Wednesday, April 15, 2015


In 1994 Alfie Kohn wrote an essay on grading, asking not how children should be graded but why. The truth seems to be that when children are interested in the subject, grading is not necessary to induce learning. When the children must be compelled to learn by external means of assessment, like grading, the results of learning are short-term at best.

I am reminded of a woman who sat in the seat next to mine on a trip home from Providence, RI a number of years back. Upon learning that I taught woodworking, she confessed that the only things she remembered vividly from high school were her time in wood shop and the objects she made there.

I have signed a contract for a new book, and spent the night with projects spinning in my head. I am itching to start, but must first clear the deck and clean the shop.

Richard Bazeley, my counterpart from down under sent the image above inscribed by one of his students using a wood burner. He notes in reference to the interconnectedness that wood working suggests:
Relationships are the most important part of our students lives. The connections they make and break fill up their days. My middle school students have been making simple cheese boards and decorating them with burnt designs. I am surprised how many of them were influenced at some stage by the writings of A.A.Milne and the stories of Winnie the Pooh. They decorate their work with images of the characters and quotes from the books.
Objects like the cheese board may be kept for a lifetime. It's value is not that cheese may be cut upon it, but that it expresses so much more. To assign a grade to it would be to narrow its meaning and ignore its full effect.

On the other hand, I am often amazed by what some folks fail to understand. While I was clearing up gravel along the road coming up to my house, a man pulling a Kubota on a trailer stopped to talk tractors. In the course of conversation, he mentioned that he had gone to the Clear Spring School "Raise the Barn" event on Sunday and was disappointed that "it was a fund raiser,"  that they had no hamburgers, and the free gumbo was in limited supply and had gotten cold by the time he had arrived. I informed him that it was not a fundraiser, (even though there was donation jar), that the gumbo that he arrived late for, was free, and that the performance of the much loved band Mountain Sprout was also free.

I was reminded that there are those in the world who have not had the opportunity to experience the interconnectedness of all things, that have been damaged in their educations, not made whole, and that there are many in the world who need a better explanation of things.  When he claimed that Clear Spring School was unnecessary because we already have a good public school, I pointed out that competition of ideas, methods and philosophy make all things better (a point he seemed to understand), and that I'd best get back to moving dirt.

Make, fix and create...

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