Sunday, September 27, 2015

pedagogical value of woodworking....

Last week as the head of Clear Spring School and I met with folks from an association that promotes charter schools in Arkansas, I pointed out to their pedagogical expert that what we do at Clear Spring School is in perfect alignment with the stated goals of the charter school movement. She then cautiously reminded us that there are unstated non-pedagogical goals that are in direct conflict with what the stated goals are, and those involve standardized testing and the idea that charter schools are intended to offer quality education on the cheap. The very nature of that conflict destroys the concept.

You can teach cheap as some charter schools do through the use of rote memorization using any number of devices that can be installed as technology or hammered home by teachers in a rigid educational structure. But is that really what we want for our kids? She asked me if other crafts could be used in place of wood shop, and the answer is yes, but there is no better way of engaging kids in creativity for pedagogical purposes than through woodworking.

Here are some of the features of woodworking that give it particular value that not all crafts share to the same extent. In considering the use of other crafts and technologies, I offer the following points for comparison, and each of these points could become the basis of a blog post. These are not the same as those points compared by Salomon in the chart below.
  1. Woodworking connects students directly through tactile engagement to the natural world, opening direct pathways to the study of nature and community. 
  2. Woodworking can be used as an educational resource for children of all ages, allowing them to build skills as they develop progressively toward greater physical strength and mental capacity. 
  3. Woodworking and woodworking projects can be closely correlated to study in other disciplines, for example, math, literature, history, music, and science. 
  4. Woodworking allows children to take projects from basic raw materials to a finished, useful form. Art on the other hand may be purposely correlated to studies in various disciplines, but its results are most often merely decorative rather than useful. 
  5. Woodworking projects can be useful in the home and serve in the community, thus building relationships between the school and the rest of the child’s world. 
  6. Woodworking projects allow students to gain a sense of their own capacities to contribute to the well being of family and community.
  7. The products and by-products of woodworking are bio-degradable and present no significant or lasting challenge to the environment. 
  8. The materials for woodworking are obtained at little cost and available in the local community. Wood can often be harvested and used in such a manner that materials are kept from landfills or from entering the waste stream. 
  9. By-products from woodworking can be safely composted for use in gardening. 
  10. The tools for woodworking can last many years in an educational environment. In comparison, computer based technology create a continuing dependency on an ever-changing technological landscape. And the tools themselves present a burden in disposal. Schools face a huge financial burden in regular acquisition of new technologies in order to contend with rapid obsolescence. 
  11. Working with wood, due to its nature, offers resistance, requires attention, particularly in the use of hand tools, thus developing in the student, the powers of attention and observation. 
  12. Woodworking can be satisfying to ALL students. 
  13. Skills (both technical and conceptual) learned in woodworking can be transferred and applied to other crafts and to other career opportunities.
  14. Objects can be crafted from wood that enhance studies in other disciplines. Laboratory tools are but one example.
  15. There are no limits to what can be made from wood and there are no limits to what can be learned from woodworking. 
  16. Woodworking projects can be designed to move from the known to the unknown, from the simple to complex, from the easy to more difficult and from the concrete to the abstract, thus applying the basic principles of progressive education. 
  17. Woodworking can (as will many other crafts) develop the student’s moral character and creative intelligence. 
  18. Woodworking can be most easily be adapted to pedagogical purposes. 
  19. Woodworking has a long history of pedagogical use that new teachers can utilize as a foundation for further development.
  20. Most communities have woodworking enthusiasts who can be tapped as possible resources for developing new programs.
  21. Woodworking satisfies the students' needs for creative self-activity.
More generally, crafts of all kinds were the primary cause for the advancement of material science. You cannot whittle a stick without having formed hypotheses, and without making observations. I think it is perfectly safe to state that of all crafts and technologies that can be applied in school, the pedagogical value of woodworking is high and the overall cost low.

I've not presented this as a final document, but to stimulate thought. Please share your own insight using the comments below.

Make, fix, create, and urge others to learn likewise.


  1. Woodworking is universal and its practice connects us with our contemporaries the world over. It also connects us historically to our ancestors. A fine example of the latter is the NPR Radiolab broadcast on Saturday, September 26, "An Ice-Cold Case." If you have made a bow and an arrow, this superbly told 5,300-year-old story is sure to captivate the imagination and lead to untold new learnings.

  2. Many of the skills and situations a woodworker has to deal with force one to acquire an "imaginative vision" -- an ability to perceive (with growing complexity over the years) the causes, effects, and potentialities of their actions upon objects. Really, it's related to "geospatial reasoning skills" -- one of the things children are tested for in IQ tests, yet not very well accommodated in school itself. Plastic blocks that can be assembled and disassembled in a few limited ways are not the best we can do for our children.