Thursday, July 04, 2013

wood shop and the art of teaching...

Mitered hand-cut dovetail joint
In an article in the Washington Post on the growing failure of universities in the adequate preparation of teachers, Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University and author of a "scathing" critique of teacher preparation was quoted as follows:
“We don’t know how to prepare teachers.... We can’t decide whether it’s a craft or a profession. Do you need a lot of education as you would in a profession, or do you need a little bit and then learn on the job, like a craft? I don’t know of any other profession that’s so uncertain about how to educate their professionals.”
The question Levine raises is one that has tortured the teaching profession. It's one that Otto Salomon had answered over 100 years ago. But educators refuse to learn from the industrial arts. Too many think industrial arts is where to put kids who aren't smart enough for real learning. In his book The Teachers Hand-Book of Slöjd, Salomon wrote:
"... it is by no means sufficient to be in possession of a certain amount of knowledge and dexterity in order to follow with success the important responsible calling of a teacher. Teaching is an art quite as difficult as any other, and for its practice certain qualifications are demanded which are far from being in the possession of all. The teacher must not only know what he has to communicate, but also how he ought to do it. Nor is this all; for if all instruction is in reality to be education, the teacher must rise from the instructor to the educator; he must not only understand how to impart knowledge and dexterity, but also how to impart both in such a manner that they make for the mental development of the pupil, especially with regard to moral training. But as we cannot give to others what we do not ourselves possess, it must necessarily follow that only he who is himself educated can have an educative influence over another. Therefore, exactly in proportion to the educative aim of the teacher does his personality enter as an important factor into the work of instruction. Now since Slöjd is to be regarded more as a means of education than a subject of instruction in the common acceptation of the term, the first demand of all made upon the teacher who undertakes it must be that he would feel himself to be an educator, and strive without ceasing to improve himself as such."
Wouldn't it be the silliest of all things for art students in universities to take only art theory classes and art history classes and boring lecture classes until their last year in which they would take a class or two in which they finally handled the materials used in the arts? And yet, that is the strategy used in universities in teaching teachers and leaving them unprepared to teach. After years of sitting bored in classes, they practice teach as a final exercise, often learning they don't really like teaching. Forty-eight percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first 3-5 years. If we were to understand that teaching is an art and that teachers were best trained as artists are trained in real experience from day one, concurrent with their education, we would have a revolution in American education that would border on the miraculous.

University educators, contending with their own academic egotism will likely always refuse to understand that there might be something they themselves might learn from industrial arts. But Educational Sloyd presented a model for understanding learning long before Piaget, Bloom, Dewey, Bruner, and Gardner and that teachers could actually use in their classrooms and as a guide to teaching all subjects. It was based on observing how we actually learn, hands-on. The point here is not easy to make without someone taking offense. It is difficult for those who've committed their lives to teaching teachers to admit what a mess we've made of the teaching profession, and after completely decimating and demoralizing the profession of the manual arts teacher, to notice that there was something in manual arts training was of great value and that's now been lost. It would be an even greater leap for them to stoop so low as to learn something from Educational Sloyd, a system of woodworking education from the 1800's.

Dave Kings, a high school science teacher and MASW box making student sent me the photo at left showing boxes made in our class and now finished with Tried and True. Dave has been busy making sleds and jigs in preparation for making more boxes. I love his use of contrast, including the tiny dowels locking the corners of the smaller box. If I were to conduct my box making classes in the same manner in which universities teach teachers to teach, my classes would not be so much fun, my students would not leave class with so much knowledge and skill and I wouldn't have so many delightful photos to share with you. Nor would my students have such beautiful boxes to remind them of all they learned and to inspire confidence for their next learning adventure.

One of the things that Salomon also believed was that teachers should be well trained in what they teach. "We cannot give to others what we ourselves do not possess." I get to be a better box making teacher because I attempt to do my best in the accomplishment of difficult things. The box at the top is one I'm making with mitered hand-cut dovetails. It is an exercise of the hand, the eye and the mind. It is not a joint that I attempt often, but makes a beautiful box.
Make, fix and create...

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