Thursday, September 17, 2015

learning to do likewise...

Shown in the photo at left are my first, second and third grade students with their first finished project for the year. One asked, "will we get to do anything else?" Of course they will. The idea is that schooling should address the whole child, both in the absorption of learning, but also the testing of that learning through the outward expression of it. In simple terms we can call it, "Learn to Make."

No thing can be done without either care or lack of it being expressed. And the practice of craftsmanship hones the spirit and sharpens the mind. Making objects of useful beauty from wood fulfills Froebel's principle of "creativeness," and should be one of the objectives of schooling.

In my upper elementary school class, my students had a sanding competition to see who could sand their cutting boards to the highest level of "smooth." When it comes to the exercise of craftsmanship in the creation of useful beauty, we all win, in that the character of the child is made whole.  Is that so hard for educational policy makers to grasp?

This morning and afternoon I had two classes of middle and high school students making arrows. Cyrano explained that he had to leave school early. Could he spend his recess in the wood shop instead of in the play yard? He did not want to fall even a moment behind in his craftsmanship. So as I was preparing for my elementary school class, I was joined first by Cyrano, and then by Ozric, each quietly doing his own work.

In the meantime, I'm a bit at my wit's end trying to figure out how to get educational policy makers to understand the role that the hands can play in transformation of both the individual and in schooling at large. Is that my job or yours? Those folks are too busy thinking that computers and technology will solve all the world's problems.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) the international organization responsible for PISA testing, has done a study showing the utter failure of digital technology to deliver what it promised . Technology has thus far failed to deliver what educational experts have expected of their huge investment in it. Roughly speaking, the nations doing best in the education of their kids are the ones with the smallest investment in technology, and increases in the use of digital technology in school are not warranted.

The OECD notes:
frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results.
My thanks to David for sending the link: Computers 'do not improve' pupil results, says OECD.

Readers might be interested in thinking further on the subject. Tool users have long been dependent on the use of cognition implanted in the tools and devices we have made or purchased that enable us to work. OECD would naturally be measuring the intelligence of students without device in hand. Naturally holding the entire Cloud of worldwide information in your hands would make you seem intelligent and feel smart without really being so. The field of study on this is called "distributed cognition, or collective intelligence."

But are schools to be making kids smart, or simply providing a means through which they might appear so? And if we admit that the purpose of technology is to make difficult things easy for us, but that the development of self is dependent on doing and mastering difficult things, should we be flooding schools with new technologies, or instead developing the whole child through craftsmanship? I know the answer, but no one else seems to be asking the question.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning to do likewise.


  1. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Doug you have been a great source for information and inspiration. Thank you, I have forced a small woodworking program onto my sons elementary school. My wife I did it about 7 days last year and hope to double that this year.I thanks again for all that you put into your blog.

  2. Thanks for telling me. It is rewarding for me to know that others are carrying the wisdom of the hands forward into children's lives.

    A friend told me that he had invited his nephews into his wood shop, and now they talk about it all the time. Even a few minutes in a wood shop can have a profound effect.

  3. This is a really poor connection you've made between the use of technology in the classroom and working with hands. The results you've quoted from OECD are not related to hands-on learning at all -- apples and oranges.

    The failure of many schools to use multiple technologies effectively for testing hasn't much to do with the technologies themselves. The PISA test requires students to memorize information and show critical thinking skills that are quite prescribed, and in many cases require direct teaching. Teaching children to work with their hands won't increase their ability to take tests fact, the same lowered scores would likely occur. Working with your hands doesn't deliver content any better than working with a laptop does.

    It's disingenuous of you to write an article about apples and oranges, then vilify oranges for having a taste you dislike.

    There is wisdom and value in working with one's hands, and I personally practice it. I knit, I build, I bake. I use technology frequently and effectively. I also read books. NONE of these would help me take tests if I wasn't taught how to take them, or I was not given access to the content upon which I would be tested. Maybe there's a bigger discussion to have about the value of testing and the misuse of testing results, but that is not appropriate for this venue.

    What is appropriate to say is that your ability to work with your hands did not teach you to think or write critically about technology or education. I would not expect sage advice on curing apple orchard from an orange farmer.

    Please consider not writing about oranges.

  4. Pilar,
    There is a widespread notion that increasing the number of digital devices in the classroom will be the solution to education reform in the US. The OECD study tells educational policy makers that adding more and more digital technology to the classroom is not answer enough.

    I don't think there is anything disingenuous about what I've shared with my readers.

    The point of working with your hands is that it directs you to doing real things in the real world, with the proof of learning being real world results. Doing real things offers benefits to both character and intellect, and it may strike some as odd that while we've had standardized testing at the forefront of American education, Finland has beaten us in PISA again and again while having very little interest or concern about standardized testing at all.

    You may have missed it, but the misuse and misunderstanding of standardized testing has been a topic of regular concern in this blog.

    My comment that Matthew Crawford used as the introductory quote in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft was as follows:

    “In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

    What I've learned from working with my hands and the relationship between the hands and brain in learning which has been substantiated by research is appropriate for me to share with others. Your apples and oranges analogy is bs.