Tuesday, February 26, 2013

woodworking at the heart of education...

When we started the Wisdom of the Hands program at the Clear Spring School, our original objective was to prove the value of hands-on learning and the relevance of wood working education which had been assumed irrelevant by most educators in the US. For years, wood shop programs had been dropping like flies. Now, as manufacturing and engineering seem to be on the rise in the American economy, the relevance of making things is being seen again as a possible engine to foster growth in the economy and bring students into the work place. It seems that just as in the 1870's some educators are realizing that you can't teach engineering and math effectively without the students ever having actually done anything beyond diddly squat.

Still a part of the message of Educational Sloyd is not widely understood. Educational Sloyd was not only a method of teaching wood working, but offered a theoretical framework as to how children learn, and how the heart can become engaged in learning. That framework with action being at the heart of learning can be broadly applied throughout schooling. (But don't hold your breath.)

Otto Salomon addressed the theories of learning in his daily lectures, delivered in four languages, Swedish, German, English and French. Salomon claimed his lectures in English were better toward the close of summer, for by that time he'd had more practice.

The formula is simple. The teachings and methods of Pestalozzi were at core in Otto Salomon's thoughts. Pestalozzi believed that "doing has a double function; by doing thought is expressed, and by doing thought is also gained and made clear." "Knowing and doing are so closely connected that if one ceases the other ceases with it."

You don't have to take my words, or Pestalozzi's words, for that which you can learn in your own hands. Imagine a box (or any other useful and beautiful object.) Then try to make one. You will find that your idea of the box or other object will develop and be refined as it is made. In other words, by doing, thought is made clear. Of course the same applies to writing, but not all students feel competent in that area. And if you really want students to be engaged in learning, you'll need to offer a wide variety of opportunities for them to emotionally and physically engage in real learning by doing real things.

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It is snowing here this morning. If this were a beautiful summer day in Sweden, in the late 19th century, Otto Salomon would take his lectures out of doors to this field where I was Hans Thorbjörnsson and Etsuo Yokoyama in May 2006.

Today I'm putting strings on my box guitar, still trying to stay at least a step ahead of my students. The most difficult thing that I anticipate for them will be the setting of the bridge and nut. The strings have to be the right height above the fret board in order to be relatively easy to touch to the frets to make cords and notes, but not so close to the frets that they buzz. That requires very accurate sawing to just the right depth, and it will take careful instruction with each student. Make, fix and create...


  1. If you leave the strings a little high, you should have a great slide guitar!

  2. Engage the heart. Not part of modern education I fear