Thursday, November 28, 2013

John Dewey, 1901

John Dewey, 1902
In the July 1901 edition of Manual Training Magazine, John Dewey wrote an article describing the benefits of manual training. In his view, reading was only one of several means through which human culture was imparted to new generations.  He wrote…
There is a positive inherent value in the formal training of hand and eye quite part from the actual content o such training—apart from its social relations and suggestions. Now we ought to go deeper than this in our conception of the educational position of the constructive activities. We ought to see where and how they not only give formal training of hand and eye, but lay hold of the entire physical and mental organism; give play to fundamental aptitudes and instincts, and meet fundamental organic necessities. It is not enough to recognize that they develop hand and eye, and that this development reacts favorably into physical and mental development. We should see what social necessities they spring out of, and what social values, what intellectual and emotional nutriment, they bring to the child which cannot be conveyed as well by any other way. And to carry the matter to this point, to recognize the substantial value of the educative material of which they are vehicles, is to connect them with social life; it is to conceive them from the standpoint of the social meaning they realize in child life…

The first consideration must be to give play to the deep-lying motor instincts and demands of the child; to enable him to become conscious of his powers through the variety of uses to which he can put them; and thus to become aware of their social values. To give play, to give expression to his motor instincts, and to do this in such a way that the child shall be brought to know the larger aims and processes of living, is the problem. The saw, the hammer, and plane, the wood and clay, the needle and cloth and the processes by which these are manipulated, are not ends in themselves; they are rather agencies through which the child may be initiated into the typical problems which require human effort, into the laws of human production and achievement, and into the methods by which man gains control of nature (and his or her own nature) and makes good in life his ideals. Out of this larger human significance must grow gradually the interest in the technical problems and process of manual training. When the interest becomes of the purely technical sort, then of necessity manual training no longer occupies a central position; it belongs upon the level where all other forms of special technique are found.

When manual training is so interpreted, there is a necessary correlation between it and history and science. Just as man came originally to know nature in its variety of forms and forces through the active dealings which he had with it, through his attempts to modify it to meet his needs, so the child who in orderly fashion directs his motor powers to recapitulate social industries comes to know typical materials and the typical causal forces upon which the outward fats depend... Correlation of manual training with science is likely to be a rather external and artificial matter where the manual training itself is conducted for technical ends—for ends, which lie within itself. But when it is treated as a means of organizing the powers of the child in social directions, its scope is necessarily broadened to take in salient facts of geography, physics, chemistry, botany, mathematics, etc.
When Dewey was writing these words, manual arts in school had become normal and widely accepted. Now even to have any kind of art at all has become rare. In some states, even though the arts are required for all, one art teacher will be responsible for several schools, only briefly touching the lives of their kids. If we've become a nation of idiots, we can look at what's happening in the arts and the near complete loss of manual training in schools and see why. The text within the parentheses in the quote above is mine.

Make, fix and create...

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