Thursday, April 04, 2013

what can you do? what can you do well?

Been there, done that. Been there, done that. Hey kids, let's do that again... Sound like a recipe for boredom? Not when craftsmanship is involved. Things get refined, new insights are achieved, through the process of conscientious repetition. This applies to music, and it also applies in the crafts. It is often ignored in schools except when it comes to athletics, and might explain why basketball is so popular among parents and kids. In athletics children are encouraged to practice at physical operations to the point of achieving excellence.

Yesterday, I mentioned Thomas Friedman's op ed in the New York Times, emphasizing the need to make kids innovators and inventors of their own futures. And yet the article offered no insight into how this might be accomplished. True invention is no one trick pony. Try riding one time around the ring on the back of a horse, and you will discover your face flat in mud your first time out.

When I was a kid, I read Popular Science each month and dreamed of becoming an inventor. I also grew up in a home filled with medium quality antiques. Not only had I become curious about how things were made, but also about how things were made well. And so, I became an inventor of processes, jigs and tools, that helped me to do things well, and provided a means through which I might share a few ideas with others so that they too, might improve craftsmanship.

It's not enough to get kids making stuff as an encouragement for their inventive spirit. They need to be making things of value to family and community, and learning that what they do, needs be done well, with care to express merit through actual craftsmanship. Educational Sloyd taught that. And if anyone thinks they can instill this spirit of craftsmanship and integrity about how things are done well without getting kids going at an early age, they've missed a thing or two.

I've been reading Thorstein Veblen's text, The Instinct of Workmanship, and it's a tough slog. Not an easy read, and children these days, with Harry Potter and all, are finding an even greater challenge in reading non-fiction material. Fiction leads you forward toward the suspension of disbelief. Non-fiction leads you to carefully reflect on your own life if you are conscious and able and may even call for change. If things don't come easy to the hand, easy to the mind, children have little interest in going deep in learning. But there are things worth the slog. My children who found sawing to be a challenge have found that it has gotten easier for them and still more fun. Reading can be just like that. And what kids learn in the wood shop can serve as a model for all that they will learn in their whole lives.

A few years back one of my students kept responding "I know that," whenever I would attempt to get him to witness a new process using a particular tool.  I knew that while he might be able to understand what I was trying to demonstrate as a concept, there were subtleties and nuances of the operation that he could only understand by watching closely and then attempting to do things himself. So I challenged him, "You show me." And the tool in hand quickly brought both humility and deeper engagement.

As long as we address American education as an intellect only operation, neglecting the challenge of building real skill in the performance of doing real things, we will suffer failing creativity, and push our children toward a future in which they cannot compete as entrepreneurs. For real learning is not just about knowing things, but about being able to do a few things well. Very well. And there is a great lesson in doing even one thing well... that you can apply yourself, and with practice, do other things well, too. And most importantly, that there are huge psychological rewards for doing so.

This afternoon, I fly to south Florida to teach a few box makers how to make boxes more easily, more beautifully, and to have fun. This is a repeat class, with hopes to take their box making to a new level. The video above was suggested by JD and shows the making of basswood pliers. The Warther family has made and given away over 1.5 million pairs of wooden pliers. It's what practice and skill can do for you. "Trial and error and a bunch of band aids and you can do it," too.

Make, fix and create.

1 comment:

  1. I think that the word awesome has been used to such an extent that its meaning has become sort of dilluted. But this video was indeed awesome in the original meaning.
    Thanks for sharing.