Thursday, January 31, 2013

slower IT growth?

Time magazine from last week has an article about the slowdown in the growth of in the implementation of information technology equipment partially related to the lack of folks trained to provide support, but also partially related to a slowing in the rate of technological advancement. The article points out that this is a good thing as it might allow workers to begin to catch up. In some ways, high-tech has us screwed. A couple incidents in my own week may serve as examples.

Beginning about 2 weeks ago, I became aware of a very serious issue regarding my telecommunications and Internet provider leading to a call first to technical support, followed by  subsequent calls to customer service. Did you know that folks in the corporate world will lie and purposefully deceive customers? In my case this even included a supervisor who claimed that she had returned my phone call though none of my phone numbers indicated that she had tried to call. It cannot be a happy thing for these folks, being put in jobs where their jobs are to be purposefully deceptive, and yet the anonymity of their employment seems to assure that some (not all) can brush things off at the end of the day, while their customers are left tossing in their sleep.

The second incident involves the mini-spit heat and air system that we had installed in my office and part of my shop. It worked fine during the summer months, but has been a constant recurring failure during the heating season. At this point, it is barely 50 degrees in my office despite having a supplemental electric heater going. The outside unit runs, and the inside units barely put out any heat  at all. It is a complex system with 3 micro circuit boards on the outside unit alone, which they replaced yesterday after the long wait for them to be shipped from Japan, and to no avail. The system still does not work.

Fixing these complicated things is a thing akin in some ways to being a supervisor in a call center except that fixing real things requires a direct connection with one's honesty and integrity on the planet, and response to other living human beings outside the call center.I have no doubt that these folks are just trying to do the best they can with a system that has grown too complex for its own good.

In any case, a slowdown in the rapid pace of technological advancement may be a very good thing. And getting hands-on in touch with technologies that give a true sense of self and provide for honest work, that enables and ennobles American workers is overdue.

And in the meantime, we have been failing our kids. They need to know the basic technologies: How to use hammers and screwdrivers, how to take things apart and put things back together so they work.. how to fix things and how to create things from their own imaginations... how to be honest in their work and responsive to each other, to their families and to themselves.

Today in my woodshop, I continue to make boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Today in the CSS woodshop...

Making a lizard. They ask, "Can we take this home?"
The first second and third grade students at Clear Spring School are studying the ancient Mayan civilization. Last week they made pyramid boxes, and today made lizards symbolic of of the Mayan culture. The seventh, 8th and 9th grade students worked  on the 9-legged bench for the office, and are engraving a quotation across the front in Elven language and text from the Lord of the Rings.

Did you know there is a website where you can type in a quotation and have it translated into Elven rune? Don't look for Elven in the Google translation box available at right.

Yesterday I received the following note:
"I co-run a project in the UK, which specialises in working with the most difficult of young people through the medium of woodwork. We have an excellent history of great outcomes with our students who are mostly male and mainly 14 - 16 years of age.

"A majority of them are permanently excluded from schools or on the verge of permanent exclusion, or at risk of custody through their offending.

"Through the use of simple projects we watch their confidence increase and their 'anti social' behaviour decrease as they learn to recognise the tools and master their use.

"I have been fighting for a long time to get the value of learning through skills based projects recognised here in the UK and have been beaten down by the need for schools and colleges to meet government targets and thus making statistics more important than individuals. We have been plagued by a whole plethora of pseudo qualifications where students can get a 'credit' for learning the names of 5 woodworking tools, and hey we only have to show 30 hours of evidence to prove we have actually taught them this! They all know at least 10 tools when they arrive in the first place.

"Where can I find out more about Wisdom Of The Hands and start implementing and spreading it around the UK?"

Unfortunately, the only help I can offer at the moment is the blog and I do welcome visits from fellow teachers and educational professions interested in seeing the WOH program hands-on.

It seems to surprise folks that kids who may seem incorrigible can respond positively when put in creative relationship with real tools and materials. Children can readily tune out those who preach at them and try to control their lives. Wood either responds to the touch or you screw it up. It is a tough and revealing task master that children learn in time is not capricious or judgmental. It speaks the truth to children who may have been lied to and deceived and manipulated in ways we cannot imagine. In other words, wood and the power to make beautiful and useful/truthful objects can soothe and heal the troubled child.

You can see in the photo that I've been making some progress on boxes with veneered tops.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

complexity ...

Simple key holder, requires complex skill
I received a bit of a correction to the blog from Hans Thorbjörnsson, as I'd asked him if I had "hit the nail on the head," in my discussion two days ago concerning Models and Growth. It seems I did not, or at least not quite. Salomon's "Columbus egg" was not his discovery of the use of the model series, but rather the arrangement of exercises that provided the order in which models would be arranged and introduced.

Each model required a range of skills and understanding in the use of various tools, and to learn and acquire those skills and understanding through the performance of exercises in an orderly manner related to the model series was the foundation of self-directed learning... Salomon's Columbus egg.

When I was a beginning woodworker, I knew that if I could successfully cut a few good joints, I was well on my way to being able to make anything I wanted. But of course, cutting the simplest of mortise and tenon joints was not as simple as it might appear. Cutting the mortise alone required handling of the chisel in a variety of distinct motions. It required the use of a mallet. It required close scrutiny and understanding of the material. But before one even started, it required understanding of measuring and marking tools, including a rule or tape measure, square and marking gauge.

Salomon said "An exercise is the working (tooling?) of a material of a certain quality with a certain tool for a certain purpose." He divided working of wood into 68 distinct operations, or exercises (övingar) that would be used in the making of models, and these exercises presented to the students in sequence was the foundation of the process, not the models themselves. Understanding the exercises would be required for teachers and educators in other countries and cultures to be able to develop new models as substitutes to meet the interests of their children, and the requirements of the Educational Sloyd method. What results is a complex matrix of skills, exercises and model series. And so while Salomon suggested that model series be adjusted in each country and community to meet the interests of each child, understanding enough of the underlying exercises to develop new models and to know where they fit into the model series was not as easy thing.

For instance, I have been dancing at the edges of Educational Sloyd for years now, and in making a new model shown above, I find it challenging to figure out exactly where it would fit in. The complexity should explain a few things. Many of those who attended summer classes at Nääs returned to their home countries determined to teach Sloyd. But the challenges of adapting model series to their own students led many of them to slavishly adhere to what they had learned to make in Sweden. As a result, Educational Sloyd was viewed by some as uncreative, and unAmerican.

Even a thing as simple as the key holder shown above, the complexity of exercises and what must be learned are huge. For instance, in order for the tenon to be cut to fit, the wood must first be cut square on the end. Cutting square with a hand saw is not particularly easy. It requires learning about the square, the saw, about the material and about oneself. In my new model shown above, my next challenge would be to find where it would fits into a Nääs model series. I can list the exercises used in its making and compare with the 68 exercises used in making the original model series in Sweden, and perhaps learn where it might fit in. This for me illustrated the difficulty of creating a model series. As to how the key holder fits into my classes? Ozric said, "I want to make that!" Thus answering the first point of Educational Sloyd... Start with the interests of the child.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Preparatory exercises...

New Sloyd Model, a place for keys.
One of the points of confusion in the understanding of Educational Sloyd was the statement, "No preparatory exercises." Did that mean that students were expected to immediately craft beautiful and useful objects, from a first time introduction to a particular new tool? This statement was made as a way of distinguishing Sloyd from the Russian system promoted by Victor Della Vos. In the Russian system students did particular joints in woodworking, but without actually finishing a useful thing. In the Russian system a mortise and tenon joint would not be made into a finished object, and so the exercises in the Russian system were to prepare students for later work, not to make tangible completed objects  that could be useful in the home.

Salomon distinguished between models (things that were to be made) and exercises (procedures performed with specific tools in the creation of the models). The idea was something akin to the invention of Kindergarten in which Froebel distinguished between gifts and the occupations. Salomon suggested that the arrangement of models allowed for increasing complexity in the way various tools were used, and that often the preceding model would allow practice enough.

This requires exercises in the use of marking gauge and chisel.
Today, the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students at Clear Spring School finished  making bluebird houses and I've made a new Sloyd model which I've designed to introduce them to the use of the chisel. There is little more interesting to a child than to have the responsibility to learn the use of a new tool, to handle it safely, with care, and to learn how it gives added creative capacity to their own lives. And so I have been curious in my reading how early Sloyd teachers would have made this introduction.

Would they first put the tool in children's hands and ask them to experience its use, and learn from their own experience how it can be used? I think that the answer here is obvious. The safety of the child comes first. Each will be given individualized instruction. One at a time. Tools are not toys. That is an important lesson that can help a growing child begin to assume greater responsibility. The maker and the beautiful and useful object he or she makes is shaped in form and character at exactly the same time.

The CSS high school students will continue work on their cigar box guitars.

M. Jules Ferry, in opening a School for Manual Training in France in 1883, said:
"In order that the nobility of handwork may be acknowledged, not only by those who engage in it, but by the whole community, we have chosen the surest and the only practical means; We have introduced it into the school. Do you not think that when the plane and file have taken a place of honour by the side of maps and histories, and handwork is taught in a rational and systematic manner, that many old prejudices will die out, and the traditional division into castes will disappear? Social peace will thus begin on the school benches, and future of our beloved nation will be crowned with a glorious halo of unity and concord."
Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

models and growth...

Educational Sloyd was designed to build gradually on the students' innate qualities by moving from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the concrete to the abstract and from the simple to more complex, and in order to make this progression, Salomon's teaching staff at Nääs devised a system of sequential models that grew in difficulty and complexity as students progressed through the model series. Salomon regarded this model series approach as his "Columbus Egg", a self evident discovery that would seem  simple and readily understood by those educators to follow. The system was what allowed self-actualized learning and individualized rather than class instruction. Instead of every student doing the exact same thing at the exact same time, as in class instruction, students were able to move on through the model series at will, and with minimal guidance from the teacher. The idea was that rather than education being teacher driven it would be driven forward by the interests of the child.

Think for a few moments about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, with self-actualization and self-actualized learning at the top of the psychological pyramid. Self-actualization as expressed by self-directed activity and self-directed learning would be what we (if we were smart) would want most for our kids.

I should note that Salomon did not believe a model series to be carved in stone. At Nääs, model series were always works in progress, and were adaptable and fine tuned to meet the needs of each child. The teacher's tact came into play in assessing the developmental needs of each child. Educational Sloyd's first premise was to start with and maintain the interests of the child, and Salomon knew that children's interests would not be the same all over the world. So he shared the system of thought which went into designing a model series in his book, Teacher's Hand-Book of Sloyd,  and he encouraged teachers in other nations and cultures to amend the model series to meet the interests of their own scholars. My own copy is from the second edition and was printed in 1904.

Greg's hand tooled bench.
One of the things that had puzzled me in the past was the rationale for the arrangement of models. For instance, following a flower scoop with a curvilinear shape, requiring thick stock,  and tools including a frame saw, knife, gouges and possibly an axe, the next project would be a rectilinear form like a wooden box, made with thinner stock requiring hand saws, planes, marking tools and bench vise. Salomon explained in this book that the decision to alternate between rectilinear forms and those that cultivated skills in curvilinear forms was to maintain the interests of the child... the overriding goal. For education was to start with the interests of the child.

My apprentice Greg brought in his first second self-assignment as a completed work. I had loaned him my copy of a recent Fine Woodworking Magazine so that he could read an article by Christian Becksvort on making a bench with hand tools. Greg built it in his own shed. He chose a perfect project to develop skill. Recognizing that the quality of his work can be improved following what he learned from this, he plans to build another, bringing his work closer to perfection. He learned that even simple work, done well can be harder than one might expect, but also that it can be infinitely rewarding. Just like an early teacher of Sloyd, I had to give only minimal guidance toward the improvement of his work. From my teaching of children and adults, it appears that we all learn the same way.  And if we want our children to learn at their best, we should take advantage of what we know about ourselves, hands down.

Hardwood boxes, assembled veneers.
Today in the wood shop, I continued work on boxes and preparing veneers to go on top. Either tomorrow or next week, I'll cut the lids from the bodies of the boxes, and use the vacuum press to glue the veneers in place.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

this and that...

We know that children learn best by what they do and not by what is told to them. You can test this in your own life. What are the things you most clearly remember? Or if you have kids of your own, tell them a few things and take note of how much they forget. When our lead teacher at the Clear Spring High School asked his students to tell what they had learned so far this year, they ran through a long litany of the things they had done, memorable experiences, and what they had learned from them. Would that be any surprise to anyone who'd paid any attention to the workings of their own minds that their hands might have played a major part in the learning process?

So the great secret of education as described by Jean Jacques Rousseau (upon whose shoulders some blamed the French Revolution, rather than upon the shoulders of a tyrannical monarchy) Oops, that's another story... Let me start this line again and get it precise...
"The great secret of education is to combine mental and physical work so that the one kind of exercise refreshes for the other."
In other words, the engagement of the hands in doing real things brings what one learns to life. Call it the strategic implementation of the hands...

Mitered sides for another set of boxes...
Today I am making a third attempt at chapter 2. I keep learning things that would make my reader's box making easier, more accurate, less tool intensive and more satisfying. And so my lessons and yours require that I back track and start over. The boxes I've been working on will not go to waste. I'll finish them and sell them in galleries.

The title of this post makes a vague reference to object based learning, this and that. We learn best when education allows our participation in real world experiences. Tools are one of the great ways to bring the hands and learning into the hermetically sealed educational environment.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


William Torey Harris
It is inevitable that if the wisdom of the hands idea becomes widespread, detractors will step forward to disparage all that I say. For folks would rather pay attention to statistics and their own particular bias than to what they can witness with an open mind and in their own hands. During the time in which Educational Sloyd was promoted throughout the world, it met with resistance from William Torrey Harris (among others) who said the following:
"The expression which we often hear used by the advocates of manual training—'put the whole boy to school,' states in a plain, forcible way the meaning of the phrase 'integral cultivation of all the faculties and all the aptitudes which make up the complete man.' It has been fashionable in education as treatises since the days of Pestalozzi to define the province of education as the "full and harmonious development of all our faculties.' This is, however, a survival of Rousseauism, and like all survivals from that source is very dangerous. It is of first importance to consider this definition in the light of psychology."
A pyramid box
But what Harris really means by psychology is revealed as distortion of his own fervent Christianity as he states further:
"For Christianity teaches that food, drink, raiment—or creature comforts of all sorts—yea, life itself is infinitely beneath consideration when weighted against the spiritual service of humanity. Bodily health and vigor, sound digestion, good sleep, keen sense-perception, are all good if rightly used, or subordinated to higher faculties; but to speak of them as forming a harmony with the higher is placing the soul and body on the same plane, and this is a fundamental error in educational psychology."
No doubt, Harris was a great man. He served as Secretary of Education under 4 presidents. Under his leadership, St. Louis schools became among the best in the nation. He was a prolific writer. But he also seemed to exhibit a dark view of mankind. In the Philosophy of Education (1906) he wrote:
"Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."
And in that same book, he wrote:
"The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places ... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."
Mummy inside Mayan Pyramid box
I wonder. Are schools the places in which the child's essential nature should meet with such distrust? Where teachers are not to be trusted with planning adventures for their most wonderful kids? Where children are presumed to be lacking is spirit and meaningful inclinations?

Bench made for office of CSS
Today I had the first, second and third grade students, and the middle school kids in wood shop. They hardly fit Harris' dark view of humanity. They are kind and creative and certainly not the automata Harris describes as the 99 percent.

But different schools aim for different results. Even William Torrey Harris would be enchanted if he were to visit Clear Spring School.
Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

getting a grip...

Pattern assembled from veneers
Every day I get emails from various educational websites that offer free advice and articles for teachers to read in addition to their normal work, grading papers and the like. To be a teacher these days is certainly a situation of being bombarded by too much information. Most are overwhelmed. If a teacher found time to read one short article a day, about project based learning, flipping classes, and attempting to interject new technologies, I'd be surprised. They know full well that making significant changes are most likely to get them in trouble. The articles are nearly all about repackaged ideas that someone in administration thinks would be good to push from the top down. Race to the Top, no child left behind, new and improved standardized tests? .. And can you imagine a race in which even that person or that school that comes in at the tail end of things is also a winner? Let's hope for that!

But if our singular measure of success is how students do on standardized testing, we are well qualified for our position in the status quo.

On the other hand, here's an idea that could bring real lasting change and overall improvement in education. Untie hands. Allow teachers to explore their own creativity in their classrooms. Put their scholars hands to use making things of useful beauty. We won't have to read endless articles on the internet. Our students will be fully attentive to their work. Disciplinary problems will be a thing of the past because the students will be interested in learning. Teachers won't burn out in the first three years of their teaching careers. Administrators won't be scouring the web, trying to find the next new big thing to change education.

Long-time teachers will tell you of the absurdity of the present situation. Can it be that in order to get a grip on education, we need simply to allow teachers and students to take matters into their own hands?

In my wood shop today, I've been working on veneered patterns to glue to the tops of boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 21, 2013

making a bow...

Every student must be offered the opportunity to discover the full range of human intelligences. Each must be taught to understand the integral relationship between the varieties of human intelligence and their own sacred trust of sustaining human culture.

Through the use of a blog tracker that keeps track of statistics for visitors to this blog, I discovered that Wisdom of the Hands Blog is on the reading list for a philosophy course at North Park University in Chicago. Ironically, my wife and daughter and I were on the North Park Campus years ago when my daughter attended a two week long Northwestern University summer workshop. I assume the blog is listed for good reasons and not as an example of what not to write. In any case, there is an excellent Swedish restaurant right across the street—a memorable place for breakfast. And I welcome philosophers to read to their heart's content and have Swedish pastries and smoked salmon with your WiFi. I have a favorite quote from Jean Jacques Rousseau:
"Put a young man in a wood shop and his hands work to the benefit of his brain, and he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman."
In a nutshell, when one's hands are engaged in seemingly repetitive tasks, the mind is neither numbed nor silent. Folks at work with their hands are often engaged in thought and thoughtfulness unapparent to the observer. Just as students in a lecture hall can be surreptitiously engaged in checking their face book pages, and the professor will not know whether they're listening, or the content of their minds and character prior to test time, the casual observer of a craftsman at work will know nothing of the inner workings of a craftsman's mind, unless he or she has taken time to make a major investment in the development of skill, and knows by extension the depths or complexities of a craftsman's thoughts.

Another important quality conveyed by Rousseau's quote is that of humility as an essential human value. The word only as used in reference to craftsmanship, should be a term applied with broad strokes to every human endeavor, but it is not. "Only a craftsman" conveys a sense of egolessness and lack of pretense that ought to be emulated in other things including philosophy and academia. But then the third point, which perhaps is most important to the Wisdom of the hands is Rousseau's description of the integral relationship between the hands and brain and all human knowledge.

Once again, the words of Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886, on the role of the hands in the process of discovery come to mind:
"It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand."
The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and thereby finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and surrendered our human culture on the altar of stupidity.

The following video is one I found on the North Park University Philosophia web page describing the North Park University course Zen and Archery.

The course states:
Theory without practical skill is dangerous. But, we develop skills and practices, our bodies learn, and so we discover what we could not know otherwise. Practices shape the way our minds perceive, remember, and anticipate. That is, they teach us specific ways to pay attention or to stay alert. Our skills and practices shape us as profoundly as any product they may produce.

In this class, we will practice shooting an arrow and writing an essay. We will think about these practices, along with several others, both for the sake of the practices themselves and for the sake of how those practices shape their practitioners.
Comenius (1592-1670) had something to say to all this philosophy:
"Theory," says Vives, "is easy and short, but has no result other than the gratification that it affords. Practice on the other hand, is difficult and prolix, but is of immense utility." Since this is so, we should diligently seek out a method by which the young may be easily led to the practical application of natural forces, which is to be found in the arts.
Make, fix and create...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

back to tact..

Rubber bands are best clamps.
 Otto Salomon in the Theory of Educational Sloyd had stressed that Sloyd was to be taught by trained teachers, not craftsmen. His experience had been that craftsmen would step in and from impatience try to do too much of the student's work for him or her. He worried that craftsmen, not trained to understand child development would be insensitive toward the specific developmental needs of each child. He was worried that they would be overly critical of student's work... that they might apply their own standards without allowing for the natural patterns of growth within each child. A trained teacher, on the other hand, would address the child and his or her work, as a teacher first, and recognize and encourage growth. A trained teacher, feeling a sense of responsibility first to the growth of the child, would hold back and allow the child to learn from his or her own mistakes... a thing more difficult for a trained craftsman whose status is often attained through his or her own efforts to surpass the deficiencies apparent in other folk's finished work.

Salomon on Educational tact:
"It is ever with him as his guide, philosopher and friend—friend to the children as well as to himself.

"This tact is the measure not only of how much he shall demand from the children, but of how much he shall tell them, and how much he shall not tell. The best teacher is the one who gives the best supervision and at the same time the least teaching." If the teacher tell too much independence is undermined, and the children not only consider it the proper thing to have everything explained to them , but that it is a right to which they can lay claim; and accordingly suspend operations until they receive due attention, so that the work becomes a mere matter of diction, and thoughtfulness is extinguished; but, on the other hand, if the teacher tell too little, the children are unable to do their work."
Of course these simple things are only a part of what educational tact implies. An additional reason why teachers would be the best to impart Sloyd education to children rather than craftsmen was that educational Sloyd offered an underlying philosophy that teachers needed at that time and and would still find useful to this day. Rather than teaching craftsmen to become teachers of Sloyd, by teaching teachers to become teachers of Sloyd, Salomon and his school at Nääs could offer  greater impact to the overall educational environment, by reshaping teacher's understanding of teaching itself. If all teachers understood the benefits of hands-on learning and personalized instruction to all students, education would never be the same again.

Veneering the insides of lids.
Sadly, that was the part of Educational Sloyd that seems to have been left on the European continent. Here in the US, Sloyd is remembered (if at all) as the rival to the Russian system of manual training, and the educational philosophy contained within it has been largely forgotten. Whether or not it will be remembered or understood is in your hands as well as mine.

In my wood shop, I've started an additional set of smaller veneered boxes. I cut the miters yesterday and today I assembled the sides and began veneering the insides of the lids.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

not invented here...

One of the major problems faced by educational Sloyd in the US was the "not invented here," complex. There is some irony at work in this. Perhaps worst for Educational Sloyd, placing it at a competitive disadvantage was that it was widely promoted by a Swedish Jew, in contrast to the Russian System, which many Americans welcomed  and were willing to import lock, stock and barrel. But Americans seem to always think that what we do is automatically better or that if it is invented somewhere else, it won't be right until we've made it better. Calvin Woodward, one of the two "fathers of industrial arts" in the US, outlined his objections to Educational Sloyd as follows:
1. The manual training is limited to woodwork.
2 The pupils are taught and shown about their work separately; class instruction is not given, and the several pupils in the laboratory are doing very different things.
3. The things wrought are household furniture or implements and utensils to be carried home and used there. There appears to be no aim beyond making thrifty householders.
Each of these objections is a display of Woodward's ignorance of Sloyd. Benjamin Hoffman, Superintendent  of the Baron De Hirsch Fund Trade Schools in New York City answered these by noting first that Sloyd also involved metalworking, cardboard work and textiles. Secondly, he noted that there are no true glories in "class teaching". Students being held together as a class are bound to either boredom or abandonment. And anyone vaguely familiar with the aims and principles of educational Sloyd would know that it has a wide range of formative values for all scholars beyond making them "thrifty householders."

It is fascinating to read between the lines in The Eliot School Course or Manual Training in Jamaica Plain, Mass. published in July, 1892, and I invite you to read along. Eliot School along with all schools in Boston at the time were torn between the Sloyd method and the Russian method advocated by John Runkle at MIT and Calvin Woodward from Washington University, and in the Eliot School Course, one finds an effort to achieve reconciliation between the two. At Eliot School, they decided that Sloyd was for the younger kids and the Russian system for older children preparing to enter the trades. It seems to have been a reasonable compromise, but still one that overlooked many of the important values inherent in Educational Sloyd. None-the-less, what ended up being called the Boston Compromise and serving as a model for woodworking in schools throughout the US allowed administers to lay claim to having arrived at method uniquely American. It saddens me that so many of the important theoretical aspects of Sloyd were abandoned in all that. Stay tuned and I'll keep describing what we've missed, or you can read earlier posts like this...  Friday, November 04, 2011: day 3 -- class vs. individualized learning

Today in my wood shop, I'll be developing veneer patterns to apply to the tops of boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 18, 2013

woodworking laboratory...

The following is from The Eliot School Course or Manual Training in Jamaica Plain, Mass. published in July, 1892
"The introduction of some form of tool work in the earliest stages of education is only an extension of the laboratory method of instruction, which has become nearly universal within the last twenty years in the colleges and technical schools.

"Experience has shown that the laboratory training of the higher schools not only gives experimental skill, but cultivates the imagination, strengthens the judgment and forms habits of accurate thinking and it is daily becoming more clear that according as the mind is well or ill trained before it comes to the college work, so is the success or failure of the pupil most probable."
That is a pretty clear statement of the value of woodworking in schools, and by extension,  this statement explains a bit of what is missing in school as a result of the deliberate elimination of woodworking programs. In the late 1800s, educators gradually became aware that children would learn best by doing rather than by sitting passively as the unwitting and benumbed recipients of endless hours of professorial discourse.

Robert H. Richards, Professor of Mining at MIT, confessed in a paper he read at the Conference on Manual Training in Boston, 1892 and included  as a personal commentary in the Eliot School Course:
"Up to twenty-one years of age I was the dunce of every school I attended. But while I was doing nothing with books, my mind was always active. I was actively interested in learning about nature, and boys' out of-door sports." 
He then described how when he had finally arrived at MIT in a class of six other boys, the whole world of learning and its relevance opened up for him. All the world conveyed through the world of books suddenly had meaning and relevance to his life because he had finally been offered practical use for it. He said further:
 "I do not think my experience in extraordinary or unique. I fancy every school has in it just such boys as I was. For them, this new scheme of object-teaching is of the highest importance as it gives them the stepping-stones so much needed. On the other hand, for the bright boys, the new system serves to give them a chance to measure themselves alongside of their neighbors by some other standard than their speed of converting print into thought; and it gives them a chance to see that there are some things in the world to be done that require a little care, a little time, a little thought, and a little patience, all of which are most excellent lessons for the bright swift thinker to learn."
Do you grow weary of me, telling you day in and day out about the hands? You can come anytime, and the message will be somewhat the same. For that reason, I try to bring other voices in that may explain things more colorfully than I, and at one time in American education, the voices had not been mesmerized by statistics and dulled by teach-to-the test routines. Most certainly, the hands and fingers touch every facet of human life, relationship and culture. It is not enough to listen, or simply read. We must act upon what we know for the lessons to become deeply held as our own.

Today, I continued work on my boxes which will be veneered on top. As you can see in the photo, I've installed the keys that reinforce the mitered corners. I also had my apprentice in shop today to help me replenish my inventory of small boxes to sell to small galleries. He was pleased to be learning new things.

My thanks to Abigail for the link to The Eliot School Course or Manual Training.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

today in the wood shop...

Today I am working on walnut boxes with veneered tops, and am using the Thin Air vacuum press to glue veneer to the insides of the lids... So that when the box is opened, only beautiful wood will be seen. The outsides of the box lid will be veneered in a pattern assembled from a variety of different colors of burl and figured woods.

This particular chapter of the book will explore the use of color. The Thin Air vacuum press uses an inexpensive hand powered pump and actually works quite well, for those wanting to experiment in vacuum veneering without a great deal of expense. As you can see in the photos,  I made progress during the day. The top panels are veneered on the underside and I've rabbetted the box sides and rounded the corners of the panels to fit.

Abigail Norman, director of the Eliot School in Jamaica Plaine sent me a link to a historic text describing the role of her school in the manual arts movement. You can download a digital copy of this small book here: the Eliot School Course of Manual Training, 1892

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

why woodworking?

There are lots of things kids can be learning in school, so why should woodworking be one? After all, Lego has some wonderful robotic toys that you can snap together and amaze your family and friends, and you can have competitions in the making of them, and have the thing your team has made duke it out with things made by other students and schools.

Perhaps the question, "why woodworking"? can be answered in a review of the objects of educational Sloyd. According to Benjamin Hoffman, 1892 (based on lectures by Otto Salomon), the first object was "to give an indirect preparation for life by teaching branches of certain trades and by imparting a general dexterity to the hand—to train the hand as the obedient servant of the brain." Even though many manufacturing jobs have moved overseas, we still have a need for folks in the work force who learned from an early age to use their hands with skill, dexterity and delicacy.

The second object of Sloyd is to "develop the mental faculties" by giving a "practical direction to mental activity... Man is not only born to think, but also to do. He is a creative animal; he can and must embody his ideas in form." In other words, to create objects of useful and lasting beauty from basic raw materials is essential to our humanity.

"The third object of the Sloyd is to make it a means of intensifying intuitions, thereby giving a clearer insight into the nature of things...Sloyd, in combining the theoretical and practical, by teaching the elements of the arts and sciences, and the method of construction and illustration, aims to excite the intuitive faculty." This intuitive faculty informs the student that all things are deeply connected and nothing is unimportant in his or her understanding of life.

Hoffman states,
"Primarily Sloyd is to be used as a means of formal education—formal as opposed to material. A material education seeks to impart a definite knowledge of things for their own sake. A formal education seeks chiefly to develop the innate mental powers, and selects and imparts knowledge in order to strengthen character, will-power, memory, perception—in short, all of those faculties of the mind which at birth are dormant, and which gradually and through education become to a greater or lesser degree marked characteristics of the individual."
You may think that these qualities and characteristics of a healthy mind can be imparted through snap together parts. But I am of a mind to consider the development of craftsmanship, in which children are learning that each knife stroke matters and can be measured as an expression of caring skilled self.

Today in the CSS wood shop, first, second and third grade students will begin making Mayan Pyramid boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The power of attention...

walnut box
The following is from Benjamin Hoffman's book, The Sloyd System of Woodworking, which was based in part on Otto Salomon's lectures at Nääs in the 1880s.
"A teacher's work is useless if the child is inattentive. Many discussions have centered upon the time to be devoted to certain subjects, but the question as to how a subject can be taught so as to attract and fix the attention is worthy of greater consideration... In order to attract the attention, the chief thing necessary is to bring about a true and not a specious interest. The former consists in a desire to understand the subject for its own sake; the latter, for the sake of marks or rewards. In teaching theoretical subjects, it is at times very difficult to know whether the attention of a child is fixed or not. He may appear attentive, and yet his mind may be far away."

"In the manual work, the pupil's attention is attracted in three different directions—on what the teacher says, for the pupil soon finds that he cannot do his work without attending very closely to instruction; upon himself, for otherwise the child comes to grief with his tools; and upon the work engaged on, or he spoils it."
Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop I was attempting to explain to my students where to drill the holes for the tuning pegs in their guitar necks. I discovered that several of my high school students who had come more recently to Clear Spring School struggled to understand the tape measure. If they had learned fractions in school, it might have been how to add them and subtract them or even multiply them, but not where to find them on a rule or to understand how they might actually be useful in making something that required any degree of precision.

There is a rule, "use it or lose it," which recognizes that the brain and memory are constantly cleansed of information that's not readily apparent as being relevant to one's life. There is another rule that is reflected in the Sloyd principle, "move from the concrete to the abstract." It is easiest to learn those things that can be actually applied through the actions in one's own life. You can call it the rule of relevance. To learn fractions after you've already established a use for them makes sense. To learn useless bits of extraneous stuff does not. And so what I can add to Benjamin Hoffman's comments on attention is that the attention applied through the manual arts builds an understanding of relevance when one is faced with learning and paying attention to abstract and theoretical learning. Concrete experience in the manual arts adds to the student's ability to pay attention to abstract learning by establishing relevance.

One of the things that is happening in my work is that box making still becomes easier, even after all these years. I am making a series of walnut boxes with veneered tops similar to those I did for an article for Woodwork Magazine in 2006. To get this far (as shown above) took only a couple hours in the wood shop. Making over 800 boxes in the last 3 months of 2012 left me with new skills and simplified techniques which will be shared in my new book for Taunton Press in 2014.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Time in "class" equals learning???

Have skill, read plans, read tape measure, the world of making is yours
One of the challenges that early advocates of the manual arts faced was that of finding time in already busy school schedules. They had to contend with reading math, history, Latin, science, etc. What was learned, however, was that participation in manual arts training created greater interest in the rest of schooling. Consequently subjects like reading, math, history and science gained relevance, and when students full attention was thence applied, students learned those subjects in less time. In other words, manual arts training made time for itself in effective education.

State and federal requirements on schools hold kids in school for a set number of hours of class time. Class time is regarded as a sacred measure even though we all know from personal experience that class time can be a waste of time. In "class" rather than individualized teaching, lessons will be over the heads of some students while boring the rest. That is why Salomon made the point that individualized instruction is the only effective means of addressing the needs of all students.

There are proposals that the amount of time children spend in school be stretched either with longer school days or with school terms being extended into the summer months. But what will the students do in these extended hours? Will more hours in class help or hurt American education? More hours in school receiving individualized attention rather than being held captive in classes might help. Hopefully, we can get over the notion that time in class equals educational success. It does not. In Finland, a nation that surpasses American education, students spend more time in physical education and recess than other kids in the US or Europe and have a distinct focus on individualized hands-on learning.

So perhaps instead of focusing on extending the number of hours kids spend in class, we should pay attention to improving the effectiveness of the time they do spend in school.

Today in the CSS wood shop, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students worked on bluebird houses, and my high school students worked on their box guitars. One of the things I discovered this morning is that students lack a basic working understanding of fractions as to how they apply in the measuring of things. So we spent time studying the "Super Inch" which is a much larger representation of an inch, allowing students to better understand fractions and measuring. When children make real things, the need for accuracy, exactness of length and squareness of cut become clear. And if you can follow written and pictorial directions on making a birdhouse, you are just one step closer to making anything in the whole wide world you want.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

18th and 19th centuries...

A first grade teacher was recently fired for calling her children "future criminals" on Facebook. It seems the first amendment doesn't doesn't protect you from from the consequences of what you say in disdain toward others. And why should it? To accept responsibility for the care and teaching of children should be a sacred trust. One can only hope what she said was in jest.

I have been reading a free book from google play on my iPad, Pestalozzi by Henry Holman, and it is amazing how difficult the life of a great teacher can be. He went from one failed school experiment to the next, placing his family finances in a constant state of peril. He wore rags and often resembled the poor whose miseries he sought to alleviate through learning. And what finally seemed to have brought the world's attention to his message and methods was his intense sincerity and compassion for the poor in a time of great political and military turmoil in Switzerland and the surrounding nations.

After his first school closed in bankruptcy, he wrote a novel called Leonard and Gertrude about the life of poor folks and their troubles with government officials and the triumph of Gertrude's  strong character in shaping the destiny of the small village in which they lived. That book brought Pestalozzi, the author, a following throughout Europe. Later, as Switzerland faced tremendous unrest due to the displacement of communities and a huge number of orphans, Pestalozzi used his position as author of a popular novel to reassert his interest in education by starting new schools which then became famous throughout the world.

And so why my interest in the 17th and 18th centuries? It is amazing to me that teachers can arise to positions in schools without getting in touch with what education was about in the first place and without having some greater sense of responsibility to the children they are chosen to educate. Fortunately the teacher mentioned above is not the norm (and hopefully those were not her true feelings). But what is the norm these days is that teachers are not educated in the history of thought concerning what they do. Can you imagine being a doctor and unacquainted with the history of medicine? But ask a teacher about Comenius or Pestalozzi and see what comes up.

Ask any math teacher and you will learn that two points form a straight line. If you've worked with graphics programs you know that 3 points can make a curved line or form a plane. If you know the order in which those points were created, you'll have a vector. A vector has direction, and you'll have at least a general impression where the line's going next. If you look at the history of education, back to the 17-1800s, you get some clear impressions about what education was for in the first place. And in an examination of those important foundational folks*, you'll arrive at a greater sense of mission and of purpose. And sadly, the history of education is being brushed aside as though it doesn't matter. Most in education these days only have eyes and ears for the latest technologies and methods. What is forgotten in all the newest schemes is the purposeful engagement of hands. And you cannot read at the heart of *Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Salomon, Cygnaeus, Montesorri, or Dewey coming to a slightly better understanding of the hands.

When things come down to the level of touch, and being touched (Pestalozzi was thought crazed), there is greater opportunity for individualized engagement of each child. And so the history of manual arts in schools holds forth some very basic principles concerning general education. Can it offer a direction for the future? That is in your hands as much as mine.

Perhaps you wonder how important Pestalozzi was in the development of educational Sloyd. When Otto Salomon visited Pestalozzi's gravesite, he picked up a stone which occupied a position on his desk the rest of his life. I have a similar stone on my desk, one which I picked up at the gravesite of Otto Salomon and August Abrahamson at Nääs.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Individualized teaching

variations on a theme.
Otto Salomon distinguished between class teaching and individual teaching as follows:
Class teaching comprises the teaching of two or more children. Individual teaching comprises the teaching of one or more students. The aims of the teacher are not the same in the two cases. They differ materially. In class teaching the teacher is apt to regard the class as a unit. It is not the development of the individual scholar, but of the individual class, that is aimed at. The minds of the scholars composing it are at various stages of intelligence; they differ also in ability. The efforts of the teacher are directed to assimilating these differences, and to securing a uniform rate of progress among all the members of the class. On the other hand, in individual teaching, the development of each child is the aim kept prominently in view. No effort is made to harmonize differences in ability, nor to advance the children with equal paces. The best teachers will make their methods approximate as much as possible to those employed in individual teaching.

A number of children who are being instructed and addressed at the same time by the teacher, may be regarded as being individually taught, when the intellects of all those under instruction are at the same stage of progress, and this is the limitation we must ad to the definition with which we stared. If for instance, a new subject is going to be taught to a number of children simultaneously, and none of the children know anything of it, the teaching is individual teaching, because there is equality o mind, which results from uniformity of ignorance about the new subject.

But after the first lesson has been given, this equality of mind no longer exists; for, of all the members of the class, some understood more and some less, while some retain more and others less.

The whole of the scholars, then, can no longer be regarded as an individual.
Salomon describes how a class can be divided into ever smaller groups of individuals each group sharing strong similarities, but that
"All good education must be based on the nature of the child... In nature there are no two things exactly alike... If this be granted, it readily follows that class teaching, as a means of education, is not good either in Sloyd or any other school subject."

"The more individual our teaching becomes, the nearer—other things being equal—it approximates to a good educational ideal."
I've been discussing the idea of educational tact in relation to this Salomon quote shared by Hans: “Educational tact is, strictly speaking, nothing but the teacher’s faculty/capacity to individualize his teaching”. (To the needs of each and every child.) I hope that my readers can understand from this that not only is educational Sloyd a system of woodworking education, it is also a system of educational philosophy that could, in the right hands, revolutionize American education.

I had a conversation at recess yesterday with our first, second and third grade teacher Miss Jenny. She noted that after she had given instructions to her class, one of the students asked, "Now what do I do?" For even when students are relatively equal in intellect and maturity, we all know from our own experience that minds can wander. A teacher that fails to address the needs of each child has missed the point.

My boxes shown in the photo above could be viewed as a class, and yet, each is individual and deliberately so. Can we design education so as to encourage the unique qualities of each child to come forth? The success of our species is not due to our being standardized.

Glue lining to 1/8 in. ply then trim to size
The photo at left shows the lined false bottom cut to hide the secret compartment routed in the floating panel base of a box.

With regards to individualized teaching, one cannot get closer to the principle than a one-on-one apprenticeship. In addition to teaching at Clear Spring School and writing another book on making boxes, I am taking on an apprentice for the next 6 months under the auspices of Arkansas State University's Arkansas Folk Life Program and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. My objective is to help a fellow develop skills and confidence to launch himself into self-employment. There is no guarantee of success but growth is assured.  I've chosen a younger man with potential and interest.

Returning for the moment to the subject of gun violence, what is there about this that the NRA can't understand?  Kindness halted school shooting.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Educational Tact...

Simple box alternate shapes.
Otto Salomon in pages 12, 13, and 14 of The Theory of Educational Sloyd describes what it means to teach with educational tact, and since it is difficult to describe exactly what he means (short word, complex concept), he offers a series of 6 different instances that illustrate the concept. For example, number 4 is as follows: "When we estimate the ability of the child, the possible extent of the powers it can put forth in comparison with the powers exerted on any particular occasion, and determine our own conduct at the particular moment."

I highly recommend that anyone interested in Sloyd and education reform look at these particular pages (12-14) in Salomon's Theory of Educational Sloyd, which can be found as a free download from google books.

In conclusion of this 3 page discussion of tact, Salomon offers this: "Educational tact may be roughly defined as the faculty which accurately determines for the teacher when and how he should act."

In other words you may not find tact exhibited in those American classrooms where the teacher's actions are so highly scripted so as to remove the opportunity for the teacher to control classroom activities in response to the needs of each and every individual child.

Salomon was working in an era in which teachers were given greater responsibility for the well-being and growth of their children. This is still the case in some countries, like Finland where one teacher in a news report described her close relationship to her students as being their "school mother."

We on the other hand, allow only limited relationship between teacher and student. Large class sizes and closely scripted curricula limit the range of activities, and eliminate much of the traditional teacher's creative autonomy. If you look specifically at number 4 above, what you see is the teacher determining his or her own conduct based on interpretation of the needs of the individual child. Whereas, in American schooling teachers are held responsible to the curricula, and schedule, not to the individual child's need for growth. Can you see why teaching is a profession that has been diminished and marginalized in the US? And why it is still highly regarded in places like Finland where teachers are allowed greater opportunity to address children as real people?

The shapes of lids reflect the angularity of  various designs.
Today in my wood shop, I am making lids for boxes. These particular boxes will form chapter one of my new box book based on illustrating the principles and elements of design. The variations of box designs made in chapter one will illustrate the role of shape and line in good design.You may be curious about the routed space inside the box bottom in the photo above. That will be a secret compartment, and you are the first to know.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

what it takes to teach...

Number your parts before you cut.
On Monday, one of my students told me that I'm a good teacher, and so what is that? What are the ingredients of being a good teacher? Some folks think that teaching is an art. Some, on the other hand think teaching is a deliverable service commodity to be bought and sold at volume on the open market. Otto Salomon believed that good teachers had a particular quality that he called "educational tact," but what's that? These days in most of the discussion among politicians, business leaders and administrators, a good teacher is one who is successful at getting good test scores. But are there other qualities of character that make one a good teacher? And that make teaching a meaningful experience?

Measure before you cut the bottom to fit.
I've been curious about Salomon's exact meaning in his use of the word "tact," suspecting that it offers insight into what a good teacher does. I asked my friend Hans Thorbjörnsson, the curator of Otto Salomon's library at Nääs about Salomon's use of the word. Hans was my host and tour guide when I visited Nääs. He's written books in Swedish about educational Sloyd, Otto Salomon and the Sloyd summer teacher training institute at Nääs.

His thoughtful reply is as follows:
I, like you, find the concept “educational tact” (in Swedish “pedagogisk takt”) most interesting. That’s why I have revisited every page in my books written in Swedish by OS, looking for his complete definition of the concept. It must have been especially important to him so I thought I would find some pages exclusively on this subject. But I have found no such definition. Only the following sentence: “Educational tact is, strictly speaking, nothing but the teacher’s faculty/capacity to individualize his teaching”.

In the lines just above this sentence Otto referred to Froebel, this one saying “I have learned a lot from my teachers, more from my comrades, but most from my pupils.” Froebel sees the nursery as his university and the children as his professors. It is only when thinking and feeling like this that an instructor can rise to be a teacher, and from teacher can rise to be an educator (uppfostrare). (Salomon always talks about sloyd as a formatting subject/an instrument to the harmonious development of the child – morally, intellectually, physically.)

The capacity of educational tact is not to be found in every teacher. It is some sort of intuitive feeling for what sort of information, instruction the individual child needs. The good educator has a faculty to create a spirit of understanding and cooperation between himself and the child. He must feel sympathy for each individual child. The educational tact tells the teacher how to act and when to act, not giving too much or too little information, but the exact amount at the exact opportunity. There must be room for the child’s independence and self-reliance, he/she must be given opportunity to solve problems up to his own capacity. This judgement of how to instruct the child A is different from the judgement concerning the child B. That is why individual teaching is so important in sloyd lessons, and why class-teaching is absolutely impossible for an educator with educational tact.
Hans' last line that I've placed in italics is the one that throws me for a loop and explains a great deal about the deficiencies in American education. In wood shop, the success of a student's work is nearly always dependent on some form of personalized individual instruction. That is the point at which the teacher's care for each and every individual student is expressed, and students get that. They recognize when it happens. In their eyes, a good teacher is one who cares deeply and equally about their independence and success. In some classes and in some subjects, teachers can stand at the head of the class and dissertate blindly in the expectation that students will rise or fall or fail based on their attention, comprehension and recollection, without demonstrating any particular concern for the individual needs of his/her students. A teacher with tact would want so much more than that... the opportunity to see that the learning needs of each and every child are met. He or she would grow extremely frustrated with anything less, which perhaps explains why so many teachers leave the field within 3 to 5 years of starting their teaching careers. It's not that they don't have the potential to become good teachers, its that they are not allowed to actually teach.
Then cut the bottom to size, allowing for tongue to fit sides.

Today in my wood shop, and as you can see, I'm making boxes and taking photos of the process.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

cane toads, genetics and creativity...

Like Vikings, our children are explorers in wood shop.
 This month's National Geographic magazine looks back on its 125 years support of exploration with an article that investigates  the genetics of exploration. It seems that even animals are effected as they spread beyond their normal bounds. Cane toads are an invasive species that has been spreading across Australia, and the spread is increasing due to the development of ever longer legs. As long-legged toads jump to the forefront, they mate with toads also having longer legs, and so their offspring thence has even longer legs, allowing them to spread even faster and mate with even longer legged toads.

And so the willingness of those in a culture, or in a tribe, or in a classroom to take risks in learning and creative acts is also a genetic trait that is encouraged through the migration of folks into new areas where they mate with those who may be like-minded in their creative inclinations. Eureka Springs can serve as an example. We are now number 8 in the yearly poll of cities that serve as arts destinations, ahead of Taos, New Mexico and just two cities behind Santa Fe. So folks come here to buy art, but also with the intention of making art, and it makes our town an ever more creative place to hang out.

Here, folks have gathered at some risk to do art, and the inclination to take on tasks that offer creative exploration is a form of genetically reinforced creativity, just as they describe in National Geographic with regard to cane toads and explorers. And our students are particularly creative.

Our 1st, 2nd and third grade students are studying the Vikings, their culture, artifacts, conquests and explorations. And so in honor of the Vikings, I offered "creative day" to these students. I allowed them to make whatever they wanted. And creative day is always a trial and adventure for me, too.

Some involved in American education (those who are not actively cramming standardized testing down kids throats) worry about whether or not we are creating a next generation of risk takers, artists and explorers. There is a strong similarity between creative endeavors that take place in the wood shop, and the inclination to discover new processes and the making of new things. If somewhere down the road, we look at American culture and find it stagnant, uncreative, and lacking in both vigor and rigor, we will have only ourselves to blame. Abandonment of the arts and wood shop  is the dumbest of all possible notions.

Today my 7th, 8th and 9th grade students worked on their 9 legged bench.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

can success be measured in kindness?

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was considered the father of manual training even though he was never actually successful in utilizing manual arts in their fullest form. He did, however see their value and described that value to those who would follow, including Friedrich Froebel, Uno Cygnaeus, and Otto Salomon. In addition to the alphabet of letters, he proposed an alphabet of abilities which he considered more important and even though he was never able to establish that alphabet on his own,  he laid the groundwork for educational Sloyd's progressive development of skills. He could also be considered the father of progressive education. Charles A. Bennett said of Pestalozzi, "to call Pestalozzi the 'father of manual training' is only a fraction of the truth and that such a phrase alone does not convey the big idea for which the name of Pestalozzi stands."

And so what was that big idea? It had to do with the hands and with the senses and learning from real life. Pestalozzi from nearly any angle would look like a failed educator. He went through a series of schools, each a financial failure, and yet, his spirit as an educator, and his attention to the needs of his children was crystal clear. He was a gentleman who felt great empathy for the poor, saw the dignity and inherent wisdom of all folks and made a sincere effort to help best described in his own words:
"I had observed for a long time that behind their coarseness, shyness, and apparent incapacity are hidden the finest faculties, the most precious powers; and now, even amongst these poor creatures by whom I was surrounded at Stanz, marked natural abilities soon began to show themselves. I knew how useful the common needs of life are in teaching men the relations of things, in bringing out their natural intelligence, in forming their judgment, and in arousing faculties which, buried, as they were, beneath the coarser elements of their nature, cannot become active and useful till they are set free.

"It was my object then to arouse these faculties, and bring them to bear on the pure and simple circumstances of domestic life, for I was convinced that in this way I should be able to form the hearts and minds of children almost as I wished. I tried to connect study with manual labor, the school with the workshop and make one thing of them. But I was the less able to do this as staff, material, and tools were all wanting. A short time only before the close of the establishment a few children had begun to spin; and I saw clearly that, before any fusion could be effected, the two parts must be firmly established separately--study, that is, on the one hand, and labor on the other.

"But in the work of the children I as already inclined to care less for the immediate gain than for the physical training which, by developing their strength and skill, was bound to supply them later with a means of livelihood. In the same way I considered that what is generally called the instruction of children should be merely an exercise of the faculties, and I felt it important to exercise the attention, observation and memory first, so as to strengthen these faculties before calling into play the art of judging and reasoning; this, in my opinion, was the best way to avoid turning out that sort of superficial and presumptuous talker, whose false judgments are often more fatal to the happiness and progress of humanity than the ignorance of simple people of good sense, and I am more than ever convinced that as soon as we have educational establishments combined with workshops and conducted on a truly psychological basis, a generation will necessarily be formed which, on the one hand, will show us by experience that our present studies do not require one-tenth part of the time or trouble we now give to them."
For many concerned with measured success (whatever that is), Pestalozzi these days would be considered an old fool. He did live to be 81 years old. But he is still remembered 200 years later by some for his ideas and for his compassion. I wonder how many modern day education reformers will leave any such mark? I'd like to propose kindness as one of the best measures of success.

Still, I find the problem of gun violence a compelling issue, not unrelated to the matter of kindness and gentleness being a part of an American approach to education. This cartoon questions the kinds of school we want for our kids.

Today in my wood shop I plan to make the first boxes for chapter one of my new book.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 07, 2013

education as a commercial enterprise?

My own, students are following close behind.
Reuben sent this article... A Model T Education: Public Schooling on the Assembly Line. It seems that commercial interests and some major foundations are hoping to do public schooling one better by making a profit from it. While we would prefer not to visualize the job of schooling as being that of putting students together and torquing each and every bolt, it can feel that way. Even successful students feel torqued by the experience. Remember Bob Dylan's line that described being "bent out of shape by society's pliers," in a song he titled, "It's all right Ma, I'm only bleeding" ? One of the problems with schools as assembly lines is that unlike car parts, merging into a finished car, students have the mobility and independence to become incorrigible, take offense and jump off the line. According to a paper, Charter School Success or Out-Migration of Low Achievers in
Boston’s Commonwealth charter schools have significantly weak “promoting power,” that is, the number of seniors is routinely below 60 percent of the freshmen enrolled four years earlier. Looking at it another way, for every five freshmen enrolled in Boston’s charter high schools in the fall of 2008 there were only two seniors: Senior enrollment was 42 percent of freshmen enrollment. in contrast, for every five freshmen enrolled in the Boston Public Schools that fall there were four seniors: Senior enrollment was 81 percent of freshmen enrollment.
In other words, in the hunger to get statistical evidence of success, Charter schools are dumping those students who don't provide the evidence of success necessary to prove the concept. The results of much of the push to standardize and industrialize and commercialize learning deserves the grade D. In charter schools, just as in public schools, kids are Depressed, Disinterested, Disengaged from learning, and they Drop out. Can you imagine? You take learning, which is the child's most natural inclination, and you make it difficult for them to the point of refusal? In the article referenced above, Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff argues:
“Education is about more than making money. It is about coming to know the world, about learning to think critically, and about developing the capacity to create new knowledge, new social institutions, and new kinds of businesses.” Of course, education serves a critical economic function, but it also serves to enrich culture, our morals, our quality of life, and our democracy – and to view education as a business, as a private service rather than a public good, is to strip it of these critical values.
Schools having forgotten these other important functions did away with school wood shops. Perhaps they never fully understood that craftsmanship offers the clearest possible instruction in moral values and non-sectarian advancement of human culture.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, 4th 5th and 6th grade students will be making rock and mineral  collection boxes, and the high school students will be working on their box guitars.
As you can see in the photo above, we are making progress...

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, January 06, 2013

proliferation of hand tools.

My own hammer
Last night a friend came over for dinner who has a collection of guns inherited from his brother, and seems to have bought into the notion that guns actually offer no problem to our society. His line of thought, standard to the NRA has been that gun violence is not a gun problem, but rather a people problem and that all in all there have been more murders with machetes (counting the horrors of Rwanda) than with guns. He rebutted his own argument when he noted that a school teacher facing a crazed-machete-wielding maniac, could have protected her children with a chair.

But since the proliferation-of-guns-in-society problem is bigger than the both of us, and will not be solved by the humble writings or comments in this blog, let's turn to a more pleasant matter, the purposeful proliferation of hand tools. Folks will not need concealed carry permits to own and use hand tools, and these simple tools have the capacity to restore the intelligence, the moral fiber and the productive capacity of our nation.  Folks will need training, but that is just part of the process through which human culture evolved and through which it will be sustained if we so choose. Vejdi Avsar wrote in response to the article in Arkansas Life, Wise Hands,
"I have been working with hand tools throughout my life as a craftsman. This interesting bond between hand tools and a human is, in a sense, a bridge between the brain and hand. The only way hand tools will work for you is if you communicate with them. This might sound silly for someone who doesn't have this close relationship with them. The truth is, your thoughts are becoming tangible through the actions of the hand tools such as cutting a tenon or dovetail, and so on. The matter here is not so much the tenon or dovetail but it is trying to follow the pencil or knife line. This is where the actual communication begins.

"What you are doing is something that should be recognized, particularly working with kids and giving them the opportunity to bring out one of the stepping stones of becoming a human being. Because working with hand tools will teach them to understand themselves, much better than any help from outside."
Thomas Carlyle (1785-1891) said:
"Man is a tool using animal. He can use tools, can devise tools; with these the granite mountains melt in light dust before him; he kneads iron as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all!"
My initials carved at age 9 or 10
And so to ignore our human inclination to express ourselves through the use of tools is foolish. But which tools do we want to encourage, those that offer creative capacity, or those which present the specter of untimely death? If guns are merely tools, as some claim, let's at least not lie to ourselves about the death and destruction that they are intended to accomplish.

 The photos above and below show my earliest acquisition in my own collection of tools. The Plumb hammer was given to me by my dad when I was 9 or 10 years old. I carved my initials in the wooden handle to mark it as my own. I was not completely pleased at the time, with the amateurish results, but the carving and I have worn to like each other. 

I have this theory that putting folks in touch with their own creative capacities will alleviate their need to connect with society's dark fantasies and destructive inclinations. And so the proliferation of hand tools is a very good thing. Give them to your children to get them started on the right road to life in a meaningful society and best possible understanding of self.

I am reminded of an artist who came up to me after I spoke at a conference. She complained that she had bought woodworking tools for her grandson, but the daughter-in-law refused to allow them in the house because "her son would make a mess." What a sorry mess she's making of her son by neglecting his creative capacity!

Make, fix and create...