Sunday, October 06, 2013

let's not pretend it's something new...

At  Zarrow Center, Tulsa
Human beings are always attracted to glittery objects. We are drawn to new things. We had manual arts starting in the US and around the world in the 1860's. Now we have STEM education coming to schools. Presenting a new acronym, makes old things appear exciting. The first time I heard the acronym STEM was in a question asked me by an educator on a forum when I was speaking on line to a small national audience of educators. "What do you mean? I asked, thus embarrassing myself by revealing my ignorance of a new language. "What do you know about educational sloyd?" I might have asked in return, but that might have made me appear even more out of touch.

The effort to put the hands to work in schooling to solve real problems in the education of scientists and engineers (and everyone else) is not in any way a new thing. Calvin Woodward tried to explain the intellectual values of woodworking in his book The Manual Training School, 1887 and offered the following quote:
"Unintelligent memorizing is at best a most questionable educational method. For one, I utterly disbelieve in it. It never did me any thing but harm; and learning by heart the Greek grammar did me harm, ---a great deal of harm. While I was doing it, the observing and reflective powers lay dormant; indeed, they were systematically suppressed; their exercise was resented as a sort of impertinence. We boys stood up and repeated long rules, and yet longer lists of exceptions to them; and it was drilled into us that we were not there to reason, but to rattle off something written on the blackboard of our minds. The faculties we had in common with the raven were thus cultivated at the expense of that apprehension and reason which, Shakespeare tells us, makes man like the angels and God. And so, looking back from this standpoint of thirty years later, and thinking of the game which has now been lost or won, I silently listen to that talk bout 'the severe intellectual training,' in which a parrot-line memorizing did its best to degrade boys to the level of learned dogs." --Charles Francis Adams
What I think you can see is missing from STEM is the richness of the past. When those who thrust themselves onto the stage of modern education do so in the ignorance of the past, and with an inflated sense of their own place in the the present moment, some important things are lost, one being the extensive, rich and persuasive language of those who dealt with similar issues before us.

Also, when we begin to understand that what we face is a long term problem that arises again and again, we might look at deeper underlying cause, which I think comes from a a misunderstanding of the role of the hands in the conceptualizing of ideas and in the origins of human intelligence. The hands are the source of human wisdom in that they have allowed us to make. To allow boys to make in school and at home is to lift them above the level of learned dogs.

Make, fix and create...
My work in a museum like setting.


  1. Great setting for your work.


  2. It is funny watching people engage with work in a museum setting. Normally, museum work leaves you scratching your head with regard to the maker's meaning. In this case, the viewer may wonder about a few things, but they certainly seem to get the meaning of it and certainly see the craftsmanship in it.

  3. Scott Kutz4:37 PM

    I've been teaching these hands on classes (now called Technology Education) for 3 decades. Your post today made me realize that our state board(s) of education are robbing our sons and daughters (including my own 7th grader) of precisely the benefits you mention by not making them compulsory. With your law expertise, what are out chances if we filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to make the "hands on" classes a state requirement for all of our students? Scott

  4. I certainly can't claim any law expertise but that I've been gradually acquiring by fighting SWEPCO. States are particularly difficult things to try to change. School boards, both at the local and state levels have odd relationships to law. Often they are "quasi judicial" in their authority.

    I think what is needed is a victory in the court of public opinion. That is why I write this blog. We had generations of wood shop, which became tech ed, which is now becoming STEM education but throughout all these changes of name, it seems we've failed to come to terms with the central principle. We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands on by being engaged in doing real things... whether in the wood shop, or science lab, going on field trips, doing community service, etc. Right now in education, they are on a push to make things more efficient by getting the kids to spend more desk time, when in actuality, that is exactly the wrong course. I'm not sure how that can be proven in court, however. Just trying to stop a powerline from wrecking our community, we've raised and spent over $120,000 so far. Can yo imagine how much money we would have to raise to try to force a change in American education?