Friday, March 01, 2013


This morning my apprentice will be here for a days's work. We will clean and sand and talk woodworking in general and specific terms. Greg has been trying to inlay stones in wood, and I've been giving suggestions as to how it can be most easily and effectively done. He's also been refining his dovetails and mortise and tenon joints and working on product design and developing a business logo and plan.

I am reading Pestalozzi's book How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, which is his story about how he developed his educational ideas, and the important things he learned over his long career as an educator. The book was based on a series of letters written to friends. What you find in the text, is a humble man gifted with great notions. I feel a particular connection with him. Otto Salomon had kept a stone from Pestalozzi's grave site on his desk. I have a stone from Salomon's grave site on mine. And there will come a time when what remains of me will be the words I've used to direct toward better learning, some children who have become adults with a better understanding of their hands and creative inclinations, and a few pieces of wood work having merit enough as objects of craftsmanship to be kept and preserved in the hands of a new generation. Pestalozzi wrote a stone-cold assessment of the times he faced in education that clearly and tragically resemble our own and that his own ideas were intended to change:
You know it, my friend. But for a moment picture to your self the horror of this murder. We leave children, up to their fifth year, in the full enjoyment of nature; we let every impression of nature work upon them; they feel their power; they already know full well the joy of unrestrained liberty and all its charms. The free natural bent which the sensuous happy wild thing takes in his development, has in them already taken its most decided direction. And after they have enjoyed this happiness of sensuous life for five whole years, we make all nature round them vanish from before their eyes; tyrannically stop the delightful course of their unrestrained freedom, pen them up like sheep, whole flocks huddled together, in stinking rooms; pitilessly chain them for hours, days, weeks, months, years, to the contemplation of unattractive and monotonous letters (and, contrasted with their former condition), to a maddening course of life.

I cease describing; else I shall come to the picture of the greater number of schoolmasters, thousands of whom in our days, merely on account of their unfitness for any means of finding a respectable livelihood, have subjected themselves to the toilsomeness of this position, which they, in accordance with their unfitness for anything better, look upon as a way that leads little further than to keep them from starvation. How infinitely must the children suffer under these circumstances, or, at least, be spoiled!

Friend, tell me, can the sword that severs the neck, and sends the criminal from life to death, have more effect upon his body than this change, from the beautiful guidance of nature, which they have enjoyed so long, to the mean and miserable school course, has upon the souls of children?

Will men always be blind? Will they never reach the first springs, from which our mental distraction, the destruction of our innocence, the ruin of our capacities, and all their consequences, flow, which lead all to unsatisfactory lives, thousands to death in hospitals, and to madness.

Dear Gessner, how happy shall I be in my grave, if I have contributed something towards making these springs known. How happy shall I be in my grave, if I can unite Nature and the Art in popular education, as closely as they are now violently separated. Ah! how my inmost soul is stirred Nature and art are not only separated, they are insanely forced asunder by wicked men!
One thing we should note about human nature. It took millions of years for us to have evolved. The past 30 years have not changed the essence of our humanity. Children still learn best by doing real things and from being involved in nature and in real life. We can craft schools in which their most natural inclinations are engaged in our behalf. Pestalozzi had written in introduction to his ideas:
“My dear Gessner, you know it is time for me to explain myself publicly upon my ideas of the teaching of the people. Well! I will do it in a series of letters as clearly as I can.

“Popular teaching has seemed to me to be a boundless marsh: I am buried in its need and I have traveled through it, painfully exerting all my strength, until I have found the source of its waters, the cause of their stagnant state, and the means of draining the land.

“I would like to lead you for a moment into this labyrinth from which I have extricated myself more by chance than by talent."
In other words, Pestalozzi in his time took Gessner by the hand and led him to understand how children learn, and how their love of learning could be kept in tact. We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on through the engagement of all the senses, and by doing real things.

Make, fix and create...

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