Thursday, February 21, 2013

industrial arts and the redemption of the poor...

I seldom address the economic value of manual and industrial arts in the blog because those that's a given. You'd have to be dead-on plumb bob stupid to not know that when you put tools and the power of understanding in the hands of a man or woman, that he or she can become a contributing member of an economy.  Settlement schools like North Bennet St. in Boston and Hull House in Chicago were intended at first to accommodate the huge number of unskilled immigrants who required acculturation and skill in order to make their way in the American political, economic and social landscape.

 I've been concerned more about the benefits of manual arts training to all, as its general value as a tool in the development of character and intellect is the value most ignored. There's been a persistent conceptual divide in American education, with an upper crust or intellectual elite intended to receive academic training, while the rest were to get trained and acculturated for manual labor. And that great divide left the upper crust stupid and unskilled. Along with that divide came disparagement of skill, and the unreasonable elevation of academics as superior to all. But what is the value of knowledge if we can actually do nothing but twiddle thumbs. Fortunately, the American people have means to rise up despite our educational institutions. The persistent inclination to do and to make whether music or objects of useful beauty is endemic. Academics are not.

I got an inquiry from a person in India who is trying to establish programs for their poor, and wanted me to point out my own essays in the blog that best address the value of manual arts training for the poor. Some of the best writing on this subject was by Felix Adler, founder of the Workingman's School in New York City. Here in the blog you can find excerpts of Adler's writings on the subject having to do with both social classes, the rich and poor if you use the search block at upper left. Type in Adler and see what comes up. One of my essays concerning Adler is on the subject of Will. Adler believed that morality was less a matter of religious precept than one of action. He was an advocate of "unsectarian" education. The more modern term would be "non-sectarian". Many still believe that religion and religious dictate are our only sources of human morality.

Non-sectarian education has been important in the US, helping folks from nearly all cultures to find common ground. On the other hand, non-sectarian education is often viewed as lacking in moral commitment. Kids are often left on their own for moral guidance, as teachers feel constrained to keep out of the moral arena. And so we have schools in which bullying is commonplace and pop-culture is the primary guide to student behavior. According to Dr. Thomas Gordon in Teacher Effectiveness Training, many teachers are reluctant to enter the values or morals arena with their students. They may even be frightened to address moral concerns that may be related to sectarian values. "They prefer to leave these teachings to families, churches and other agencies".

Adler and others in the early days of manual arts education, recognized the value of craftsmanship as a moral force in education. You either do a job well, or not. If you perform carelessly, the results are obvious for all to see. Through craftsmanship a student is pushed toward caring and the expression of care. In academic subjects the results of work are abstract, often disconnected from direct relationship to the child's environment. Assessment of academic labor is vague, often discriminatory, and lacks clarity. What students may learn in academic pursuits is that they can lie and often get away with it. In any case, I urge those interested to read more of Adler, a bit of which follows:
"All that has been said thus far converges upon the point that has been in view from the beginning—the importance of manual training as an element in disciplining the will. Manual training fulfills the conditions I have just alluded to. It is interesting to the young, as history, geography, and arithmetic often are not. Precisely those pupils who take the least interest or show the least aptitude for literary study are often the most proficient in the workshop and the modeling-room. Nature has not left these neglected children without beautiful compensations. If they are deficient in intellectual power, they are all the more capable of being developed on their active side. Thus, manual training fulfills the one essential condition—it is interesting. It also fulfills the second."

"By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box. The first point to be gained is to attract the attention of the pupil to the task. A wooden box is interesting to a child, hence this first point will be gained. Lethargy is overcome, attention is aroused. Next, it is important to keep the attention fixed on the task: thus only can tenacity of purpose be cultivated. Manual training enables us to keep the attention of the child fixed upon the object of study, because the latter is concrete. Furthermore, the variety of occupations which enter into the- making of the box constantly refreshes this interest after it has once been started. The wood must be sawed to line. The boards must be carefully planed and smoothed. The joints must be accurately worked out and fitted. The lid must be attached with hinges. The box must be painted or varnished. Here is a sequence of means leading to an end, a series of operations all pointing to a final object to be gained, to be created. Again, each of these means becomes in turn and for the time being a secondary end; and the pupil thus learns, in an elementary way, the lesson of subordinating minor ends to a major end. And, when finally the task is done, when the box stands before the boy's eyes a complete whole, a serviceable thing, sightly to the eyes, well adapted to its uses, with what a glow of triumph does he contemplate his work! The pleasure of achievement now comes in to crown his labor; and this sense of achievement, in connection with the work done, leaves in his mind a pleasant after-taste, which will stimulate him to similar work in the future. The child that has once acquired, in connection with the making of a box, the habits just described, has begun to master the secret of a strong will, and will be able to apply the same habits in other directions and on other occasions."
The notion of cultivating a strong will  in students might not appeal to educators whose objective is to make students complaisant, and who think that some purpose might be achieved by making school boring and as much a test of the nerves as a test for the intellect. But in any case...

Make, fix and create...

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