Thursday, July 17, 2014


noun: prowess
  1. skill or expertise in a particular activity or field.
    "his prowess as a fisherman"
    synonyms:skill, expertise, mastery, facility, ability, capability, capacity, savoir faire, talent, genius, adeptness, aptitude, dexterity, deftness, competence, accomplishment, proficiency, finesse.
    "his prowess as a winemaker"
    antonyms:inability, ineptitude
  2. bravery in battle.
    synonyms:courage, bravery, gallantry, valor, heroism, intrepidity, nerve, pluck, pluckiness, feistiness, boldness, daring, audacity, fearlessness.
    informalguts, spunk, moxie, grit, sand
    "the knight's prowess in battle"
Prowess is a thing we gain from the experience of doing real things. And yet we design schools on the basis of pretense. Pretending to get ready to do real things, when the simple and direct approach would be to enter children into activities of real life.

Last night I was reading about Felix Adler's role in building one of the first free Kindergartens in New York City. His Kindergarten was quickly expanded to become the Workingman's School, later to become one of the most prestigious private schools in New York. At a lecture in Buffalo, Adler described a meeting with an aging poet, who I'd suspected was Walt Whitman*. The poet turned to him and said,
"That is all very well. I like your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?"
And Adler asks, "Is this civilization of ours turning out men--manly men and womanly women?" 
There are values of character that come from hands-on learning that our schools neglect and that our children so desperately need. Will those who have been raised without skill except in an academic and financial realm know how to create opportunities for students to gain skills and prowess in our nation's schools? Walt Whitman wrote the following:
The Sacredness of Work
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular.
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers--Paeans and praises to Him! -- Walt Whitman 
The truest feelings of self worth, come from the experience of usefulness to others.

Richard Bazeley sent a photo of his student's exercises in carving wooden spheres. The steps before smoothing lead to a polyhedron shape that Leonardo had illustrated as shown at left and developed in the photo at the top.

Make, fix, create.

*When asked about Adler's quote of the "aging poet," Walt Whitman said, "I guess that's me: and it is very kindly and friendly, isn't it?"

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