Friday, November 28, 2014


Protests over the events of Ferguson, Missouri have spread throughout the world, with protests now taking place in London and other cities. Ferguson is not an isolated problem, but rather one with deep roots in the moral culture. A boy steals, a cop kills him dead with twelve shots. A protest erupts and the cops and local administration leave the dead boy lying in the streets for hours. Further protests are completely mishandled by the police who respond to citizens' concerns by bringing in tear gas, troops in full body armor and armored personnel carriers. After a time of relative quiet as folks wait for justice, a trial is held in which the grand jury found the cop innocent of wrongdoing. Further protests erupted, just as one would expect. And finger pointers on both sides explode in the media and on the web.

The following is from Robert Keable Row in The Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, 1909.
A very large number of children now have but little in the way of manual occupation or responsibility, still less of systematic training (in doing real things), in the home. Out of school hours they play, read, practice music (all of which is good), but they do not learn to work with their hands. There can be no question that a training that gives a boy or girl a sense of ability to control material things, that leads to frequent experience of satisfaction through producing something worth while is a great moral force. The new industrial and social conditions demand that this training be given in schools.
...If pupils are trained to use good materials, to measure and weigh accurately, to do work that will bear inspection inside and out; if the training leads them to see and appreciate the difference between sincerity and sham, it cannot fail to develop moral fibers of genuine integrity. This is the more certain because, while pretence in a recitation is elusive, in handwork the product stands with more or less permanence to commend or condemn.
In the 60's it was decided that creative hand work would only be offered to those not going to college. Then it was decided by powers that be that every child must be destined to college, and pushed there whether he or she was interested in further academic work or not. And so we faced a huge drop-out rate in American high schools. Gradually, shop classes and home economics were phased out as being unnecessary to our nation's kids. Machines and foreign workers would take on all aspects of production, so skilled hands were no longer of vital interest to our nation's leaders. Wood shops and auto shops were considered high risk, too high a risk even for those kids who were designated as "high risk." And so by these days, we have virtually eliminated the manual arts from our schools, even in those places where they are needed most.

Can you begin to grasp the stupidity of all that? Woodworking in schools was originally promoted for two reasons. One was that our nation needed skilled hands (and we still need those hands.) The other was that our students needed moral fiber, that came through the exercise of their hands in the crafting of beautiful and useful things. The real value of the student's work, as described by Otto Salomon was not in the object made but in the students. The true product of craftsmanship lies within the moral fiber of our citizenry. And so we come back to Ferguson, Missouri.

I would simply remind my readers that craftsmanship is a moral force that self-replicates when it is nurtured. Children are drawn to exercise it when given the opportunity to nourish themselves through it. If we want to improve society and remove the risk of the destructive forces of misunderstanding and contempt, we must empower our children's creative capacities. Robert Keable Row had noted that
"The movement to make training in certain industries part of school work is at least 400 years old. Martin Luther advocated it as a means of moral reform, pointing out that skill and industrious habits conduce self-respect, self-reliance, and self-support, and that inefficiency leads to idleness, and idleness to vice and crime. This view was urged by many moral and religious reformers in different countries for many years."
But less than a generation of educational "reform" removed those opportunities for manual arts training from most schools.

We have Shiva, the god of destructive transformation on one hand, and human creativity on the other. We choose what we get, one or the other.

History shows the value of manual arts and industries as means of human development. -Robert Keable Row, 1909

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:55 AM

    I grew up in St. Louis. The situation there is complex, with generations of families growing up in hopeless poverty, boxed in by prejudice and lack of opportunity.

    Like you, I can't help wondering if opportunities to learn skills and ply a trade wouldn't nudge things in a more positive direction.