Sunday, November 29, 2015

on being led out...

I contacted Matthew Crawford yesterday to thank him for keeping my thoughts alive in his latest book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. 

I asked him for the rights to quote rather extensively from his last chapter, and with that granted, I hope to explain a few things. He said in the final chapter, On Being led out, redux:
To reclaim the real, both in the way we encounter other people and in the way we encounter things, would have implications for education. They are crystalized in the following quote from Doug Stowe, a woodshop teacher and first-class thinker about education: “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.”
He goes on to offer a minor caveat, saying. "I don’t think this is true for every student, but it is true of enough students that we ought to worry about it."

I can accept that there are some students that emerge from our current educational model as successful students and those particular students would consider the current model to be ideal, based on their success within it. I suggest that there are many successful students who for various reasons buy into the game of education, all the while knowing quite well that it's contrived, steeped in artificiality and abstraction like any other game. The children's game of Sorry comes to mind. If these particular children don't understand that the education game is rigged in their favor, they would have to be stupid indeed. And if education is a game then what is that telling students about real life and their responsibilities within it and their responsibilities to others less successful within it? Some seem to have difficulty reconciling the fact that some bright students successfully manipulate the education game to move on to Harvard and other top notch schools that provide the credentials for stellar careers and economic success, while others on the surface may appear to be more severely and outwardly wounded by the artificiality of schooling.  I contend that ALL students pay a tremendous toll for the artificiality of hands-off learning.

I can also see that this may take some serious explaining. But from my perspective, the damages of artificial learning environments apply to all students, and in particular unseen ways to those who are most successful within such schooling. As winners in a game stacked in their favor they may never be fully cognizant of the wounds they have received or that they may then inflict inadvertently on others. Hang in here with me, ask a few questions if you like.  Challenge me and see how well I can explain it.

Our Thanksgiving holiday is over, guests and family have gone home, and I'm making boxes in the wood shop. I have just a bit more text and a few photos to submit to the editor on my Froebel book, and one more chapter to finish in Tiny boxes.

On a different (but related) subject, I was disappointed when due to computer upgrades and software incompatibility, my Rosetta Stone program for learning Swedish would no longer work. Learning Swedish had been part of my journey into Educational Sloyd. A lovely replacement has emerged. It's better than my old Rosetta Stone and free for use on your smart phone or digital pad like object. Go to your app store and download duolingo. It offers most of the popular languages. It is free and based on a profit scheme that requires no advertising. It will allow you to advance steadily, will provide reminders and the opportunity to share your progress with friends. As I have been advancing through the basics, I am pleased to learn that I have remembered enough Swedish to make it fun, and I am learning things that Rosetta Stone never touched upon.

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


  1. I'm with you, Doug. Three thoughts come to mind in reply to Crawford's questioning the universality of your point. One, students who seem unscathed by "hands-off" schooling, as you aptly call it, may have gotten "hands-on" education out of school. Two, a mastery of knowledge on an abstract level can be deceptive: it may only be a mastery of getting test answers right, or a mastery of a discipline's jargon, and not a mastery of the discipline's real world application and consequences. And three, not including manual arts in curriculum devalues the necessary manual labor foundational to society and therefore poorly serves students as citizens.

  2. A fourth point is that those who have not been engaged in learning hands-on may not have a grasp of larger issues on a broad field. Field Marshall Rommel was said to have fingerspitzengef├╝hl, which means having full command of something as though it is all present at one's fingertips. He could receive information from an obscure point in the battle and grasp the significance on a larger front. Those whose learning has been segmented are unlikely to grasp the larger scheme of things.

  3. I love that book.

    I know lots of people who did very well indeed at school. None of them think it is worth much.