Thursday, March 20, 2014

That we learn best from (our own) discovery...

I am currently reading John Dewey for inspiration, and his words from an unexplored continent that reinforces common sense derived from my study of the manual arts.

John Dewey's book School and Society had enormous influence at the beginning of the 20th century, and Dewey noted the incredible economic and societal changes that were taking place due to the industrial revolution. These days, enormous social and societal changes are taking place to to the computer, digital device revolution. And so we must look back over one century ago for guidance on how to maintain a society and the intelligence and character of citizens in that society. It may not make sense that we do so for those who think they learn best only from what others say to them. But as they say, there is nothing new under the sun. We may have new devices, but the length of a thought is no longer than the length of a sentence and the sentence is no longer at best than a human breath, and we can learn from a re-discovery of John Dewey. His books are like a forgotten continent of education.

We are what our bodies make us, and having digital devices may connect us in new ways, but they do little to actually change who we are as human beings. Let's see what we can learn from an earlier time.
Back of the factory system lies the household and neighborhood system. Those of us who are here today need go back only one, two, or at most three generations, to find a time when the household was practically the center in which were carried on, or about which were clustered, all the typical forms of industrial occupation. The clothing worn was for the most part made in the house; the members of the household were usually familiar also with the shearing of the sheep, the carding and spinning of the wool, and the plying of the loom. Instead of pressing a button and flooding the house with electric light, the whole process of getting illumination was followed in its toilsome length from the killing of the animal and the trying of fat to the making of wicks and dipping of candles. The supply of flour, of lumber, of foods, of building materials, of household furniture, even of metal ware, of nails, hinges, hammers, etc., was produced in the immediate neighborhood, in shops which were constantly open to inspection and often centers of neighborhood congregation. The entire industrial process stood revealed, from the production on the farm of the raw materials till the finished article was actually put to use. Not only this, but practically every member of the household had his own share in the work. The children, as they gained in strength and capacity, were gradually initiated into the mysteries of the several processes. It was a matter of immediate and personal concern, even to the point of actual participation. We cannot overlook the factors of discipline and of character-building involved in this kind of life: training in habits of order and of industry, and in the idea of responsibility, of obligation to do something, to produce something, in the world. There was always something which really needed to be done, and a real necessity that each member of the household should do his own part faithfully and in co-operation with others. -- John Dewey, School and Society, 1899
From an educational policy angle, we have become such a nation of idiots. At one time our brains and hands were full of creative possibility through which we developed and exercised both intellect and character, but we have become overly dependent in too many cases on the checklist of information contained within our devices and the servers to which they are connected. The maker movement is one of the ways that Americans are attempting to regain our creative inclination, that was dulled blunt by our schooling. There will be a Mini-Maker Faire in New Orleans April 5. It seems that what kids don't get in homes or school anymore has to be stimulated by others, and the natural inclination of children to make and create is irrepressible if once recognized, encouraged and launched.

On another subject, I recognized an article in the Lee Valley Newsletter as being from one of my students at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Making a box for some special tools.

Make, fix and create...

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