Sunday, May 03, 2015


Idiocy is an unpleasant term that I have used occasionally in error and exasperation in the blog in making reference to educational policy makers who have successfully extricated the hands from learning. While the term idiocy is no longer used in reference to mental retardation, which is also rarely used, and for good reason, Idiocy was the title of a book written by Édouard Séguin, who had been highly influential in Montessori's approach to education. In Idiocy he wrote of the hand as follows: "
If any part of us challenges a definition it is the hand, its excellences being so many that a single definition cannot comprehend them all. The definition of De Blaineville, "a compass with five branches," justly elicits the admiration of the geometrician; ours, not so dazzling will come nearer to our object—the hand is the organ of prehension.
Prehension has two meanings, one referring to the hand's grasping, controlling and releasing the object, and the other referring to mental "grasp," which is closely associated with the workings of the hand and mind as a system of comprehension. After describing the way in which the hands are used in his technique to work his way through mental impairment to stimulate the minds of his subjects Seguin goes on to state:
The hand is the best servant of man; the best instrument of work; the best translator of thoughts; the most skillful hand is yet, in respect to certain realizations as it were, idiotic; our own hand shrivels before we suspect the thousands of ideas which it might realize.
If only we could reach through to the minds of educational policy makers with the power of our most important instruments...

Last week one of our teachers went on the river with her family for a picnic and met another family with an 11 year old boy. Pulling a watermelon from the cooler, our teacher invited the 11 year old  to cut it up. The boy's mother immediately interfered insisting, "No, he's not old enough to use a knife!" Can we not see the idiocy of that? Or am I out of line in mentioning the stupidity of parents in that situation? Since the boy was not to be allowed to use the knife, my student Alena did the work safely and in short order.

On Tuesday, our students grades 1-6 will go camping on the Buffalo River and I'm preparing sharp knives and whittling sticks to take on their journey. On Friday they practiced their whittling as shown in the photo above. That reminds me of a warning offered by N. Christian Jacobson. Would parents want their children untrained in the safe use of the knife? Would they prefer that they learn their knife work (which they will) in back alleys, and not under the watchful eye of teachers and parents who care for their safety, and responsible practice of technique?

And this leaves me with a final question for my readers. We know the term idiot is no longer considered appropriate when applied to those who have developmental disorders affecting the mind. But there are non-organic developmental disorders that affect the mind's powers, that come when the full powers of hand have not been applied to learning. May I safely apply that term to those in positions of great authority who ignore the role of the hands in learning and fail to apply our most effective educational resources? I intend no offense, but to ignore (as schools have done) the role of the hands in learning and that hands are the most effective tools for the growth of character and intellect should be regarded as either criminal or dumb.

In addition to working on boxes in my wood shop, I've made a new scroll saw stand of materials matching those used yesterday in making a stand for a new band saw. I could have bought a stand of pressed steel, bolts and all, but there is greater pleasure in working things out for myself. You will note that the design of the base for this saw is to invite close work.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. My four year old daughter has used a knife and junior hacksaw, with close supervision.
    By 11 I'd hope she was not too far off making her own knife.