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...

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