Wednesday, December 31, 2014

a big day for the new year...

Yesterday the multi-billion dollar corporation, AEP/SWEPCO admitted defeat by their withdrawal of their application to build a 345 kV power line through my home town of Eureka Springs, AR. Some readers may remember that they proposed one alternate route to pass within 75 feet of my deck and that would require a 150 foot wide clear cut of our 11 acre woods from one end to the other.

So, with other citizens, we formed a not-for-profit corporation (Save the Ozarks) to fight it, and them before the Arkansas Public Service Commission. While SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool claimed the power line was needed for growth and reliability, we proved that there was no growth, and that the power line which would have quintupled area power supply was not needed for reliability as claimed.

Yesterday the Southwest Power Pool and SWEPCO admitted the power line was not needed and withdrew their application . This is a big deal in Arkansas, and may help those fighting similar power lines to take heart. A small group of dedicated individuals can work wonders. Our local US congressman, overly friendly to industry, had dismissed our concerns by claiming that SWEPCO would simply "out lawyer us." They did not.

It is not that often that a small group of individuals is able to do what we've managed to do. I mention it because there are some lessons that can be learned. State your true values clearly and stick to them. Money has less persuasive power than the truth. Fight relentlessly, but honorably, and enlist the power of friends. We are always stronger when we go into battle with allies who believe as strongly as we do.

The most common tactic used by utility giants is to divide folks on one route against those on another. The most common mistake among those who fight such things is believing that the power company has clear evidence of need that cannot be effectively refuted. It was expensive, but we hired an expert that proved their claims were false, and we stuck together, folks on all routes, knowing we would only win if we were united.

It is awesome, entering the new year with that awful conflict left in the past. Now I can proceed with the woodworking and teaching without distraction... unless something else comes up,

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

News flash...

Some of you have perhaps been interested in our community wide battle against the world's largest private producer of greenhouse gasses, AEP/SWEPCO.

They just announced today that they are withdrawing their proposal for a 345 kV power line through the Eureka Springs area. A reporter asked me what it feels like to have stopped the construction of this massive power line. It feels good.

This victory is a remarkable New Year's gift we have given ourselves... that our beautiful hills will be protected from unnecessary industrialization for at least this generation.

make, fix, create and protect...

state of the art...

We visited the "State of the Art" exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum yesterday. The show takes its name from a large reclining, black Mickey Mouse made from the back plastic grills of old television set. Underneath in the dark room there are working cathode ray tubes projecting eery cartoon images on the walls as people walk around it scratching their heads.

When my wife asked me if I liked the exhibit, I answered, "about half of it."

There is something to be said for those things that are intricately crafted, and that show human emotions and values in a better light, and allow us to contend that we've not made such a huge mess of things with our things. There is certainly a dark side to human domination of the planet, and it can be unpleasant to stand in a dark room, as silent witness to the mess we have made. So, perhaps in witnessing the "state of the art," we find the state of our culture expressed, that it is not all lovely, and surely museums at their best have a responsibility to show us both sides.

The sign in the image above is from the entry to the exhibit. Yes, human hands shape and frame the world. We get the reclining Mickey Mouse version of it when those same hands are given little more to control than the remote. The hands not only shape the natural world in ways that are often not picturesque... they also have profound effect on the development of self. The hands are kind of a hinge. They go one way or the other. Through their use in craftsmanship, the human soul is developed. Leave them untrained in both skill and sensitivity, and toward the darkest version of Mickey Mouse, here we come.

Destroyer by Dan Webb
The carved self-portrait of an artist in the image at left may help to explain. The piece by Dan Webb is entitled "Destroyer," but we know the creative process is transforming. Things go one way or the other. Both the sword and the chisel cut or hack at the soul of man. The artists is (at best) transformed in the process of his or her transformation of the material. Wood you not guess it would be a wood worker who would explain it? That we, in the process of creative work, are crafting self.
"Let us educate the senses, train the faculty of speech, the art of receiving, storing, and expressing impressions, which is the natural gift of infants, and we shall not need books to fill up the emptiness of our teaching until the child is at least seven years old." - E. Seguin.
I have made a Kindergarten play board. The 1 inch grid was used by the Kindergarten children to lay out Froebel's gifts, 3 through 7.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 29, 2014

covering the emptiness of our own minds

"As soon as we, young or old, have taken to the habit of asking the book for what it is in our power to learn from personal observation, we dismiss our organs of perception and comprehension from their righteous charge, and cover the emptiness of our own minds with the patchwork of others." Édouard Séguin.
Édouard Séguin was a French physician who worked with the mentally deficient in France and the US and was admired by Maria Montessori.What he describes has gotten worse. These days we check our iPhones to see if it's raining. Through television and the internet, we may know more about the Brazilian rainforest than we would know about our own back yards.

On the other hand, you can't make anything of lasting usefulness and beauty without using your senses. If our schools were to become laboratories for the making of useful beauty, the by-
product would be character and intellect. Children would also be happier to attend.
"Without an accurate acquaintance with the visible and tangible properties of things, our conceptions must be erroneous, our inferences fallacious, and our operations unsuccessful." - Herbert Spencer.
Frank Lloyd Wright did his early designs at a table like the one shown at left. I've decided to make a Froebel play board to go with his gifts, so I spent a fitful night in contemplation of it. The beginnings of it are shown below. I will add a border of maple.

For the child, the gridded table or play board presents an orderly universe, at which the child becomes master within its borders.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

drawing with sticks

I am working on making the last of the gifts for the book, and what you see in the photos at left and below are gifts number 8 and 15. Gift number 8 consisted of simple sticks used to construct lines and form.

Gift number 16 consisted of sticks joined to each other at the ends. The connectors I used were copper tacks clinched on the back side. Gift number 16 offered some additional fun as anyone with an old carpenter's folding rule will remember. But it also offered some additional restrictions to the design process. And just as anyone familiar with the process of design will attest, design happens within sets of limitations that must be mastered and turned to the specific advantage of the finished work. Please consider how Frank Lloyd Wright made use of natural settings for his designs. Falling Water is a classic example.

Froebel believed that children should begin drawing with concrete things. Just as some art teachers will instruct their students to look for geometric forms within the forms of nature, the study of form would build the child's capacity to design, even before he or she was able to manage pen and pencil on paper. The rule as stated by Otto Salomon to his students was that learning move from the concrete to the abstract.

The following is how Frank Lloyd Wright remembered his experience with the Froebel gifts and their impact on his design process:
"The virtue of all this lay in the awakening of the child-mind to rhythmic structure in Nature -- giving the child a sense of innate cause-and-effect otherwise far beyond child-comprehension. I soon became susceptible to constructive pattern evolving in everything I saw. I learned to 'see' this way and when I did, I did not care to draw casual incidentals to Nature. I wanted to design."
I am now at the most difficult part of writing the book, that of organizing the additional materials that will paint a picture of the importance of Froebel's methods,  and incite teachers and parents to take matters and materials in their own hands.

At this point, this blog has had over 1 million page views and over 20 percent of its regular readers are (to my surprise) from France. Nearly one third of its regular readers are from outside the US, which tells me that wisdom of the hands and how we can best address learning are world-wide concerns. Still the hands, spoil the child. And what better way can there be for setting our own hands in motion than the making of gifts that launch our children toward their own creative and constructive futures.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Extension of kindergarten

Parker and Temple, in their 1925 book, Unified  Kindergarten and First Grade Teaching, explored the relationship between kindergarten and First Grade, both the extension of kindergarten activities into first, and the reverse. In the reverse, they stated, "Our problem here is to determine the place that arithmetic, writing, and reading have had and may properly have in the kindergarten."

They noted that some kindergartens were well in advance of first grade students in the area of arithmetic. The use of Froebel's games and handwork gave Kindergarten students an advantage in numbers, shapes, and fractions.

In handwriting, they suggested that in Kindergarten children had a natural problem having to do with immature motor development. They noted that psychologists had recommended only a limited amount of handwriting, consisting of "large letters made either on the blackboard or with soft pencils on paper."

When it came to reading they noted that a complex problem exists "resulting from variation in mental ages." We know that children learn to walk at a various times normally in their first 13 months. Pediatricians will tell you that when a child walks has nothing to do with their ultimate success. But these days, when it comes to reading,  if a child is not reading immediately upon entering kindergarten, parents enter a state of panic, that their child is dumb or being ineffectively taught.

The pressures on reading mount. Children too often learn to hate reading and to be resistant to all efforts to get them to read, whereas if left on their own in the company of avid readers, reading will come on its own, awakened by the child's curiosity. But even so, the age at which children are expected to read has been forced downward and to the child's disadvantage.

Froebel's gifts can induce curiosity at all ages. But if schools today were to make use of what Froebel invented, and used kindergarten's gifts to stimulate math at earlier ages instead of reading, and to leave that for second or third grades when children are more universally ready for it, we would not be at such a handicap in comparison to other nations. You can put much of the blame for the current state of American schooling on the shoulders of those who chose to ignore the efficiencies of Froebel's kindergarten.

Shown above are shapes made with gift number 15 that consists of thin sticks for weaving shapes. Number 16 has sticks joined at their ends so they can be manipulated into various shapes.

After experimenting myself with gift number 15, it has become clear that the development of dexterity was one of the gifts that came to the child through play with the kindergarten gifts. Forming the shapes illustrated in the Paradise of Childhood would these days be challenging for many adults. I feel quite reasonable in suggesting that the development of small motor skills in kindergarten would be most useful in second grade when students would then develop their writing skills, and when through use doing interesting things in kindergarten and first grade, their manual dexterity and fine motor skills have been developed.
“The proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree.”--Comenius
Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 26, 2014

the gap

9th gift. Rings and half rings for creating figures.
Yesterday I mentioned a book I'm reading, Primary Handworks, by Ella Dobbs. Like all of the authors of the books dedicated to manual arts training, Ella Dobbs is dead.  My wife wonders how I can read so many old books by dead authors. Perhaps a few more living ones will come in time. The subject of manual arts in school has died a thousand deaths, but may be on the uptick, and with some advocacy, may come back. We do know, after all, that we learn best and to greatest lasting effect when our hands are deeply entwined in the process and anyone willing to observe his or her own mind and hands at work will discover the same thing.

Ella Dobbs' papers are stored in an archive at the University of Missouri where she had become a professor emeritus in "applied arts," in her later years.
"Early in her university career Dobbs' basic goals were (1) the greater use of activities in the primary school, (2) to close the gap between kindergarten and primary school, and (3) the cultivation of a professional attitude among women teachers. In 1915 Dobbs was a key person in the founding of the National Council of Primary Education, an organization with educational goals similar to her own."
So what was the gap between kindergarten and primary school that Dobbs hoped to close?

Prior to the invention of Kindergarten, schools were dismal places, devoid of color, and devoid of activity. Children were to sit confined to their desks and learn reading through recitation and lecture, just as they are in some schools today. Kindergarten brought a revolution of thought. The following is from Miss Vandewalker, 1876:
The primary teacher who visited a kindergarten could not fail to be impressed by the kindergartner's attitude toward her children -- by her cooperation with them in the spirit of comradeship, and by her sympathetic insight into their interests and needs. She was impressed no less by the children's attitude toward their work, by the spontaneity of their interests, and by their delight in the use of the bright-colored material. The games were a revelation to her, since they showed that there could be freedom without disorder the interest which the children took in the kindergarten songs made here own drill on scales and intervals seem little better than drudgery; and the attractiveness of the kindergarten room gave her helpful suggestions concerning the value of beauty as a factor in education. In short, recognizing that there was possible an order of things very different from that to which she was accustomed, she determined to profit by the lesson. If kindergarten procedure could be made so interesting, why not school procedure as well?
Do you know what to do with a stick? Froebel's students did. Four of Froebel's gifts made use of sticks to stimulate creativity, imagination, understanding of form and numbers. The 8th gift consisted of sticks that were used to form shapes. The 15th gift consisted of similar sticks used to interlace forms. The 16th gift consisted of similar sticks that were jointed at the ends to that they could be manipulated in a variety of shapes, and the 19th gift, Sticks and Peas, used toothpicks and softened peas in a building process to create geometric and structural forms. It was play with sticks and peas that led Buckminster Fuller into the invention of the geodesic dome.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A dedication...

Primary School handwork, 1914
I acquired an old book by Ella Victoria Dobbs, 1866-1952 at the suggestion of a friend, but the smell of mold is too much for me to read without it being treated first. The title is appealing, Primary Handwork,1914 and the author's dedication is priceless:
"Dedicated to the little children of America with the wish that all heir school days may be happy days."
Ella Dobbs, had become a one room country school teacher in Nebraska in 1885 and then obtained a teaching position in Pasadena, California in 1895. She enrolled as a student of Sloyd at Throop Polytechnic and became a faculty member in 1902. She was strongly influenced by Educational Sloyd and John Dewey and gained an advanced degree at Teacher's College in New York City, back in the day when universities were interested in such things as the manual arts in primary education. It is a shame that they are no longer interested in that direction for in order to best learn, children must do. In order to learn in a most effective manner, activity must be self directed as much as is possible. She states,
"The terms "self-activity" and self-expression" must not be confounded with the idea of letting the children do as they please in any random and purposeless fashion. If one were to start out to escort a group of children to a certain hilltop, it is quite probable that some of them would run part of the way. Others would walk in twos and threes, and these would change about. They would halt to look at things that attracted their attention. The leader would halt them to observe some interesting point which they might otherwise miss. Should any of them wander from the right path the leader would call them back, and any frail child would be helped over the hard places. Yet with all this freedom the group might move steadily forward and reach the hilltop in due time.

All progress up the hill of knowledge should follow a similar plan. The teacher should have a very definite idea of the end to be attained. The children should work with a purpose, and that purpose should be of such immediate interest to them that they would be anxious to attain it. They would work earnestly, and discipline would settle itself.
It is important even in these days that teachers think about such things. To read the book without the musty smell, go to Google Play, type in Ella Dobbs, and request to read Primary Handwork. It's free.

A friend introduced me to a new word, mechatronics, which refers to a combined field of mechanics and electronic technology. There are jobs abounding for those with skills at this point of integration.

 Have a happy self-directed and expressive holiday. We have cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. This is one of the only sunny days we've had in the whole month of December. May the season bring you creativity and the joy that comes with it.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to all.

Merry Christmas to all, and to the birdies, too. The photo is of my new bird feeder stand, one of two now attached to our deck. The first feeder has been so busy, a second was necessary.

This support is made from 4 sections of 1/2 in. black iron pipe, in varying lengths,   three 45 degree connectors, 3 blocks of 5/4 treated wood, six screws and a screw hook. It was fun to make and there was nothing like it in the store that I might have purchased in its place.

Our daughter Lucy is home from New York for the holiday, so we are settled in for some old-fashioned fun. Gifts are under the tree and ready to be opened in the morning. We are preparing food for tonight and tomorrow.

The real blessings are not economic in nature, but have to do with time shared creatively with those you love. Holidays are like that for those who are lucky to have invested their lives in cultivation of the most important relationships.

Joy to all this holiday season.

Make, fix and create.

The tools that the hands hold...

The tools that the hands hold, hold the hands, and guide them through the development of self. That was the point made by W. S. Harwood in his description of "Sloyd: The Swedish Manual-Training System," and published in the Outlook, 1898.
"It would be difficult to express in words the tremendous influence of Swedish sloyd.  It is an influence quite like some of the other great influences that have moved men—silent, subtle, it may be, always unpretentious, never wearying. It takes the boy and girt in that precious formative age when God alone knows how great the influences of environment and example and suggestion are, and it leads them steadily and consistently and with many a pleasant fascination past many of the deadly blight-spots of young life. It makes a boy busy; it takes up a corner of his heart and his mind where many a meaner thing might dwell. It trains him in habits of good thinking; it is suggestive of the pure and wholesome."

"Would you have the boy deft of hand and gentle of touch and keen of eye, and, in a homely word,"handy" the hole day long? You will not lead him away from but into the paths that turn to these if you place in his little restless hands the tools of the sloyder. They are hands, too, these tools; they grip him in a strong, loving grasp, and they hold him steadily to the right."
In American schools, the woodshop became the place you put "problem kids," those not easily manipulated and entertained by academic pursuits. And so with the decisions that all children must go to college (even though they won't) and that woodshops were only for those who weren't college bound, it made sense to some that they be eliminated from American schooling.  That was a startling display of the workings of a narrow mind. Early progressive educators had warned of schooling that neglected the "whole child" and that was "one-sided." The schooling we have now is too often in the hands of the narrow minded and "one-sided."

The drawing at left may help to convey the complications of holding a cube on edge for drilling. The angle along the edge of the cube is different from the angle of a flat plane on the other side. Your choice is to hold the cube with one angle or the other. The hollow cone worked by holding the cube at the edges. The assembled jig was designed to support the flat planes, each of which had a 55 degree angle.

This is the last shopping/making day before Christmas.

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sloyd lathe work...

A friend of mine in Denmark who teaches Sloyd to teachers at a university told me that Otto Salomon preferred the lathe over other tools, but that because lathes were too expensive for most schools, it was not featured in the development of Swedish Sloyd. Since spring pole lathes could be inexpensively made, I question the idea my friend put forth. It had been my understanding that Salomon preferred the knife, as it could be used for both straight and curved work, whereas the lathe was more restricted in the range of forms that might be achieved. The lathe also, did not fit into the natural progression from the known to the unknown. Every child in Sweden and Norway knew how to use a knife safely without injury, and from a very early age. The lathe meant the introduction of a complex and unfamiliar tool. Another principle was the movement from the simple to the complex. In comparison with the knife, a lathe and all the various specialized tools and gouges required are far more complex than a knife.

In B. B. Hoffman's book, The Sloyd System of Woodworking published in 1892, a chart is included explaining the advantages and disadvantages of various crafts for use in school.  Of Sloyd lathe work, it says in response to the question,“Is it in accordance with the child’s capabilities? No."

Among further questions and answers are these:
Does it give a respect of rough bodily labor? Hardly.
Does it train to habits of order and exactness? Partly.
Is it beneficial from the hygienic point of view? No.
Does it allow of methodical arrangement? No.
Does it teach general dexterity of hand? No.

To all of these questions and several more, Sloyd Carpentry was given a resounding yes.

N. Christian Jacobsen had noted that if knives were to be considered too dangerous for schools where children would be under close supervision by adults but that children were to be allowed to use them unsupervised outside of school, there was a false logic at work. Would it not be better that children be taught to use knives safely and responsibly as tools of creativity and not danger?

In drilling through a cube, I had difficulties getting the holes drilled from opposite ends to align at the center and in seeking the cause, I found that the table of the drill press was tilted slightly. About two degrees from ninety meant that the holes would miss rather than connect. I made two iterations of jigs before I discovered the fault. Now that the table has been trued at 90 degrees, both jigs work better.

My second jig was formed using the table saw. First I cut the edge of stock at a 35 degree angle and then cut 30 degree miters on the ends to form the jig shown. The jig forms a perfect nest for the cube to fit as it is drilled.

It was challenging to figure out the bedding angle for the flat surfaces to support the cube in the jig. If I'd paid more attention in geometry class I might have been able to figure it out. Instead, I used trial and error. The first plane was cut at 45 degrees. When that didn't work, I adjusted the saw by 10 degrees to cut 35. That angle fit the cube like a glove. The results are shown in the photo below.

We are down to two shopping/making days before Christmas. One of these is more fun than the other.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 22, 2014

standing on end...

Yesterday I made a simple device to hold a cube on point so that it can be drilled from one end to the other. This was my third concept. Anyone with experience in the real world knows that drill bits wander off course as they pass through wood. And those who have experience in making things will know that it is hard to start a drill on a point, or to start a drill on an angled surface. In making Froebel's gift number two, craftsmen had managed a difficult task. At first I visualized an assembled device, then imagined one in which recesses to secure the edges of the cube would be held just so. I started making that one but then I realized that a cube could fit in a hollow cone. As often happens, that was the concept that I woke up to after a long night of contemplation. So I had two false starts before coming up with this design concept.

Aron had asked how to do it. Scott assured it could be done, and that if Froebel could do it, surely we could too. We will find out later in the day whether it works. Froebel would not likely have had access to a drill press, but holes could be drilled using a lathe. When Froebel was a young man he was apprenticed to a forester and would have been well familiar with the lathe, shaving horse and draw knife that common woodsmen used at the time.

So while there is no clear evidence available concerning how the first gifts were made, we know that they were made using the simple tools of the time. A lathe would have allowed a cube to be held against a hollow cone like I have made as a drill held in the lathe at the drive end could have been used to pass through.

As you can see in the photo immediately above, it is possible to drill through from one corner to the other. In this case, I used the drill press to drill in from opposite corners utilizing the jig shown above to hole the cube on the table of the drill press,  then used a hand held drill to join the two holes with a longer bit. The brass rod is merely inserted for demonstration purposes.

Barbara has been making good progress on the translation of N. Christian Jacobsen's book, I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg. The book shows as much value as I anticipated, as is shown by the following:
The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool.
I can see why Christian Jacobsen was one of Salomon's favorite authors. And as I explained to Barbara, Jacobsen puts the knife in the heart of the matter.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

parsimony and craftsmanship

How to drill from corner to corner?
A couple years back I was accused of being parsimonious, and was puzzled at being insulted before it was explained to me that parsimony was a good thing. My understanding of parsimony was as follows:

extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources.
"a great tradition of public design has been shattered by government parsimony"
synonyms:cheapness, miserliness, meanness, parsimoniousness, niggardliness, close-fistedness, closeness, penny-pinching;
informalstinginess, minginess, tightness, tightfistedness, cheeseparing;

But in academia, parsimony can refer to Occam's Razor... the principle of simplicity related to having started with the fewest assumptions. The more assumptions, the greater the likelihood of error. Or in craftsmanship, parsimony can be the reduction of method to the fewest steps. One of the things that comes through practice is that the body makes fewer unnecessary movements and both the  speed of the work and quality of the work can increase unexpectedly. When you reduce the number of steps, you reduce the introduction of error. So in accusing me of being parsimonious, I had been offered a compliment.

So I raise a toast to parsimony and craftsmanship. Yesterday, a blog reader asked me how to drill a hole in a wooden cube from one corner to the other for the making of Froebel's Gift number 2. In some models, holes were drilled and dowels inserted for rotation of the objects. I asked Scott Bultman, who has been associated with a Michigan toy maker his whole life. It is a family business and they used to make Froebel gifts before they arranged to have them made in China where gift number 2 can be made by a small manufacturer at a rate of 300 sets per week. When they made the sets in Michigan, the holes were not drilled, but he assured me that Froebel must have known how to do it.

That exchange with the reader and with Scott led me to examine the cube and sent me to the woodshop after dark to develop the process. As with all things, the first inclination is to dream up something complex. We make a natural assumption that if we don't know how to do it, some complex tooling or methodology must be used. But, WWFFD? (What would Friedrich Froebel do?) Without a full woodshop and complex apparatus the law of Parsimony would have been in effect.

With the observation of the cube, I began work. Applying the law of parsimony, all complex solutions were tossed out. With two false starts, I have simplified my approach. I will share what I discover, as success is close at hand.

Between teaching and writing, I have been negligent in the marketing of my work, and yesterday I sent a number of boxes, a piece of small furniture and two sculptural forms to a new gallery opening in Memphis. To see work go out the door leaves opportunity to make more. That's a good thing. To sell it and move it into other people's lives will be even better.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

development of form

While modern education seems to have fallen on the narrow shoulders of the alphabet, and so many children (even in pre-school and Kindergarten) bear the heavy burden of letters and have chosen to shrug off such a heavy load,  Pestalozzi had recommended an "alphabet of form". The idea was that there were other things than reading that offered value of study. Form for instance. All learning was to arise from the senses first, and from the child's direct experience. The illustration above is from How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, Pestalozzi's book that proposed a revolution in education, based on how an exceptional mother might take care of her children and influence her community.

If you think of progressive education as a relay, Comenius handed off to Rousseau, Rousseau to Pestalozzi, Pestalozzi to Froebel, Froebel to Cygnaeus and Salomon (running side by side) and then Salomon to Dewey (even though they never actually met.) As has always been the case, most runners think only of themselves and their part in the race, and may be inclined to disparage the contributions of those who handed off to them. Maria Montessori, for instance, was critical of the performance of Froebel, even though her method was not independent from the foundation he laid in the invention of Kindergarten. Education as to form, was one of the important differences perceived by N. Christian Jacobsen between Danish Sloyd and Swedish Sloyd.

Swedish Sloyd, as taught by Salomon was deeply rooted in the progressive tradition launched by Comenius, in which children were to learn from experience, and adults responsible for their learning would take advantage of their greatest resource... the natural inclination of the child to follow their own interests in learning. To ignore those interests, in the view of Comenius would be o lay obstacles in the path of effective teaching.

The letters (in the view of most progressive educators) could wait until after the child had been guided to make intellectual sense of their own perceptions. And so for Salomon, and as he tried to reinforce through his lectures in 5 languages, Educational Sloyd was about the development of the whole child, and was part of a philosophical lineage of progressive education. And it was extremely important to him that his students (teachers) understood their own positions in the development of education. He knew that at some point, time would march past him, just as time had eclipsed Pestalozzi, and that educational sloyd was but a "casting mold" from which an even more modern and progressive system of education would emerge. It may be of interest to readers that Salomon kept a stone from Pestalozzi's gravesite on his desk as a reminder of his role in an historic progression. It may seem egotistical to some that I have stones from Salomon's gravesite on my own desk.

Some might wonder why it is important to understand the history of manual arts training. The purpose for me, is that we re-establish the lineage of education. Two points form a straight line, but if you do not know which point came first, you have no true sense of direction. Readers might discern a relationship between Pestalozzi's alphabet of forms and Froebel's gifts.

We had the Clear Spring School holiday program last night, and I marched for Save the Ozarks in the Christmas parade. It was amazing to hear the cheers of our community as we passed by, and to know that in our opposition to the power line, we do not stand alone.  Now it is time to settle in for the holidays. I submitted a proposal to Taunton Press for yet another box making book, and plan this week to develop more chapters of the book on Making Froebel's Gifts.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 19, 2014

a careful transformation of self...

Last night I dreamed of my sister Ann who died about 15 months ago of multiple systems atrophy, an awful disease. Ann was involved in arts and crafts her whole life, and in my dream offered to show me a new way of welding dissimilar metals. She thought it might be something I would be interested in writing about as it would be of use to other artists.

I thought at first in terms of some kind of flux that would allow the bond. We walked down a long corridor, opened a small door and took out two small packets of paper like those a homeopathic physician might use to offer his or her medicines. One contained a powder and the other a small live caterpillar, which were to be taken for transformation. Not all that is to be accomplished in the arts is through transformation of the material. Some requires the transformation of the artist.

Yesterday I invited my 6th grade students to play with Froebel's Gift number 7. I was curious what they would come up with. One girl wouldn't let me see what she had designed until it was finished. If you can't guess what it is, read carefully. In the photo below, my student insisted that I share what she had made via iPhone with her mother. Such is a child's pride at the time of transformation.

There are indeed many processes requiring both skill and transformation of the mind and heart of the artist.

The following is repeated from an earlier blog post and concerns the transformation of humanity in our earlier years. Were caterpillars required?

Six ways in which segments can be rotated for use as
tools and weapons. The stippled areas represent adhesive.
Mary Marzke sent me links to an article by Lyn Wadley on the use of adhesives to attach stone to wood in the making of shafted tools, weapons and instruments. Wadleys's work was published in Current Anthropology, and illustrates the intellect involved as early man crafted tools to enable his survival. Evidently, there was enough adhesive remaining on some crafted pieces of stone from 70,000 years ago to reformulate the means through which they were attached and through which the adhesive was made. This work pushes forward by 40,000 years, the earlier speculation by V.G. Childe and others that the handle came as late as 30,000 years ago.
Compound adhesives were made in southern Africa at least 70,000 years ago, where they were used to attach similarly shaped stone segments to hafts. Mental rotation, a capacity implying advanced working‐memory capacity, was required to place the segments in various positions to create novel weapons and tools. The compound glues used to fix the segments to shafts are made from disparate ingredients, using an irreversible process. The steps required for compound‐adhesive manufacture demonstrate multitasking and the use of abstraction and recursion. As is the case in recursive language, the artisan needed to hold in mind what was previously done in order to carry out what was still needed. Cognitive fluidity enabled people to do and think several things at the same time, for example, mix glue from disparate ingredients, mentally rotate segments, talk, and maintain fire temperature. Thus, there is a case for attributing advanced mental abilities to people who lived 70,000 years ago in Africa without necessarily invoking symbolic behavior.
There is no concrete evidence that man's development came as a result of language alone, but there is evidence that the making of things took a leading role in the development of man. There is a growing body of evidence that making the tools for our survival and the increased size of the human frontal lobe were parallel developments. You can find Lyn Wadley's article Compound‐Adhesive Manufacture as a Behavioral Proxy for Complex Cognition in the Middle Stone Age here. In order to understand all this and write this paper, Wadley had to make the adhesive from materials found in the natural environment and then replicate the methods for attachment, demonstrating again that you won't really learn all that much about real things by just yakking. "Her main research interest is ancient cognition and her experimental archaeology is geared towards understanding the mental architecture required for various behaviors."

In order to better understand your own mental architecture,

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Formell education?

The following is from an earlier blog post, November 7, 2007.

Today the words "formal education" refer to learning that takes place within the context of established educational institutions, as contrasted with "informal" education in which students learn on their own, self-motivated and self-directed.

Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the words "formal education" had a distinctly different meaning, particularly when used by Otto Salomon, director of the Sloyd Teacher School at Nääs or by one of his students. The following is from Hans Thorbjörnsson, Swedish historian and curator of Otto Salomon's library at Nääs:
"In Swedish language Salomon is using the terms (expressions) ”formell bildning”, ”formell uppfostran” och ”formella mål”. In The Theory of Educational Sloyd they are translated ”formative education” (education meaning both bildning och uppfostran) and “formative goals.” You are quite right interpreting the Swedish formell as general competence, character development, citizenry and responsibility. Salomon talked about the child’s development morally, intellectually and physically being promoted during sloyd work. For the mere sloyd skills (handling tools and material/wood) he used the terms “materiella mål” (material goals) and “materiell utbildning”. In The Theory of Educational Sloyd the Swedish terms are translated utilitarian goals / utilitarian education."
This simple term, in Swedish, "formell" or in English, "formative" or "formal" recognize the wood shop's goals of shaping lives as well as giving shape to wood. As any shop teacher or former shop teacher can tell, there are important things going on as children engage in the process of working with wood. Sure, they are developing skills in the use of their hands that would benefit society were they to become carpenters, craftsmen, engineers or surgeons, but they are doing much more. In our current political and cultural climate with our obsessive concern to teach those things we can measure on standardized tests, we have largely forgotten what those other things are.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

shape to fit, or fit to shape...

Gift number 7 with obtuse angle and two equal sides.
Today, I worked on Gift number 7, its variations and the chapter that will include it. Swedish Sloyd and Finnish Sloyd were both intended as means to extend the Kindergarten principles into the upper grades, whereas other forms of manual arts training were more directly concerned with supplying bodies to industry. To give a child some experience with various tools might make their transition to employment easier for them and for their potential employer. To give a child the capacity to shape his or her own destiny was a more noble inclination.

There has been a controversy since the earliest days of education, whether the purpose of schooling was to shape the child to fit societal norms, or whether it was to fit (prepare) the child to participate in the shaping of human culture. The concern with form was to begin in Kindergarten and the whole of the child's education was to be "formative."

Barbara, in the translation of I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg is challenged as are all translators  in that a single word may have many meanings or interpretations. In the example above of instance, the word fit, my be active or passive. Benjamin B. Hoffman attended Salomon's teacher training in Nääs and used the term "formal education," meaning "formative education" as was used by Salomon. "Formal education" in the US has a whole different meaning, and the idea of "formative" has been brushed aside in the name of economic efficiency.

Hoffman and Salomon both meant "forming" the child's character as a whole person, capable of fitting into society, but also acting strongly within it. Dewey's progressive education was of similar purpose. Jacobsen noted that Danish education remained "one-sided," missing the mark of addressing the whole child.

I think my readers might enjoy going back to Kindergarten and spending a day doing what I just did... playing with gift number 7. Don't you think gift number 7 offers some lovely opportunities?

Make, fix and create...

the search for form...

Today, I hope to spend writing. I need to catch up on a couple chapters that need selection of photos, captioning, and organization. Barbara in Stavanger has provided more pages of N. Christian Jacobsen's text, I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg.

 In these pages, Jacobsen tells of a primary difference between Salomon's Sloyd and that promoted by Mikkelsen and taught in Denmark. It is a simple but distinct difference. Swedish sloyd starts with form and the tools and their exercises are the means to establish form. In Danish sloyd, tools came first, and form was the by-product of their use.

How can that matter? The Danish version of sloyd might lead to development of carpentry skills. The Swedish version of sloyd was intended to develop the individual.

As my middle school students stood yesterday at the lathe, turning blocks of wood into finished dreidels, they were comparing what they saw transforming before their eyes, and in their hands with a preconceived notion of perfect form.

Comenius had said something to the effect, that the craftsman and his or her work arise in the same gesture. The woman standing at the lathe, transforms the material and herself at the very same time. You can choose to call it artistry or craftsmanship. The inclination to do something well was described and understood by educators since the seventeenth century.

As this is the first day of Chanukah, I should also note the importance of craftsmanship in the Jewish tradition. Parents were instructed that to fail to engage children in craftsmanship was to throw them into a world of thievery.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Chanukah

Elementary school dreidels.
The Jewish holiday Chanukah, starts this evening, and at school, as an exercise in woodworking and multi-culturalism, we made dreidels, grades 1-9. I had planned the project and then just this morning realized how appropriate the timing was.

For the youngest ones, none of whom had played the dreidel game before, I did the turning for each on the lathe. They formed the dowel with the dowel maker, and wrote the names on each side. Of course they wanted to color and personalize each one. Then we played the game and it did not take long to catch on. As we played, each used his or her own dreidel.

Dreidel made by Oakley.
For those unfamiliar with dreidels, you might confuse one with a top. But a successful top spins for a long time, and the dreidel being used in a game would bore you if it spun for too long. So a top and a dreidel are not the same thing and should not be confused. Also, a dreidel has 4 sides, each marked with a symbol for a Yiddish word. Not having a stamp for those symbols, we simply marked the first letter of each word, Nun, Gimel, Hay, and Shin.

My older students did their own turning at the lathe. All the students were pleased with their work. Some Clear Spring School students will play dreidel in their homes tonight, just as Jewish boys and girls will do with their families on the first day of Chanukah, 2014.

Make, fix and create...

Use a lathe and drill chuck to bore the hole for the dowel.

Use a gouge to shape the point.

self check out vs. "check this out."

Yesterday I made various iterations of Froebel's gift number 7 which consists of small square and triangular wooden tiles. Each set of 64 tiles fits in a small wood box. It was not likely that all Kindergartners (teachers of Kindergarten) would use all sets, as these are similar enough to each other that the results of exercises with each set would not be marked different. The use of square tiles can be seen to closely resemble the use of cubes from the earlier sets.

But the making of these sets is worth doing. Making boxes to hold the various tiles is excuse enough.

Yesterday I told how the self checkout has become the model for American education. The other side of the coin is "check this out!" when a student takes exceptional pride in his or her own work and cannot resist the inclination to show others what he or she has done. That happens in wood shop.

Other variations of tiles might be to paint them various colors, or to make them from various woods. Yet another option exists in that the tile shapes can be cut from colored cardstock and the arrangement of them can be made permanent, by gluing them on paper.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 15, 2014


If you live in the US, you have no doubt had experience with the self-check out, either at Walmart or one of the other big-box stores. The idea is this: You walk up with the items you've selected and scan them yourself. It will observe whether or not you've placed the scanned item into the bagging area, and when you've scanned all your items, it will ask you to pay. It can take your credit card, or count your cash and give you the correct change dispensed below. There will be a clerk nearby to monitor the transaction and watch to make sure customers don't cheat.

That is the model some hope to achieve in modern education. The student, taught primarily by digital devices without human intervention or human instruction will simply download the contents of their brains for evaluation, correction, and assessment. It will be guaranteed cheap, as it will take no near-by human teachers to impart knowledge, and no trained intervention or inspiration apart from what's available on youtube. High paid teachers in this situation can be easily replaced by low paid check-out clerks.

Role models will be supplied as they are today. Television.

I am working on Freobel gift number 7 which consists of sets of small tiles cut in square and triangular shapes. There are 3 kinds of triangles used in different sets. As with all things in "progressive education," the tiles were progressively introduced. so that the students could move in increments from simple to complex, easy to more difficult, and literally  expand and exhaust their creative potentials. "What can you do with these two tiles?" a student might be asked of what is given. What shapes can you create with 4 or  or with 6? At the age in which children with crayons or markers can do little more than scribble on paper, with tiles they can create perfect forms.

The craftsman might ask, "How can I make so many of these small tiles safely?" I will be showing that in the book.

Self-checkout in education is nothing new. When children are engaged in self-activity as they were in Kindergarten and in shop classes, they are self-directed into craftsmanship, and learn to self-assess their own work.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

student boxes...

It has been my belief that no student should be left at graduation having made nothing useful, beautiful or both and worth keeping. It has also been my contention that there is no better useful and beautiful object to make than a wooden box.

Richard Bazeley sent photos of his year 7 and year 9 student boxes. They were done with butt joints in the younger group and hand cut miters in the older set. After the boxes are assembled with thin plywood tops and bottoms, Richard cuts the lid from the body of the box using the bandsaw.

Then the fun began. In Educational Sloyd, it was proposed that student work focus exclusively on craftsmanship and form, and it was suggested that adornment of form by carving and pyrography were means of hiding mistakes.

But in my woodshop, children take delight in coloring, wood burning, and customizing their work. And you can see in Richard's student's boxes, each is unique.

The making of each box unique and an object of student expression is one of the important ways that student learning can be individualized, even in a classroom setting.

N. Christian Jacobsen had said the following with regard to class teaching vs. individualized instruction:
"Should one educator say that twenty can hear what one should hear, and another say not, both can be right. Twenty can hear the same thing but they understand it each in their own individual way.

The psychological preconditions for understanding and the random associations of idea and their effects are impossible for a teacher to reckon had he but one pupil to deal with. But even when he is concerned with more, he can maintain a continuous rapport with all of them, such that each in particular understands him, such that the quick learners and slow learners each have sufficient to do, in so far as acquisition for the first becomes more deep and multifaceted as a result of better prerequisites for understanding, and which gives rise to a more energized work."
Thanks to, Barabara in Stavanger for the ongoing translation of Jacobsen's book.

One of the problems that has faced teachers of the manual arts has been that some students work quickly and some more slowly. Some work fast out of carelessness or lack of understanding. Some work quickly because they have greater skill. Some work slowly because they address the work with great care and seek perfection in it. And yet at the end of the project, all can reach some level of success.

Spending time personalizing work through the use of decorative techniques gives something special for those quick students to apply themselves to, giving the slower students time to catch up, whether their slowness is the result of lack of skill, or their meticulous character.

Richard's students' boxes are an example of the effectiveness of this approach, and allows for the unique creative voice of each student to be seen in their work. During the decorative phase of student work the individualized relationship between the student and instructor comes to the fore, as students ask, "can I do this?" and the teacher says "yes." And the result is what Jacobsen might have called, "more energized work." You can see that each of these boxes is an energized expression of the student's individuality.

If I had a nickle for every time a student asked me, "Can I use the wood burner?" I'd buy a new miter saw. In answer to some early woodworking teacher's concerns that decoration might be used to hide imperfections in the work. Yes, it can. But we must listen to the first precept of Educational Sloyd. Start with the interests of the child. To ignore those individual interests turns the child cold toward his labors and ignores the teacher's greatest resource.

Today I will be cutting small wooden tiles for Froebel's 7th gift.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

customer service...

Last night, Arkansas Governor Beebe, celebrated the end of his 8 years in office with a party in which 120 staff members were given boxes that I made for them. Each was engraved on the inside of the lid with the words, "Thanks for Believing! Beebe Administration, 2007-2014. Those were good years, and it is my hope that these boxes serve each as a pleasant reminder. I was honored and grateful to have the opportunity to serve our Arkansas Governor in this way.

In my love of fixing things, I sometimes encounter difficulties obtaining parts. For instance, this last week the igniter on our Kenmore oven went out and I knew immediately why the oven wouldn't warm up. So I went online, and ordered what the Sears Parts website insisted was the right part. It arrived and I opened the oven panels to begin removal and replacement of the part. But what I discovered was that the parts new and old bore no resemblance to each other.

I immediately called Sears Parts and after navigating through their menu options and being on hold for the usual distressing period of time, I talked to Debra. She was kind and courteous, but insisted that they had sent me the right part. I was kind and insisted that the parts bore no resemblance to each other, and that there was no apparent way that the new igniter would fit. Finally, Debra transferred me to a manager, who after another extended period on hold, informed me that yes, they had shipped the correct igniter. I asked if it was a substitute part, and she said no, but that she would check with GE, the maker of the range. After checking with GE she said, yes it was a substitute part, but that GE assured her it was the right one and would fit without adaptation.

So based on such strong assurances, I took the old igniter off and with some difficulty, attached the new igniter and "fired her up." When I turned on the oven, and waited for the oven to start, I was greeted with the sound of a small explosion and the smell of gas. Lovely, I thought. No baked potatoes tonight!

The next morning I called Sears Parts and insisted that they had sent me the wrong part, which they denied. Finally the woman asked whether my range required a male or female connector. I told her that my range required neither, that the part was directly wired using wirenuts. She couldn't understand that and insisted it had to have either a male or female connector and that the problem must be that they had sent the wrong one. She suggested another part, gave me the part number so that I could look at it on google, and I found that it was shaped and configured just as the one that made my stove almost blow up. In frustration, I asked for a service repair call.

Three days later, the service tech arrived, and we were his last stop on a very long day of service calls. It took him only a few moments to notice that the igniter was obviously the wrong one for the stove. He checked and learned from his computer that they had sent and I had installed "the right one" as specified by Sears Parts and by his service manual, but that there was no way in the world that the "right one" as specified by Sears would work.  He pulled that wrong part out and put in a substitute part shaped exactly like the one I took out and charged me $218.72. If they had sent me the right part in the first place I would have successfully installed it.  I would have spent less than $60, not spent hours on the phone, and would have had the oven working 4 days earlier.

The next day I called Sears Parts to arrange the return of the wrong igniter, and made note to them that by selling the wrong one and insisting it was right, and encouraging me to install it despite my concerns, they had endangered my home. They agreed to refund the charges on the wrong igniter and sent me upstream with an email address where I might file a complaint.

Sears Holdings Solutions is a part of Sears where they try to address customer complaints by throwing small amounts of settlement money at them in order to avoid small lawsuits and calls to the attorney general's office, but not to avoid problems that would put customers or their homes at risk.

I told Jeff K. at Sears Holdings Solutions about the troubles, and he offered a $65 partial refund of the $218.72 repair charges, but told me that if I had safety concerns, I should call back on their 800 number. Can you believe how callous that was? ...that someone in Sears Customer Service would care so little about the safety of their customers that they would place the burden of safety on me, expecting me to spend another half hour or more on the phone to fix what was already well documented in my case and concerned a duty that they had to assure customer service and safety? I found their lack of concern astounding.

Well so much for my sad story. The lesson is one we learn over and over again. Don't think that just because someone spends time sitting at a computer all day, that they have any grasp of reality. If you are living and working in the real world, expect occasional stupidity from those who are not.

Yesterday, the photographer for the Historic Arkansas Museum's Living Treasures Exhibit came and set up a shot of me at my work bench, surrounded by tools and boxes. Part of the display was of an arrangement of Froebel blocks from Gift 5B. This is the set that offers the ability to construct Romanesque architectural forms.

Make, fix (safely) and create...

Friday, December 12, 2014

this day...

Today I have a photographer coming from the Historic Arkansas Museum. They are planning a show in 2015 of the works of those designated as "Arkansas Living Treasures," and the photographer will take a photo of me in my messy wood shop.

I received the first 12 pages translated from I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg, by N. Christian Jacobsen. I am blown away by the depth of it, so far. Not at all shy, he plunged right into the depths of what had been controversial, Otto Salomon's insistence that classroom teaching is ineffective. In the book, Jacobsen is attempting to explain the differences between Swedish Sloyd and the Danish version of it promoted by Aksel Mikkelsen.

Yesterday in our local newspaper the school superintendent of a neighboring community (Berryville, AR) noted that when he enters a classroom and finds the students listening passively, they are not being effectively taught. Do you think he's gotten the message from this blog? Yet, it is difficult to manage a classroom in the traditional sense where students are each doing different things. And if students are doing things as well as learning, they will not all be performing at the same level of skill or at the same level of interest, or at the same level of comprehension. Is that so difficult to understand?

 Jacobsen, in his book chose to plunge directly into a subject near and dear to Salomon's heart, so it is no surprise that he would be one of Salomon's favorite authors. Otto Salomon, who led the international movement in Educational Sloyd, made reference in letters to his discovery of the "Columbus egg." While some educators might be watching for a mystical philosopher's stone to bring pieces of the puzzle together, the "Columbus egg" has its roots in the practical rather than the mystical.

The original story of the Columbus egg was as follows: Many, many years ago, Christopher Columbus was sitting in a tavern with some other sea captains who where joking and making light of his discovery. “Anyone could have discovered that!” they said. “No big deal!" (The quotes here are not exact, as I don’t speak Portuguese or Italian.) Columbus grabbed an egg off the table and said, ”I can balance this egg on end.“ The other sea captains tried and then proclaimed, “Impossible!” "You are a fool!" they said. Columbus tapped the egg on its end, cracking it slightly and set it down, perfectly balanced. “That’s cheating!" The captains complained, “Anyone can do that!” “Yes," Columbus said, “now that I’ve shown you how.”

As explained to me by Hans Thorbjörnsson, Salomon's "Columbus egg" was not his discovery of the use of the model series, but rather the arrangement of exercises that provided the order in which models would be arranged and introduced. Each model required a range of skills and understanding in the use of various tools, and to learn and acquire those skills and understanding through the performance of exercises in an orderly manner related to the model series was the foundation of self-directed learning... Salomon's Columbus egg.

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

He divided working of wood into 68 distinct operations, or exercises (övingar) that would be used in the making of models, and these exercises presented to the students in sequence was the foundation of the process, not the models themselves. Understanding the exercises would be required for teachers and educators in other countries and cultures to be able to develop new models as substitutes to meet the interests of their children, and the requirements of the Educational Sloyd method. What results is a complex matrix of skills, exercises and model series.

A simple model (a number of exercises)
And so while Salomon suggested that model series be adjusted in each country and community to meet the interests of each child, understanding enough of the underlying exercises to develop new models and to know where they fit into the model series was not as easy thing. For instance, I have been dancing at the edges of Educational Sloyd for years now, and in making a new model shown above, I find it challenging to figure out exactly where it would fit in. The complexity should explain a few things.

Many of those who attended summer classes at Nääs returned to their home countries determined to teach Sloyd. But the challenges of adapting model series to their own students led many of them to slavishly adhere to what they had learned to make in Sweden. As a result, Educational Sloyd was viewed by some as uncreative, and unAmerican. Even a thing as simple as the key holder shown above, the complexity of exercises and what must be learned are huge. For instance, in order for the tenon to be cut to fit, the wood must first be cut square on the end. Cutting square with a hand saw is not particularly easy. It requires learning about the square, the saw, about the material and about oneself. In my new model shown above, my next challenge would be to find where it would fits into a Nääs model series.

I can list the exercises used in its making and compare with the 68 exercises used in making the original model series in Sweden, and perhaps learn where it might fit in. This for me illustrated the difficulty of creating a model series.

As to how the key holder fits into my classes? Ozric said, "I want to make that!" Thus answering the first point of Educational Sloyd... Start with the interests of the child.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gifts and occupations...

Yesterday in my home school woodworking class, students came with their train painted and finished, and then spent their last day of class making additional toys of their own choosing. Last week, I commented in the blog that there is a difference between making things with legos, and making things from real wood, and almost as though they had been reading the blog, that subject was brought up by my students. There is a difference. When materials are transformed, students see their real impact as transforming agents in the real world. Real tools, real materials, real impact.

Friedrich Froebel had devised "gifts and occupations" and the difference between those describes the difference between legos and woodshop. Legos are for learning and play and in their use, they remain unchanged. You know when you are making something with legos, that they will at some point be taken back apart and put away at the end of play unchanged, just as when designing with a set of Froebel blocks, you know that they will all fit neatly back in the box.

Froebel's gifts were exactly like that. His occupations on the other hand involved the transformation of materials.  In woodshop, once you've made a cut with a saw, there is no reverse, no delete, no going back. The craftsman and his work are transformed at the very same moment. In the exploration of occupations, the student sees himself as having real effect and effectiveness in the real universe.

You can play all day with legos and have fun in the process, but there is no distinct mark of having transformed either the materials or yourself. From the gifts, students grew toward the occupations, expressing greater self-reliance and creativity, becoming makers and  of useful beauty.

The unusual button toys shown below were a student's idea. The dowel marked with purple rings gives the appearance of Saturn's rings, and shows that even something as simple as a button toy can offer creative opportunities.

And as my students noted earlier, as my home school classes began, "who knew you could have so much fun with something so simple?"

I am beginning work on Freobel's gift number 7 which involves small wooden tiles, both square and triangular in sets. Again, small wooden boxes must be made.

Yesterday in our local newspaper the school superintendent of a neighboring community noted that when he enters a classroom and finds the students listening passively, they are not being effectively taught. Do you think he's gotten the message from this blog?

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

effective exploration and use of form and material

I have been reading about the way in which Froebel's gift number 7 was introduced to students in the 1800s. Gift number 7 consisted of sets of flat tiles both square, and various triangles. The idea was to move from geometric solid shapes toward a material more akin to drawing. The number of pieces in each set would be overwhelming and chaotic if the full set was presented at the start. So students were first given 3 pieces, and then 7, and then larger sets with which to construct various forms. If they had been given the full set, and told to make something, where would they start?

The idea that learning should move from the simple to the complex, from the easy to more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract. To simply put a huge set in the hands of kids would overwhelm their creativity, neglecting to provide a starting point for their creative process.

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, my first grade children made Christmas trees. They start with a board shared by two students. They take turns cutting from one corner all the way down through to the other. Then when the board is divided in two, the various layers of the tree are cut, leaving only 1 tiny end piece that goes to waste from the process. That the pieces come from a single piece gives a sense of the transformation available in a piece of wood, and without waste. If a child is given only 3 tiles from a larger set and is encouraged to find all possible shapes that might be derived from those 3 tiles before moving on, I believe you can see the thoroughness of that which takes place. When a child is given too much stuff, wastefulness and inattentiveness to both form and material are encouraged. Whereas, to make a tree from wood, with nothing wasted but the sawdust swept from the floor at the end of the lesson conveys a sense of completion and responsible use of resources.

Today I have the last week of my home school class.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

fists of fury? divergent views of humanity.

A paper in 2013 by Morgan and Carrier, Protective buttressing of the human fist and the evolution of hominin hands suggested that the human hand evolved through sexual selection, with protective buttressing to protect it from damage as it was used to batter the faces of opponents. They followed up their research by suggesting that the human skull evolved to safely take a punch. Both of these theories met a firestorm of opposition.

In my view it was not the human combative role that led to evolutionary advancement through sexual selection but that particular individuals had the power to manipulate and control their environments through the application of dexterity.

There may be a few women drawn to the clenched fist, they in hopes of finding protection. But it seems that one of the sexiest images used in advertising has been the man (or woman) with a tool belt. A man who can fix things in the real world shows a certain prowess that by extension, can win hearts. You can read some of the correspondence on "fists of fury" Here.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my elementary school students will be making tiny wooden Christmas trees. In the process, the boys and girls will be developing their own creative and cooperative capacities. Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 08, 2014

testing the steel edge's sharpness...

One of the things that led me to Nääs, and made me know that I would find a treasure trove of Sloyd there, was that there were only two places in the world that had copies of Hand and Eye, a journal of Educational Sloyd and Kindergarten that was published in the late 1800s. I wanted to stick my nose in those journals and the only other place they were known to be found was in the British Library.

There are things that cannot be fully explained. For instance, what a craftsman learns by using his hands. And so perhaps poetry can come close. My new friend Barbara sent a poem by Harry Martinson, translated from Swedish Människans händer:
Human Hands

The hands’ experience is touch
their life among things is varied,
full of silent content.
They do not hear but are there in vibrations.
They do not see but know how it is in dark cellars.
When velvet is appraised they are there,
and whetstone and scythe blade they silently test.
They sense with light touch the steel edge’s sharpness.
How have they managed to gather all their subtle experiences
of wool and grit, of down and steel,
of smooth surface and of prickly globe thistle,
of silky talcum and of all types of flour.
Their register is unprecedented
from shiny silks to coarse sacks,
from coarse files and kitchen graters
to the smooth nails of newborns
and the sheen of touch on the blooms of everlastings.
They live in the country of sensation where touch is all
and where touching’s mystery raises its bridge between nerve and steel.
But in the butterfly’s dust they find their limit.
                                            --Harry Martinson
There are ways to test the sharpness of the steel's edge. Some will take the sharp blade and scalp hair from the arm. Some will test the blade on a thumbnail. If it digs rather than slides, it can be adjudged just sharp enough. If you look dead on at the tip, squint with eyes tight to overcome whether you have your glasses on or off, you can, on a dull knife, see a bit of light looking back. On a truly sharp knife, you'll see nothing but the cosmos reflected equally from both sides, left and right.

Early educators knew that the senses were key, that experience even for poets should come before words and that the partnership between hand and eye is essential. Students were not to be confined to death at desks, but were to be set free, under the guidance of the wise. Then folks came along, and decided education would be much better if they put a motor on it.

In school, I am getting ready for my first grade students to make tiny wooden Christmas trees, knowing that these trees are truly a symbol of much more that just the Christmas holiday season. The tree is a symbol of everlasting life and light in the darkness of the winter solstice.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 07, 2014


Kindergarten Children and workbench, 1956
My show last night was hardly worth the effort but for the opportunity to hang out with artist friends and drink cranberry juice and vodka. I sold 3 books and no boxes. As one man confessed (not to me directly, but that I overheard) "these boxes are lovely, but I don't know what I'd put in one."

A friend of mine, and former student, Kathleen, has been teaching woodworking and making pet urns and crematory urns in Chicago. At least with pet urns and crematory urns, no imagination is required. You're dead by the time you need one. So perhaps I should make a change of course, and specialize in making something that requires less imagination.

So where does imagination come from? It's just like any other muscle. It grows strong through being exercised, and as we begin losing active imagination as early as kindergarten, and are carefully groomed to be complaisant and responsive consumers of standardized stuff, the market for creative work has declined in recent years.

The photo is from blog reader Todd Willmarth, and his uncle is one of the kindergarten kids gathered around a workbench in Spring Valley, Minnesota in 1956. The workbench is similar in height to the ones we use at the Clear Spring School. Thanks Todd, for a view into a more creative time.

When I visited at the University of Helsinki in 2008, I found my way (inadvertently) to the woodshop where Kindergarten teachers working on master's degrees were being taught to teach woodworking. The shop was right next door to the hall where Sloyd teachers were presenting academic papers (much more like social science research) on teaching various crafts. That small woodshop and the teacher's work there was the highlight of my visit and a thing that most conference attendees never saw.

Make, fix and create...