things. Now science has become so statistically removed, beyond the understanding of most that it is losing its capacity to inform. Real life has begun to lose interest for too many. The lessons that can be observed from it become lost on those who have lost all sense of self-efficacy in pursuit of scientific understanding.

The hands actually have the power to reverse all that. Purposefully engage the hands in the pursuit of knowledge and expression of intellect.

This article,
Arne Duncan Reports College Completion Rates Rise By Half A Percentage Point.
Half a percentage point is not much improvement. While American college completion rates were once the highest in the world, we have hover around 16th place.

On another subject, I talked to the current owner of 7 Harcourt St. once home of Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training School in Boston. The owner had taken woodshop in 7th grade and still has the mahogany table he built in school. He was unaware of that early part of his building's history and he's offered me a tour of 7 Harcourt next time I'm in Boston. I sent photos, floor plan and text concerning 7 Harcourt to him, so he will be aware of his building's special place in the history of Manual and Industrial Arts.

The image at the top is from the Harvard Gutman Library, filed under the title
"Defectives, Feeble-minded: United States. Massachusetts. Waverly. School for Feeble-minded: Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded.: Sloyd Models.
Series: Social Museum Collection"
I think you can see that Harvard and other institutions of higher education have been a large part of the problem in American education, not recognizing the intelligence expressed by the hands through the making of beautiful and useful objects. While in Boston, Paul Ruhlman, who teaches high school woodworking at Buckingham, Brown and Nichols School in Cambridge told us that a disproportionate number of his woodworking students become orthopedic surgeons.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Self-efficacy is a psychological term which describes a state in which one feels capable, in control of things, confident, competent, etc. So this morning, I want to mention two ways in which a person can gain a sense of self-efficacy. One is by doing something oneself, as in the field of crafts. When one manages to get his or her hands to engage successfully in doing a skilled task, a sense of self-efficacy results. The other way is to get others to do your bidding for you. Tell a person to do something and when they do it, you gain a sense of control over circumstances and relationships in your life. As I often repeat myself in the blog, this is a subject I've written about before.

Much of self-efficacy in modern life comes to us second hand, not from what we do for ourselves but that is done for us or enabled by others. We turn the key in the ignition, back the car out of the drive, and go to the store. We may have a sense of self-efficacy as we drive the car from one place to another, but when the car for some reason won't start, and we lack the means to fix it, anger can arise in equal measure to the sense of lack of control over one's life. A flat tire is a larger matter to one who does not know how to change a tire.

According to Wikipedia,
"Understanding how to foster the development of self-efficacy is important for policymakers, educators, and others in leadership positions, and to anyone seeking to build a happier, more productive life."

Some of us choose to become craftsmen for the simple sake of self-efficacy. When one holds a chisel in the left hand, it being well trained through experience in the grip, angle of blade and position of cut, and the other hand holding a mallet, it being well versed in the amount of force to apply, a sense of self-efficacy is present in action, and is drawn forth as a result, strike by simple strike, from the first skilled cut to the final result.

One can see the simple human dilemma... Either we find a sense of self-efficacy through our own actions or through the efforts we make toward the control of others. It may explain why some of those nations where people must work hard to survive are among the happiest on Earth. It is a rather sad situation in one sense. As we have vast political forces aligned in ideological and political struggle, what our world really needs most is for each individual to be able to draw upon the most natural source of self-efficacy, that of crafting something of integrity and useful beauty through the use of skilled hands... Thus taking matters and learning into our own hands.

On a similar track, I got a call from Richard Burman who is working on a documentary about the hands. He was wanting some descriptive text about the relationship between the hands and science. These days nearly everything in science is described in terms of margin of error and statistical significance, which largely takes science away from the masses and places it firmly in the control of an academic, statistics obsessed minority. It is the same with education. And yet, it must become known that the arts, crafts and science go hand in hand. You cannot successfully whittle a stick without making a scientific hypothesis and engaging the hand, eye and mind in scientific observation. That we fail as a nation to understand this leaves us dumb as a post, no dumber. At the least the post, firmly rooted in the earth knows which way's up.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

back in Arkansas...

marking wood for 4 corner match
I am back in Arkansas after my trip to the Northeast.

Today I drove to Little Rock and picked up my small cabinets exhibit from the Historic Arkansas Museum and will now be getting ready for my Small Cabinet Making Class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

playing with feet.
Above, left and below are photos from my box making class at Eliot School in Jamaica Plain. More can be seen on the Eliot School Facebook  page. It was a good weekend class and it is amazing how much material we can cover in two days. It was a pleasure being at Eliot School. The workbenches we used were new to the school in the early 1900s. And on a shoestring the school makes an important arts and woodworking outreach into Boston Public Schools.

My students had asked if the class would live up to its name, Creative Box Making. Thanks to them it did. Each student offered something personally expressive to the process.

The photo at the bottom of the page is of 7 Harcourt St. Boston, built in 1908 for Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd teacher training school. Visiting that building has been on my to do list for some  time. Next time in Boston I hope to get a tour of the inside of the building.

Make, fix and create...

A unique pull.

Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd teacher training school, Boston

Monday, July 09, 2012

To be a good teacher...

For to be a teacher does not mean simply to affirm that such a thing is so, or to deliver a lecture, etc. No, to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and in the way he understands it ."

Soren Kierkegaard, The Journal, 1864
I am in the Boston, Logan Airport waiting for the first flight on my journey back to Arkansas. The quote above tells something essential about an effective teacher. If a teacher cannot for some reason offer a student a means through which to conduct his or her own inquiry through the use of tools, that teacher would commence with an investigation of his or her own.... finding out what the child knows, and what the child wants to know. This is what was meant when Otto Salomon suggested that teachers of Sloyd start with the interests of the child.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Box making photos...

The Ted talk shown above is partially about our human compulsion to make. I prefer making things from materials more expressive than plastic and that come through the development of hand skills but as some of my readers know and as too many have forgotten, to make is an important expression of our humanity.

Photos of my box making class at Eliot School in Boston are now on Facebook, along with other photos showing various activities including young woodworkers at work. I am now packed and ready to return to Arkansas. It is an amazing feeling to return to one's own wood shop and home after three weeks away. I will have many things to share from my New England Teaching sojourn/adventure as I reflect upon it and as things continue to percolate on behalf of children needing to be creatively engaged with their hands. A friend asked me tonight about the age of my students in the class for the last two days. The youngest was 30, and yet adults learning with enthusiasm is little different from what some of us would hope for our kids.

I want to thank Eliot School for giving me the chance to teach, my students for being such passionate learners, and my assistant Andy Glen from the North Bennet St. School for being such great help.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Box Making, Day one, Eliot School...

Today is my first day of box making at the Eliot School in Jamaica Plain. The school, founded in 1676, has a rich history, and now, besides classes to children and adults offers an arts and woodworking outreach program to Boston Schools.

I will have 12 students in my class, and will take a few photos, but am having trouble loading photos to the blog. I will be busier than usual for the next two days and may not get much written before I get back to Arkansas on Monday. Tonight I meet for a potluck with a group of MIT educators forming a new charter school, sprout based on project based learning.

As we contemplate our return of woodworking to Boston Schools, I want to thank Glen Gurner for a paper he sent researching the history of Educational Sloyd at the North Bennet St. School. From it, I share the following quote from Pauline Aggasiz Shaw:
“The whole boy should be sent to school and not just part of him; it is not enough to train the intellect alone...but the eye and the hand are together the most trustworthy leaders of the brain.”
Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 06, 2012

Restoring the role of woodshops...

Yesterday I met with interested parties including teachers from around Boston at the North Bennet St. School about restoring woodworking education in Boston Public Schools. The North Bennet St. School has a 3 year pilot program teaching woodworking to kids in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, and we met to discuss what would be needed to expand the program. As some of my readers will recall, the North Bennet St. School in the late 1800's played an important role in the introduction of woodworking in American Schools by serving as the home of Sloyd Teacher Training. Many thousands of teachers from across the US received Sloyd Training at NBSS and some of those teachers, like Ednah Anne Rich from Santa Barbara went on to found Sloyd teacher training schools.

The questions are huge. First, should it be a high school program, taking advantage of the renewed emphasis on STEM education? Or should it be for the lower and middle school grades, taking advantage of the relationship between the North Bennet St. School and the history of the origins of Educational Sloyd? Furthermore, is it to be a program in which more students are to be served, or can it be what Gustaf Larsson's sloyd program at NBSS what it once was? An establishment through which to train teachers to teach Sloyd?

In my study of Sloyd, I learned that not only is it about teaching woodworking, it also provides understanding of how we learn, and that its principles are useful to any teacher in developing curriculum and offering the best of learning to his or her kids, regardless of subject. Even my adult box making students learn best when Education Sloyd is kept in mind. For that reason, I would like to see Sloyd offered to all kids. Educational Sloyd's development was hand in glove with the Kindergarten movement which for some time in America brought the best of progressive education to the fore.

In any case, it feels good to be a part of such discussions. Today I will visit Eliot School, and see their students at work. In parallel with NBSS, Eliot School in Jamaica Plain has established an afterschool program in woodworking.

Yesterday as we were discussing the use of the internet to help teachers find support in the development of their programs, I was reminded of the website forum developed by Woodcraft to help woodworking teachers communicate and share ideas. I was pleased to log-on after a long absence and see that it still works and is being used. Please go to woodworkingteachers.com and check it out. The photo below , taken from Charles A. Bennett's History of Manual and Industrial Education 1870-1717, shows the inside of Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training School with the graduating claFss of 2013.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

character and crafts... vs. principles, theories and facts...

We have this idea of things getting better over time, and yet if one looks at education, and then takes a good look at the number of young men and women in our prison system some things will be noticed about the failings of our current system of education. A blog reader had found it ironic that there had been no new books about Sloyd in over one hundred years, and while things may have changed, people and many circumstances have not. According to Charles R. Edmunds in his address to the Eastern Manual Training Association in 1904,
Statistics show... that of the five or six hundred hundred convicts who had been admitted during the year preceeding... nearly every one had attended public schools. This clearly demonstrates the fact that crime requires a more heroic remedy than the mere teaching of principles, theories and facts. These same statistics show that of this large number of criminals, only five or six were mechanics. Surely this information is of great public concern. It proves that those who understand the use of tools and machines have no need to resort to ways that are dark.
There was at that time a clear sense of correlation between learning to do real, honest making of beautiful and useful things and the development of character of individuals upon which successful communities are based.

Yesterday at Gannon and Benjamin, I watched workers in the boat yard. There were none standing around idly as lifting was required. Each attempted to anticipate how they might best help as they were guiding a pea pod safely down from the loft. There are ways that craftsmanship builds bonds of relationship between members of society just as they do within a small boat yard. Each craftsman looks to the other for support. Modern education is not very well aimed toward that.

Will Price, architect and founder of Rose Valley community told of his experience in his address to the same meeting of manual arts teachers, 1904:
A couple of years ago some of us tried to start some little shops at Rose Valley. I went to one of the oldest and best cabinet makers in the city of Philadelphia and asked him if he could get me two or three good, all-round cabinet makers. He said: "Well, I think I could get you two." That is, only two in a city of over a million people. I said, "I want young men." "Oh!" he exclaimed, "these men are so old they will probably die before you get them out there." He added, "You cannot find a young cabinet maker because there is no use for him, I can get you a good dowel sticker, or a good man on the lathe, or mortise machine, but there is no such thing as a cabinet maker in the cabinet making shop. " ... That is the situation in one of the most simple, direct and important of the crafts left to us. I would have to go to Norway or somewhere else to get men.
With a return of craftsmanship in American schools a great deal can be fixed. But this revolution in education should not only be for the children of the poor. The need for caring craftsmanship exists at all levels of community life.

Today I am still relaxing much more than is useful or normal for me as I take my break between my class in Maine and my activities in Boston. The 4th of July weekend is the craziest of times to be at Cape Cod. The video TED Talk embedded above is of Dale Dougherty whom I met at the Maker Faire the summer before last in Dearborn. Unfortunately making things is only part of the picture. It must be accompanied by the questions, "What shall I make?, What are its values? Who will it serve? Is it made with an eye toward beauty and as an expression of caring craftsmanship?" But yes, the culture of making needs to start somewhere and perhaps the first thing is to understand that making is of essence to our humanity.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Mentors and mentoring...

I spent part of the morning at Gannon and Benjamin Boat Works on Marthas Vinyard after taking the ferry from Woods Hole and was invited to the run of the place to take photos and to talk with boat makers including Harry Ricciardi who is rebuilding a Danish folkboat from stem to stern. Harry had graduated fron NYU, had gotten a job in advertising, but when the economy collapsed asked Ross Gannon for work. While not even knowing how to hold a hammer, Harry showed sincerity and enthusiasm that Ross evidently liked.

Harry proves himself as his skills grow by working on his own boat. At this point he's replaced sawn and steam bent ribs, restored the floor timbers including the long bolts securing the iron keel. He is converting from clinker construction to carvel. Because it is a skill he needs to possess. When he shows skill he gains the opportunity to work on other boats. At this point, besides being an enthiastic hand to do whatever he is asked, he's become a skilled painter of boats. Gradually, in the process, Gannon and Benjamin gain an employee with skill and confidence. It is better than school for Harry. He's never bored. And Ross is the perfect mentor. He trusts Harry to learn best by making mistakes.

At the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship this last week, I had the luxury of enough time to do some boxes that challenged me creatively, and thus demonstrate a taking of risks essential to artistic engagement for my students to observe as they worked on their own projects. This can be a valuable tool.

I got an email on this subject from a homeschooling blog reader with a particularly precocious 4.5 year old son who seems to have a great interest in woodworking and all things mechanical. The parent asks:
I am asking you for your advice about the best ways and projects to teach myself - should I be seeking out a mentor or classes for myself, or can I teach myself the basics to keep him engaged for the next few years until he is old enough and ready to connect with mentors and classes in this area himself?  He is so eager and engaged, and any insight or ideas or direction you can provide to me would be deeply appreciated!
A few years ago I was in our local northwest Arkansas airport waiting for a flight to a conference on hands-on learning in Detroit. A small family was there, the father was engaged in a magazine, the mother was engaged in a book, and the small daughter was sitting quietly with her doll. (now the parents and children would be sitting with their iPhones instead) The son, about 5 years old was studying the escalator. His hands were following over and over again the black plastic railing as it made its bend, and his eyes were glued to the steps as they disappeared into the floor level. My thought at the time was that if his parents could ignore him long enough he'd become an engineer. Still, it is best when parents take an actual interest in fostering and modelling engagement as my reader hopes to do.

I think every parent could enjoy woodworking with their kids. They need not be particularly good at woodworking to do so. The most important thing in my mind is that parents should be modeling a following of their own creative bliss, whether in woodworking or something else, but it needs not exactly duplicate the interests of the son or daughter. If a parent provides the tools and some materials, a bit of instruction on how not to hurt oneself with tools, a bit of watchful oversight, acknowledgment of growth of skill as it occurs, and a place to work, a son or daughter will be given a foundation so much greater than almost any parent in this day and age is willing to provide. Add to that an oppoortunity to see work of inspirational quality, whether in craft shows or museums and the opportunity to visit real craftsmen at work, and even without becoming an artist onself, a parent can foster the growth of a creatively inclined child.

All that said, however, for a parent to take classes and connect with mentors, models behavior that would be great for children to observe. I will be presenting a lecture on the importance of hands on learning at Eliot School on Friday night. Click the link to learn the details. The video embedded above helps to explain why technology needs to be taught in schools.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, July 02, 2012

Pease marine railway and boatyard...

Today I drove the length of Cape Cod and back to Falmouth, playing tourist, but also looking into the wooden boat community, as those folks already know the importance of hands-on learning before a single word is said. I visited Pease Boatworks and Marine Railway and got a tour from Brad Pease, and was there in time to see a wooden power boat they had built, the Anemone, leaving for delivery to its new owner. The boat had just won an award in the recent Wooden Boat show, named best of the professionally made power boats.

I am unable to upload photos at the moment, but will do so at another date. Tomorrow I plan to visit the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway in Vinyard Haven, which requires a trip by ferry.

Also, today, I happened to see the Coast Guard Motor Life Saving Vessel, Chatham, CG36500 a legendary vessel credited with saving many lives through heroism of its crew, a story told recently in Wooden Boat Magazine. As I found it the historic vessel was simply sitting on a trailer in a gas station parking lot, but I recognized it immediately, stopped and took photos which I will share later, feeling somewhat pleased to have gotten a chance to see what locals and tourists alike take for granted or miss completely, most never knowing its historic significance.

Make, fix and create...


In the early days of the introduction of Manual Arts in schools advocates of such training faced the same arguments they will face today. It is difficult and often impossible to teach large classes of students as you can in literature or math. Expensive tools and equipment are required. Students just don't have the skill for it. Wood shop will take time away from other "more important" academic studies. And yet, in the early days, administrators made space in schools, hired teachers, overcame their own reticence, and created manual arts programs because certain things were known, and in certain pilot programs things had been observed and demonstrated that convinced administrators from all across the US that manual arts education would enhance the learning opportunities for all students. It was noted for example that students learned academic subjects with less effort and in shorter time when their classes were balanced with those in the manual arts. Student interests, once aroused by doing real things overcame all obstacles and students, finding relevance to schooling in their own lives and to their own interests became more enthusiastic participants in their own educations.

In the early days, it was noticed that the character of the individuals who passed from the halls of learning was enhanced by the manual arts. This alone should help administrators and communities overcome reluctance. Charles Edmunds, in an address to the Eastern Manual Training Association in 1904 noted,
"The man who can make his hand productive and useful respects his neighor's person and property. The reason of this is readily ascertained, and it is because he can do things and make things. He can profit not by the cowardly abstraction of that to which he has not title but from his own skilled labor, supervised and directed by an educated mind, he finds his own reward."
No doubt most of us have at some point or another found our interests aroused, and having suddenly discovered a subject to be relevant to our own interests found learning eased. For example, I found it difficult to identify species of trees until I began using the woods from those trees, at which point the species and their variations became clear.

Tuiskon Ziller wrote in 1864, "Grundlegung zur Lehre von Erzihenden Unterricht" (The Principles for the Study of Education Instruction). He said,
"On the one hand, natural science, mathematics, grammar, history, geography, drawing, and singing should offer problems to the work-shop; and on the othger hand, practical experiences gathered in the manual work should make book studies the more easily learned."
I realize that I am but one voice in this discussion of the future of American education. There are millions of voices expressing what a mess we have made of things. My own solution may seem simplistic in view of the enormity of the problems our schools face. But when in doubt,

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The cape...

I'm at Falmouth on the elbow of Cape Cod, having rented a car, and having driven from Rockland to visit friends. It is lovely here. I hope to simply plant my feet, get refreshed from my two week class, which itself was refreshing, prepare for my visit to the North Bennet St. School, my talk on Friday night, and my class on Saturday and Sunday.

On last Friday evening at the annual Center for Furniture Craftsmanship open house, I visited with a couple about the integration of the arts and play seamlessly into the work of our lives. They mentioned a playfulness in my box designs. The gentleman pulled a clipping from the New York Times from his wallet that he had kept since 1999 about a small building built on a small vacant lot in Manhattan.
"There is something inherently quiet about the place and the men who designed it. In explaining their philosophy about living and working in one place, Mr. Smith paraphrased a Zen Buddhist saying he once heard in Japan: "The real master in the art of living makes little distinction between his art and his leisure," he said. "He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both."
I asked the gentleman how he had integrated play into his own life. Smiling, he informed me that he had directed theater performances at Bowdoin College for many years. And in that I am reminded that theater plays its part in the Wisdom of the Hands. In fact, it's been proven that when learning lines for a performance, actors memorize their lines more effectively if they use gesture while doing so.

The story of the small building in Manhattan reminded of my visit to Bill Coperthwite's archetypal three story yurt. His ground floor is the working floor, just as work forms the foundation of onne's life. It is filled with materials, benches, tools and various works in progress. The second story is his living level, still replete with tools but also with books and places to write and to prepare meals. The top level is Bill's place to sleep and to dream, and in that sense, the building itself is an integration of self.

I was also reminded of Bill Coperthwaite by an email from a man in Canada planning to start a woodworking program for children k-7 in an indigenous community. He asked about what tools I would recommend to get his program started. Bill had travelled all over the north, Canada, Europe and Alaska, studying the use of the crooked knife. While his PhD from Harvard is in education, it might as well have been in Anthrpology. But then education would be best based on the understanding of real people, how they live, think, learn and develop culture. In educational Sloyd, Otto Saloman began children's lessons with the knife because every Swedish schoolboy, even before school began knew how to safely use the knife, and a central premise of Sloyd was to move gradually from the known to the unknown. I suggested Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling which can be found free on-line. It offers project ideas, but I suggests that any teacher starting a new program try to keep his children in mind.

Making beautiful and useful objects as a core component in education requires that project plans need to be flexible to meet the interests of the child and engage the support of family and community. Using tools that connect with the culture of a community can be the best place to start but one needs to offer parents and fellow teachers and administrators a clear understanding of the values of such work. In the early days some parents believed that offering hand-skills to children was a way of depriving them of academic advancement.

Bill would agree that spoon making is a thing that can be done with just a straight knife and crooked knife, and as I've said before one cannot successfully whittle a stick without learning the powers of observation that are essential to success in everything else. One can't successfully whittle a stick without forming elementary hypotheses about the nature of material reality and in that way crafts form the foundation of scientific inquiry. I ask on behalf of Bill, "Have you ever used a draw knife and shaving horse?"

Bill had been asked many times how he could move into a community without knowing the language. He would proceed with a crooked knife in one hand a stick with the other. Folks from all cultures would be drawn close by curiosity as was I when I first met Bill. To use a knife to make things that are beautiful and useful breaks all social barriers. And the language spoken by creative hands is universal in its understanding.

My hosts here in Falmouth are old friends, and very effective at integrating art and play into the hard work of their lives. I plan to spend just a bit of time as tourist while I gather my wits.

I had a short meeting this afternoon with the director of NBSS to discuss their hopes of bringing woodworking education back to the children of Boston Public Schools. I Wanted to get a better sens of where their program sits at the moment and to try to learn how I can help.

Make, fix, and create...