Monday, July 01, 2013


I've been reading bits and pieces of the letters exchanged between Otto Salomon in Sweden and Uno Cygnaeus in Finland about the earliest days of the introduction and experimentation with educational Sloyd. Salomon and Cygnaeus, truly the two co-founders of the movement corresponded off and on from 1877 to 1887 with Salomon being a much younger man. There were some disagreements that seem to fade into semantics, but some bits and pieces of the core understanding of the instructive and formative role of crafts in general education comes clear in their discussions. They both understood what few educators today understand.

This last week, friends from Norway were visiting here and they told me that Sloyd in their country has been replaced by "forming" in schools as a compulsory subject. I am uncertain how that compares, and what relationship it may have to sloyd which is still remembered by many older folks as being a part of their schooling.

In a letter dated October 28, 1877 to Otto Salomon (translated from Swedish) Uno Cygnaeus emphasized the difference between the vocational school and the folkschool in the way crafts were to serve learning and the development of the child.
‘Even if we agree, that sloyd is important in the folk school, I think that the handicraft methods must be substantially different in the common folk school and in a special vocational school. In the former, handicrafts must be considered and handled foremostly as a formal means of civilization and organized accordingly, that the aim will be development of child’s sense for form and beauty and general dexterity, and the drill of craftsmanship of all the possible work will be avoided.

In the handicraft school the aim must be dexterity in various crafts and practicing it in order to secure the sale and economic profit of the products. The former concept of the aim of crafts has the natural development connection to the pedagogical system of Pestalozzi and Fröbel, and it should have the undeniable importance.’
This was a controversy that played out later in the development of industrial arts in the US... Were crafts to serve as a pedagogic tool for the overall development of the child, or were they to be brought in later in the child's learning... when he or she was ready to aim toward a particular career choice. The point that Salomon and Cynaeus agreed upon, was that crafts had formative value. They shaped the character of the child, and developing in that child a sense of beauty and form. It could be called "forming," as long as that term carries the understanding that its purpose is not that of merely shaping materials into new form, but has to do with the forming of the very nature of the child... Are our children to be passive consumers, manipulated in every which direction by corporate greed and power, or are they to be creative and able?

I have been fascinated for years by the accuracy I've developed in my eyes. I can simply look at a piece of wood and judge its thickness with tolerances less than 1/64 in. A piece of wood, I can tell you is 1/8 in. thick, or 1/16 in. thick, or 3/16 or 3/4 without using any measuring instruments. The same certainty can be developed in the sense of beauty and form.

There are many folks who've not been raised to have an understanding of the arts, and lacking that understanding of how things are made and the reasons behind their making and the challenges of material and form and may not understand the value of things from the same standpoint as those who have participated more fully in the arts. That, I believe, is what Matti Bergström meant as being "finger blind."

Today Calvin Cotton and I went out to City Shops and picked up the Library Poplar logs which we plan to cut into lumber so that members of the community can make things from the wood to benefit the library. We had hoped to get started on it earlier, and were sad to learn that a very large pine log from the cemetery had been burned before we could get our hands on it.

Some of my readers may enjoy reading what school is like in Norway. Their test scores are like ours, but their kids love school. That should be worth something in a world in which all kids must become life-long learners in order so survive.

Make, fix and create.

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