Sunday, October 18, 2015


Yesterday I was working on some doors to turn a book case in to a pantry, and decided to take the easy route by using a biscuit joiner to attach the stiles and rails. Unfortunately, the biscuit joiner went out of adjustment part way through and began cutting slots that would not match the previously cut parts. First thing today I'll be fixing what the machine screwed up.

The entire thrust of technology whether we are talking about digital technology or woodworking tools is to make work easier, faster, and to eliminate risk of failure or injury. But when machines screw up for one reason or another, the results are often worse than with skilled hand tool work. In the meantime, doing difficult things, not easy stuff, offers growth in understanding, character and intellect. Technology, however smart it may be, can leave us acting smart and really dumb.

One of the big problems with mechanization is that when things go wrong, they go disastrously wrong, and may have effect on a number of parts before the defect is noticed by the operator. On the other hand, sometimes machine error brings interesting effects. For example, my illustration above showing Keats' concept of negative capability has become animated through no fault of my own. For some reason when it was saved, my iPhone kept a series of images in one file, leading to it performing as an animated jpeg. You can see how the basic illustration evolved as well as the layering of concepts that took place.

What exactly is all this about? You can refer to the original blog posts in which I discussed negative capability. Here and here. We know more than we think we do in that what has for the sake of convenience been called the right brain, can't really explain what it knows to the left, and yet what it knows is known. Metaphor is the vehicle through which the right brain alerts the left to possibilities it cannot grasp on its own. The hands are active participants in the transfer of knowing from one side to the other. For Keats, "several things dovetailed" in his mind. He may or may not have been a woodworker, but at least he tried to talk like one.

Yesterday I spent time with a friend who explained that his three daughters, each with a young son, have taken a shared interest in Montessori education, and I tried to explain that Froebel's Kindergarten was invented nearly a century before Montessori (1870-1952) was born. Froebel lived from 1782 to 1852 and invented Kindergarten along with early childhood education in 1846. Maria Montessori reacted to and dismissed Kindergarten as it was practiced at the time with 30 to 50 children in a class by practitioners who failed to get the real point. It may never be noticed by Montessori practitioners that Maria Montessori, though a giant in education, stood on the shoulders of an earlier giant. The following is from Bertha Von Marenholtz Bülow's book Hand Work & Mind Work
The nature of the individual is similar to that of his race, and the expression of the being and the nature of universal humanity is the measure of the being and nature of the individual. As nature has given to children this instinct of perpetual movement in order that their limbs may be developed and strengthened, so likewise has she implanted in them a desire to touch and examine all the objects surrounding them in order that by this means, they may collect experiences concerning the qualities of materials, and learn to distinguish between hard and soft, brittle and pliable, etc. But the educational guidance which shall turn these instincts to their destined purpose is indispensable.

Nature supplies children with the faculties for all branches of human culture. These faculties reveal themselves in children as impulses which drive them to this or that kind of activity. The young child experiences a constant need of using his hands in all manner of ways, which develop technical dexterity. If these impulses be left without guidance they will lead to a spirit of mischief and wanton destructiveness, instead of to the power. Systematic training of the senses according to Pestalozzi's theories, forms now-a-days—or at any rate is expected to form—the basis of every properly constituted school. The senses, however, begin to awaken long before school-time, but until this time has come there is little or no provision for any methodical training—for the first years of life education is left pretty much to chance.–– Bertha Von Marenholtz Bülow, 1882
The preceding was published by the Countess as she was promoting Kindergarten and early childhood education while Montessori was but 12 years old. My point here is not to disparage Montessori or followers of Montessori education but to awaken readers to the origins of progressive education. To think that early childhood education was invented by Montessori would be to miss nearly 100 years of earlier development that subsequent development should take in mind.

If a teacher begins to understand the relationship between hands and mind, as Von Marenholtz Bülow hoped, he or she must ask whether or not students' hands have been successfully engaged in each lesson. If you don't see the hands at work, the mind may not be working either.

Make, fix, create, and insist others learn likewise.

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