Tuesday, December 31, 2013

shop time...

Make a frame style lid
I have been working so much in my office on writing and editing that I've not gotten as much shop time as I'd like. When in the wood shop, everything is right with the world and I find pleasure in it. Csikszentmihalyi named it flow, and there is indeed pleasure in it which you'll discover if you try it yourself. Today I took a few photos to prove I was there.

I am working on interchangeable lift-off lids for a box article for Wood Magazine. The idea is to offer a variety of lid options for a simple box.

Bevel a top panel
In the meantime, we are waiting for either SWEPCO to announce that they are abandoning their application to devastate our community with a 345 kV powerline, or for the Arkansas Public Service Commission to rule against them.

Inlay stones in a lid
With the whole community up in arms against AEP/SWEPCO and the serious concerns from the National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation having been expressed by letters of condemnation, it is unlikely that SWEPCO's absurd plans will be approved. But there have been many surprises in this case... like the day I learned that SWEPCO wanted to clear cut a 150 ft. wide swath of forest from one end of my 11 acres to the other and only 75 feet from my deck.

Today my associate Pat Costner was named Citizen of the Year by one of our local papers for her work to protect our community. The power line threat has brought our community together in amazing ways. And, we will all be relieved when AEP/SWEPCO's plan is in the trash.

2013 was a momentous year. I wrote most of a book in 2013, and took part in a major opposition to a 345 kV power line, having taken on a powerful corporation and the largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the US.

I wish all my readers a most productive, creative and joyous 2014.

In need of a new year's resolution?

Make, fix and create...

words from a different age...

The close relationship between Kindergarten and the manual training movement and the use of Kindergarten as a precursor to industrial training were described by Countess Bertha Maria Marenholtz-Bülow's book, Hand work & head work; their relation to one another, and the reform of education, according to the principles of Froebel, 1882. For example:
In the Kindergarten, for instance, the industries which are to be carried on in after-life are not practiced as such, but every limb, every sense, every muscle and every nerve, is set in action, and the general manipulations common to all handicrafts are practiced. The young child cannot fell and saw down trees, or break stones to build with; and, therefore, beams and bricks are given to him, but he is left to experimentalise with them according to his fancy. He cannot carve wood and stone, but he can cut up paper, leather, and other soft materials; he cannot chisel in marble, but he can shape soft clay; he cannot handle a plane, a hammer, and such-like instruments, with any profit or result, but by using a slate-pencil, a pair of scissors, or a pin for pricking out, he may acquire the general kind of handiness which is so desirable. But the manual dexterity which is necessary for the mere mechanical part of handiwork is only part of the culture which should be given to every child. Unless their sense of beauty be awakened, and their minds opened to elements of art, their work will be of a nature to destroy all intellectual life. The aesthetic culture which, according to Fourrier, is to be arrived at by the mere contemplation of art, and the hearing of music, the Kindergarten effects by means of the pupil's own productions.
Countess Bertha Maria Marenholtz-Bülow had become one of the earliest and most important contributors to Froebel's successful introduction of Kindergarten, and she hunderstood its important role as the precursor to manual arts education. I believe the Fourrier she was referring to was French philosopher Charles Fourier. With regard to education, he believed:
...that "civilized" parents and teachers saw children as little idlers. Fourier felt that this way of thinking was wrong. He felt that children as early as age two and three were very industrious. He listed the dominant tastes in all children to include, but not limited to:
  1. Rummaging or inclination to handle everything, examine everything, look through everything, to constantly change occupations;
  2. Industrial commotion, taste for noisy occupations;
  3. Aping or imitative mania.
  4. Industrial miniature, a taste for miniature workshops.
  5. Progressive attraction of the weak toward the strong.
Today I will continue editing chapters of the book, writing sidebars, and taking advantage of the time before school starts up in a new year.

Lifting schools to conform to the  highest and most noble of human inclinations was once a concern for nobility. Where is that nobility when we seem to need it most? You don't have to be a prince or a king or a countess for that. Kindergarten and the manual training movement united some of the finest intellectuals and philosophers in the world at one point, and it centered around an understanding that the hands and the making of useful beauty were the primary tools for the development of character and intelligence. Now educators think that children can grow to their maximum capacities by pushing buttons and by demonstrating the power of our machines, the intelligence of which was placed in their innards by others.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 30, 2013

transcendental unity of apperception...

Understanding Immanuel Kant may help
if you wish to understand Froebel, and it may help to understand Froebel first if you want to come to a clearer understanding of Kant. Froebel devised an educational system that purposefully led the child from a narrow conception of self into a sense of larger self, taking into consideration, alignment of being with that of family, school, community, and nation. The word apperception was used by both Froebel and Kant .

Kant talked about a transcendental unity of apperception. As one grows in power of apperception, the sense of self grows toward the elimination of common interpersonal boundaries and restraints toward a sense of transcendental understanding. Apperception can be defined as: "1. Conscious perception with full awareness. 2. The process of understanding by which newly observed qualities of an object are related to past experience." The second definition would fit Froebel's use of the term. He was concerned with developing a model of learning that led the child gently from the arms of loving mothers into the arms of loving schools and communities and maintaining the sense of unity in the child's relationships. His idea was (in part) for all that was learned to be anchored in the child's experience so that it would be useful, and make the child powerful in his own life. The following is from James Laughlin Hughes' book Froebel's Educational Laws for all Teachers.
He not only realized that apperception was essential in the evolution of mind, he saw that apperception could not take place unless the mind contained the germ elements corresponding to the new knowledge to be communicated to it, and he wished to form apperceptive centres in the heart as well as in the mind. He valued apperceptive centres of feeling even more than apperceptive centres of thought. He reasoned that the more the child's sensations and emotions are defined and varied the greater its possibilities for growth be come, and he wisely concluded that the worst period during the life of a human being in which to leave his mental and moral evolution to chance is the time when his mind and heart are being organized and charged with the power centres which to so large an extent decide his tendency, his range, and his strength. He planned a system of education that would give the child experience as a basis for instruction and for ethical culture, and demanded that the home and kindergarten should send a child to school with "a foundation, a basis, a sum of living germs in the life material it has gathered." In this department of educational investigation he had the widest scope for originality. No one had preceded him, and few have yet been able to follow where he led. There is still need of intelligent study on the part of educators to extend the good work begun by Froebel in order to increase the stock of germ elements in the minds and hearts of children before they go to school — even before they go the kindergarten. The need for this definite training of the child's powers of sensation and emotion in its earliest years has been greatly increased since Froebel's time by the extraordinary recent growth of great cities. Both in Europe and America the number and size of cities and large towns has rapidly increased. The tendency to leave the farm and the forest for the supposed advantages of urban life is one of the alarming social movements of the age. The children are the greatest losers by this change. The child brought up in the country close to the glories of Nature has the opportunity to obtain a much richer mental and moral foundation than the child who lives in the city. If allowed its freedom among the flowers, the trees, the birds, the insects, and the ever-changing growth of Nature in its varied forms of living and trans forming or evolving organisms, the country child needs little guidance in gaining a wide experience of sensations and emotions as a basis for its future conscious development. Here the child needs but the perfect sympathy of its mother, in love with Nature and with her child, in order to have its mind filled with a vast store of the germs of mental strength and moral beauty, which are ever freely communicated to the child or the man who can hear what Nature is whispering or see what she is doing. In cities the child is not so fortunate. Its range is limited and the conditions are un natural. Therefore, while The Mother Play is invaluable to all teachers, kindergartners, and mothers, it is needed especially in the homes of cities and towns to widen and define the experiences of children so that they may have minds full of germ centres to which the varied knowledge to be given in the schools may be clearly related, and hearts in which the emotional foundations of character have been laid.
Froebel's concern was for the fullest possible development of each child. Froebel believed in the individuality of each child and that every child had special powers that the school must successfully unleash. Now we have a policy of making certain that each child meets some minimal standard. Each child is processed according to a policy of fragmentation rather that being directed toward unity and transcendence.

These days, the whole of the planet suffers from that fragmentation. Children are wrongfully removed from nature and from the kinds of experiences being a part of wilderness and wild life can provide. And the consequence is that children are being raised with little understanding of nature or of why we need to be engaged in protecting it. As an alternate reality, I found this video of a visit to Bill Coperthwaite.

My own self-activity in the woodshop led me toward an understanding of the unity of all things.. that all subject materials are interconnected, and within that matrix, I and every other human being on the planet exist in a state of oneness. That should be the model for American education... directing our children toward an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Forms of beauty made with Froebel blocks
This morning on the radio, I listened to a report on the problems having to do with language and the poor. The well documented "word gap." There is a tendency among the poor to fail to engage their children in meaningful dialog, which then leads to poor preparedness for school. TV is no substitute. Children of the poor start school at a measurable disadvantage. Children need to be engaged in a give and take exchange of words to develop the skills of language upon which their school success will depend. University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley published their groundbreaking study in 1995 that:
"...found a significant disparity when comparing the vocabulary exposure of six families on welfare to 13 “professional class” families: children in the former group heard 616 words per hour, while children in the latter heard 2,153 words per hour. Extrapolating those results to 14-hour days, they estimated that underprivileged children were hearing about 30 million fewer words through the age of 3 than their upper-income counterparts."
All the fancy new computers and tablets can't give the child what he truly needs for his growth. Researchers and some educators are involved in getting parents to read more to their kids and to purposefully engage in give and take dialog with their children. And of course dialog is not one sided talking to your child, but involves listening to your child and developing the equal exchange upon which educational success will be built. Learning is not just about what's put in the mind, but is also about what comes from it. Between sensing and expressing cognitive processing takes place. In the photo above, you can imagine the child in the Froebel Museum having just asked, "Was ist das Papa?" And Papa replies, "Das ist Schönheit, mein Sohn."

Children must be given an opportunity to find their own place within a perceived unity of all things. James Laughlin Hughes wrote of this in Froebel's Educational Laws for All Teachers, 1887:
He understood the fundamental law of mind development by apperception as thoroughly as Herbart, and made his whole system contribute to the awakening of the inner power and experience of the child which is most directly related to the new experience or to the fresh presentation of knowledge. He saw the unity between knowing, feeling, and willing, between analysis and synthesis, between thought and life. He saw the unity or inner connection of all created things so clearly that he made the reconciliation of opposites an important element of his system. He believed this law of unity, inner connection, or vital interrelationship to be universal, and made it the fundamental law and the ultimate aim of all true educational effort.

Self-Activity. — As unity is Froebel's fundamental law, so self-activity is his essential educational process. His recognition and wonderful application of self-activity is the most comprehensive and the most distinctive element in his educational system. It is the most productive educational principle that has yet been discovered. It involves the doctrines of interest and apperception not merely as educational theories, but as applied educational principles called into play naturally and forcefully as essential steps in guiding and determining the activities of the child. It makes the child the center upon which all true correlation is focused. It is the only process by which the co-ordination of the child's brain can be made complete. It makes the child an executive as well as a receptive and reflective being, and thereby overcomes the most universal human weakness of failing to live and act up to the limit of individual knowing and thinking. It revealed the child to its teacher and to itself by making the inner become the outer life. It defines the feeling and thought of the child and makes it original and progressive. It is the truest basis of self-faith and independence of character, without which the strongest and most cultured intellect is not adequately efficient as a productive or an uplifting force. It makes the child not only responsively, but also suggestively co-operative with its teachers and parents, so that it becomes a co-worker, not a follower, and a creative instead of an imitative agent.
Perhaps Froebel was too mystical for the present age of skepticism and conformity. It is unlikely that administrators in public education can understand such things. They are far too busy with standardized testing and the core curriculum and turning teachers into check-out clerks for the dispensation and distribution of knowledge. On the other hand, Froebel  had seen mothers as the first stars of learning. When renewal comes in American education, it will be from the bottom up, not the top down. Mothers and dads (and grandparents) will lead the way by making, fixing, and creating with their kids and talking with them about it. Talking about real things is better than made up stuff, and kids do know the difference.

Making a gerbil house
We must not overlook the value of creative engagement and expression in the education of our children. At the Clear Spring School woodshop, the children love most those days in which they are allowed to explore their own creativity. I call it creative day. They call it free-day. Froebel would have called it self-activity. On free day, I am the dispenser of tools and materials, and the children must explain their needs to gain my co-operation. Making is not an escape from language but a reason for language, an un-contrived expansion of vocabulary, and develops clarity in word as well as in deed.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

the chief agent in developing the mind...

Boxes hinged and awaiting linings
Yesterday I spent time assembling boxes and installing hinges, and magnets and preparing boxes to be photographed for beauty shots in the new book. The following is from James Langston Hughes on the origins of the manual training movement, as described in Froebel's Educational Laws for All Teachers.
Manual Training. — Froebel was the founder of the rational system of manual training. The world did not at first understand his views in regard to manual training. The most advanced schools have yet barely reached his advanced ideals. The utilitarian aspect of manual training has dwarfed the conceptions of educators until recent years in studying the subject. This view did not influence Froebel. He knew that what is philosophically true must be at the same time most practical. He placed manual training on an educational instead of an economic or industrial basis. He made the hand the chief agent in developing the mind. The use of material things to represent or express the original conceptions of the child affords the best possible opportunities for developing the child's creative power and executive ability, for co-ordinating its brain, and for revealing to it the fact that it has power to mould and use the material world around it. For all these ideals in regard to manual training we are indebted to Froebel. He valued the inner results of manual training in the child more than the outer material products.
Froebel was not necessarily the first to propose the hand as the agent of the mind, nor was he the first to propose the educational value of the manual arts. But he was of enormous influence in the development of Educational Sloyd and the recognition that manual arts developed the whole child, including his critical thinking capacity.

Yesterday on the radio, I listened to an interview with Carl Sagan (now deceased) about his interest in science and how to pass that interest along to new generations. He stated that schools have become largely irrelevant to the advancement of science. Learning science from books doesn't work half so well as from a laboratory, and besides, the vested interests are not interested at all in the development of critical thinking skills. Students having critical thinking skills might challenge the status quo.

 It is without doubt the time for concerned parents and citizens to take educational matters into their own hands. And what I mean by that is not that parents should buy their children the latest in electronic devices that do all their children's creative and critical thinking for them.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 27, 2013

maker and Maker...

Yesterday, I finished a sidebar for the new book and will do something similar today. I also awakened from sleep with other woodworking processes passing through my mind, having to do with installing rare earth magnets in another box project. The box in the photo is upside down, but shows an oversized box joint and floating panel bottom for a box I'm making to help illustrate an article for Wood Magazine on making lift off lids. In the article I'll be making lids for a similar box made by another craftsman, so it will be interesting to see how our techniques compare. The joints for this box were cut on the tablesaw.

This is not a particularly religious age we live in, and I'm not Catholic, but it is nice to see a new Pope, who places emphasis on service to the poor. At one time, work and service were seen as having religious significance, and religion placed greater emphasis on meaningful work of true service to family, and community. Froebel believed that manual training was a means through which students came closest to their intellectual, spiritual and religious potential. The following is from James Laughlin Hughes book, Froebel's Educational Laws for All Teachers:
Froebel saw the need of manual training to broaden the school program, to give the (human) race greater skill, and to lead men to love work; but he advocated its introduction into schools for much stronger reasons. His reasons were educational, not economic or utilitarian. He valued the change wrought in selfhood more than the products of its work or the improvement in hand skill. The intellectual and moral advantages of manual training are gradually unfolding in the minds of educators, but none of Froebel's successors have as yet taken as high ground as he did in regard to them. He made work a handmaid of religion, and believed that, if children were trained to regard work as a means of self-expression, it would always be to them a means of joy — the joy that should always spring from the accomplishment of a true inner purpose. "Early work," he says," guided in accordance with its inner meaning, confirms and elevates religion. Religion without industry, without work, is liable to be lost in empty dreams, worthless visions, idle fancies. Similarly, work or industry without religion degrades man into a beast of burden, a machine."
God created man in his own image; therefore man should create and bring forth like God. The spirit of man should hover over the shape less, and move it that it may take shape and form, a distinct being and life of its own. This is the high meaning, the deep significance, the great purpose of work and industry, of productive and creative activity. We become truly Godlike in diligence and industry, in working and doing, which are accompanied by the clear perception or even by the vaguest feeling that thereby we represent the inner in the outer; that we give body to spirit and form to thought; that we render visible the invisible." "Primarily and in truth man works only that his spiritual, Divine essence may assume outward form, and that thus he may be enabled to recognise his own spiritual, Divine nature and the innermost being of God." Froebel saw, too, the purely intellectual advantages of manual training." Plastic material representation in life and through doing, united with thought and speech, is by far more developing and cultivating than the merely verbal representation of ideas. The life of the boy has, indeed, no purpose but that of the outer representation, of his self; his life is, in truth, but an external representation of his inner being, of his power, particularly in and through material." The most important products of manual training are the invisible, not the visible. Brain making and brain co-ordination are the direct results of manual training.
In other words, the maker and the Maker have a thing in common.

Make, fix, and create.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From Kindergarten to Educational Sloyd...

Herbert Courthope Bowen(1848-1909) described the movement from Froebel's Kindergarten to the development of Educational Sloyd manual training in his book, Froebel and Education by Self-Activity, taken in part from a Froebel letter to the the Duke of Meiningen, in 1829:
"The training and instruction were to rest on the foundation from which proceed all genuine knowledge and all genuine practical attainments; that is, 'on life itself and on creative effort, and on the union and interdependence of doing and thinking, representing and perceiving, skill and science.' It will base its work on 'the pupil's self-activity and self-expression,' and make these the bases of knowledge and culture. The morning is to be devoted to the ordinary school subjects; the afternoon to various kinds of manual work. I cannot attempt to give the long and full list of occupations here; suffice it is to say that it covers, and more than covers, the ground now usually marked out by institutions of this kind. Froebel's hopes were disappointed. He never had the chance of carrying out this plan. But the description remained, and with his other tracts and articles, gained the attention of educational thinkers in more than one place.

Amongst others it attracted Uno Cygnaeus, the 'Father of the Primary School in Finland.' In 1866 Cygnaeus introduced sloyd as a compulsory part of education into the schools of his country. The success of the movement in Finland stimulated Sweden, Denmark, and Austria-Hungary to like efforts. From Sweden, where it was greatly improved by Herr Salomon, the system has passed over to England. And indeed in a measure all Europe now recognizes it, the spread of kinder garten ideas having prepared the way for it in more than one country. I cannot do better than quote an extract from a letter written by Cygnaeus to Dr. Wichard Lange which tells how he came to adopt the system. 'The idea of the introduction of hand-work [sloyd],' he says, 'came to me from the study of the writings of Pestalozzi and Froebel: I have, therefore, derived it from Germany."
Today I am back to writing and editing, but hope to spend at least a bit of time in the wood shop.

 Make, fix and create...

The use of effective surprise…

Today I've been working on a sidebar about effective surprise, a subject I've discussed many times before in the blog.

Researchers studying music are attempting to understand why some causes emotional response and some does not, as described in this article in the New York Times, To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons, by Pam Belluck.
"Research is showing...  that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.

And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns."
Jerome Bruner's concept of "effective surprise" should have been a thing explored by the writer for the New York Times, as it helps to explain why some executions of musical works are merely that, executions, leaving the work dead, the listener as much so, and some are awakenings. In explaining effective surprise, Bruner quotes Yeats,
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone.
And so teachers, too, should learn to think in the marrow bone. Effective surprise is a tool that wood workers utilize in creating lasting work, or that a chemistry teacher seeks to engage in the laboratory to capture the lasting interest of his scholars. Get it?

The boxes in the photo above are from the chapter in my new book that addresses effective surprise and the photo of leaves was simply selected from my collection of original photography. Even photography makes use of "effective surprise."A more detailed description of the use of effective surprise in 3-D design will be in the book.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My objectives...

Origami ball by Lucy Stowe
As my regular readers will know, I've been immersed once again in a study of Kindergarten and have about a half dozen books on my reader that have been providing an insight into an earlier time in American education. In the Law of Childhood, William Nicholas Hailmann told us that Froebel had considered moving to the US at one time, finding Germany to be less open to any creative ideas on education than he presumed the new nation of the United States might be:
"It is to us a matter of self-congratulation and serious reflection that Froebel, in an article written in 1836, and discussing emigration as a mode to attain his purposes, pointed to the United States as a country offering all the conditions for the existence of genuine family life, as a country where such life is at least sought and can freely develop; and that his most prominent disciple, the Baroness Marenholtz-Bulow, adds her testimony to his when she writes: ''America, where in truth a new world is forming, which possesses all the creative power of a young state, where the individual enjoys full liberty, and no artificial restraint prevents carrying out his own designs in his own way, we look upon as the field for our richest harvest. 'Yes,' she adds, 'the United States of America offer, more than any other country upon the earth, the conditions necessary for the development of a sound, rational, national system of education, similar to the one planned by Froebel."
The US was indeed open to Froebel's ideas up to a certain point. Led by the Froebel ideal, we got Kindergartens, and Educational Sloyd as a contributor to the great experiment in manual arts training. Since that time, manual arts have been virtually erased from most schooling and Kindergarten remains in name only, and with none of the features that would have warmed Froebel's heart to have seen. This is Christmas day, a time very special for most children in the US and Europe. It's a time that parents share a focus to the best of their unique abilities to fulfill Froebel's most important precept. "Let us live for our children."

Teaching at NWA November 2013
We know that shop classes exactly like we had in the US throughout most of the last century are not coming back. Many of them had declined to the point that their original mission of imparting character and intelligence to ALL children had been forgotten. And we know that the US would never again, take on a Kindergarten revolution, because we have become more regimented than Germany of the 19th century when Froebel was considering more fertile fields for his reinvention of education. But if we keep in mind that our brains are in our hands, and that we must live for our children (not only at Christmastime), we will commence together on a highway of educational renewal. It's not magic. It's not easy. But it can happen when we each apply our hands in a creative fashion and begin to realize that we must be making things, luring our children into our creative endeavors, and empowering them to create.
“I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.” — William S. Coperthwaite • 1930-2013
I received a copy of the NWA newsletter which offers a review of my class taught in Clifton Park, NY in November. You can read the newsletter here.

The origami ball Christmas ornament is one of the rewards that you might find someday from encouraging your child in hands-on learning. My daughter has been working quietly for days in preparation for Christmas, and made a variety of ornaments to supplement those she had made from pipe cleaners in pre-school.

Merry Christmas to my regular readers and all, who might stumble upon this site.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

craftsmanship and an understanding of reality...

prototype for Froebel ball...
We are in the midst of the last making day until Xmas. I've been tied up in knots going through chapters of my new book, approving edits and revising text that needs to be made clear. I am also writing a few missing sidebars, going over materials lists, and completing and revising sketchup illustrations. Much of it is kind of fun, though not as much fun as being in the shop, and I'm grateful to have a bit of extra time for this that comes from school being closed for the holidays.

I have been reading William Heard Kilpatrick's book on Froebel. In the preface Kilpatrick notes:
"Mr. Quick, discussing Froebel in his Educational Reformers, has said with a charming frankness, 'Where I can understand him, he seems to me singularly wise,' but 'at times he goes entirely out of sight, and whether the words we hear are the expression of deep truth or have absolutely no meaning at all, I for my part am at times totally unable to determine.' Probably most students of educational theory — outside the ranks of kindergartners, at any rate — have felt Mr. Quick's dilemma. Amid much that is clearly valuable there is much that is singularly forbidding. Among the kindergartners themselves this questionable element in Froebel' s thought has produced division. One wing accepts pretty fully the whole original body of kindergarten doctrine and practice, and opposes any appreciable modification thereof; the other wing consciously rejects in greater or less degree certain parts of the original Froebelian doctrine and seeks to improve the kindergarten theory and practice by utilizing the best thought current in the rest of the educational world. The latter group honors Froebel, but looks to the future. The former with an almost religious zeal has all but developed a Froebel cult. In this general situation, it fell to the writer to conduct a critical study of Froebel with successive classes of experienced kindergarten and primary students. Naturally, opposed points of view manifested themselves with regard to many of the doctrines studied. Out of these conflicts has come this book. It is therefore critical and not historical. It makes no pretense to a complete discussion of Froebel, but confines itself mainly to those disputed points of kindergarten theory which, diversely taken, lead to diverse practice. The general aim of the book is to help spread the reform of kindergarten theory and practice. Its appeal is accordingly not only to kindergartners and to the general student of educational theory, but as well to superintendents and other directors of educational practice."
From that preface, and in an attempt to get readers to view Froebel with less devotion, Kilpatrick proceeded in the first chapter to discuss Froebel's pantheistic religious beliefs, noting how Froebel's religious expressions differ from those more commonly held by  "Christians." Frobel had come under charges of pantheism earlier as he had published works explaining the origins of his method, and had tried unsuccessfully to rebut those charges. This is a bit of what Kilpatrick found disturbing, quoted from "The Education of Man":
"In nature, in life, and in the phenomena both of nature and of life, the everlasting force of destiny is paramount. We, as Christians, call this the everlasting dispensation and guidance of Providence, and when this coincides with the expression of our inmost thought, we... acknowledge in it... the voice and the will of God' (6:23 f.). Elsewhere Froebel refers to nature in terms generally reserved exclusively for the religious attitude towards God : 'Nature... the original fount of all being and life"(5 : 36), 'rest in perfect trust upon nature,' 'faith in nature,' 'the feeling of oneness with nature' (6:16ff.). More distinctly pantheistic is the following: 'The same law rules everywhere, the one law of God, which expresses itself in thousandfold many-sidedness, but in the last analysis is one, for God is himself the law" (8:28).
One of the hazards of formal education comes when teachers or administrators use education as an authoritarian means to attempt to control the beliefs of small children. Froebel had grown up as the neglected son of a Lutheran minister, and discovered his own faith by wandering the Thuringen forest. By observing nature directly rather than by merely assimilating what is told us by others, we develop faith. And with faith, belief becomes a distraction from the accuracy of observation. Froebel's faith led him to examine the role of mothers in the education of their children and led him thence to devise a method of schooling that trusted the sensory engagement of the child to guide learning and growth through self-activity. The teacher's efforts were not to be directed toward shaping the child's beliefs, but rather to facilitate and encourage the child's creative expression.

There is a difference between religiosity and faith. Religious beliefs may require a teacher to demand something from her children. Faith allows the teacher to set up learning experiences for her pupils all the while clear in her trust that the children will draw what they need from real life, just as thousands of generations of children have done. Faith requires freedom of conscious while religion demands conformity. And creative craftsmanship, pure and simple, is a means through which children and adults can come to a better understanding of reality and find a clear basis for belief, faith and trust. Froebel had faith that given constructive learning experiences, the child would grown in harmony with family and community. That was similar to what Matti Bergström called black games and white games and the consideration that children need to engage both certainty and possibility... allowing human culture to arise within each subsequent generation. The crocheted ball at the top is a prototype made by a weaver friend in response to my curiosity concerning how to make Froebel's balls for his first gift.

With that said, I wish all a very Merry Christmas. As the northern hemisphere returns to a renewal of light and we in the north begin to emerge from the coldest and darkest days of the year, let human creativity resume for all.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

thus we see...

Woodworking kids at the North Bennet St. School circa 1900
I was conversing at a party last night with an old friend who has been a sculptor and maker and teacher of making most of his life, and we concluded that makers have a different view of things, and have a more holistic outlook, being much more likely to understand the interconnectedness of all things. Much the same can be said of Kindergarten. The following is from the Law of Childhood by William Nicholas Hailmann:
"Thus we see in Froebel's Gifts the outward appliances of a scheme of mental training, influencing, feeding the various phases of mental life, inward and outward, evenly, harmoniously, and with almost ideal directness and efficiency; leading the child in his thoughts and expressions, in his feelings and actions, in scope and intensity, to unity, to universality. These Gifts enable the child to give outward shape to whatever notion he may have formed of things; to express, not in words alone (which are so fleeting and uncertain), but in things, his ideas of things and of their relations; to reflect outwardly, to reproduce in visible shape the impressions which the world has made through the senses upon his consciousness. While his hands grow in skill, as they increase in size and strength, he has, too, better opportunities for comparing his notion of things with their corresponding outer realities, and for correcting and amplifying them. Every step in insight leads to a corresponding advance in expression, in skill; the pleasure that attends the increase of light which his play with the Gifts throws upon the world about him, arouses, fixes, strengthens his love of truth; every new success in obtaining clearness, adds to his firmness of purpose; every fresh triumph in the invention of simple forms of symmetry enhances his sense and appreciation of the beautiful; every intellectual gain reacts favorably and immediately upon a corresponding moral impulse; every new analysis is immediately followed by infinitely varied syntheses, in which the new elements of knowledge gained are combined and re-combined with each other and with previous cognitions in endless reproductions and inventions, in endless forms of utility and beauty, assimilated at once and wholly into the life of the organism.

This is the soul of Froebel's gifts: Unity in Universality, and Universality in Unity — One in All, and All in One. Take them where you may, and they comprise the world of the child, reducing it to simplest elements, and opening, at the same time, countless avenues in all directions to wider, higher thought, to wider, higher influence. Inward and outward, the limits of their influence and scope lie in infinity." The Law of Childhood and other papers,  -- William Nicholas Hailmann, 1891
Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Gliedganzes was a term that Froebel combined from two German words glied meaning member and ganzes meaning whole. Readers will likely know that the advocates of progressive education talk about the education of the whole child... that education should not only be concerned with teaching a child to read and do math, but to also to become engaged as a creative member of society.

Froebel's odd word gliedganzes was devised to show simultaneous concern for both directions education must proceed at exactly the same time. Froebel's gifts were designed to illustrate this. For example, the gift number 3 consisting of a cube shaped box, containing a larger cube composed of 8 smaller ones illustrates that while each cube is complete in itself, it is also a member of a larger form, just as the child itself is a member of a larger form.

I have been reading a number of books on the subject of Kindergarten, and had originally been led on this study by the realization that Kindergarten and Educational Sloyd were partners in a larger transformational movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Both the true meaning of Kindergarten and the purpose of manual arts training were subsequently forgotten and ignored in American education. I discovered the connection between the two when I was visiting at Otto Salomon's original teacher training academy in Sweden in 2006. I had been particularly interested in reading an early educational journal, Hand and Eye, copies of which are only available from Otto Salomon's library and the British Library in London. As I first held these journals in my hand, I discovered to my surprise that they were not only about Sloyd, but also about Kindergarten and that the two were members of a larger whole, just as one small cube in collection with others, would constitute a larger cube and fill a box, itself a part of a larger whole. The official listing in the British Library is: "Hand & Eye. A monthly journal for the promotion of Sloyd Kindergarten and all forms of manual training. Vol. 1. no. 1.-vol. 10. no. 105. Oct. 1892-April 1902."

Froebel had come to his understanding of the interconnectedness of all things through his study of rocks and minerals when he worked in the Mineralogical Museum at the University of Berlin under the supervision of noted crystalographer Christian Samuel Weiss. There, he worked with trays of minerals and crystalline forms, classifying and organizing. He wrote of this experience:
I continually proved to be true what had long been a presentiment with me, namely, that even in these so-called lifeless stones and fragments of rock, torn from their original bed, there lay germs of transforming, developing energy and activity. Amidst the diversity of forms around me, I recognized under all kinds of various modifications one law of development... And thereafter, my rocks and crystals served me as a mirror wherein I might descry* mankind, and man's development and history... Geology and crystallography not only opened up for me a higher circle of knowledge and insight, but also showed me a higher goal for my inquiry, my speculation, and my endeavor. Nature and man now seemed to me mutually to explain each other, through all their numberless various stages of development.
This morning as I was writing these words, I was thinking about my friend Hans who had been my guide to Salomon's school, and had led my exploration into Salomon's archive. Within minutes I received an email from him offering his holiday greetings.  Physicists now say that if two atoms are introduced to each other (as Hans and I were and remain), they can then be placed at the furthest extremes of the universe and still have a "consciousness" of each other, in that what happens to one affects the other. My friend Lothar Schäfer, who writes about quantum physics says that "consciousness" is not exactly the term he would apply to this phenomenon. Perhaps "gliedganzes" would fit.

What we are missing these days in American education is an organizing principle that calls each child, each classroom, each school and each community, each state and our nation to a larger mission, and a better understanding of the interconnectedness that affects all. Call it gliedganzes if you like or can find no better term for how we are connected. When we begin to see that the activities of our hands have the power to connect us in ways that lead to transcendence, and that each child is a part of a larger whole, with a crucial mission to fulfill in service to a greater whole, we will find our feet falling on the right track.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, December 20, 2013

pretend it's 1876...

Education in the US seems to continue in a state of self-generated crisis. As one educator said, we've addressed the starving our our children by developing accurate scales in the form of standardized testing to measure their loss...whereas we should be feeding them educational opportunities that foster real growth...

Starting with the small introduction of Kindergarten through the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, parents throughout the US became enamored with the notion of Kindergarten for their own kids. Kindergarten wasn't limited to half days for a year and only for those children ready to enter school for the first time like the "kindergarten" of today. Froebel had recognized the mother as being the child's first teacher, and Kindergarten, a paradise of childhood, a garden of learning, would take place in the life of the child over a number of years, generally from ages 3 to 8.

Manual arts enthusiasm began for some because they became aware of how children truly learn and came to a realization that we needed to extend the Kindergarten method into the upper grades.

And yet, in time, we wishy-washied all that away in American education. First, Kindergarten became shrunk in years and all about preparation to read, and we crap-canned the manual arts. We developed senseless education out of our own senselessness, whereas all the early educators had noted that education must first arise first from the senses and the sensory experiences of the child.

Yesterday my first, second and third grade students delivered our student made toys to the food bank. The workers there were very busy serving lunch to the poor, and the reception we received was rather unceremonious. One student said, "That was boring," after we had made the delivery and were ready to leave. Children learn much too easily that they are the centers of their parent's universes, and yet, they must also learn to work hard to fit in with the rest of the world. They must learn that they have work to do in the service of others. And so the child's honest comment led to a class discussion on what the student's role is, and what the role of the school is... Our own purpose is not to entertain children or to alleviate boredom, but to provide experiences that lead to understanding. The following is from the Kindergarten in a Nutshell:
Kindergarten Work Trains the Hands

And when they are developed to their fullest extent and managed as Froebel intended, what may we expect of them? you ask. There is a much-used saying in the kindergarten that development according to Froebel is threefold — that is, it includes within its purpose something for the body, something for the soul, and something for the mind. We should expect, then, that the kindergarten occupations would effect something for the physical powers of the child, and we find that they train his arms and hands and fingers so that they become deft servants of his will, and not only the right hand, you understand, but the left, too, for the idea is to make him ambidextrous. In securing these ends the mind receives development also, and the same thing is true of the eye-training, which is, of necessity, partly mental and partly physical.
But the Froebel Kindergarten is not just for the development of the powers and understanding of the child. It is also a realm for creating social understanding and responsibility as follows:
The kindergarten is most valuable to the life of today because of the social training it gives. There is great danger in isolating children and in bringing them up too exclusively in the company of grown people. They need the society of their equals as much as we who are older, and they must learn by absolute contact with their fellows the interdependence of all life, and the fact that we are members one of an other. Every exercise of the kindergarten is of a social nature, and the child is only separated from his playmates when he has transgressed the laws which teach that the pursuit of his own happiness and the enjoyment of his own liberty are dependent upon his allowing the same rights to his companions.
 So, what can we do now for American education since we seem to have screwed things up? Believe me please, that the government and corporations and the foundations created by the wealth of corporations won't be rushing in to direct the necessary changes in American education. That will come only from small, revolutionary groups of mothers and fathers willing to adopt the kindergarten ideal and take matters into their own hands.

If we were to apply the 1876 model to educational change, we would be pursuing a greater knowledge of Froebel's kindergarten and Educational Sloyd and applying what we learn to our own children... then sharing what we've learned to benefit the children in our communities and in our nation at large. We have 5 making days left before Christmas.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

how good things happen...

Kindergarten Cottage, Philadelphia 1876
Americans are fixated on a top down education reform. We have major foundations investing billions in charter schools. We have a race to the top that has gone nowhere. According to recent PISA results, education in the US has gotten worse relative to that offered in other nations. Educator Steve Nelson claims that we don't have an education problem, but have a social disease in which we've become fixated on measuring our children's performance and have become distracted from teaching the child. I say the child rather than children, because we've become so fixated on groupings and measuring abstract performance that we forget that each child is an individual and of individual concern.

Yesterday at the Silver Tea, an old friend thanked me for the ideas put forth in the Wisdom of the Hands. She's become a grandmother, and having been made aware of how the hands affect the brain, that the intelligence of the hands requires nourishment, she has also been made aware of the gift that she can give to her own grandchildren, insuring their greater success and that of our nation and of our communities at the same time. Arranging hands-on learning opportunities for her grandchildren has become an important thing in her own life.

I've written before in the blog about  the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition and how it brought three important things to American education. The manual arts movement came to the attention of US educators through a vast display of the Russian system of manual training and through a much smaller exhibit of Educational Sloyd. But one of the most cherished exhibits was a  “Kindergarten Cottage” with an actual kindergarten classroom set up by the Froebel Society of Boston in which a trained teacher, Ruth Burritt, taught orphans 3 days per week. Burritt explained the method to thousands of visitors as the children followed “a typical kindergarten routine of playing, singing, movement games and manipulating Froebel’s gifts.” As described by Nina C. Vandewalker: “The enclosure for visitors was always crowded, many of the onlookers being hewers of wood and drawers of water who were attracted by the sweet singing and spellbound by the lovely spectacle.”

Kindergarten took root in America due to the enchantment of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and whole communities with loveliness  and individualized sensibility as an alternative to the dismal circumstances then present in American education. We are ready for a new revolution... one in which small groups of mothers, grandmothers, moms and dads take a few things back from administrators and politicians and restore loveliness to learning for their own children.

We have only 6 making days before Christmas... Gifts that require the full exercise of makefulness are best. We know now that good things in American education won't happen because of the top down exercise of power, but will come when folks grasp the power we have in our own hands to make things better for each individual child. Today, the Clear Spring School lower elementary will deliver our hand made toy cars to the local food bank for holiday distribution.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Allowing the child's growth to lead

I hope that my readings of Kindergarten are not boring to my readers from the woodworking world. It may help those to remember that manual arts was first intended by some to be a continuation of a kindergarten method of learning through play. My own investigation of manual arts education began with my realization that everything I did in my own wood shop was intimately bound into every other facet of my modern life, and that woodworking offered the ideal way for students to come to a better hands-on expression of learning in a variety of subjects. Froebel in a similar fashion had seen subjects as being integrated and interconnected, whereas we send kids off to study discrete, isolated subjects without pausing to consider how the child will integrate the subjects into the fabric of their own understanding.
"No new subject of instruction should come to the scholar, of which he does not at least conjecture that it is grounded in the former subject, and how it is so grounded as its application shows, and concerning which he does not, how ever dimly, feel it to be a need of the human spirit." Friedrich Froebel.
Yesterday in the wood shop, my lower elementary school and middle school students worked on toys to be given to the food bank for holiday distribution. In the Republic of Childhood in reference to Froebel's third gift it states:
"A child is far less interested in that which is given him complete than in that which needs something from him to make it perfect. He loves to employ all his energies in conceiving and constructing forms; the less you do for him the better he enjoys it, if he has been trained to independence."
In the footnotes, it continues:
"Probably the chief wish of children is to do things for themselves, instead of to have things done for them. They would gladly live in a Paradise of the Home-made. For example, when we read how the 'prentices of London used to skate on sharp bones of animals, which they bound about their feet, we also wished, at least, to try that plan, rather than to wear skates bought in shops."--Andrew Lang

"Complete toys hinder the activity of children, encourage laziness and thoughtlessness, and do them more harm than can be told. The active tendency in them turns to the distortion of what is complete, and so becomes destructive."

"Any fusing together of lessons, work, and play, is possible only when the objects with which the child plays allow room for independent mental and bodily activity, i. e., when they are not themselves complete in the child's hand. Had man found every thing in the world fixed and prepared for use ; had all means of culture, of satisfaction for the spiritual and material wants of his nature, been ready to his hand, there would have been no development, no civilization of the human race."
So, this Xmas if you wish to give gifts, give those things that are incomplete without the child's complete engagement of his or her own imagination. If you are a woodworker, plan some time to be together with your child or grandchild in the shop.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

the occupation of making gifts...

While I'm on the subject of Froebel's gifts and occupations, we've come to the point in which the idea of a gift is that it is something to be bought in a store, and not a thing that we make for each other expressing love and personal intelligence.

In reading about Kindergarten I ran across this quote from Édouard Séguin in a book on Kindergarten
"As soon as we, young or old, have taken to the habit of asking the book for what it is in our power to learn from personal observation, we dismiss our organs of perception and comprehension from their righteous charge, and cover the emptiness of our own minds with the patchwork of others." --Édouard Séguin
Séguin's methods of work with the developmentally disabled had been an inspiration to Maria Montessori and helped guide  the development of the Montessori Method of education. There is certainly nothing new to be found here in this blog. I am simply attempting to remind parents, teachers and woodworkers of what we've always known if we've taken time to observe and have learned to trust our own observations. Comenius had said:
"Instruction must begin with actual inspection, not with verbal descriptions of things. From such inspection it is that certain knowledge comes. What is actually seen remains faster in the memory than description or enumeration a hundred times as often repeated."
Pestalozzi had said:
"Observation is the absolute basis of all know ledge. The first object, then, in education, must be to lead the child to observe with accuracy; the second, to express with correctness the re sults of his observation."

But we choose instead to cripple our children by giving them stuff that stifles their own imaginations and creative capacities.

Today the students at Clear Spring School will finish our toy making project in which we make toys cars and trucks to be given to children who visit our local food bank.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, December 16, 2013

gifts and occupations...

I had written before about Froebel's "gifts" and "occupations" and realize that I'd not come to a full understanding of what was meant by the terms. This is a confusion that comes in part from the marketing of Froebel's gifts, the fact that the gifts were always in some new stage of development, and many of the "occupations" were at some point packaged to be sold as "gifts." For instance the occupation "sticks and peas" was packaged and sold by Milton Bradley as the 19th gift. The following is from Kindergarten in a Nutshell, 1899:
Relation of the Occupations to the Gifts

"It will be seen, as soon as we begin to study the occupations, that they are closely related to the gifts, using much the same materials, illustrating the same progression (although in the opposite direction) from point to line, line to plane, and plane to solid, laying the same stress upon relations of form and number, cultivating some of the same virtues, and giving the same wide opportunities for individual work or invention. Still there are marked differences between them, prominent among which is that the gift material undergoes no essential change when used, while change is the first requisite in dealing with the occupations. We may take the blocks apart and employ them as we like, but at the close of the play they are always returned to the original shape; in the occupation of folding, on the other hand, we begin to modify the square, and to bend it into something else as soon as we take it in our hands. Another marked point of difference is that the ideas received through the gifts are commonly worked out through the occupations — that is, impression in the one becomes expression in the other."
These occupations were based on the kinds of craft projects and handwork pastimes Froebel had seen as traditional in a German home. They included paper folding, weaving with paper, strings and sticks, punching holes to create patterns, braiding, and sticks and peas. The occupations were arranged in order developmentally and were offered concurrently with the child's exploration of the gifts, those educational objects that remained essentially unchanged through use. The gifts were permanent forms used to explore temporal relationships and arrangements of the elements of those forms. The occupations used materials to create more permanent and lasting forms. The gifts were to act upon the child's understanding of the world, and the occupations were the child's expression in return. That small part I had gotten right in my earlier understanding.

It is interesting that some highly educated folks can present such excellence in their recitation of information, and be so persuasive in their arguments and be so lacking in truth in their positions.
"As soon as we, young or old, have taken to the habit of asking the book for what it is in our power to learn from personal observation, we dismiss our organs of perception and comprehension from their righteous charge, and cover the emptiness of our own minds with the patchwork of others." --Édouard Séguin
"Without an accurate acquaintance with the visible and tangible properties of things, our conceptions must be erroneous, our inferences fallacious, and our operations unsuccessful." --Herbert Spencer
"The education of the senses neglected, all after-education partakes of a drowsiness, a haziness, an insufficiency, which is impossible to cure." --Lord Francis Bacon
Today at Clear Spring School my high school students will begin a class on 3-D design, based on my classes with adult students.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Xmas gifts that give to a child's development...

We have only 9 making days left until the Christmas holiday, so the town of Eureka Springs was full of folks yesterday, doing Xmas shopping. My small art show at Lux Weaving Studio was attended mainly by friends who didn't need much in the way of boxes.

I realize that many people these days don't have much time for making things. Shopping at malls for imported objects has become a tradition quite unlike the more romantic ideal of secretly crafting beautiful and useful objects to give to family and friends. The following is from Kindergarten in a Nutshell (1899):

"Do you remember, when you were a child, the pastimes you delighted in? Do you remember making sand-pies, pricking holes in paper, stringing seeds and flowers and nuts, plaiting book-marks and May baskets, folding pussy-cat stairs, playing cat's cradle, drawing pictures with slate and lead pencil, cutting out figures, sewing on stray bits of cloth with your thread tied into your needle? Do you remember all these things, and, as you read them over, do they not recall to you happy summer mornings out of doors, busy rainy days by mother's side, and bright, firelit evenings when you watched in delighted admiration father's skilful fingers as he fashioned stars and rosettes, and paper caps and fly traps, and boats that would sail?"
These things may sound foreign to you. ( I hope not!) If you must buy things let those things be tools and materials through which we can renew our interest in our own creative capacities.

Here are a few off the top of my head ideas for creative gifts that give the child (or adult) creative capacity.

Delta Twine has netting needles and supplies for making your own nets. A child could be kept busy for months on this one. He or she would learn a few things, develop a huge level of confidence and never shy from simple things like tying shoes. The nets could be used to catch aquatic life and small game for study, and might lead your child into a passion for the outdoors. Froebel did this with his students.

Anything from the Lee Valley catalog (for children or adults) would lead to some form of deeper, more fertile engagement whether in the wood shop or garden.

Shop for tools of learning... craft kits, blocks, rope, and the like. Can you imagine what an 8 year old boy could do with a hundred foot hank of 1/2 in rope? He might learn how to tie knots, climb trees, and develop in all kinds of unexpected ways. Larger than normal ropes make it easier for the child to observe as various knots are learned and tied.

Knitting supplies, pocket knives, hammers, saws, chunks of wood (better than coal) are all things that a modern kid should find meaningful if left in a stocking. These things also invite parental participation and engagement.

Am I kidding? Parents are lined up at Walmart to buy xboxes. I must be dreaming of a better time.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

the thread game...

The Prisoner.. can you get loose?
Before children had iPads, laptops, smart phones and other such devices to amuse themselves, they took pleasure in other things. While many different sources list Kindergarten gifts in different orders and the lists vary, Maria Kraus-Boelte's 1893 book, THE KINDERGARTEN GUIDE: AN ILLUSTRATED HAND-BOOK, DESIGNED FOR THE SELF-INSTRUCTION OF KINDERGARTNERS, MOTHERS, AND NURSES offers the thread game as gift number 12. With gift number 12 activities were shown for one child or more using simple pieces of string or thread. She notes:
"...children always must have their fingers busy. Activity is the law of childhood and of nature; without it even the smallest weed could not grow! This natural activity of children is manifested in countless ways. No person is born lazy. A child actively and correctly trained, will not only retain its natural activity and energy, but, to a certain extent, use them to the best advantage. Many things which we learned in our childhood, we may since have forgotten; though there will always be some things which we retain and remember as clearly as ever, just as if they were printed with golden letters in our memory — recalling ever so many happy hours spent in innocent amusement with those we loved. The simple amusement of the Thread-Game answers so well to the child's natural inclination to constant activity that we may often find it in the houses of the poor as well as in those of the rich."
These days, schooling (in too many cases) is where the kids sit still and the teachers perform. In addition to finger games, the thread game offered exploration of knots, and while not being able to tie shoes may be an embarrassment for some children and parents, it is becoming more common as children have so little time to play with string.

But knots are fun and at one time Froebel had his students making nets to capture fish and small prey, and then using that activity to enhance their understanding of nature. We, on the other hand, put powerful technological devices in the hands our our children that leave them out of touch. As an example of how stupid our consumer culture has become, check this out: Fisher-Price Newborn-to-Toddler Apptivity™ Seat for iPad® device. It should be regarded as criminal for a corporation to lure young parents into such stupidity leading to the neglect of their child's real learning needs.

Today, I will be working on edits and may not make it to the shop at all unless I am very lucky. Tonight I'll be at Lux Weaving Studio selling boxes to Christmas shoppers.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Bill Coperthwaite with students of Clear Spring School, 2002
Each year Bill Coperthwaite would make calendars as a fundraising project for his Yurt Foundation. They were illustrated with his own pen and ink renderings of yurt designs, and contained meaningful quotations relevant to a simple, intentional life.

This year, I sent in my check about a week or so before Bill was involved in his fatal car crash, so I was not sure it would arrive. It did today. My address on the envelope and his return address were inscribed in his own hand, and the post-it note inside wished me well. But the envelope also included an obituary note, telling me it was posted by friends.

It was such a sweet and sad thing to get this calendar in today's mail. I will look at it each month and cherish the threads of friendship that bring those of like mind into the company of each other. The quote for February from William Ellery Channing, famous Unitarian minister is as follows:
My Symphony

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to the stars and the birds, to babes and sages, with an open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never; in a word to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. -- Channing
I cannot think of a more fitting turn of phrase than these words to summarize the ambitions of a man who lived life to the full, and yet will be missed.

Map of the flow inside the middle brain
You might like this article describing how the brain likes surprises. Neuroscience is busily mapping the brain, learning about the relationship between its various parts. Much of this study can illuminate our understanding of how the hands engage the mind, and bring the whole body to attention in learning. If you were to observe a classroom full of kids and measure them on a scale used to measure human depression, both when the teacher is present, and when the teacher steps out of the room for a few minutes, you might see the difference. This is not to suggest that kids be left on their own, but that they should be offered learning opportunities in schools and not depression. You might be interested in the term salience, or saliency which has to do with noting when things are markedly different from normal, thus eliciting a state of surprise and wakefulness, in the Striatum and Nucleus Accumben. Educational Psychologist Jerome Bruner called this state, in which the whole body is awakened to a state of learning, "Effective Surprise." It helps to explain why doing the exact same thing over and over again doesn't exactly constitute real learning.

Make, fix and create...

blocks are the best toys ever...

An article on NPR claims that blocks are the best toys ever.That's the truth, but how are they to be used? In the US, blocks are given to kids so that they can quietly amuse themselves without being a nuisance while Mom and Dad do stuff. But Froebel had much deeper learning in mind. He had begun making blocks for student use as early as 1817 when he and associates founded a school at Keilhau. According to the Paradise of Childhood,
"The beginnings of the school at Keilhau were very humble. The teachers, Froebel and Middendorf, during the summer of 1817, lived in a wretched little hut with neither door, flooring or stove, while Froebel was building a schoolhouse. The quarters assigned him had formerly served as a place for keeping hens. In July (Heinrich)Langethal graduated from the University at Berlin with the highest honors and in September he visited Keilhau to see his old comrades and take his brother to Silesia, where he had an engagement as tutor to the young nobility. Freobel received him with the utmost cordiality and the sight of the robust, merry boys who were lying on the floor that evening building forts and castles with the wooden blocks which Froebel had made for them, according to his own plan, excited the keenest interest. He had come to take his brother away; but when he saw him among other happy companions of his own age complete the finest structure of all, a Gothic Cathedral, it seemed almost wrong to tear the child from this circle. The result of this visit was that Langethal decided to stay at Keilhau with his brother, so that there might be a trio of teachers, and a great gain he was to the institution where his life work was done."
There was a long developmental process between 1817, when Froeblel's blocks were discovered in use to such effect at Keihau, and Kindergarten was introduced to the world. But any parent who has given enough blocks or legos to his or her child to allow for creative expression will know that they can have profound effect.

We have only a few making days until Christmas, and I'll agree that blocks are the best toys ever. But, unless you are buying for babies, avoid those that are cubes and have letters. Blocks are not for spelling. The best ones leave a bit more to the imagination. Today I have meetings, am attending to edits and photographs for the book, and will spend some time in the wood shop making a large cherry box.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

time release...

I have another day without school due to snow, but fortunately, I have a long list of things to do in the wood shop to keep me occupied. I've been working on my review of Peter Korn's book, Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: the Education of a Craftsman, and the editor for British Woodworking asked me for my own opinion of why we make things and why it matters.

Peter Korn describes the process of making things as a physiological response that has effect over time in that it can be transferred like a virus among us. Psychologist Kelly Lambert, PH.D suggests that there are physiological responses on the level of neurohormones that provide the sense of engagement that Mihaly Csikszentmihaly described as flow in his groundbreaking book, Flow. As one is steadily engaged in a physiological process that involves a high degree of attention, the body secretes a steady time-release dose of neurohormones that alter the brain's chemistry to induce a form of pleasurable experience. Dr. Lambert has described this process as "effort driven rewards." The interesting thing is that this mechanism can lead one on into higher forms of conscious engagement requiring greater levels of craftsmanship. The mind/body doesn't gain the same level of pleasure from doing things ad nauseam or to the point that little or no attention is required.

So pick up a tool and try it. You will first need a goal to accomplish. These feelings of creativity do not arise in empty exercises. But with a goal in mind, a knife in hand, and a piece of wood to whittle or shape in some new and useful form of beauty, you can direct the flow of a time-released dosage of mind-altering pleasurable neurohormones that can actually transform your life... one knife stroke, and one wood chip at a time. Then when the pattern of neurohormone response has been established and while it is still fresh in the hand/mind/body, just picking up your finished work, will re-engage the secretion of these same neurohormones that made you feel so fine during the making of such a beautiful and useful thing. That will remind you to go back and make something offering greater  challenge and more useful beauty.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

art of Onfim...

Onfim as warrior in battle on horseback
Blog reader Jim sent links to pages about Onfim's drawings which were discovered in Russia in the 1950's inscribed on birch bark. These medieval  drawings from the 12th century show his family and friends, scenes of battle as witnessed or imagined by a 7 year old boy. We know his name, as he had been practicing his letters before his wandering mind led him into his artistic expression. The drawing above shows Onfim on a horse in battle. He's written his name above his figure  so we can see how art has always been used by children to imagine and plan their own futures and come to an understanding of their own place in life.

Froebel recognized that art, as expressed by the play with blocks, and other Kindergarten gifts, including drawing had three functions, addressing life, knowledge and beauty. Pogressive education was to develop the whole child. These days, American schooling is aimed toward developing that intelligence that can be most easily measured through the use of standardized tests. Just as administrators and politicians failed to understand the full depth and breadth of what was learned by students in wood shops, they've also failed to understand the full depth and breadth of what well trained teachers can do if restraints are cut free and children are engaged in the arts.

Onfim's Dad and Mom
The blind assumption among some is that teachers are of no greater importance than the checkout clerks at Walmart. Under that blind assumption teachers could be replaced by scanners programmed to measure the ins and outs of learning. But what about art? The whole child is not expressed in words alone. And a picture is worth a thousand of them.

These scraps of birchbark (there are hundreds of them) were preserved for hundreds of years in mud, the oxygen free ideal medium to prevent decay of organic materials.

Don't you just love Onfim's  illustrations of hands? Some have many more fingers than normal, and the hands are outsized, showing their huge significance in daily life. Why would Onfim's father 13 fingers and his mother only 6? Thanks, Jim, for the links.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 09, 2013

craftsmanship and the moral development of children...

In Kindergarten, the children were to build with blocks, but not knock down. When changing forms they were to move and manipulate one form into another without exercising their destructive impulses. The purpose was to give children the opportunity to develop their own creativity, not their destructive force. The following is from the Paradise of Childhood written by Edward Weibe and published by Milton Bradley, concerning gift number 7, a series of flat tablets with which the child could create patterns of life, knowledge and beauty.
"Although to some grown persons it may appear as if the images produced do not bear much resemblance to what they are intended to represent, it should be remembered that in most case, the children themselves have given the names to the representations. Instructive conversations should also prevent this drawing with planes as it were, from being a mere mechanical pastime; the entertaining, living word must infuse soul into the activity of the had and its creations each representation, then, will speak to the child and each object in the world of nature and art will have a story to tell to the child in a language for which he will be well prepared.

"We need not indicate how these conversations should be carried on, or what they should contain. Who would not think in connection with the pigeon-house, of the beautiful white birds themselves, and the nest they build; the white eggs they lay, the tender young pigeons coming form them, and the care with which the old ones treat the young one, until they are able to take care of themselves? An application of these relations to those between parents and children, and, perhaps those between God and man, who, as His children enjoy His kindness and love every moment of their lives, may be made, according to circumstances--all depending on the development of the children. However, care should always be taken not to present to them, what might be called abstract morals which the young mind is unable to grasp, and which, if thus forced upon it cannot fail to be injurious to moral development. The aim of all education should be love of the good, beautiful, noble and sublime; but nothing is more apt to kill this very love, ere it is born, than the monotony of dry dull preaching of morals to young children. Words not so much as deeds--actual experiences in the life of the child, are its most natural teachers in this important branch of education."
People tend to think that morality is a thing best taught by preaching at kids and by telling them what to do rather than by trusting the inherent nature of children to actively lead them to an understanding of their relationships and responsibilities to family and community. Kindergarten teachers were thus warned not to use their positions of power to preach at kids. Kindergarten and craftsmanship have this in common. When we are given creative tools, we learn of our creative responsibilities. We come to an understanding of ourselves as creative force. That force is measured directly by our abilities to create useful beauty in service to family and community. Kindergarten and the Educational Sloyd wood shop were intended as places in which children would develop moral character, intelligence and a sense of beauty.

I have been going through my second round of edits for my new book and there will likely be a third as we work to find mistakes and clarify text.  School is out today because of the weekend snow storm that left road icebound and dangerous. Rural roads in particular are hazardous in our mountainous terrain.

Make, fix and create...