Friday, February 28, 2014

more box making

Fine woodworking calls it "The beauty of boxes from the hands of experts." The new book-a-zine, Wooden Boxes by Doug Stowe and Strother Purdy is now available from the Fine Woodworking website. We are arranging an autographed box book-a-zine giveaway on the Fine Woodworking website and I'll alert my readers when it is time to participate.
Whether you’re a first time woodworker or an experienced hand wanting to learn more, Wooden Boxes – a special collection from the editors of Fine Woodworking magazine – is perfect for you. Here you’ll find step-by-step instructions for completing nine favorite box projects. These projects – perfect ways to learn a new skill or refine an old one – are gathered from the collections of master craftsmen Doug Stowe and Strother Purdy. Their expert advice allows you to learn new techniques to make your box-building safer, easier, and more efficient.
In my own shop, I'm working on an article for American Woodworker Magazine, and about 50 or 60 other small boxes for gallery sales.

I am continuing to find value in my reading of David Whittaker's book on the Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd. It offers insight into the Uno Cygnaeus' development of the Finnish Folk School, and at a depth of detail that I'd not read before. It also touches upon the correspondence between Otto Salomon and Cygnaeus, and the points at which their theories differed and converged. While Salomon was developing his teacher training school at Nääs, Cygnaeus had founded the teacher training university at Jyväskylä, in 1863, ultimately shaping the teaching of the entire nation to the greatest degree possible. Many beleive that the success of the Finnish School system is still due to the foundation laid by Cygnaeus and the continuing use of a compulsory crafts curriculum. David Whittaker makes that precise point.

Reading about these old days is valuable. It gives me a sense of what we who would seek hands-on educational renewal in the US are up against. It will be far from easy even thought it makes sense.

Make, fix, create, and help others to do so.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

moving toward self-assessed learning

I am reading David J. Whittaker's new book on the Impact and International Legacy of Educational Sloyd, and in it he addresses the continuing impact of Sloyd on Scandinavian education. The following is from the 20004 Finnish National Curriculum. develop pupils' skills with crafts so that their self-esteem grows on that basis and they derive joy and satisfaction from their work. In addition their sense of responsibility for the work and the use of material increases and they learn to appreciate the quality of the material and work, and to take a critical, evaluative stance towards their own choices and the ideas, products and services offered. The instruction is implemented through projects and subject areas corresponding to the pupils' state and development and uses experimentation, investigation and invention. The instructional tasks in crafts are to guide the pupil in systematic, sustained, independent work, and to develop creativity, problem solving skills, an understanding of everyday technological phenomena, and aesthetic, technical, and psycho-motor skills. The pupil receives an introduction to the cultural traditions of handicrafts among Finns and other people.
At the present time in American schooling, the children are sent off each day from the watchful eyes of mothers and fathers and return to their families at day's end. During the child's absence from the home, loving parents having seen nothing of what the child has learned each day are dependent on standardized testing, notes home, quarterly grades, conferences and what little conversation they can pry out of their child for any understanding of the child's learning or growth. Every moment the teacher is assessing and artificially recording the child's learning and growth, the teacher is not teaching and engaging the child in leaning and growth. Add to that the high number of children in each classroom, and the teacher's task in assessing and recording student progress is enormous.

And so what if we had some means through which children might assess their own performance? And what if there was some simple way through which student learning and success could be easily monitored by parents as witnesses of their child's learning and growth without abstract and subjective schemes of assessment? And what if teachers were to just teach, instruct, and care for their children instead of being held responsible to obsessively measure their performance at every twist and turn?

In Finland teachers say that if you want an elephant to grow, you don't measure it, you feed it. So it is with the mind of a child. Our own parental and strategic insecurities about what happens in schools drives the American obsession with standardized testing that's destroying American education.

A belief shared by all the early progressive educators, like Froebel, Pestalozzi, Herbart, Comenius, and others was that what a child learns must be expressed in some form of outward activity. Cygnaeus, inventor of Sloyd, and Salomon who made an international movement of it, followed Froebel's lead in the use of crafts for strategic purposes. Crafts provide a concrete means for student self and peer assessment, and also convey an understanding of what happens in school and what the child learned in school to the family of the child, making certain each day that parents find confidence in their child's teacher and the classroom experience. Why be dependent on obviously contrived means of assessment?  Use real assessment to monitor real learning, by asking the children to do real things.

A reintroduction of craft (and woodworking) education in schools would be the first step in reshaping American education. Parents and policy makers are addicted to standardized testing because they have no other way of understanding whether or not children are learning. Reliance upon standardized testing has become an ugly habit, and changing habitual responses and understandings requires the introduction of more compelling opportunities.

Yesterday in the CSS wood shop, my lower elementary school students made rock digging mallets to help when they go hunting for fossils.

Make, fix, create and help others to do likewise.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

seat time

Clear Spring woodworking bench. Link below.
State laws require children to be in school a certain number of hours each year, so the difficulties posed by weather (ice and snow) in the southern states this year are still wreaking havoc in schools. Children are being asked to attend school on Saturdays, they are losing their spring breaks in some cases, and school boards are having to wrestle with finding means to extend what is commonly called "seat time." In many cases the children consider the thing to be a joke, and are skipping the designated days. In some cases they have employment or planned activities they can't miss.

Seat time is often the opposite of learning. Learning is often what happens when mother nature throws wrenches into the works and forces us into closer engagement with real life.

In any case, William James offered some useful advice for teachers who find their children staring out windows.
“There are two types of will. There are also two types of inhibition. We may call them inhibition by repression or by negation, and inhibition by substitution, respectively. The difference between them is that, in the case of inhibition by repression, both the inhibited idea and the inhibiting idea, the impulsive idea and the idea that negates it, remain along with each other in consciousness, producing a certain inward strain or tension there: whereas, in inhibition by substitution, the inhibiting idea supersedes altogether the idea which it inhibits, and the latter quickly vanishes from the field.

For instance, your pupils are wandering in mind, are listening to a sound outside the window, which presently grows interesting enough to claim all their attention. You can call the latter back again by bellowing at them not to listen to those sounds, but to keep their minds on their books or on what you are saying. And, by thus keeping them conscious that your eye is sternly on them, you may produce a good effect. But it will be a wasteful effect and an inferior effect; for the moment you relax your supervision the attractive disturbance, always there soliciting their curiosity, will overpower them, and they will be just as they were before: whereas, if, without saying anything about the street disturbances, you open a counter-attraction by starting some very interesting talk or demonstration yourself, they will altogether forget the distracting incident, and without any effort follow you along. There are many interests that can never be inhibited by the way of negation. To a man in love, for example, it is literally impossible, by any effort of will, to annul his passion. But let 'some new planet swim into his ken,' and the former idol will immediately cease to engross his mind.” - William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899
At Clear Spring School we are wondering how to make up for lost learning in the classroom. As an independent school, we are not required by State Law to have the children on campus a set number of days, but we do have goals and objectives in learning that should be met, and that we and the children are responsible to meet.

The amount of time spent in schools may not directly correlate with learning.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a teacher from a charter school in LA that wants to start woodworking with their kids. I promised to send a plan for our CSS woodworking benches as shown in the page above. If you want a copy you can find it HERE!

Make, fix, create. Share with others your inclination to do so.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What you do makes real that which you've learned.

What you do makes real that which you have learned. I have a conversation scheduled today with a teacher and curriculum designer from California. I get these requests on occasion to help with designing a curriculum for a school hoping to add woodworking. It is always a bit awkward telling that I don't have a set curriculum. And these conversations are always interesting to me, because they cause me to reflect upon my own activities, and I always learn a few things in conversations with other educators.

I have begun reading David Whittaker's new book, The International Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd: Head and Hands in Harness. Like most of us who grew up outside Scandinavia, Whittaker's introduction to Sloyd, and the many years of research that led to this new book, is a shaggy dog story of sorts. This is David's 13th book in a long career of academic and political thought. He wrote to me as his personal introduction,
"Good to hear from you as a sloyder. I often look through your email material. If only I was my old fitness I would be coming over to see you but I am afraid that would now be imprudent.

My sloyd (slojd) interest originated way back in the 1950s when I went to Finland to teach English. The minority Swedes there taught me Swedish. What I learned about Uno Cygnaeus, his beliefs, his resolve to improve Finnish folk schools through harnessing head and hands fascinated me. Then there was this intriguing partnership with another educational radical, Otto Salomon, the establishment of the training institution at Naas and the diffusion of a pedagogical new deal throughout the world. So far as we know some 9000 enterprising young teachers absorbed the thinking and practice of Naas.

Coming back to the UK and into university teaching I wrote my M.A thesis on the origins and development of sloyd. People in Germany and Japan and Scandinavia got into touch with me and we have kept up the contact.

It was when I retired that I decided to attempt a proper study of sloyd using a research team approach. It was in the university of Jyvaskyla, Finland that we got the team together. We worked for almost 12 months last year with me as leader-in-part-residence and author of the book we would write The Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd. We then found out that in the University of Rekyavik, Iceland two fellows were very keen and highly informed about the Icelandic variant of Sloyd. I visited them and invited Gisli Thorsteinsson and Brynjar Olafsson to contribute a sample study chapter to the book. And the book is now available as hardback and ebook
This book appears authoritative. It is exactly the kind of resource that I would have found valuable as I began my own exploration of Educational Sloyd. I recommend it and plan to write a review of it for British Woodworking Magazine. For those interested in reading the book and not owning it, it can be rented from Amazon for reading on Kindle. Today in my wood shop, I will work on an article for American Woodworker Magazine.

Make, fix, create, and share with others the means to do so.

Monday, February 24, 2014

the habit of constructiveness

I know I've been stuck on reading William James lately. He made sense in 1899 and still does if policy makers were willing to learn anything from the 19th century

Again and again he returned to "constructiveness" as follows:
“During the first seven or eight years of childhood the mind is most interested in the sensible properties of material things. Constructiveness is the instinct most active; and by the incessant hammering and sawing, and dressing and undressing dolls, putting of things together and taking them apart, the child not only trains the muscles to co-ordinate action, but accumulates a store of physical conceptions which are the basis of his knowledge of the material world through life. Object-teaching and manual training wisely extend the sphere of this order of acquisition. Clay, wood, metals, and the various kinds of tools are made to contribute to the store. A youth brought up with a sufficiently broad basis of this kind is always at home in the world. He stands within the pale. He is acquainted with Nature, and Nature in a certain sense is acquainted with him. Whereas the youth brought up alone at home, with no acquaintance with anything but the printed page, is always afflicted with a certain remoteness from the material facts of life, and a correlative insecurity of consciousness which make of him a kind of alien on the earth in which he ought to feel himself perfectly at home.” - William James, Talks with Teachers on Psychology, 1899.
Today in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, our middle school students worked on theatrical shadow boxes, and our high school students will begin making boxes of their own design.

Outside the wood shop, I've begun the process of contracting to write another book, this one on the making of Kindergarten's Gifts. The book will be interesting to write. It will be a combination of how-to with a look back at the origins and original purpose of Froebel's kindergarten. It will also be something of a marketing challenge in that it will combine woodworking and crafts  and educational theory, and be marketed to teachers and parents and woodworkers.

Make, fix, create and share with others your habit of doing so.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

today in the wood shop...

Walnut and maple
I have prep work to do today for Monday's classes. My high school students have prepared designs for boxes they want to make. They mostly lack general drawing skills, but have come up with  materials lists to allow me to have sufficient material on hand for their use. Each is designing a box that comes ready anchored to their own personal interests. As all of life is experimental, learning, too should be experimental, and so we will voyage together in this.

The past couple days, I spent cleaning my home wood shop  and preparing parts for making a variety of box sizes. Shifting gears and moving in a new direction is par for the course, and the box parts, so recently abandoned will wait in trays until I have time to do more milling of the joints that fit them together.

I continue reading William James and finding value in what he tells about teaching and psychology.
“No matter how scatter-brained the type of a man's successive fields of consciousness may be, if he really cares for a subject, he will return to it incessantly from his incessant wanderings, and first and last do more with it, and get more results from it, than another person whose attention may be more continuous during a given interval, but whose passion for the subject is of a more languid and less permanent sort. Some of the most efficient workers I know are of the ultra-scatterbrained type. One friend, who does a prodigious quantity of work, has in fact confessed to me that, if he wants to get ideas on any subject, he sits down to work at something else, his best results coming through his mind-wanderings. This is perhaps an epigrammatic exaggeration on his part; but I seriously think that no one of us need be too much distressed at his own shortcomings in this regard. Our mind may enjoy but little comfort, may be restless and feel confused; but it may be extremely efficient all the same.” - William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899
The photo above is a box I had made a few years ago, and was taken to show a possible customer.

Make, fix, create and help others to do so, too.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

the necessity of attention

One of the things that William James did not mention in his talks to teachers is the necessity of receiving attention. Anyone who has observed children (or adults for that matter) for more than a moment will know what I mean, so perhaps there was little point in James needing to mention it. It goes without saying. The necessity of receiving or avoiding attention drives the human race. We choose the clothes we buy to either stand out and grain attention or fit in and thus avoid it. We develop skill not only for the sake of feelings of mastery, but so that we can demonstrate it to others.

Schools need to offer a variety of ways through which students can gather positive notice from others, not just the teaching staff and administration. Where students have no other access to attention they get it by distinctive dress or in extreme cases, by challenging behavior. Students have a desire to imitate, and emulate, but by putting their own distinctive spin on things. I write this blog so that readers will take note of  my ideas, make use of them if they are worthy of use, and then put their own spin on things and have courage to emulate if they find truth in what I have said.

But if we want to give children better methods and habits of gaining attention, there is no better means than the challenge of skilled craftsmanship. In wood shop, they enjoy showing others what they have done, and personalizing their work and workmanship to take ownership of it.

Today I am working on boxes in the shop. I start by cutting full length boards into half lengths, then rip saw materials to about 1/4-3/8 in. wider than necessary to form the parts. I next resaw the material down the middle to make efficient use of the stock. After planing the wood to thickness, I flatten the edges on the jointer and then rip saw the material to finished width. Next, I use the sled on the table saw to cut dozens and dozens of parts to exact length.

The necessity of receiving attention is a powerful force in people's lives. In many cases we buy the products we buy so that others will see us having them and using them and be impressed. But not all live for that alone. We grow weary with just having stuff, when it can be so much more fulfilling to express mastery in the making of beautiful and useful things.

Make, fix and create. Demonstrate what you've learned and inspire others to make, too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

today in the wood shop.

Lids textured and ready for milk paint
Today, I will be making boxes to fill an order for Appalachian Spring Gallery in Washington, DC and begin work on an article for American Woodworking Magazine. My wood shop is a mess, so that is really where much of today's work will begin. It helps to shovel out, and sweep up when beginning new things.

Yesterday I wrote about William James description of native impulses that should be captured by the teachers and schools and made use of to drive student learning. I did not make it through the full list, and one that I overlooked was ownership. Ownership may refer to objects or collections of objects, but it may, as the student grows refer to ideas. Thus "my idea" is set apart from those acquired by imitation and children love owning ideas as well as things. In fact, adults do, too, and I love coming up with new techniques that I fully own by being able to use and to teach others to do so.
“The teacher who can work this impulse into the school tasks is fortunate. Almost all children collect something. A tactful teacher may get them to take pleasure in collecting books; in keeping a neat and orderly collection of notes; in starting, when they are mature enough, a card catalogue; in preserving every drawing or map which they may make. Neatness, order, and method are thus instinctively gained, along with the other benefits which the possession of the collection entails. Even such a noisome thing as a collection of postage stamps may be used by the teacher as an inciter of interest in the geographical and historical information which she desires to impart. Sloyd successfully avails itself of this instinct in causing the pupil to make a collection of wooden implements fit for his own private use at home. Collecting is, of course, the basis of all natural history study; and probably nobody ever became a good naturalist who was not an unusually active collector when a boy.” - William James, Talks with Teachers on Psychology, 1899.
Ownership of ideas is the consequence of discovery. Ideas derived from reading in books do not necessarily convey a sense of ownership. That comes through mastery of a skill, or concept that can only come through practice, self discovery, and performance, or demonstration. And children do enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate some form of mastery and ownership, whether it is over things, skills, tools or over ideas. Craftsmanship involves both the idea and the object. The use of the tool as expression of thought, and the finished object are each manifestations of the child's learning and growth.

Make, fix and create. Teach others to do likewise.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

same thing over and over again...

Making a triceratops
I was talking with an editor yesterday and one of the topics was that it is difficult to come up with really new material in woodworking and the field for publication of articles and books has narrowed due to the vast number of previous articles and the availability of old books that can be downloaded for free. If you are just interested in knowing how to do things the old way, and have a digital reader available, you need not spend a cent for new content.

The same can be said about readings in education, but by ignoring what we all know to be true about child development, educational policy makers can pretend each day is a new day, as they proffer new schemes for academic success. William James wrote the following in 1899, as a guide to what teachers would find as their best psychological tools for shaping student success.

First of all, Fear. Fear of punishment has always been the great weapon of the teacher, and will always, of course, retain some place in the conditions of the schoolroom. The subject is so familiar that nothing more need be said about it.

The same is true of Love, and the instinctive desire to please those whom we love. The teacher who succeeds in getting herself loved by the pupils will obtain results which one of a more forbidding temperament finds it impossible to secure.

Next, a word might be said about Curiosity. This is perhaps a rather poor term by which to designate the impulse toward better cognition in its full extent; but you will readily understand what I mean. Novelties in the way of sensible objects, especially if their sensational quality is bright, vivid, startling, invariably arrest the attention of the young and hold it until the desire to know more about the object is assuaged. In its higher, more intellectual form, the impulse toward completer knowledge takes the character of scientific or philosophic curiosity. In both its sensational and its intellectual form the instinct is more vivacious during childhood and youth than in after life. Young children are possessed by curiosity about every new impression that assails them. It would be quite impossible for a young child to listen to a lecture for more than a few minutes, as you are now listening to me.” - William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899.
The fourth "native reaction" James discussed was that of imitation. We can go through each of these quickly one by one.  The first two are the tools of the "tiger mother." She gives milk and so her cubs have a strong dependency upon her, but she withholds affection unless certain conditions are met... that her cubs meet certain goals, and because she's a tiger, her cubs know and are fearful of her wrath. Her cubs will not disappoint.

Curiosity and imitation are the true tickets to lifelong learning, for they lead to what James described as emulation, ambition, and constructiveness. But curiosity is fragile. It can be squelched when children are placed in environments in which their natural inclinations to do real things are placed under serious constraint.

Make, fix, create, and set the example that others may emulate.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

can it be...

Angled lids on angled boxes
The boxes at left are new ones I'm finishing for gallery sales in the spring. The angled lift lids will be textured and colored with layers of milk paint. The following is from William James, as he attempted to describe what education is for.
“In our foregoing talk we were led to frame a very simple conception of what an education means. In the last analysis it consists in the organizing of resources in the human being, of powers of conduct which shall fit him to his social and physical world. An 'uneducated' person is one who is nonplussed by all but the most habitual situations. On the contrary, one who is educated is able practically to extricate himself, by means of the examples with which his memory is stored and of the abstract conceptions which he has acquired, from circumstances in which he never was placed before. Education, in short, cannot be better described than by calling it the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior.” -- William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899.
Can it be that all the problems we now have with education result from having forgotten what education is for in the first place? In his lecture, James went on to describe how his students present in the lecture hall were modeling a kind of conduct or behavior as they listened intently to his words and envisioned ways in which their understanding of educational philosophy might serve them in the classroom.

If we understood that the purpose of education was not to impart knowledge, but to shape conduct and behavior, we would not have dumped woodworking education, music, art  and laboratory science from the curriculum in schools. It's nice to know a few things about science that can be found so neatly organized in textbooks, but would it not be better to have learned to conduct oneself as a scientist might in one's own investigations? Aspects of behavior are the essence of what people are incline to call character, and are demonstrated, not measured. and as long as we have schools that rely on measurement to prove their success, there will be no real education taking place except that which comes happenstance.

In our local AEP/SWEPCO power line debacle, the Arkansas Public Service Commission has left standing the judge's approval of a route that begins in Arkansas, travels across a 25 mile long swath of Missouri, and then dips down back into Arkansas. At this point it appears that SWEPCO has authority to build two power lines from nowhere to nowhere until they get regulatory approval from the state of Missouri. We can expect them the be complete jerks and begin condemnation proceedings.

Today in the school wood shop, our lower elementary school students will continue making dinosaurs, and our middle school students will begin carving masks related to their studies of indian stories, and inspired by a visit to a local museum.

Make, fix, create. Help others to do so, too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


First, we know a child's ultimate integration into society, and his or her finding some form of "success" within it has as much to do with what are called traits of "character" as with intellect. You can have very smart kids that take wrong turns, do stupid things, or simply wither in laziness.

Mike Rose's new book, “Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us,” asks some very important questions and raises very important points having to do with "character," as described in this article in the Washington Post, The misguided effort to teach ‘character.’
"It is healthy to be reminded about the fuller scope of education in our test- and grade-obsessed culture, but what concerns me is that the advocates for character accept without question the reductive notion of cognition that runs through our education policies, and by accepting it, further affirm it. The problem is exacerbated by the aforementioned way economists carve up and define mental activity. If cognition is represented by scores on ability or achievement tests, then anything not captured in those scores—like the desired qualities of character—is, de facto, noncognitive. We’re now left with a skimpy notion of cognition and a reductive dichotomy to boot. This downplaying of the cognitive and the construction of the cognitive/noncognitive binary will have some troubling implications for education, especially for the education of the children of the poor.
The idea that aspects of character: independence, resillience, persistence, creativity, skills of collaboration and cooperative problem solving, are "non-cognitive" is a branch of educational stupidity I've addressed previously in the blog, in a post entitled It's more than just woodshop and other posts as well. It seems I have to keep repeating myself in the hopes that at some point, people will listen, test what I've shared within the fabric of their own understanding and do something about what ails education in this nation.

Also, without remorse for having repeated myself, I'll mention the child's most natural inclination toward craftsmanship. Given even the slightest chance, children are inclined to make things, and as they grow and learn, are naturally inclined to become skilled in making things. Within the unscripted confines of craftsmanship and artistry, are available all the necessary traits of character that children must develop to find meaningful places within human culture, let alone "success."

Today is a big day here in Eureka Springs as we will learn from the Arkansas Public Service Commission whether or not they intend to wade into the AEP/SWEPCO power line proposal that has been threatening our small local community. They will do one of four things as I had mentioned in an earlier post. The least likely thing for them to do is to throw the application out. But they should know by now that any decision they make to enable construction of the power line will only add to their embarrassment.

Make, fix, create, and lead others to join you in it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The law of transitoriness.

I have been following discussion at the Washington Post for their article, A very scary headline about kindergartners. It is very troubling that so many educators no longer know what Kindergarten is for. It is equally troubling that in their push for conformity, they are either ignorant or choosing to ignore basic, long held principles of child development. My own comment on the site is as follows:
"In Finland, they begin reading in school at age 8 and by age 15 far surpass young readers in American schools in 30% less time. We should be learning something from that. Some have said that it's easy for Finland because they are a homogeneous nation. They are not. In fact, they have two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. While their students are surpassing ours, they are also learning to speak English, and often German or French.

"When I visited in Helsinki in 2009, one of the things I did was visit the University of Helsinki wood shop where they were teaching Kindergarten teachers to teach wood working in schools. The great shame of American education is that we've neglected those things that make children most interested in being in school, and made school even more boring. With the push to make kindergarten more academic, we've simply made kids bored much sooner in their education than they were previously."
To which tmx replied: "Boring schools are a good preparation for the boring low wage jobs corporate bosses are giving to America." Perhaps that's the point. But child development principles are nothing new. To purposefully ignore all that we know about child development should be considered criminal and a form of child abuse.
“In children we observe a ripening of impulses and interests in a certain determinate order. Creeping, walking, climbing, imitating vocal sounds, constructing, drawing, calculating, possess the child in succession; and in some children the possession, while it lasts, may be of a semi-frantic and exclusive sort. Later, the interest in any one of these things may wholly fade away. Of course, the proper pedagogic moment to work skill in, and to clench the useful habit, is when the native impulse is most acutely present. Crowd on the athletic opportunities, the mental arithmetic, the verse-learning, the drawing, the botany, or what not, the moment you have reason to think the hour is ripe. The hour may not last long, and while it continues you may safely let all the child's other occupations take a second place. In this way you economize time and deepen skill; for many an infant prodigy, artistic or mathematical, has a flowering epoch of but a few months.

"One can draw no specific rules for all this. It depends on close observation in the particular case, and parents here have a great advantage over teachers. In fact, the law of transitoriness has little chance of individualized application in the schools." - William James Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some of Life's Ideals, 1899.
 The photo above shows a simple technique for cutting excess length of miter keys prior to sanding.

Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

children have bodies...

Photo by Arshia Khan
Bodies are tools for learning. I know I repeat myself. Each breath is a repeat of my last. Last night I woke up from a most lovely dream. I was sleeping on a large porch, overlooking a small quiet street in a lovely community, and I felt at such peace, as though everything in the world was perfect in that moment.

I know many things in the waking world are not that way, and we have not allowed them to be that way, but what if that were the natural way of things and that all else that burdens the world is not the most natural course of human life?

I'm reading Ann Chodakowski and Kieran Egan's paper on "the body's role in our intellectual education." It appears they would agree with earlier observations from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries about how children best learn by doing real things. Even the bits of data that inhabit consciousness are timed and proportioned to the length of human breath, and thus to the body's capacity to exhale breath. No sentence that one would want another man or woman to understand should be longer than what can be said without stopping for breath. And that's about it.

We've chosen dull and empty, disembodied learning for our kids. Chodakowski and Kieran wrote of this as follows:
A strange task we have engaged with since we developed oral language involves our struggle to find ways of capturing and expressing in words our experiences and discoveries about the world. Yet, however quickly it may seem to be accumulating, our store of knowledge is pitifully small. One problem with much early schooling at the moment is that the world is presented to children as a kind of vast encyclopedia, of which they are learning the first elementary bits. In many classrooms, the child is situated as a novice being gradually inducted into our vast realm of knowledge. And, of course, this in part captures what early schooling is about. But “science,” for example, is frequently represented as a relatively prosaic accumulation of facts contained in textbooks, and the set of textbooks line up one after the other through to the final years of schooling, and then even bigger ones grind on through college years. The world, in short, is presented to the child as known, and, for the most part, as rather dull: interior opposite angles are congruent, and a thousand other such theorems, without much sense of their human meaning or importance, can weigh down the spirit during the early years of schooling. Where the wonders of math and science should live energetically and fruitfully in students’ minds these are, for many students today, vast and empty deserts.
Carl Sagan had noted the same problems in that instead of developing critical thinking skills, we hammer science in as though its a dead animal or worse. Hands-on learning, on the other hand, takes trust and imagination. Teachers must be trusted to engage children in lessons that cannot be canned and delivered through books. Even the most exciting forms of digital media fall short when it comes to the length, breadth, depth and weight of real things. Core curriculum and standardized assessment require standardization of lessons, of teaching and of teachers; hands-on learning demands the exact opposite.

On the same subject, one of my readers, JD, sent the following link, A very scary headline about Kindergartners. If educators were paying any attention at all to normal patterns of child development, they would know that in Finland, they wait to teach reading until the child is 8 years old and thence far surpass American children in reading by age 15 in 30% less time. Again, and again I am forced to repeat myself.
Let's not just hold our breath, shocking as things may be. Phrase your sentences to their best effect. Take a watchful vantage point from the front porch, but when you are at peace with things, and with your own body...

Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

the non-academic solution.

Today in the wood shop, I'll be making boxes.

In the halls of academia, if it were any day but Saturday of a long weekend, folks would be thinking hard, trying to figure out how things could have gone so wrong in American education, and how they might be fixed. By Tuesday when academia goes back to work following the President's day weekend, they'll be lined up on both sides with schools in the middle. These same folks, might do better in the wood shop, where the motions of hands might test logic, and offer a new/old direction.

My readers might be interested in having it confirmed that the human body has a role in education, despite the construction of schooling that seems to deny it. This paper by Anne Chodakowski and Kieran Egan supports this rather old and neglected view.

Jean Jacques Rousseau had said, "Put a young man in a work shop, his hands will work to the benefit of his brain, and he will become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman." Did you know that your plumber is a philosopher who can fix pipes? He may not know where Spinoza fits into the order of philosophic progression, and may be made to feel stupid for that reason, but he might have some other more direct wisdom to impart.

From Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886:
It is the most astounding fact of history that education has been confined to abstractions. The schools have taught history, mathematics, language and literature and the sciences to the utter exclusion of the arts, not withstanding the obvious fact that it is through the arts alone that other branches of learning touch human life... In a word, public education stops at the exact point where it should begin to apply the theories it has imparted... At this point the school of mental and manual training combined--the Ideal School--begins; not only books but tools are put in to the hands of the pupil, with this injunction of Comenius; "Let those things that have to be done be learned by doing them."
Also, from Charles H. Hamm:
When it shall have been demonstrated that the highest degree of education results from combining manual with intellectual training, the laborer will feel the pride of a genuine triumph; for the consciousness that every thought-impelled blow educates him, and so raises him in the scale of manhood, will nerve his arm, and fire his brain with hope and courage.
Hamm's theory is the antithesis of Plato, from Divine Dialogs:
"...the simplest and purest way of examining things, is to pursue every particular by thought alone, without offering to support our meditation by seeing or backing our reasonings by any other corporal sense."
To Plato, I offer James' rejoinder: "Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late."--William James, 1902.

There's also the old story of the three philosophers who went for a walk on a starry night. As they walked along contemplating the majesty of the universe, they fell headlong into a drainage ditch. Whether or not they learned anything from the experience is not yet known.

In our local struggle against having a 345 KV powerline thrust by AEP/SWEPCO through our small community, we are waiting for the Public Service Commission to do one of 4 things by Tuesday afternoon.
  1. They can let the judge's ruling stand, thus forcing the power company to build part of its power line in Missouri and face a less friendly set of Missouri (rather than Arkansas) regulators.
  2. They can choose to approve one of the routes that the judge, the commission, the Army Corp of Engineers and the National Park Service found unreasonable.
  3. They can attempt to create a new route by taking bits and pieces of various routes and connecting the dots into something equally objectionable.
  4. They could do the right thing and throw the whole unwarranted application out.
Given the vagary of the of the law, the hunger for corporate profits at the expense of the environment and the pro-industry stance of governmental commissions like the APSC Option 4 is least likely.On this issue, I was quoted today in E&E News as follows:
Doug Stowe, a member of the group and a woodworker who moved to Eureka Springs, Ark., in 1975, said testimony during evidentiary hearings on the project last year demonstrated the transmission line is no longer needed because of a slowdown in electricity demand growth following the recession and a separate reliability project completed by Entergy Corp. He also believes the project is being pursued not to benefit electric reliability in the immediate area but as part of a larger plan to move bulk power through the state.

Make, fix, create, and engage others in doing likewise.

Friday, February 14, 2014

apperception, an example...

I have a friend who has moved to town and is trying to fit in. He cares very deeply about this place. He and his wife were drawn for years to make this place their home, and yet he is having difficulty fitting in and being accepted. I leave his name anonymous, because I care deeply for this individual, and his wife, and nothing would please me more than for their integration into community to be complete.

I am only writing this because it serves as an excellent example of perception, apperception, and the path of learning that was pointed out by Herbart.

My friend told of going to the auto mechanic. The mechanic told him that it would cost him $300.00 to get the parts to fix his car. He simply asked, "Is there a less expensive way to fix it." The mechanic took that question as an affront... that my friend was questioning his authority, or even his honesty. The mechanic became angry. Another mechanic walking by overheard the conversation, and immediately threw out another solution that would only cost $60.00. My friend was left wondering why he got such a strong negative response from the first mechanic, and so cooperative a response from the other.

All this comes down to perception and apperception,  and the difference between the two. What we immediately take in through the senses is quickly processed in the mind and compared with past events, and interests in the development of apperception.

Apperception can either facilitate an expanding relationship, or it can shut things down, leading the participants to a state of withdrawal or even anger.

My friend, wanting to fit in, but also wanting to get his car fixed, asked a simple question. The first mechanic, not knowing him,  gave short shrift. Perhaps he reminded him of a customer with whom he had trouble in the past, or perhaps he had just walked away from another difficult customer and didn't want to be bothered to give more time than was given in his first analysis. In any case, many of our reactions to each other are not based on what we see before our very eyes, but on other patterns, conscious and unconscious with which our immediate perceptions are compared.

There are distinct ways that apperception serves the socialization process. In our good friends, we can easily overlook immediate perceptions. Old and dear friends see each other in a cloud of responsive apperception, that is infused not only with what their eyes and ears see and hear, but with a fabric woven of past experience that allows for appropriate (or inappropriate) interpretation of perception.

In all this, those who linger in small communities and consistently show concern for each other become woven into the warp and weft of community life. It requires sacrifice, and it takes patience.

On a simpler matter, that being the education of our children, perception and apperception come into play. Otto Salomon had said that education should start with the interests of the child. If you don't have that child's interest in the first place, a sense of resistance naturally ensues, and children's minds and attentions close down. In order for effective education to proceed. A child's interest must be kept. The formula is simple. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.
Today in the wood shop, I've been working on lift lid boxes with secret compartments. It is also the time of year in which I begin production of my usual product line of small boxes for gallery sales. The bodies of my lift lid boxes are shown above.

Make, fix, create, and inspire and instruct.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Herbartian education.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (May 4, 1776 – August 14, 1841) was a German philosopher, psychologist, and founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline. As such, he was influenced by Pestalozzi and of influence to early educators including Froebel. Herbart was a frail child due to an unfortunate childhood accident and “he barely saw the world outside his study and the classrooms” making “his world the world of books and only books”. And yet, because of or in spite of his own situation, he became interested in how we learn and how we observe and assess reality.

Herbart's Concept of the Real, from Wikipedia...
Building upon the teaching methods of Pestalozzi, Herbart contributed to pedagogy a psychological basis to help facilitate better learning as well as to ensure children’s character development. He was the first individual to point out how important a role psychology plays on education. In developing his ideas about psychology, Herbart came to disagree with Kant about how true knowledge is obtained. Kant believed that we become knowledgeable through studying the innate categories of thought, while Herbart believed that one learns only from studying external and real objects in the world as well as the ideas that come about from observing them. Examining the difference between the actual existence of an object and its appearance, Herbart concluded that “the world is a world of things-in-themselves, [and] the things-in-themselves are perceivable. ”Everything’s appearance indicates that it exists. He considered all external objects existing in the world as reals, which can be compared to Leibniz's concept of monads.
There is actually very little new under the sun, and when it comes to educational theory, folks are continually claiming to have reinvented the wheel. The academic arguments as to the fundamental nature of reality, and the gulf between the language base interpretation of reality, and the actual reality as it can be perceived, have gone on and on, and have impact on the design of education. Is it OK for children to be simply indulged in fantasy and conjecture derived from reading, and the presentation of ideas by others through lecture, written material or web based second hand information, or should children be involved in direct investigation of reality? 

I choose the latter.

The following is from William James, 1902: "Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late."

Make, fix, create and encourage others to do likewise...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hebartian principles

Today in the Clear Spring School my primary school students worked on their wooden dinosaurs. My middle school students began work on independent projects. I had a conversation with a publisher about two books, Making Froebel's Gifts, and Wisdom of the Hands.

In my reading I am moving back and forth between two books, William James Talks with Teachers on Psychology, and Klemm's book on European Schools in the 19th century. Both make mention of Herbart and his principles of education.
“Any object not interesting in itself may become interesting through becoming associated with an object in which an interest already exists. The two associated objects grow, as it were, together: the interesting portion sheds its quality over the whole; and thus things not interesting in their own right borrow an interest which becomes as real and as strong as that of any natively interesting thing. The odd circumstance is that the borrowing does not impoverish the source, the objects taken together being more interesting, perhaps, than the originally interesting portion was by itself.

This is one of the most striking proofs of the range of application of the principle of association of ideas in psychology. An idea will infect another with its own emotional interest when they have become both associated together into any sort of a mental total. As there is no limit to the various associations into which an interesting idea may enter, one sees in how many ways an interest may be derived.

You will understand this abstract statement easily if I take the most frequent of concrete examples,—the interest which things borrow from their connection with our own personal welfare. The most natively interesting “principle of association of ideas in psychology. An idea will infect another with its own emotional interest when they have become both associated together into any sort of a mental total. As there is no limit to the various associations into which an interesting idea may enter, one sees in how many ways an interest may be derived. ...This is the psychological meaning of the Herbartian principle of 'preparation' for each lesson, and of correlating the new with the old. It is the psychological meaning of that whole method of concentration in studies of which you have been recently hearing so much. When the geography and English and history and arithmetic simultaneously make cross-references to one another, you get an interesting set of processes all along the line.” - William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals.
The following is from Richard Lewis Klemm:
There are two ways of smoothing a board — the hand-plane and the planing-machine. I should trust my dexterity in handicraft to make use of a hand-plane, but I should hesitate to use the planing-machine with its destructive cutter-heads that make three thousand to four thousand revolutions a minute. I should hesitate to risk the board as little as my fingers to that most efficient and useful device. It is even so with the Herbartian practice. It is most intricate, yet withal so wonderfully simple that one can not but stand in mute astonishment when seeing it applied. The essential idea underlying the practice is this: Every thing taught during a day, a week, a month, a year, should all be organically connected. In the center of all stands a "Gesinnungs-Stoff" (a matter appealing to the heart and interest). - Richard Lewis Klemm, European Schools: Or, What I Saw in the Schools of Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland, 1888
Klemm proceeded to describe an example of what modern educators would call integrated thematic instruction, in which a single research project would include content meeting learning needs in a variety of subject areas.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do so.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

school as museum, museum as school.

In yesterday's post, I quoted from Klemm's book on European Schools in the 19th century about the Local School Museum. Object teaching is important in engaging children in learning, helping them to have a sense of their own heritage, and given the right objects, and right curatorial use of those objects establishes a sense of direction for cultural development. Museums are the repository in which a sense of our own future can be found. Any proposition that does not allow for the past is offered in error. As I've stated before in the blog, 2 points form a line, but if you understand the order in which the points were laid, a vector is formed. Children thrust into high technology without a foundation from the long history of human culture will have little or no sense of what's most important for our development and have no sense of what's most precious from our past.

The video above shows Henry Ford Academy, a charter school built on the grounds of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. I visited there very briefly in 2010 for a meeting of the hand tribe, and to attend the Detroit Maker Faire. This video shows how the HFI design thinking concept works. Imagine having the Henry Ford Museum as the launching point for your problem solving endeavors?  If museums are not consulted in our cultural experimentation, how can we possibly avoid the excesses and failures of the past?

Make, fix, create... help others to do so.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Object teaching

This is a Texas woodshop from the 1800s.
The following is from European Schools: Or, What I Saw in the Schools of Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland, 1888, by Richard Lewis Klemm. It describes the back and forth of things, how education can move from one extreme to the other. In the US, we seem to be on the far extreme when it comes to object teachng, having forgotten the value of learning from real things.
Local School Museums.

The teacher who presides over a school in a small German town or village is a fixture, and naturally the custodian of the school museum. Most German schools have a museum — that is, a book-case or two full of books, and many shelves full of objects necessary for illustrating the instruction in natural history, geography, physics, etc.

There was a time in Germany when the principle of object-teaching electrified every schoolmaster from the Rhine to the Vistula and from the Baltic to the Alps. It was thought that objective teaching was the panacea for all educational diseases. All order and system was abandoned, and objects were brought into the school-room till it looked like a pawnbroker's shop. No broken horseshoe was left lying in the street; old boots were eagerly gathered for the leather they yielded; no ant's hill was safe from the destructive hand that gathered ants' eggs, and the life of every snail innocently creeping across the road was imperiled. Every thing was carried into school — animals, plants, and minerals. There the objects that would keep were neatly labeled, numbered, classified, and stored up.

The children had good times then. The paper boxes, moles' skeletons, minerals, stuffed birds, samples of wood, dried plants, and the like, went from hand to hand, and, to be sure, half a school-day was often passed in contemplating the treasures of the museum; and the teacher quieted his conscience by thinking this to be an object-lesson. The children were also taken to observe the cabinet-maker; they went to the locksmith's shop; watched the shoemaker and tanner at their work; they "studied" all the different kinds of leather, wool, wood, cloth, and metal; they knew the name of every tool — in short, they failed to see the woods on account of the multitude of trees!

Now, this was a craze. Today the fever has abated considerably. A reaction followed, and to-day the school-children in some places have not the remotest idea how a mill or a foundry looks inside, how the weaver works, and the tanner and the furrier, etc. The museum in some schools has been moved to the garret, and all the many objects of interest lead a contemplative existence in closed boxes on shelves and under a cover of dust.

If the teacher needs a mineral, or an air-pump, or the Leyden-jars, he is obliged to give a week's notice to the janitor, so that he may search for the objects and make them presentable. The swallow's nest and the ostrich-egg yawn at each other. The miniature plow rests securely in the lap of a miniature spinning-wheel, and both play the role of The Sleeping Beauty. The spiders have covered the mole's skeleton neatly with their fine threads, and the dust has changed the nets into a gray skin. To be sure, it is a dreary spectacle. As the first wild craze was one extreme, this indifference is the other.

On the whole, it may be said that the pendulum swinging backward and forward is sure to come to rest at the point of a golden mean; and, so long as the teachers are secure in their positions, the moss gathered in the form of museum collections for the benefit of rational objective teaching will accumulate. When I compare the utter absence of any thing like museums or libraries in our schools, I heave a sigh; but, when I recollect the insecurity of position under which our teachers in America are suffering, I can see a complete chain of cause and effect.
When I was in Florida last week, I met the next door neighbor who is retiring after teaching nearly 50 years. She talked about how in her early career, she was trusted more by the administration, and that over the years, all opportunities for creativity have been extracted from her work. She had started out teaching Kindergarten and in recent years has been a reading specialist. One of her supervisors was surprised to discover that she had a piano in her room. "I use it," she insisted to the supervisor's surprise. She mentioned the bulletin boards that at one time made classrooms beautiful, but that teachers are no longer given time for. There appears to be none of the balance that Klemm hoped might arise in American schools. The woodshop photo above is from the Pioneer Museum, Fredericksburg, Texas. Other photos can be found in Sawdust Soup.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 09, 2014

drawing and seeing...

drawings used to enhance powers of observation
I've been reading about European schooling in the 19th century, European Schools: Or, What I Saw in the Schools of Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland, 1888, by Richard Lewis Klemm, an American reporter who had toured Europe in the 1880 for the purpose of acquainting the American audience with European schools and methods of education. Klemm described two very important ways in which European education at that time differed from what kids get in the US today. First it, was hands-on in nearly every nation, with each offering manual arts training for men and women. Secondly, most schools placed a heavy emphasis on drawing as a way of learning and seeing accurately and in detail.

The loss of drawing in school is a particular concern. Through drawing children learn to become astute in their observations, to see clearly and to represent accurately. If a picture is worth a thousand words, we're crippling our children's powers of observation and expression by not having them draw. It's like having their hands tied behind their backs. Skill in observation that comes from drawing applies to engineering, math, science, medicine, each and every trade and every construction or manufacturing endeavor. The object of drawing is not to become artists, but to see with some degree of accuracy and truth. These days having the capacity to observe real life is far less important to educators than is the ability to read the second-hand recorded observations of others, and then filling out bubbles on standardized tests as evidence of what students have "learned." It has gotten to the point that if we can't measure it to the nth degree, we don't bother to teach it. Compare that with what Klemm found in Europe.
Nowhere in Europe do I find daily marking of lessons resorted to. The teachers are not marking-machines, but are earnestly engaged in teaching, helping, suggesting, asking, directing, watching, etc. There is a total absence of that detestable immoral competition which so often plays havoc with our pupils in America. Reports (Zeugnisse, testimonials) are sent home at the close of every term; but they express the grades of the pupils in such terms as very good, good, satisfactory, poor, very poor, or similar ones. The prevalence of such terms as "very good" and "excellent" stamps the report No. 1. If the greater number of submarks is good and mediocre, it is called No. 2, and so on. Reports such as are given out in America, that express shades of differences by tenths of a per cent, are wholly unknown here.
Klemm's book is fascinating and would be useful to modern educators if they were open to understanding the value of history. Instead, they're tying to find new ways for iPads to take over the odious task of getting kids involved in further distraction from real life.

In my reading last night I got to the point in the book at which Uno Cygnaeus death in Finland had occurred. Klemm recognized Cygnaeus (as no educators continue to do) as the father of an educational awakening. But the world went back to sleep.

Today, I will be getting work ready for school tomorrow. The children and I lost a whole week of school due to snow and ice. Continuing weather conditions may cause us to lose one more day. In the event that school will be happening, I must be ready for it.

In my home wood shop, I am beginning work on an article for American Woodworker, and must get my outline and photo shot list off to the editors for their consideration.

Make, fix, create... do not deprive your children and grandchildren of the encouragement to do likewise.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

"we don't want any lazy-bones," 1888

carving samples from Leipsic
Schools all over the world are being standardized and homogenized, and that was not the case in 1889. Richard Lewis Klemm, an American reporter, toured Europe in the 1880's and supplied this book, European Schools: Or, What I Saw in the Schools of Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland, 1888. It is available free for a range of reading devices here.

Instead of standardizing American education, each teacher should be learning something from the past, and be allowed to experiment and learn from it. But that's not likely to happen. The following is a translation of text printed on a placard at the Leipsic Manual Training School and should be shared with those boys who are today trapped in schooling.
"Listen to what we have to say, boys. It concerns every true boy. Every one of you who wants to become a true man likes to watch diligent workmen and wishes to do like them — that is to say, use the hammer and hatchet, the tweezers and gimlet, the plane and saw, the file and rasp, the bolt and solder, the blow-pipe, the modeling-tool and carving-knife, etc. Every boy who is a real boy tries to use these tools. He will find opportunities to do so in our manual training-school.

"We don't want to make artisans of you, for your leisure hours would not suffice for that; but we want to make you more skillful and clever than boys usually are. How many can drive a nail without hitting their fingers? How many can make kites that balance and fly well? How many, when the skates get shaky on the ice, can help themselves and need not run to the locksmith? Yes, many of you can not even point a pencil well, or put a wrapper around a school-book without making it look clumsy.

"Your parents mean to benefit you when they present you with a tool box at Christmas. How many of such boxes are shoved into the corner, where the tools rust and the box is covered with dust? You must have some one who teaches you how to use tools. Or you get a scroll-saw, and, after breaking a number of saw-blades, you succeed in sawing out of cigar-box boards a few clumsy patterns. Then you go to a joiner to have them glued and adjusted. He is the one who does the real work. Yet you give these things away as your work. It isn't right, boys! It can't be right!

"We must talk plainly, boys. Most of you do not know how to use tools. That needs to be learned. Most of you spend too much time in reading, and spoiling their precious eye-sight. When you are called to do a manual job for your mothers, you are at a loss how to go at it. Oh, what would have become of you had you been in Robinson Crusoe's place? You would have perished miserably. Come, boys, think of it!

Things should be different. When school is over and home tasks are done, a true boy spends an hour happily on the playground and in summer takes a bath in the river. In winter he may learn to work with his hands at the work-bench and the vise. After many hours of brain-work he uses his strength in planing and sawing, hammering and chiseling. He learns to see and admire lines of beauty in drawing, and working out his drawings in models. He furnishes models in clay and carves wood. He makes physical experiments, and works neat Christmas presents for his dear ones at home.

"And when, outside, the winter storms rage and the snow-flakes fall, our pupils come together in a warm room and work like good fellows to produce something, and laugh, chat, and sing in company, while book worms sit in corners like hermits. Our pupils have had such pleasures for several years. Come and join us.

But, remember, we don't want any 'lazy-bones.' If any of you like to shirk work, and after a few weeks, when the work gets harder, thinks he has a toothache, or perchance some other ache, don't let him come. We don't want him. We want diligent boys. All who like to work are welcome. Ask your parents. They will allow you to come for an hour or two where they know you are well looked after.

"Life is full of work, boys, now more than ever. Prepare for it. A true man learns to help himself, and we will show you how. So come, and be welcomed by The Masters of the Training-School."
One thing you'll note about education in Europe would be how so many schools placed strong emphasis on hands-on learning and particularly drawing, which was found useful in the study of geography and science as well as the manual arts, engineering and math.

Make, fix, create and teach others to do so.

Friday, February 07, 2014

article in Lovely County Citizen.

I had a visitor form the Lovely County Citizen in the school wood shop last week and the results came out in the Thursday paper. The Wisdom of the Hands, Teacher Crafts Lessons in Wood,written by Jennifer Jackson.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a writer working on a book about how to become a successful woodworker. My own success is based largely on my choice of community, and my involvement in it. It is of absolute importance that a craftsman find a place where his or her work can be understood and appreciated.

Unfortunately, hand crafted work in the US is rarely understood, and most often undervalued. If you've not attempted to make something of useful beauty on your own, you'll not know the value of works produced by others.

Make, fix and create... demonstrate what you've learned so that others may enjoy the same gifts.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

defining character...

If character is one of that things that children should  develop in school and in life, how do we define it? It is not a simple thing. Character demands that a child be able to work alone on a goal until it is completed to a level of satisfaction that meets both the child's expectations and those shared within a larger group. At the same time, character requires children be able to work effectively with others in complex teamwork. They must be able to put aside their own immediate concerns and impulses to work effectively with others. Real life requires children to put their own needs and inclinations aside to work for a higher good. Why should schools demand anything less? In order to do that, they must have developed a number of interpersonal skills and understanding of themselves and an interpretive foundation for understanding others.

These are aspects of character that are seldom measured in school grades and never by standardized test performance, but that will be measured as performance when children are suddenly thrust against the wall of expectations in the real world.

Wood shops in schools offer students the opportunity to work independently, developing follow thru and self-reliance. They also offer the opportunity of working cooperatively with others.

The fact that we learn best when we learn hands-on, is no mystery to most folks. It is no surprise. It has been proven in research, that children learn best and to greatest lasting effect when they learn hands-on. Nearly anyone who's learned anything with any depth can describe the effectiveness of learning hands-on. The only true surprise is that educators fail to make use of that which we know to be true. And perhaps it is the shift in character that accompanies hands-on learning that lends it the greatest effect. When you have been changed by an experience of learning, you are most likely to remember it.

Unfortunately waste and the excesses of consumer culture have become the defining character of our nation. It's what we teach in too many schools. iFixit calls for a revolution. I echo their call.

Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

back in Arkansas, welcome to snow...

I have returned to Arkansas from West Palm Beach, Florida, having missed days of snow and cold. Arriving home we had about 6 inches of undisturbed snow on our gravel drive.

From what I've heard, our winter is far from over yet. We expect some snow tomorrow and then more next week.

Woodworking education was said to build both the character and intellect of its pupils, but what was meant by character? Is it something that one might easily define? And for each individual? William James said the following:
“But let us now close in a little more closely on this matter of the education of the will. Your task is to build up a character in your pupils; and a character, as I have so often said, consists in an organized set of habits of reaction. Now of what do such habits of reaction themselves consist? They consist of tendencies to act characteristically when certain ideas possess us, and to refrain characteristically when possessed by other ideas.” -- William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899
I guess that's about the best you can get from a psychologist. But I think most of us can recognize character in the characteristics of moral behavior... that is, behavior that considers the interests of others, as nearly on par with the interests of self. It is my suspicion that most children, having once been given the opportunity to serve others in some way, however small, will seek to repeat that service for the sake of both the recognition it offers and the sense of power and purpose that it displays. When children in Educational Sloyd were given the skills to produce something of value and usefulness in their homes or in their communities, they got something from it, becoming thus transformed in self image from children to makers and craftsmen.

 Make, fix, create, and help others to find their own character in craftsmanship...

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

man, the practical being...

", whatever else he may be, is primarily a practical being, whose mind is given him to aid in adapting him to this world's life.” -- William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899.
I have been in South Florida with my deceased brother-in-law's extended family, and watching the interaction between generations. Matti Bergström had said that human culture must arise anew with each succeeding generation. Life's lessons are learned most thoroughly when they are delivered by experience rather than dictation. And so it is interesting to observe generations at work. I will be home in Arkansas tomorrow and am pleased to have the wood shop awaiting me.

When I've been away for a few days and have returned home,  I can turn on the jointer and feel as a coarse board becomes smooth to the touch. The sense of home and security that thus arises in me, is tactile. We are lessened in character, and demeanor when we are placed out of context, and being out of context for even a short time, can bring renewed joy when we are home again.

Make, fix and create... help others to do likewise. Your example may suffice.

Monday, February 03, 2014


Last night, I had a dream that I was in the wood shop at school attempting to get the kids to study their language and understand the importance of vocabulary. They really wanted to do wood working instead. And I learned something from it. As children have had so much pressure applied to them having to do with learning to read and their enjoyment of words and language has been nipped in the bud, they will necessarily apply themselves more fully to active rather than passive learning opportunities. William James wrote about the importance of language in education as follows, but during a time in which the power of early object teaching was becoming well known and widely accepted.
This general order of sequence is followed traditionally of course in the schoolroom. It is foreign to my purpose to do more than indicate that general psychological principle of the successive order of awakening of the faculties on which the whole thing rests. I have spoken of it already, apropos of the transitoriness of instincts. Just as many a youth has to go permanently without an adequate stock of conceptions of a certain order, because experiences of that order were not yielded at the time when new curiosity was most acute, so it will conversely happen that many another youth is spoiled for a certain subject of study (although he would have enjoyed it well if led into it at a later age) through having had it thrust upon him so prematurely that disgust was created, and the bloom quite taken off from future trials. I think I have seen college students unfitted forever for 'philosophy' from having taken that study up a year too soon. In all these later studies, verbal material is the vehicle by which the mind thinks.

The abstract conceptions of physics and sociology may, it is true, be embodied in visual or other images they need not be so; and the truth remains that, after adolescence has begun, "words, words, words," must constitute a large part, and an always larger part as life advances, of what the human being has to learn. This is so even in the natural sciences, so far as these are causal and rational, and not merely confined to description. So I go back to what I said awhile ago apropos of verbal memorizing. The more accurately words are learned, the better, if only the teacher make sure that what they signify is also understood. It is the failure of this latter condition, in so much of the old-fashioned recitation, that has caused that reaction against 'parrot-like reproduction' that we are so familiar with to-day.”

“Our modern reformers, in their books, write too exclusively of the earliest years of the pupil. These lend themselves better to explicit treatment; and I myself, in dwelling so much upon the native impulses, and object-teaching, and anecdotes, and all that, have paid my tribute to the line of least resistance in describing. Yet away back in childhood we find the beginnings of purely intellectual curiosity, and the intelligence of abstract terms. The object-teaching is mainly to launch the pupils, with some concrete conceptions of the facts concerned, upon the more abstract ideas. William James, Talks to Teachers, 1899.
How many students are "unfitted" for reading by the pressures we apply well before the second grade? It seems that the love of language and the learning of the precise meaning of words and their power is a thing that comes best, not through force but through a more natural unfolding of interests, that we've nipped in the bud by pressuring children to disavow reading.

In New Zealand, one school has discovered that getting rid of playground rules has given the children the greater opportunity for growth and eliminated many of their previous school problems.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study just over a year ago saying that recess — unstructured, outdoor play during the school day — is just as important to student achievement as reading or math class.
Read the article here. On another subject, I am currently in Florida for my brother in law's funeral. His brother was telling me last night that he has just about given up on box making due to how hard it is to make a box. He'd tried and his results were self appraised as crap. His life as a lawyer may have unfitted him for the manual arts, but I was tempted to ask whether he had as yet read any of my books and followed instructions, as I might make things much easier for him.

Make, fix and create... give others the opportunity to do likewise.

Sunday, February 02, 2014


I was hoping to put the SWEPCO power line issue behind me for a few days while I attend my brother in law's funeral in Florida, but things keep happening fast.

AEP/SWEPCO has begun a telephone survey in my county to find out how we feel about their monstrous proposal. No doubt, they will try to use it for monstrous purposes, but if they'd been listening, they would have known already and would have abandoned the project before doing such damage to their own reputations and credibility.

 The stupidity and arrogance of American corporations can be mind boggling.
“Deep in our own nature the biological foundations of our consciousness persist, undisguised and undiminished. Our sensations are here to attract us or to deter us, our memories to warn or encourage us, our feelings to impel, and our thoughts to restrain our behavior, so that on the whole we may prosper and our days be long in the land. Whatever of transmundane metaphysical insight or of practically inapplicable æsthetic perception or ethical sentiment we may carry in our interiors might at this rate be regarded as only part of the incidental excess of function that necessarily accompanies the working of every complex machine. I shall ask you now—not meaning at all thereby to close the theoretic question, but merely because it seems to me the point of view likely to be of greatest practical use to you as teachers—to adopt with me, in this course of lectures, the biological conception, as thus expressed, and to lay your own emphasis on the fact that man, whatever else he may be, is primarily a practical being, whose mind is given him to aid in adapting him to this world's life.” -- William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals, 1899.
By divorcing our students attention from the natural world that once surrounded them, we leave them out of touch, not only with the world itself held intellectually at bay, but having deprived them of  the capacity to understand themselves within it. Kindergarten was not just about the gifts and occupations. It was also about engagement in nature, and in understanding the gifts of providence that must be held sacred. Children were to learn their own capacities interconnectedness with all life through the gifts of story, music, gardening, and through engagement in the natural world and in community. They would become integrated into higher purpose and respect for community, the nation, the environment and each other.

By neglecting these things, we get to the point at which a huge American corporation like AEP/SWEPCO can propose projects that are destructive of the communities they affect and self-destructive in that all common folks, with any form of self-respect and understanding rise up against them. Making objects of useful beauty was the means that early educators discovered to be an ideal education in which children developed both character and intellect. The message is a simple one and that I repeat.

 Make, fix, create and help others to do likewise...

Saturday, February 01, 2014

the senses, apperception, the arts and science...

One of the things we can learn about the way children learn (if we pay attention) is that if they don't draw, they don't see as well as they might if they did. The mind sees things as a mixture of visual perception and symbolic interpretation. And it is the challenge of drawing with some degree of accuracy that brings a child to become an accurate observer whether in science or in the arts.

For instance Onfim's drawings of his family show huge hands and heads on much smaller torsos. His father's hands show extra fingers, and his own vision of himself as a powerful warrior on horseback is equal parts fantasy and visual illusion.
William James said the following about manual arts training...
“The most colossal improvement which recent years have seen in secondary education lies in the introduction of the manual training schools; not because they will give us a people more handy and practical for domestic life and better skilled in trades, but because they will give us citizens with an entirely different intellectual fibre. Laboratory work and shop work engender a habit of observation, a knowledge of the difference between accuracy and vagueness, and an insight into nature's complexity and into the inadequacy of all abstract verbal accounts of real phenomena, which once wrought into the mind, remain there as lifelong possessions. They confer precision; because, if you are doing a thing, you must do it definitely right or definitely wrong. They give honesty; for, when you express yourself by making things, and not by using words, it becomes impossible to dissimulate your vagueness or ignorance by ambiguity. They beget a habit of self-reliance; they keep the interest and attention always cheerfully engaged, and reduce the teacher's disciplinary functions to a minimum.

Of the various systems of manual training, so far as woodwork is concerned, the Swedish Sloyd system, if I may have an opinion on such matter”-- William James. “Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals.”
Without experience in real life, folks can believe damn near anything they want, and can act on the basis of words in ways that present unforeseen and disastrous consequences. The skills of observation that result from training in the arts, offer increased capacity in the understanding of science. In the SWEPCO debacle, the power company has finally launched a public opinion survey by phone to learn whether or not we really care what they do to us. As though how we feel suddenly matters to them... I hope they are getting ready to pull the plug on their disastrous proposal. Needless to say, there is nothing they can do or say to set things right apart from abandoning the project and offering their deepest and most sincere apologies for having proposed it in the first place. Make, fix, create, and teach others to do so.