Monday, November 04, 2013

finding that creative edge...

A reader in Sweden emailed the following:
"I just discovered you, by accident, and wanted to thank you for your wonderfully written articles on slöjd. I am very curious where you have "taken" slöjd to in your own pedagogical development. My own "education" in slöjd is bounded by what I have read by Salomon, Larsson, and Barter -- mostly pre 1900 that is."
My response was as follows:
My main interest in Sloyd has been that it embodied a way of thinking about learning, and the necessity of personal creativity that has been forgotten in American education, but that came to life for me through my life as a woodworker.

Educational Sloyd, as it was practiced in Sweden in the 19th century and as it was imported to the US was perceived as rigid in its form. Many practitioners were concerned with rigid adherence to the system of models and exercises. Salomon, on the other hand, recognized the necessity of evolution and adaptation when he described Educational Sloyd as a "casting mold" from which new forms would emerge. Carl Malmsten, when he was at Nääs, turned the place upside down in turmoil when he insisted that they had lost the creative edge that was required to engage kids. And that is what happens all the time. People look to what others have done and attempt to rigidly adhere to a script that they think will give them the desired result. The same problem is found in all top-down curriculum schemes that attempt to ignore the interests of the child and superimpose the judgement of committees and boards over the teacher's relationship to his or her pupils.

The teacher's first responsibility is to adapt to the needs and interests of the child. So it would be a disservice to kids to keep things as they were in the 19th century, and it would be a disservice to my readers for me to come up with a curriculum that would be laid in place of the teacher's responsibility to listen to and be engaged with the interests and needs of his or her own pupils.
Readers frequently ask if I have a set curriculum for them to follow. I wish it could be as simple as that. The following is from the Paradise of Childhood and describes the origins of what for Friedrich Froebel was a great awakening:
"Traveling through the country," says Elizabeth Harrison, 'Froebel listened to the cradle songs and stories which the German housewives told to their children. He noticed how the little children are constantly in motion, how they delight in movement, how they use their senses, how quickly the observe and how they invent and contrive. And he said to himself, "I can convert the children's activities, energies, amusements, occupations, all that goes by the name of play, instrumental for my purpose, and transfer play into work. This work will be education in the true sense of the term. The conception I have gained from the children themselves; they have taught me how I am to teach them.'"
In wondering where Sloyd should go in the future, it is important to remember its roots in the Kindergarten method. Uno Cygnaeus and Salomon and all the early proponents of Educational Sloyd, saw it as the best means to carry the Kindergarten methods into the upper grades. Learning was to be fun, driven by the interests of the child, and yet educators seem insistent on making education a dismal experience that must be endured... just as for so many folks, work is a dismal thing. As a woodworker, I have seldom found it to be so.

On a slightly different subject, I find that I keep learning simple new things each day. For example, two days ago when I was putting away the brush I had been using to apply Danish oil to finished boxes, I put it in a jar with linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil is one of the ingredients of the Danish oil formula I use, so I reasoned that the brush could be safely stored in it without drying, and without contaminating the Danish oil when I returned to its use applying the next coat. This morning when I returned to oiling, the brush was in perfect condition and ready to go. A few days beforeI learned that when I was left with too much glue on my fingers after having spread glue in recesses for inlay to fit, I could wipe the glue on the underside of the inlay instead of on my pants. It only took me 38 years to discover that simple trick. Very simple observations like these form the creative edge. By watching ourselves and others we discover new things.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. We completely share your belief that children and adults as well, learn best through hands on activities. As you point out, using our hands, we can always discover new and better ways to perform tasks and gain knowledge while enjoying what we’re doing.