Friday, August 31, 2012

arts integration in schools...

More and more educational institutions are coming to a renewed awareness of the value of the arts to engage children more deeply and passionately in learning. This article from Edutopia, School Transformation through Arts Integration tells the story of one school, and there are more. If you watch the video above, I would need to say little more.

The arts have an undeniable power to enrich and transform, whether we are talking about a single life or the lives within a family, a school or a community. Teachers, too are made whole when they too, are engaged creatively in the classroom. And yet, schools across the US have abandoned the arts as they have pushed teach-to-the-test methodologies and thereby failed to engage kids in learning.

But this story is not just about the arts as an abstraction. How can the arts have such power to engage? Can one play instrumental music, or paint or sculpt, or create art of any kind without the engagement of hands? And in hands we discover the true secret power of the arts. The engagement of the hands is the flow to, from and through the senses, allowing students to both sense and create in response, putting into direct action what they learn.

Even beyond the arts, the hands have many other important and beneficial roles to play in schools to which they were traditionally assigned before education plunged into the depths of the standardized testing craze. For instance in math, and in science.

School wood shops in their earliest days occupied the interesting juncture between art, math and science. One cannot do woodworking without putting math to work, and one cannot do finer work in wood without coming to a working scientific understanding of its qualities and structure. Many early woodworking textbooks explained the working qualities of wood and provided a foundation of scientific understanding that students might test for themselves through personal investigation as they formed objects of useful beauty. The scientific illustration above is from S. Barter's book, Woodwork, the English Sloyd.

To become lifelong learners requires that we give consideration to the power of our hands to test and transform. Engage the hands, hearts follow.

On another note, two of my articles previously published in Fine Woodworking have been republished in a compilation, Quick & Easy projects, available where magazines are sold until October 17, 2012. For blog readers who do not subscribe to Fine Woodworking, this compilation can be an opportunity to catch up on some of my better designs and techniques. On still another subject, the remnants of Hurricane Isaac came through last night and throughout the day, much tamed. We had almost no wind, only very gentle rain. Isaac is now headed north to bring much needed drought relief to other states.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

where there's a knot...

Where there's a knot, there had been a limb, and a single item of the many that connect us soul to soul with wood is that we and the trees are narrative forms. Just as we tell our stories to each other, the life of the tree is told in wood. Some craftsmen love knots and incorporate them in their work, others avoid them at all costs. Some craftsmen strive for perfection, others find themselves more willing to give voice to the essential qualities of wood, knots and all. Regardless of where one may fall along that line, there are lessons to learn about life from a hands-on examination of real wood.

In 7th, 8th and 9th grades at CSS, we are attempting to give voice to the wood to better understand ourselves, our community and our places within. We are starting a project in which our own histories and the life of our nation will be told through marking a timeline on wood. The two slices of stump shown are from the city cemetery (a giant yellow pine) and from the tulip poplar which presided over our Carnegie Public Library.

This can make a great history lesson for kids, connecting them to the lives of community and forest, and to the growth of our trees. It is something easily done in your own school and community.Check with your local arborist or tree service for a suitable stump.

We will use nails to mark the years and to locate specific events. On the stump in front of the Carnegie Public Library we will do the same thing, but by attaching numbered tags and by providing a printed key that library patrons can use to explore their own relationship to our wonderful lost tree.

I have not as yet determined the exact ages of these trees, but both were cut last week, August 2012, and are over 80 years old. A count of the rings will tell the exact story.

If you would like to get a sense of the school where I teach, watch the following:

Make,fix and create...

fact check...

Listening to the barrage of television advertisements in which candidates hurl insults at each other to distort each other's records and motives, makes me wonder which side of reality these folks woke up on. There is a divide... those who are hands-on engaged in reality and those who are not.

When politicians start to spew, it is best these days to ignore and go about one's business making things and learning from the real world. One Fox News writer's response to Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican Convention was not good. Sally Kohn summarized Ryan's address  in three words, Dazzling, Deceiving, and Distracting. With regards to words, particularly when spoken by those attempting to lead others, the writing of William Carlos Williams ought to serve as a warning:
It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence.

— William Carlos Williams
The same could be said of speech in public places.

On the other hand, there is little danger in making things that express your own yearning for growth as a craftsman. There is an essential honesty in real work, for both the materials and maker are transformed. Would that we were more a world of makers than of words, or that making might transform and temper words that they might bear truth.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

the true job creators... all of us.

Didn't build this by myself. See *note below.
Today, as I work in my shop, and prepare for school, and watch the Republican conventioneers bash government and hold up the mighty solo selfish entrepreneur as the true source of American success, I'll remember that we are all in this together. I guess you could say I'm an Eisenhower Republican. We would not be a peaceful nation, in which children attend school, and craftsmen work securely in their shops without a baseline of civility... a shared sense of responsibility to each other.

Nicholas D. Kristof has an OpEd in the New York Times that addresses this matter, The Secret Weapon: All of Us. Read it. It makes a good point.

In regards to my own wood shop, I have been thankful that it is nestled in a community in which trees are cared for, fine homes are kept up, a public library keeps folks educated and well read, and in which children are able to go to school each day, where teachers, both public and private, care about so much more than the bottom line. The taxes I pay, are my small investment in all that.

The box above is one I just finished in my shop, but that was begun while teaching at Marc Adams School. I didn't build it all by myself. The cherry lumber grew on someone's property for many years before harvest. It's design is the culmination of years of my own interaction with wood (nourished and encouraged by others). My travels to and from Marc Adams School were over the interstate highway system, started by Republican President Eisenhower, and sustained by presidential administrations and thousands upon thousands of publicly financed workers ever since. The hinges were made by Brusso. When I needed a tool, it was supplied by Marc Adams School and delivered by assistants who had kept it maintained in top working order. The box was made as a demonstration in accordance with my own inclination to share and my student's inclinations to learn. Is there a simple message in all that?

We live in the society and circumstances we sustain or are sustained in our behalf by collective action. Our willingness to be taxed supports schools, highways, libraries, the eradication of poverty, national defense, care for each other, and in turn entrepreneurialism and craftsmanship. The blessings we hold in this day are gifts not only of our own labors, but of the generosity of others often delivered through the collective action of caring individuals employed as government.

No craftsman in his right mind would claim to have built even the smallest thing all by himself. Even the most gifted stands upon a tradition of craftsmanship, tools designed and made by others, and must function within a society that cares about greater things than the bottom line.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy has gotten in hot water with religious fundamentalists for pointing out the stupidity of ignoring real science in the education of our children. As I've pointed out here in the blog, you can't whittle a stick without engaging in scientific observation and hypothesis. Children become more deeply engaged in learning and in life when they learn hands-on, unfettered by dogma and 3nd-hand theology. Here's what Bill Nye has to say:

Last night at the Republican convention, Rick Santorum went into a deep rhapsody in consideration of hands, and for someone unaccustomed to work, except as an observer of others who've done it, he brought up some pretty good points.
I shook the hand of the American Dream. And it has a strong grip.

I shook hands of farmers and ranchers who made America the bread basket of the world. Hands weathered and worn. And proud of it.

I grasped dirty hands with scars that come from years of labor in the oil and gas fields, mines and mills. Hands that power and build America and are stewards of the abundant resources that God has given us.

I gripped hands that work in restaurants and hotels, in hospitals, banks, and grocery stores. Hands that serve and care for all of us.

I clasped hands of men and women in uniform and their families. Hands that sacrifice and risk all to protect and keep us free. And hands that pray for their safe return home.

I held hands that are in want. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job, hands growing weary of not finding one but refusing to give up hope.
All told, he mentioned the hands over twenty times in his speech. His own hands upon which he stared as he spoke show little wear and no tear... Nothing of the true poetry that hands may express. The ability to rhapsodize on the subject of the hands is not wisdom. New boxes are shown in the photo below...


Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

the urgency of doing...

"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." — Leonardo da Vinci
An education that leaves the hands still may be good enough for thumb twiddlers and politicos, but real learning requires more than complaisant 2nd-hand wissenschaft knowledge from books, lectures and work sheets. Understanding science, math, social studies, requires kentniss, being deeply engaged in a life of making choices to be tested in one's own hands. At one time in American education this basic principle was widely shared. We learn best, most thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on. When we keep children's hands from exploring on their own we fail to engage their interests, emotions and intellects, and fail too, in the development of their character and stature within the human race.

Some days may be wasted as we learn by doing, but learning by doing is never a waste. It builds an inventory of problem solving techniques that can lead to new things. Ask Edison.

Yesterday I attempted to begin work on computer carts for the school to house computers for grades 7-12. After a day's work, and a night tossing in my sleep, I am shifting to plan B, a less creative way of construction that offers greater chance of success. In any case, without the day of twiddling unsuccessfully, and while watching even greater problems mount, I would not have arrived at this moment of greater clarity.

In my own wood shop, I have been making a simple dome-lidded box from a combination of maple species, hard and soft. The body of the box was made using a Gifkins Jig to cut the dovetails on the router table. The lid consists of a floating panel in a mitered frame secured at the corners with splines.

The great thing about making boxes is that there are no limits to the creative opportunities they offer. And while some may look at what they see in the photo above  (and below) as a box, I see it as the simple unfolding of even more. Finished box shown below.  Isn't that maple pretty?

Make, fix and create...

Monday, August 27, 2012

vegetarian paella...

I spent the day today doing prep work for my classes to begin at Clear Spring School next week. Today the kids came back to school for scheduled conferences, classes begin on Wednesday and wood shop the following week. We have a long list of things to accomplish, some of which are of service to the school, others which add hands-on experience to their studies, and still more projects that ask the students to develop as craftsmen.

Tonight's dinner is vegetarian paella, a Spanish dish that has become one of my favorites. There are nearly as many recipes for Paella as there are Spanish grandmothers, but reading a recipe will give a good starting point for ingredients. I started with this recipe from the food network. But my paella is more beautiful than their recipe as you will see in the photo above.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

second hand

When we learn through our own senses (all of them), we learn thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect. When we learn simply through instruction, without the opportunity to engage all the senses, failing thus to test by hand what we have been told, we say we are learning "second-hand," and thus the language of the hand describes the learning environment and the process through which something has been learned. Second-hand learning is known to be unreliable at best.

On the other hand, when we say something has been learned "hands-on", we know that all the senses have been engaged. And so, hands-on learning is not just about the hands, but about the whole person, the whole child, first person, most deeply engaged in the process of education. We call ourselves men, (or women), members of mankind, and the word man, and men is inseparably entwined in the Latin phrase, mens et manus mind and hand. We would not be men or women in the deepest and most elegant sense of the term without hands to complete our sensory engagement with learning, life and reality.

Dr. Peggy Drexler, in an article in Psychology Today,The Key to Raising Confident Kids? Stop Complimenting Them! suggests that we've been doing damage to our children by offering too many false compliments. The answer of course is to allow them to do real things, engaging all the senses, at which they can fail and succeed and gain a real sense of self-accomplishment and hard earned self-esteem rather than false meaningless compliments which come second hand. Dr. Drexler notes:
We see how praising kids sets them up for a world that's almost never as generous. For kids who've spent their lives being celebrated for, say, tying their own shoes, failure can be devastating. In a recent New York magazine article, 27-year-old Lael Goodman said, "The worst thing is that I've always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can't get a job, I feel worthless." And this guy's an adult; it's even worse for an actual child. What's more, by focusing too much on how we can build our kids' self-esteem and confidence, we're overlooking teaching them what real achievement means -- and depriving them of knowing what it's like to feel the satisfaction of setting a high goal, working hard, and achieving it. When we place more emphasis on the reward than the process of learning or doing -- whether it's an algebra problem or hitting a fly ball -- kids inevitably focus more on the reward. They stop learning how to spell because it's a benchmark for learning (and necessary); they learn it for the trophy and ice cream party that follows.
When kids work with real materials, the materials don't lie, or make things up to reinforce the child's self esteem. When a kid cuts wood and tries to fit parts together, there are no compliments that will adjust the wood for a poor fit. There is an honesty in working with the hands for which there is no substitute.

Here in the US, the argument about the status of our schools continues. It appears that the inclination to blame teachers is winning the day. But poverty, and the amount of time children live in poverty is the clear culprit in our failure relative to high performing countries in the PISA testing. This article, The emotional appeal for blaming teachers, helps describe the situation.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

how things work...

Walnut and spalted pecan
A reader asked in a private email, how things work with the Clear Spring School wood shop, how we plan projects to correlate with what students are studying in their classes. Applying our model to much larger schools would be difficult, as our Clear Spring School is small and unique. The answer to how we do what, however, is simple. To understand it, you have to first understand the basic structure of classes.

Our classes are small and our teaching staff is small. Students are arranged in grade groupings as used in some Montessori schools and schools in Finland, where a single teacher has children in 3 grade levels, having the same students for 3 years. In other words, classrooms/grade levels are grouped 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12.

It is easy for me to keep track of what students are studying through conversations with individual teachers. In grades 1-6 we use integrated thematic instruction, a system of study in which a theme is chosen that allows for integration of reading, math, science, the arts, music, wood shop and social studies. A theme like volcanoes, the weather, the oceans, dinosaurs, transportation, or a particular continent is selected and students explore and develop an understanding of that theme in depth. Students are assigned or select areas of deeper investigation, either as individuals or in teams.

When I'm told that the area of study is continents, or sea life, or the animals of Arkansas, I discuss with the core teacher various projects that would enhance learning and bring studies to greater interest and life. Because I only have 4 classes to consider, it is fairly easy for me to customize class projects to particular student investigations, particularly at the elementary levels.

A unit of thematic study can last 4 to 6 weeks or even longer if there is sufficient student interest. Not all of my woodworking projects are thematically correlated. I have the opportunity to also do projects that have specific benefit to math, or to overall skill building. And we also do some projects at all grade levels that are intended to have effect within the community, for example, our annual toy making project for the local food bank.

At the middle school and high school levels things naturally become a bit more complex. Grades 7-12 operate on a block system with classes coming more into line with what their specific studies would be in conventional public school. The conventional naming of courses, and areas of study is important for transcripts and for students transferring to or from public school. Instead of having semester long classes through which students rotate hour by hour through various subjects, our block system allows students to be more deeply immersed in specific subjects all day, each and every day for a 4-6 week period. In some cases, we use the wood shop just as we do in the lower grades, but the projects are increased in difficulty to correspond with the more advanced skills students at upper levels can express. I also try to follow student interests, and at times start projects simply because students have expressed an interest. An example of that would be the bread boards that several students made last year because they wanted ones like that used by their teacher in making pizza and pretzels.

Textured cherry with mitered box joints.
One of the things I want to do this year will be making cigar box guitars, confidence for which came this summer while I was teaching at Marc Adams School and had the opportunity to observe students (adult) making cut-away guitars in one week. But my motivation for this project is that I have several students who have already expressed an interest in making a guitar. A principle of educational Sloyd and all progressive education is starting with the interests of the child. Where interests are clearly defined, following those interests can override other educational matters... a thing completely forgotten in conventional mainstream American education.

Even though Clear Spring School is unique, the principles that guide our work can be applied in other schools. First the importance of the wood shop and the arts must be widely shared and understood. Core teaching staff must be comfortable coming out of their educational silos to engage in discussions concerning how wood shop can increase interest in learning through the purposeful engagement of the hands.

Cherry with maple keys and lift tabs.
In any case, I hope this answers some of the questions readers may have about how CSS works. My reader had asked whether we have specialist teachers in science and history. A major point I would like to make concerns woodworking and every other subject. You need not be an expert in something to teach. You do need to be an enthusiastic learner, an avid investigator, a caring mentor and a firm advocate of a caring, respectful classroom culture. And in that, all those who would like to teach woodworking to their own kids (or grandchildren), should take heart, and get started.

The boxes in the photos above are demonstration boxes from classes at Marc Adams School, finished today so they can be given as wedding gifts or sold.

make, fix and create...

Friday, August 24, 2012

making and sailing a botter...

From tree to boat...This month's Wooden Boat Magazine features an extensive article about Dutch Botters, work boats once used for fishing, and now cherished expressions of national heritage and pride. You can find a botter being built and sailed in the video above. It is a long video and in Dutch, but the wisdom of the hands is not necessarily a matter of language.

Today in the wood shop, I worked on boxes, finishing some new designs, and building a new dedicated router table for barbed hinges.

Make, fix and create...

a simple miter jig...

In the interest of being able to make carefully controlled hand-cut miter joints for small boxes, I decided to make a simple miter jig using a 2x4 cut at 45° and reassembled on a piece of scrap plywood. This jig differs from a common miter box in that it is reliant upon only one side to guide the saw in the cut, enabling a longer saw stroke with a short fine-toothed saw. It works because a slight gap between the two parts allows the saw to make its first cut easily and along the exact angle, but as with most miter jigs, it will lose its accuracy over time. The results of the first cuts are shown in the photos above and below.
I am hoping that this simple jig will allow students to make mitered boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

small lidded box...

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher in Australia sent photos of boxes and notes:
I want to share with you my latest small box project. This started as an introductory lesson to woodwork for year 7 students. Given a random length of wood the students had to measure and cut the length into 4 equal pieces, allowing 10 mm for waste. They then had to form this into a box which they glued and taped together. Next a plywood bottom was added and later a lid. I purchased simple hinges and clasps for each student which they used to complete the task. The students are very pleased with the results and so am I. The materials all came from scrap and the hinges and clasps cost $3.00 per box.

The project uses very little material so next time around I will be looking for some nicer off cuts. I was pleased at how well the students handled the hinging as the screws for this project are very small.
I have an all day staff meeting today and have begun meetings with teachers to plan wood shop lessons to correlate with classroom studies.
Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

more on the library poplar...

Poplar shown on cover of 1982 Library Cookbook
Yesterday the poplar tree in front of the library was cut down, and I was there to give advice as to the dimension of the logs and where they were to be cut so they would be of use in a project benefiting the library. Now the political realities of life in Eureka Springs have struck home, and nothing is to be done with the logs and limbs until the city attorney has given his go-ahead. The tree was on city property, removed at city expense, and the logs evidently are owned by the city, even though without my intersession, they would likely have been cut into small chunks and of no use to a soul.

That is the way of politics in Eureka. Those of us who have been around awhile know that things that could be easy will not be.

So, we are waiting for the Mayor and city attorney to rule on the disposition of materials before launching a project to benefit the library.

Those who are in love with wood will find George Barrell Emerson's 1878 book,
A Report on the Trees and Shrubs Growing Naturally in the Forests of Massachusetts of immense value. Unfortunately, the Tulip or Yellow Poplar was not native to Massachusetts and missed being covered in Emerson's excellent volume which can be downloaded from Google Books. But you will find many other common species illustrated and discussed.

With regard to Poplars in general, Emerson notes:
‘Evelyn calls the poplars “hospitable trees, for any thing thrives under their shade.”
Even libraries… He continues,
“The wood was used by the ancients for he purpose of making bucklers, as it is very light and somewhat tough; and thence it is not broken, pierced or splintered by a blow, but only indented. “The wood of the polar is soft, light and generally white or of a pale yellow. It is of but little use in the arts, except in some departments of cabinet and toy-making, and for boarded floors; for which last purpose it is well adapted, from its whiteness and the facility with which it is scoured, and also from the difficulty with which it burns. In these respects, it is the very reverse of pine. Poplar, like other soft woods, is generally considered not durable; but this is only the case when it is exposed to the external atmosphere, or to water; and hence the old distich, said to be inscribed on a poplar plank, --

‘Though heart of oak be e’er so stout,
Keep me dry, and I’ll see him out.’

May be considered as strictly correct.

According to Dwight Moore's Trees of Arkansas, the Tulip, or Yellow Poplar is native to Arkansas only along Crowley's Ridge and can grow to a height of 150 ft. with a diameter of 7 feet. So ours was puny in comparison to the great poplars of the Eastern United States. It is suggested useful for all purposes, and at one point in the 1930's the library had decided one would be beautiful in front.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

a tree falls...

Photo taken at library centennial shows slight lean that had gotten worse
The tulip poplar in front of the Eureka Springs Library was cut this morning and the logs hauled to public works where I'm arranging to have them milled and the lumber distributed to artists.

Trees and human beings are both engaged in narrative processes. We humans are constantly telling our tales. With trees, where there is a knot, there had been a branch, and each year of a tree's life is dutifully recorded to be read by those human beings who might be interested in knowing something about the world in which their own stories take place.

This great tree will be missed, but all are consoled by the great notion that works of useful beauty will emerge from its loss.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, August 20, 2012

a most popular tree...

For as long as I've lived in Eureka Springs and been a patron of the Eureka Springs
Carnegie Public Library, (36 years) a gigantic tulip poplar has stood in front, offering its shade. As you can see in the photos, the tree has begun to lean precariously and is in danger of falling. In the morning a tree service will cut it, and deliver 3 logs to Eureka Springs Public Works, where thanks to the intercession of our mayor, it will be sawn into lumber and made available to local artists and craftsmen in a project I've proposed as a benefit for the Carnegie Public Library.
The sidewalk has been buckling for years.
Photos of this tree are above and below.

Working with wood is a way to intersect with natural history and environment. Where there is a knot, there was a limb. And as I tell my students of box making, human beings have a natural affinity for working with wood, as trees and human beings are narrative manifestations.

Make, fix and create...

Molly has known this tree for her whole life.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Christian take on labor...

The Perennial Plate Episode 74: God's Country from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Last week I did a blog post on the respect for hands-on labor and learning within the traditional Jewish culture. Today, having arrived safely back in Arkansas, I'm sharing a glimpse of a Christan family farm reflecting similar values. The father notes:
"If you take a 5 year old and ask him to hold the other end of a wrench, you'll make his day. It may be at my expense, but if I can carry that then he'll benefit from it."
We've chosen to make our children unnecessary to our own lives, giving them games to play and idle amusements when they gain the greatest sense of self by doing real things of value to family and community. As we start our children back to school, let's not forget that real life is what matters. If schools were to become places where ideas and ideals were tested hands-on, and in which children were to demonstrate learning through service to family and community, we would have smarter kids of greater character, aimed toward more meaningful lives.

I am happy to be back in Arkansas after a summer of teaching adults. I find it interesting that children and adults learn in much the same way. We learn most deeply, most efficiently and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on. This is a matter proven in research, but also a principle you can test in your own hands, and so the question arises, Why would we settle for a system of education for our kids that we know to not be the best we can offer?

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day five box making

I finished my fifth day of Simply Beautiful Boxes at Marc Adams School, so boxes were finished and packed away by my marvelous students.We cleaned the workshop to get it ready for the next classes.

Today I taught installation strategies for the use and application of hardware. This was a new one day class for me, and was experimental, and I woke up early with many things on my mind. But the class went well, and we covered an array of my more interesting techniques.

Now I am on my way back to Arkansas. I could restof or a time, upon the many accomplishments and growth of my students as you can see in the photos above and below. I want to thank each of my students for giving me such a great week of their time. Whether children or adults, we learn best when at play and there is no better environment for that than Marc Adams School.

Now, I begin preparing for a great school year at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

box making day 4...

 Today we did more demonstrations and my students have shown great creativity. The photos speak for themselves.

The connection between instruction and life…
The following is from Education among the Jews, published in 1883:

While the Jews believed in education for educations’s sake, still they regarded the theoretical side of instruction but as a preparation for practical life. The saying, “ Not learning but doing is the principle thing,” is proof that the school was not the end in itself, but only a means and a preparation for life and thus they evinced in their way their belief in the principle, "Non scholae sed vitae, discimus.”*
The practice of the Law is more important than the study. He who knows the theory but never practices is an haarez (ignoramus). Practice was acquired in association with learned men or teachers. This was considered very valuable since the ordinary conversation of wise men is profitable. This was considered very valuable, since the ordinary conversation of wise men is profitable. 
Without regard to social position in life, the Talmud ordered that, besides study, a handicraft should be learned.” As it is your duty to teach your son the law, teach him a trade.” “Disobedience to this ordinance exposes one to just contempt, for thereby the social condition of all was endangered.” “He who does not have his son taught a trade prepares him to be a robber.” “He who applies himself to study alone, is like him who has no God.”   
For the before–mentioned reasons and because one-sidedness in education was undesirable and partly for hygienic reasons, the greatest teachers of the Talmudic period were also workmen, who, while pulling the thread through the sole of the shoe or rolling their barrel to the marketplace, were meditating upon serious philosophical questions.
*We do not learn for the school, but for life.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

day three of box making...

Texturing a wooden box
We are in our third day of box making at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, and every workbench shows creativity. I have little to say. I began working on a letter box with hand cut dovetails as a demonstration for those students who may be interested. Today we made wooden hinges, and I used one of my demonstration boxes to teach how to install hinges using a flipping story stick. Then I began reshaping that box to make it more interesting, and to illustrate that even a teacher must continue exploring and testing new designs and techniques.

As those of my regular readers will know, most of this blog can be summarized by what is said at the top of the page.  We learn best, most thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on. My students this week require no explanation. We are hands-on learners and learn most easily when we observe what is happening in our own hands, directly controlled in our own thoughts and measured by our own standards. Don't we wish American education could be like that?

Demonstrating installation of hinges.

Explaining the use of a crosscut sled
Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

day two, marc adams school...

 This was our second day of Simply Beautiful Box Making at Marc Adams School. What becomes obvious in teaching adults is that all human beings learn in the same manner. See and do. And learning is some much faster when the student is interested in the subject and finds it relevant to his or her own life. What is there that is so hard to understand? It is clear to anyone who pays attention to his or her own learning processes, that we learn most efficiently and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on.

Today my students were deeply engaged in making boxes, and their enthusiasm is so palpable, I am reluctant to pull them away from their work to do the demonstrations I have planned. But we all learn best when learning comes at our own pace. I try to be mindful of their learning paces, and offer instruction when I feel it is most useful and relevant.

In educational Sloyd, it was known that learning must start with the interests of the child. There is no lack of interest at Marc Adams School, and we learn at our best when we embrace learning as readily as a child embraces playtime.

make, fix and please create...

Take a child by the hand and introduce him or her to creativity. The same works for adults.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Day one box making...

This has been our first day of box making and just as I suspected, having made the jigs in the preceding class, we have made great progress already as you can see in the photos below. Tomorrow we will begin discussion of design, and continue making beautiful boxes.

According to one of my students, learning in the Army was as follows: Hear three times, do it twice. According to another one of my students among doctors, the rule of thumb for effective learning is "see it, do it, teach it"

Mario sent a photo of the chicken coop he's making with his son. A thing of useful beauty.

Make, fix and crate...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Simply Beautiful Boxmaking...

In the morning I begin my class at Marc Adams School, Simply Beautiful Boxmaking. I've 17 signed up for the class with many returning from my two day weekend class which we completed this afternoon. I will have photos to share each day this week. Most human beings have some degree of interest in making beautiful and useful things, and boxes are each of these things. They are perfect for developing skills and provide a foundation for moving on to more complicated and larger work. The following is from Charles H. Ham on the Co-education of mind and hand:
As words are essential to the process of thought, so objects are essential to words or living speech. And as all objects made by man owe their existence to the hand it follows that the hand exerts an incalculable influence upon the mind, and so constitutes the most potent agency in the work of civilization.

The world moves very fast industrially, but very slow intellectually and morally. What we need more than better artisans is better men in what are termed the learned professions. Farmers and mechanics stand the test of scrutiny better than merchants. Civil engineers and architects are more competent in their professions than lawyers, judges and legislators. Why? Because the former classes are trained in things, while the education of the latter is confined to abstractions. It is notorious, for example, that the laws, in this country are not faithfully executed. What if through the ignorance or indolence of farmers, there were such a failure of crops as there is of justice? We should all starve!
As I watch the news from my hotel room, I wish that all politicians could be engaged in craftsmanship that they might learn better to adhere to the lessons one can learn by being more deeply engaged in reality and feel the sense of responsibility to the truth that one might learn from working with wood. The process of fudging reality seems to have grown exponentially. If politicians are free to just make things up, why can't the rest of folks do just the same? As I was standing at the service counter at the Nissan dealer in south Indianapolis, the service technician made ups such a far-fetched explanation of why my tire pressure sensors were going on and off, I finally had to just look her in the eyes, and say, "I'm sorry, I just don't believe you?" My simple and direct response seems to have come as a shock, but just making things up to offer pretense of expertise is not a healthy habit to display.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What is art?

What is art, and when it is dependent on the skill of hand and mind, is it something different from when it comes from manipulation by machine? This morning on there is an article questioning this matter in the creative use of photoshop. As programs become more powerful, the manipulation of images becomes less a matter of skill and more simply a matter of play that anyone with the right program and equipment can do in little time and with little effort and will thus become of little value. When you can do illustrations on your iPhone that resemble fine paintings without having invested in the skill to paint, is what the iPhone has created art? Perhaps only for those who know enough about technique to know the difference, and so in that the value of real work is subtly undermined.

Today I've been teaching how to make jigs and fixtures for box making. Like computer programs, jigs and fixtures are intended to make things easier as one gains greater experience in their use. Still, there are many ways to make mistakes, and many lessons to learn. In making things from real wood, the lessons have greater meaning for some. There is no button for undo. In real wood,mistakes may be more difficult to fix, and because the finished product may be more difficult to make it may also have deeper meaning. Some of my students today mentioned that one of the things they liked best was seeing me make mistakes. Knowing that a professional woodworker can make mistakes, fix them and recover from them is a valuable lesson.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comenius on education...

The following is from Charles H. Ham's article "The Co-Education of Mind and Hand."
The fundamental principle of Comenius is that, “we learn by doing.” A victim of the schools of his time, he thus describes them: “They are the terror of boys, and the slaughter-houses of mind—-places where a hatred of literature and books is contracted, where ten or more years are spent in learning what might be acquired in one, where what ought to be poured in gently, is violently forced in, and beaten in, where what ought to be put clearly and perspicuously is presented in a confused and intricate way, as if it were a collection of puzzles—-places where minds are fed on words.”
I start my class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking in the morning. Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Must not forget...

Today in the Olympics two American athletes won Gold and Silver in the Decathlon, 100 years after my favorite athlete, Jim Thorpe, won the first in the Olympics of 1912. As schools across the US reduce time for PE in order to allow more time for standardized tests, let's not forget the wisdom of the body.

The photos below are of my daughter Lucy and the statue of Thorpe in Jim Thorpe,PA and of Jim Thorpe in the 1912 Olympics and sailing high in the high jump.

Make, fix and create...

the artisanal inclination...

I leave this morning to teach at Marc Adams School of woodworking, and while I could make the drive in one day, I'll stretch it out to two so that I will arrive fresh and ready to teach. It is a task I take seriously. All of the students invest heavily in growth of their skill, hoping to make tangible objects that express care. I can readily understand their motivation. It's been my own during my 35+ years as a professional craftsman.

It is fascinating watching a baby as he or she first discovers the relationship between self and others, and discovers his or her own hands as a means of bridging that gap. As a new father I would hold my daughter Lucy in my lap and engage in play with rattles and watch her delight as objects would come within range of her touch. Not enough research has been done on the traditional means to systematically stimulate children's inclination to create, but I believe much of the artisanal inclination stems from the earliest days of infancy... as babies gain a sense that they can control their own relationship to the physical and cultural environment into which they've been thrust and are able to act creatively within it.

Most of my students at Marc Adams and in the various other schools and clubs where I teach are 55 years old or more. So all grew up before computers became so widespread. The readers of Fine Woodworking and other woodworking magazines seems to mostly be of the same age as my students. And so it seems that the artisanal urge may have reached its peak and it may be all downhill from here. Babies now are laid in beds with Mom's or Dad's iPhones to manipulate. Parents marvel as their babies manipulate the images on tiny screens, fancy rattles. Tools have been replaced by entertainment devices that offer little tactile engagement, just smooth and greasy to the touch. And as powerful as these devices are, any reasonable craftsman would wonder what we are doing to pass along an interest in real human creative to younger generations.

Diane Ravitch in an editorial points out that Michelle Rhee is wrong to blame teachers for problems in American Education. The real culprit is poverty. My view: Rhee is wrong and misinformed. There is an inclination in conservative politics to blame the workers for all problems. So if schools are doing poorly, blame the teachers. But Ravitch is right and Rhee dead wrong. Read it and see if you agree. In Finland where students far surpass Americans in reading, science and math, a social safety net makes certain that children do not live in poverty. If you don't have time for Ravitch's article, at least read the following:
Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations. As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.

Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.

This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?

Rhee and her fellow reformers say that poverty is just an excuse, but it is not. Poverty is a harsh fact of life.

Children who are homeless, who have asthma, who have vision problems or hearing problems will have trouble concentrating on their studies. Children who have a toothache may not do well on testing day. Children who don’t see a doctor when they are sick will not be able to perform well on tests. Children who live in squalor will be distracted from their schoolwork.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

effectiveness of hands-on learning...

The effectiveness of hands-on learning is something you can test for yourself, but you will not be the first. RAFT, Resource Area for Teachers offers this, a Case for Hands-On Learning:
"The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “The Nations’ Report Card,” revealed that teachers who conduct hands-on learning activities on a weekly basis out-perform their peers by more than 70% of a grade level in math and 40% of a grade level in science (U.S. Department of Education, 1999)."

"Hands-on is not new. Renowned educator John Dewey promoted learning experiences grounded in student interests and prior knowledge (Dewey, 1938). Later Jean Piaget demonstrated that physical experiences are central to child development (McAnarney, 1978). Other education experts agree: “Children are by nature observers and explorers, and the most effective approach to learning should capitalize on these intrinsic abilities." (Shaply & Luttrell, 1993)."
Understanding the necessity of hands-on learning for the full engagement of children's attention in school, helps us to understand the role of the arts, music, laboratory science and wood shop in constructing an effective learning culture and environment. RAFT was started in 1994, when Mary Simon, "the Founder and current Executive Director, saw how effective hands-on methods were for teaching in her classroom and wanted to create a resource for other educators."

I continue to prepare for my classes at the Marc Adams School of woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

recapitulation theory...

Recapitulation theory--"often expressed as 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny'—is a biological hypothesis that in developing from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors." In biology one can see resemblance between more primitive life forms and more advanced as embryos develop. In the early days of the manual arts, it was believed by many psychologists that beginning with very simple technologies and then advancing purposefully to more complex ones paralleled the natural tendency of the individuals within the human species to follow the developmental track laid by ancestral man. So children making and using simple tools was thought to be a way to touch the roots of our humanity.

Recapitulation theory is not as popular as it once was, but is still accepted by some, was never put fully to rest, and as it is purely anecdotal rather than statistically derived, you won't find many developmental psychologists going out on a limb these days to mention it. We've come to like our science best if it is kept safe at a statistically derived distance rather than trusting our own powers to observe and reflect.

On the other hand, recapitulation theory raises some questions as to what we are doing with our kids. I was at the local cell phone store yesterday to check on my wireless data plan and waited while a small family selected their iPhones. These days children are put in touch with the most advanced forms of our technology without ever coming to any sort of understanding of the earlier forms of technology upon which all human development was based. Parents feel pride at being able to offer their children the best of technology and completely miss the importance of offering to them the essential building blocks upon which all later technology was based. Will it be any surprise if children raised under such circumstances grow up with no sense of power or control over their own minds, bodies and relationship to the materiality of our own planet?

A new television series, Revolution, raises the question, how would we cope if the lights were to go out? It could be a serious concern as we relentlessly strain the planet's resources. Would we be doing the best for our children by keeping them wired to facebook and google, or would we be doing better things for them by teaching them the responsible use of a few real tools that actually built our human culture and civilization and provided our ancestors the means to understand physical reality?

In other words, Make, fix and create. These activities put us in touch.

Famous art critic Robert Hughes passed away Monday at age 74. He was one art critic with whom I could heartily agree about most things, including his assessment of John Townsend as one the very best artists in the world at his time (1733-1809). Townsend was a Newport, RI furniture craftsman. When I had asked Alice Walton whether she planned to have any of John Townsend's work in Crystal Bridges Museum I received a blank look. How many art lovers in the US have even heard of John Townsend? Robert Hughes knew the importance of Townsend's work and that woodworking was clearly a means of artistic expression. Hughes had also recognized woodworker Martin Puryear as being the greatest living American artist.

I am preparing for my 8 days of class at Marc Adams School of woodworking.

Again, please, make, fix and create...

Monday, August 06, 2012

mack the hammer...

Most of us by the time we've reached adulthood have had some experience with folks poorly equipped to cope. We might have found ourselves in difficult situations a time or two. It is common for human beings to have loose screws, to be stressed, anxious, incapable of sorting things out without help.

In the early 1970s I went back to school to study pottery, and one of my teachers had given a low grade to a student who believed he had earned better and decided that his only recourse was to threaten with a hammer. He would quietly walk into class with his hammer, sit with eyes glaring at the instructor, and tap loudly on the table to make his point. After he had done this several times, and my classmates had given the nickname, Mack the Hammer, he was reported to authorities and we never saw him again.

Those were relatively harmless times. As Mack demonstrated, even a hammer can be used as a weapon in a pottery class full of fragile things. Some of my fellow students were frightened, and yes, even if guns were not available to the kooks and deviants in our communities, we would still have various causes for concern. In fact, many years ago, we had a murder trial in Eureka Springs in which a hammer was the weapon used to kill. But still, after having seen what one man can do with a hammer, I count my blessings to be alive today, knowing that if those were gun toting times like these with lunatics and sociopaths so well armed, there is at least a chance some of us might have been killed.

In the early days of Educational Sloyd, as it was adopted in the UK, knives, the starting point in Scandinavian woodworking instruction, were disallowed over fear that they would present danger in school and be used as weapons. And so, there is indeed a balance in how we use tools, whether for good or for ill. Reasonable limits regarding tools and tools use are decisions that seemingly reasonable folks have always made except in relation to American guns.

These days, we have glamorized guns and gun violence in our homes and communities through the relentless entertainment industry, have broadly accepted the more extreme notions of the gun lobby as reasonable, and we have accepted as routine, threats to our safety far greater than those made by kooks with hammers or deviants and delinquents with knives.

I continue to be saddened (though no longer shocked or surprised) by gun violence, and wonder when some real courage will be shown by our political leaders. We need to teach our children how to cope with their own lives, how to become creative in their use of tools, and to align themselves with creative rather than destructive impulses. That is one part of the solution to gun violence. It happens in wood shop when children are introduced to tools and are taught to be responsible in their use. Tools allow children to align their own actions and purpose with the creative forces of the universe.

The other part of a fix to the problem of gun violence is to demand that our leaders act like adults, with wisdom and with courage. Assault weaponry, designed only for the purpose of killing folks does not need to be so easily accessible for every miscreant and sociopath on earth. Our politicians can make it harder for those who should not have guns to get them and still leave us plenty of more useful tools with which we can create.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Anything ever so stupid to amuse themselves?

"The higher orders are in their youth kept away from all manual work to the result that they, later in life, do not understand anything but reading and writing; when they get tired of these occupations and do not meet with innocent pastimes, they give themselves up to anything ever so stupid and useless in order to amuse themselves. It is easier to manage ten children in a workshop than three who do not know what to busy themselves with.."  Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1774-1811)
However, if you strip classrooms bare, thus eliminating all tools and material for creativity and distraction, and impose a hard line on carefully controlled behavior, an effective disciplinarian can keep a group of students bored controlled and disengaged. Is that the best use of our resources? It would be far better, through the arts, with wood shop and laboratory science to actually engage children in the world through self-directed learning.

This next week I'll be preparing for 8 days of class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. On next Saturday and Sunday I'll teach how to make the various jigs, and fixtures I use in box making, then we will use those jigs and fixtures for a full 5 day class. On the following Saturday I will teach a one day class on installing hardware for cabinets and more... There may still be opening in these classes. You can go to the Marc Adams School of Woodworking website for details.

Make,fix and create...

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Finding a close relation to reality...

The following is from Danish Sloyd, published by the Danish Sloyd Association in 1893:
Ever since the train of ideas of the Middle Ages was discarded by the spirit of modern times, the aim of education has been to get more and more into a close relation to reality. Life, not learning has become the aim of education.  A one-sided theoretic action on the mind of the child has been replaced step by step by a more general development of human nature. For the last three hundred years there has scarcely  been any prominent spokesman for pedagogical interests who has not insisted upon the importance of training the body besides that of the mind, and upon the value of practice as the base of theory.

Already, Amos Comenius (1592-1671)in his plan of a school for the children of the people, says that the pupils ought to become acquainted with all the more important trades that they not be too ignorant of what takes place in life and also that it may become easier to decide in which direction each individual is principally drawn by his natural propensities.
It appears that American education got off the track, becoming obsessed by standardized testing and measuring performance, forgetting that relevance to real life is essential to sustaining a child's interest and enthusiasm for learning. The school woodshop was one of those ways that the principles put forth by all modern educators were made active. The loss of woodworking in schools is a symptom of the failure of American education to adhere to the principles of sound pedagogy.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 03, 2012

Number 7 plus or minus two

Cognitive Psycologist, George A. Miller (He and Jerome Bruner invented the field) passed away at age 92 on July 22 with his obituary in the New York Times on Wednesday. Dr. Miller was most widely known for an article he wrote exploring the number of things a person could cognitively manage at a time... Seven, give or take a couple. His article "The Magical Number Seven, plus or minus Two" is a classic. His work led to some fascinating research opportunities, and yet it seems that a man's time on earth will, despite the breadth of it, be reduced to nearly a sound bite, or perhaps less. For example, 7 plus or minus 2.

I learned of Miller's death from a cousin Michael, who in teaching young psychologists had used Miller's writing as evidence that material could be presented as both scientific and elegant in its prose.

Perhaps with just a bit more practice I could write like that.

In any case, and as some will know from experience, the ability to juggle and process notions is not unrelated to physical reality... The ever present cognitive dance between the concrete and abstract. My cousin Michael described Miller inspired testing of novice and master chess players to see how many chess piece positions could be remembered on a board. The chess grand masters could remember more than seven positions if it was a set-up from a real game, but only seven if the pieces were arranged at random. In other words, direct experience in real reality has direct cognitive effect.

One of the principles of Educational Sloyd was to move from the concrete to the abstract... A notion seemingly forgotten in American classrooms where too many things are presented in a fashion unrelated to real life. A well managed school wood shop correlated with other areas of school curricula can fix all that. Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Danish Sloyd...

Educational Sloyd was practiced throughout Scandinavia around many of the Baltic states and in many other countries throughout the world. The following is from the Danish Sloyd Association in 1883:
The object of Sloyd as a means of education is two-fold: Firstly it is to form a practical contrast to the other instruction which is mainly of a one-sided theoretic character; it will thus set to work faculties in the child that would otherwise remain unused in school. Secondly it is to form the practical starting point of the other disciplines that will thus become object lessons in a deeper sense of the word than has been the case till now. Already for a long time it has been understood, to a certain extent, that nowadays, more than ever, the race in later life calls for a training by means of bodily labor already in childhood.
Sloyd is still compulsory in Scandinavian education, so you can guess what our students are missing.

In a comment to an earlier post KP from VT noted his own difficulty with Algebra. My own response is related to this post, as Danish Sloyd recognized the use of woodshop as a means to establish relevance and purpose to all other subjects.
Teaching and learning math and algebra are significantly easier if done hands-on. My daughter learned Algebra in 6th grade at Clear Spring School using sticks. Many teachers have gone through the motions of teaching math while many students like yourself have been allowed to fall through the cracks. I was taught Algebra without ever learning that it could be useful for something. Having a clear use makes it interesting, relevant and much more easily learned. So I advise not giving up on Algebra, but teaching it in a manner that gives it relevance and use. Building a boat, for example.

Make, fix and create...

Hippie Christmas...

I am in Madison, Wisconsin, helping my daughter move into a new apartment. That means We will be on our hands and knees cleaning, on ladders pulling nails from walls left by the previous tenant, and patching things to give the appearance of clean and new to an apartment cleaved roughly from a lakeside mansion built with great care over 100 years ago. This week and next are "hippie Christmas," when all kinds of unwanted things are left at roadsides as students move from one apartment to another all across town. On a drive through old neighborhoods you'll find sofas, chairs, desks, furnishings of all kinds free for the taking, and you'll also see some folks in pick-up trucks driving throuh to see what they can find.

I am still reading Eileen Boris' book Art and Labor about the impact of Ruskin, Morris, and the arts and crafts movement on American culture and economy. She notes:
By the turn of the century, educators realized that "most of our pupils will be the purchasing public of the future, and it is of as much importance for them to buy intelligently as for the designer and craftsman to create intelligently."
At that time in the arts and crafts movement, Henry Turner Bailey along with others formed the Applied Arts Guild.
"Through 'love of beauty' and the 'ideal of service', he would enlist 'the pupil himself in this war against superficiality, sham and short-cut,' a campaign against slovenliness and inaccuracy in work."
Perhaps hippie Christmas speaks for itself regarding the times in which we find ourselves. Things beautifully crafted, lovingly and knowingly made would not find themselves so readily abandoned at curbside.

Make, fix and create...