Tuesday, March 31, 2015

teaching is easy or hard

Teaching is easy or hard, depending on the circumstances. The structure of public education makes it overly difficult for both students and teachers. For instance, a perfect learning scenario would make use of the student's natural inclinations. So, activity would be called for. Activity makes messes of things, so in large groups is ill advised and unmanageable. Students enjoy engagement with each other. So group work would be called for. But group work is noisy and it's easy for groups to get off track, so in large classes, groups are unmanageable and ill advised. Students need to have their individual intelligences recognized and encouraged by their teachers, but the structure inherent in classroom learning rarely leaves the teacher with time enough to engage each student in the individualized manner required. That third point is the most tragic result of overloaded classrooms. Students do not receive the individualized recognition their intelligence deserves or their growth requires.
Making envelopes and wall pockets in paper Sloyd
Today at Clear Spring School I had my primary and middle school classes. I asked both classes to help me with paper Sloyd. For a Wisdom of the Hands fundraiser on May 1, I want to have a large bouquet of pinwheels to serve as the centerpiece in place of flowers, and for guests to carry home. So, I will do a few simple exercises in paper Sloyd and then ask my students to help make pinwheels. We've done them in the past.

It seems these days, I'm getting too little time in the wood shop, though yesterday I did manage to begin sanding business card holders and to assemble and begin sanding a few boxes. Today, after school and before a meeting, I'll attempt to sand more and hope to get the Danish oil finish applied.

I learned that Professor Matti Bergström died last summer (2014) at age 92. He was the one who came up with the concept of finger blindness which I have described earlier in the blog. He wrote of the electrical interconnections between the inner world of the brain, and the outer world of all things and of the mind's efforts to find order within chaos.
The value, significance of all this begins to become apparent: we evolve in order to unite the world we live in into a wholeness. ...This is why the unifying force, the collective principle ... assumes ever greater importance in our lives. It becomes apparent in our thirst for peace, accord, and harmony, goodness, a social and religious paradise, love of our fellow humans and nature and an ensouling of nature. ...Even in our science we wish more and more to be rid of one-sided analysis, divisiveness and disjointed knowledge to create instead a method of research that tends toward synthesis and holism, wholeness and cohesion, where values can coexist without battling each other. We increasingly want the selective forces to serve the collective.
My students were excited to make useful things from folded paper. In fact their enthusiasm was as great as is usual when making things from wood. My middle school students, too, wanted to make pinwheels even though most of them had made them in their earlier years at CSS. I had planned to have 30-40 pinwheels for the event, and I already have about 15 made thanks to my students. Please let me assure you that in wood shop each student receives the attention he or she may need to further his or her growth.

Today I asked my middle school students to each write something about wood shop. One wrote that she likes wood shop"Because you can make useful stuff and its fun." It is actually easy teaching wood shop because the students enjoy it so much. I don't have classroom management problems except when I have to tell students it's time to finish up and leave class.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 30, 2015

lively minds...

Yesterday, one day late, I referenced Comenius' 423rd birthday. There was no party for him in American education where we seem to have neglected to watch children at work. Lilian G. Katz, like Comenius, recognizes that children have "lively minds", and that there is a difference between keeping them intellectually challenged, and academically challenged, with the former being more important to their lifelong learning than the latter. Her paper "STEM in the early years," spells it out.

When you look in on an American classroom and observe children squirming in their desks, it's not because they are not prepared to learn. They are each itching for that. But you will often find that their interests fall out of the scope of studies, that have either bored them or passed beyond their comprehension. The problem stems from the idea of classroom learning. And because children are itching to learn by getting up from their seats, all kinds of classroom management strategies must be brought into play, and teachers spend more time wrangling children's attention than teaching. It's not a good thing for children, and certainly not good for teachers either. As described by Lilian Katz:
...academic instruction puts children in a passive and receptive role, rather than in an active and interactive one. On the other hand, in investigations or projects, the children are active and take responsibility and initiative in determining the research questions and how to collect the relevant data, how to represent and to report it, and so forth.
Thus we can begin to see that Otto Salomon was right in his assessment of things, that classroom studies paled in comparison to individualized instruction. But we know also that the absolute singularity of individualized instruction does not meet the needs of children either. They rapidly develop as social beings. For a child to sit all day under the controlling situation of one on one instruction would lead to rebellion. So, the best way to both instruct effectively, and to manage a classroom is to move between three forms of engagement.

My daughter demonstrated this when we were visiting her in New York. She had a classroom session with her standing at the board, listening to her students' responses to a question, then she went seamlessly into group work in which the students worked in a social and collaborative manner. While they were at work, she was able to travel around the room giving individualized attention and encouragement as was required. Teaching is truly an art that must be practiced and which requires as much sensitivity as any other art form.

In Annapolis Maryland, members of the Annapolis Woodworker's Guild have been busy milling hardwood lumber to make boxes, and I will arrive there on Thursday April 9 for three days of box making classes. Today I'll assemble a box of show and tell boxes and supplies to ship off via UPS so that they will be there upon my arrival. I am also working on boxes for Appalachian Spring in Washington, DC.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 28

Yesterday was Johann Amos Comenius' birthday, and if he was alive he would have been 423. Although born only 100 years after Columbus discovered America, he had discovered the true continent of learning, which schools continue to ignore. In his honor, though one day late, I share his perspective on education, collected and published in School Life, 1921
To instruct the young is not to beat into them by repetition a mass of words, phrases, sentences, and opinions gathered out of authors; but it is to open their understanding through things. We must offer to the young, not the shadows of things, but the things themselves, which impress the senses and the imagination. Instruction should commence with a real observation of things and not with a verbal description of them.

From the unalterable nature of the matter itself, drawing off, as from a living source, the constantly flowing runlets and bringing them together again into one concentrated stream, we may lay the foundations of the universal art of founding universal schools.

If universal instruction of youth be brought about by proper means, none will lack the material for thinking, choosing, following, and doing good things. All will know how the actions and endeavors of life should be regulated, within what limits we must progress, and how each man can protect his own position.

Not the children of the rich or powerful only, but all alike, boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages, and hamlets, should be sent to school.
 Make, fix and create...

mopping up...

Kings River substation site.
We asked for what was deemed impossible and managed to stop SWEPCO from building an extra high voltage power line through Northwest Arkansas that would have ended at the field shown in the photo above.

Following the SWEPCO debacle, that posed the threat of tearing our community apart, but brought it together in united opposition instead, we have a few mopping up exercises to do. The APSC refused to require SWEPCO to pay our legal fees. We knew that we would win in the long run, even if that required standing in front of bulldozers, so not being awarded legal fees is OK. We won.

On the other hand, SWEPCO paid $600,000 for a 40 acre cowpasture on the Kings River that was intended as their extra high voltage substation site. That site would have served as the connecting point for a whole series of extra high voltage power lines running off to the north and east. We are now hoping that we can divert that site to a more wholesome use, as a solar park/garden that would serve our community in better ways than being the destination for an unnecessary power line that would have torn our community in half.

So, between assembling and sanding small objects to ship to Appalachian Spring Gallery in D.C. I am working with our attorneys on a settlement proposal that would clear the air between my small environmental organization Save the Ozarks (STO), and SWEPCO/AEP and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC).

Here is what I have in mind, based on conversations with a variety of parties, including the head of the design firm that built a 40 acre solar farm for City Utilities in Springfield, Missouri.

Sites of this size have been used to hold as many as 28,000 solar panels. We would want to have far fewer than that so that it would be more of a demonstration project, having multiple uses, including a community organic vegetable garden, and features including the display and growth of native plants. We would want adequate green space to keep if from appearing as just one more industrialized landscape.

I was assured by the design firm head in St. Louis that there are investors waiting in the wings for solar investment opportunities. He said part of his job would be to connect us with those investors. Part of the rationale the utility corporations used to put forth the Shipe Road to Kings River project had to do with "constraint" (pricing) at the Springfield Flowgate which means that during peak demand periods, the cost of electricity from Springfield, Missouri is high. (Utilities determine where new power infrastructure needs to be built, by monitoring the costs of electricity passing through "flowgates" between partners in the grid. Cheap power allows them to make greater profits. When they have to pay more, they use it as a rationale to raise rates, but then do everything they can to make certain that they buy power at a cheap rate, thus improving their profit margin. Developing this land as a solar site, which would produce its greatest power at the time of peak demand would be a reasonable investment for either SWEPCO or AECC or both.

1. The utilities could develop this property as a solar park on their own, and as a last resort, they should be encouraged to do so. Personally, I see some potential advantages to them and to us, that we take a leap together in a more wholesome direction. We would help them to reclaim some good will from any effort in the right direction, which in our view involves distributed solar power rather than hugely destructive extra high voltage transmission lines and the permanent scar they leave on the landscape.

2. Some of my resources have suggested that the property be developed and held by a Property Owners Association in which people could buy and hold shares and solar panels within the property that would offset their own energy use. Ideally, those who cannot have solar panels on their roofs or in their back yards could have them here, with a small deduction (10%) going back into the POA for management and maintenance. Software available for iPhones would allow individual members to track the production of their own panels. Membership should be open to any customer of SWEPCO, or Carroll Electric through participation of AECC. This could be done in partnership with both SWEPCO and AECC, or without one or the other, but my preference would be that they own no more that 40% of the panels installed, leaving room for customers to invest. This would be a project falling under the rules for net metering which allow for customers to own panels off site. There are many examples of successful community solar projects and this would be the first of this scale in Arkansas.

3. A third scenario would be for SWEPCO to simply deed the property to Save the Ozarks as a form of settlement. In that case, I have been assured that we would be able to find outside investors to build a solar park as one appears to be needed in the area to reduce electric costs during the peak demand, which happens to correspond with summertime heat when the sun is at full force. We would be applying to various foundations and local industries for grants, and think it can be done without SWEPCO’s further participation. For instance, small manufacturing companies in Berryville might want to invest in solar and make use of net metering regulations to cut the costs of their own power.

Easiest for us would be a partnership with SWEPCO and AECC. The devil we know may be better than the devils we don’t know, and I hope they would see the value of making an investment in the community that would serve as a showcase for the future, their future and ours… Whereas outside investors might want to see the 28,000 panels laid out in an industrial fashion, not the solar park/garden that some of us have in mind.

Whether a making a gift to STO or joining in partnership with us, each scenario would allow SWEPCO and AECC to reclaim some of the good will that they squandered with their unfortunate proposal and through their protracted defense of it through hearings at the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Along with any of these three scenarios we would file a grant request for $150,000 to SWEPCO/AEP’s foundation for the environment. If they chose the first scenario, building the solar park themselves, we would use the $150,000 from the AEP grant to build a solar park/native plants garden at the former Eureka Springs High School property that is being re-purposed as a community center.

Of course, SWEPCO is most likely to say no to all of the above. But if we never ask, the answer is always no.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tiny boxes...

Much of my work on the Froebel book is now complete and in the hands of the publisher, so I am getting ready to start a book about making tiny boxes. Tiny boxes in my mind are not scaled down to a size in which they are useless. I simply use the term to describe a range of size smaller than what box makers normally make. They can be used for any number of things, but because they as so small, they invite close examination, and thus require a higher degree of precision in their making.

As with my other books, Tiny Boxes will offer a variety of boxes using a variety of techniques, ranging from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract. So, in that I believe that you can discover just as I have that the principles of educational Sloyd can apply to more than just woodworking education.

Yesterday I wrote about the closure of SWEPCO's case at the APSC to build their monstrously destructive, unnecessary power line across the Ozarks. The wide clear cut swath of its right of way, kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations would have divided our community but brought it together instead, in vociferous opposition to it. SWEPCO's Shipe Road to Kings River power line would have been the second leg of a disruptive power transmission system ranging all the way across our state, with no leg of it needed for anything but SWEPCO profits. So our small victory is actually a large defeat for SWEPCO/AEP's quest for hegemony. Not only did we manage to keep it from happening here, we have effectively shut down their plans for stringing extra high voltage power lines all across the state.

The Southwest Power Pool (the regional transmission organization that SWEPCO is a member of) was expelled from most of Arkansas when Entergy left it to join MISO (Mid-Continent Independent Systems Operators). So, building this massive new network of extra high voltage power lines would have been a way for Southwest Power Pool to have leveraged its way back across the state. This SWEPCO fiasco was a disaster for the SPP, as it had to be confronted with its malfeasance, and held accountable for having embarrassed its members.

In granting SWEPCO's withdrawal and the termination of their application, the APSC refused to strike our expert witness testimony, thus allowing it to remain part of the public record so that anyone can go and read about their intended malfeasance. I hope that this document serves as a warning to power companies that they won't always get what they want, and they'd best not misrepresent the facts of a case. The expert testimony by Dr. Hyde Merrill, addressing their malfeasance and misrepresentations begins on page 10 of this document.

In any case, it appears that my own horizons are being cleared for making boxes. Tiny ones.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 27, 2015

case closed...

A router jig to guide cutting of hinge mortises
We are coming upon the second anniversary of AEP/SWEPCO's application to destroy a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas to build an unnecessary 345 kV power line. Its towers, placed 6 to the mile would have dwarfed our tallest oak trees, and the clear cut right of way would have been kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations by the use of toxic herbicides.

If alternate route 91 had been selected and approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, it would have traversed my own 11 acres from one end to the other, with the clear cut dead zone falling just 75 feet from my deck. Maintenance by helicopter of the 150 foot wide right of way would have launched the horrific beasts whirling at eye level across back of our home.

April 3, 2015 has been named by the City of Eureka Springs,  Save the Ozarks Day in celebration of our having stopped the malfeasance put forward by SWEPCO's application filed on April 3, 2013. The whole project came as a complete surprise to all of us in our community, it having been kept in secret planning by SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool for years as they worked out details on various routes.

What became obvious after we saw the nuts and bolts of their plan, was that it had been designed on Google Earth and had completely missed an understanding of the significance of each small hill and hollow that hold such great an importance in our own lives. They planned to shove their plan through, without regard for what it would damage, and whether it was necessary or not.

The most obvious thing that came to the surface of things as we dug into their environmental impact statement and assessment of need was that they were lying to us. They proposed a monumental solution to problem that did not even exist.

We most fortunately came together as a community, hired an attorney, and  expert witnesses (the best in the business) and following nearly two years of battle forced the utility to admit it was not needed. They withdrew their application and just this last week, almost two years from the launch of the debacle, the commission closed the case.

April 3, 2015 will indeed be a day of celebration. In this case, rather than asking for us to gather in celebration, we urge each to disperse. We will breathe in the beauty of that which would have been destroyed. We shall stand in special spots of overlook, and hold to the image of what we see, knowing that those having contributed to Save the Ozarks have held it thus, that it will inspire others to see what stands before our eyes.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I used my new 4 position router table to complete parts for an order of boxes. It worked just as I imagined it would. I also routed the hinge mortises for the doors of my small chapels that will hold samples of various woods as shown in the photo above. In addition, I began inlaying about 50 business card holders, and spent about 4 hours of tractor time to repair our road which had been washed out by tremendous rains.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

size matters...

From an administrative point of view, an effective teacher can manage a classroom of 30-35 children. The New York Public school system will allow 35 children in a class, but some classes have 36 due to the expectation that any given day, at least one student will be absent. Yesterday I was telling a friend about my daughter's teaching in New York, and that she has over 30 students in each of her 6th grade math and seventh grade science classes. My friend has a daughter who teaches in a Montessori school and has 25 students in the primary grades.

The point here is not that a good teacher can manage a large class but that managing a class and teaching a class are two different things. In fact the idea of a "class" as an effective grouping for student learning is erroneous in the first place.

Anyone who has paid attention to the workings of his own mind, and has made some efforts to note its wanderings will admit that the attention necessary to learn in a classroom is fleeting at best. The teacher may call the class to attention and introduce a bit of new material, which will be taken up by individual students at varying levels of comprehension, based not only on the students'  intelligence but also on the students' experience and interests. Not all students will have the same level of interest and attention at the same time. Fortunately some students have the ability to assemble discrete packets of  information into a holistic comprehension of the subject matter as the mind's attention moves in and out of range of materials being presented in a classroom setting. But within a "class," consisting of students with varying levels of intelligence and diverse prior experience, and in which students are burdened with circumstances outside the school that none-the-less have real impact on ability to be present and attentive, the range is too great for even the best teachers to overcome.

Nearly every good teacher in the world will describe the challenges that arise when they have too little time to give individualized attention to each student. And yet, in administrations and in the halls of Congress, nothing is done to reduce class size. The idea in American education seems to be that by crowding students into a room and "teaching" them, they will conform to "standards," but the first standard that should be set would be for teachers to have no more than 20 students in a class.

If you were put in a situation in which you felt you were simply wasting your time, how long would you linger? Children and teachers face that situation each and every day.

Clear Spring School is out this week for Spring Break, so I am attempting to make products to fill an order for Appalachian Spring. The box design at the top of the page is one I worked out in my waking hours of the night. It is a small box in which the wooden hinges is integrated in the lid and back. I am about to sign a contract with Taunton Press for another box book, this one about making tiny boxes. So, in teaching and in other things, size matters.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


This morning, I emptied my sawdust bin where I collect sawdust from various operations in the wood shop. The bin was full to the top, and I emptied 15 32 gallon garbage can loads into the back of the truck to haul to school where it will be used to build the soil for the school garden after thorough composting is complete. We will need to find a source for nitrogen to add and make it useful to the garden.

My first paid article was about using a sawdust pee bucket as a means to make use of wood shop and human by-products at the same time. I was paid $50.00 for that article by Mother Earth News, and I've inquired to see if it was ever published. Since 1982 when I submitted my article, Mother Earth News has published over 35 similar articles, as it seems a thing I discovered on my own has also been discovered by others. Is that not the way the world works? When folks accurately observe and share their observations so that they may be tested by others, we have science.

In New York, we walked among the columns at St. John the Divine, and found the place to be more a monument to the holiness of man, than to an abstract God. The point is not that man is to be worshiped, or that his works should be exalted, but that the works of man should be inspired toward greater things. When folks come together in the name of their beliefs and thereby collectivize great creative works in their communities that enable the growth of craftsmen in character and intellect, far more is accomplished than by worship alone. St. John the Divine, as the only great cathedral in the US, was conceived as an ecumenical center in which the provincial qualities of individualized beliefs might become overshadowed by the greater spirit of man.

The image at left is artist Meredith Bergmann's response to the disaster of 9/11 on display at St. John the Divine.

Today the Arkansas Public Service Commission closed the docket in our case against the gargantuan power line that SWEPCO and the Southwest  Power Pool tried to build through Northwest Arkansas. While we won the case by stopping the thing from being built, we were not granted the rights to payment of legal fees. On the one hand, we stand united in victory, and on the other have regrets that the utility was not required to make amends for their malfeasance.

It feels as though we've come to the end of an era in which a destructive force was attempting to disrupt our community.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"In these days, all young people want to make something"...

Me and the shuttle Enterprise
That my friends, was the opening line from a book once held by the New York Public Library, How to Make Common Things.  Written by John Bower and published in 1895, it is now available free online from Google books. It offers great advice for starting out with a few simple tools.

These days, many kids seem to think that in order to make something you'll need a computer and a 3-D printer, for along the way, we've forgotten to introduce them to simple things... the joy you can make for yourself with scissors and string and then progressing to other simple tools of the various trades. Still, it seems that the hunger to make things is alive and well, and we need to make sure children have the opportunity. We need not start with complicated equipment, and we'd best start now.

This particular book was published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, but you would not know that from the simple tone of the book. There is no preaching tone from it as one might find in Christian books of today, as back then, in 1895, it was understood by nearly all that the values of craftsmanship were moral values by which human society and religious values were made secure. Put saws and hammers in the hands of people of all faiths, put literature and zealotry aside, and you'll find them joyously engaged.

At the American Museum of Natural History, the had a display of video interviews with a few scientists who described how they attempt to reconcile their religious beliefs with what they have come to learn of the real world... Not the biblical world described in a single book, but rather, what the actual circumstances of creation are, that can be discovered by a systematic examination of physical reality. There is another museum in Kentucky where they try to claim that dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time, and what huge stupidity there is in that.

If you believe in craftsmanship you are free to also believe in science, for the values are not conflicting. If you believe only in sacred books, your understanding of reality and of your place within the world will be necessarily distorted, bringing you to odds with those who've chosen other books to hold sacred and supreme.

But putting all that aside, give me a hammer and some nails, a saw and piece of wood, and your attention for a few minutes, and we'll make a box, and the world will be a better place from it. In making that box, we'll share the common values inherent in craftsmanship, and carry away from it the desire to share with others who we really are.

Yesterday, in addition to walking the high line from one end to the other, we visited the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. Today we head home from New York. The shuttle Enterprise was built as a prototype for atmospheric testing, and was never fitted out fully for space. But it is on display at the Intrepid Museum and standing along side, one marvels that they were ever able to launch such things in space.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 23, 2015

this day in New York...

Inside Cathedral St. John the Divine 
My wife and I are tourists in New York on this day as my daughter teaches 6th grade math and 7th grade science through the week. Other than dinner tonight, we are off parental involvement except for the occasional coaching made possible by Skype, texting, and telephonic communication. The importance of good teachers was made clear as we got off the subway in Lucy's neighborhood yesterday afternoon. Two of her students and a dad were so excited to see her that they called out and grilled her about the package she carried. "Is that for our math class?" one asked. Lucy answered honestly, that it was for her apartment, but could have answered, "Yes, It's full of numbers." That, too, would have been true, for how many numbers would fit in a package, 3 in. x 18 in. x 42 in.? Lots, I dare say.

It was interesting visiting Lucy in her classroom, watching her call 31 students in that class to order, maintaining their participation through a well scripted plan. I know that a class of 30 can be taught. I have questions of how effective it is, and how many are left out of the loop, when just a bit more attention at the right time, might have won them over to a love of math. And once loving math, what might have become of them. I know this because I have become a lover of math, but only after I've learned and discovered on my own how things work. For example, in measuring the area of a triangle, with no right angled intersections, why does the formula: base times height divided by 2 work? Give a kid a pair of scissors and allow him the time to discover the answer on his own. That is a hard thing to do with 31 kids in a class, and much easier with 15.

Over the weekend, wood shop teacher Richard Baseley in Australia also visited IKEA, but in Melbourne, where he managed to leave empty handed. (No meatballs?) His idea was to search through the world of K-D furniture for something that might inspire his kids. The world is so full of stuff these days, that making things is no longer a necessity except to the human spirit. Our human character and intellect arrived in the first place through the exercise of craftsmanship.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

the IKEA boat, parental involvement days 2, 3

Yesterday in New York, we took the IKEA Ferry from Manhattan to the IKEA store in Brooklyn. The ride is free, paid for by the thousands of dollars of stuff carried home in blue bags, and the thousands of Swedish meatballs consumed on premises before customers get back on the boat. The store is so large and busy that not all customers had arrived by boat. Some had rented Uhaul trucks to carry home what they planned to buy.

IKEA offers Scandinavian design at  low cost. Their furniture is knockdown and the kind you throw-a-way at the end of the day. But in a day in which low cost of goods is the primary value and not the growth of intellect and character within communities that arises through craftsmanship, IKEA is a perfect choice for people from all the diverse cultures and ethnic groups within the whole of New York. For a young woman on a teacher's salary and in a tiny apartment, the occasional ferry ride to IKEA, with Mom and Dad to help carry home large packages is an ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Today we assembled a book case and fold down dining table to make Lucy's small apartment living a bit easier and better organized. As others have pointed out, assembling IKEA furniture can give a sense of tactile feedback as though you've actually made it yourself. And all the hard thinking has been removed from the process. Even the instructions are simplified so that you can follow the pictures and assemble without reading a word. So what if it falls apart when you move to a new apartment? It was fun while it lasted, and you can always take the ferry back to IKEA to launch another adventure.

Yesterday we also visited the 9/11 site. Like a trip to the American Natural History Museum, you learn that the world is very large and human history is complex. The tragedy of 9/11 was an international one, launching the US and allies into a conflict that the world will suffer for generations. The answer to it all is not arms, but rather the growth of human dignity and means toward social justice, which leads us toward my next stop.

This afternoon my wife and I also paid a visit to St. John the Divine Cathedral on Amsterdam, and besides the visual delights, including one of George Nakashima's Peace Tables, an acoustic delight was taking place as the great organ and choir were practicing for a performance. The first time we visited St. John the Divine much of the cathedral was closed due to a devastating fire and they were cleaning the inside stone, block by block. Now the full cathedral is open and lovely, though it remains unfinished.

You may have wondered what inspired the small chapels of wood that I'm making in the shop. The photo above from St. John the Divine is of a particular type of cabinet you will find in many large medieval churches and cathedrals in Europe. The people carved within are characters from the great stories of the Christian church. The panels close upon the story, just as the doors of my small cabinet will close upon the choir, which will consist of small turned samples of 25 American hardwoods. What deserves more reverence than the forests that give so much?

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

parental involvement number 2

Yesterday my wife and I visited my daughter Lucy's class at Booker T. Washington Middle School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She did an amazing job of teaching a class of 30 6th grade math students how to calculate area of triangles and parallelograms. She shifted easily from blackboard work to group work, giving small clusters of students the opportunity to work together to solve problems and learn from each other. She even had a bit of hands on work using scissors.

Parents may have to cut down in their involvement as their children age, and are launched on their own, but we never lose interest in our children's efforts to serve and to grow.

Afterwards, we went to the American Museum of Natural History along with thousands of others. We waited through a very long line of folks, who like us had chosen to spend a snowy day inside a museum. The museum is world class, and so it was not surprising to hear voices from all over the world as we walked through. It was particularly heart warming to see parents and their small children enjoying the exhibits. If you love dinosaurs, science, and human history, the museum is a great place to be whether it's snowing or not.

In addition to dinosaurs, I found a few boxes to photograph from earlier civilizations. The design shown above is timeless.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 20, 2015

parental involvement

My wife and I are in New York, and this morning we visited my daughter's classroom at Booker T. Washington Middle School on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Lucy is teaching 7th grade physical science and 6th grade math with about 30 kids in each class. I mentioned the kinds of physical science lessons being taught at Clear Spring School, but of course with so many students in a class, it is hard to do anything that's not by the book. Collaborative hands-on learning is often out of the question, so parents come in asking the wrong questions. They want to know how their kids are doing, but they don't ask how class sizes could be reduced so that kids can become engaged in a more experiential manner. There are things the hands just can't fix, but that understanding of the hands' role in the development of character and intellect might lead us to adjust. And yet, the enormity of the problem boggles the mind.

With thousands of schools and with about a third the number of teachers necessary to reduce class sizes to the point that kids can learn by doing real things, we've work to do.

 I have begun to understand our case against SWEPCO as being a case against a larger conspiracy of intended malfeasance. The recent joint filing by SWEPCO, the Southwest Power Pool, and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation illustrates their collaboration in the application process. Even the way they had arranged the attorneys for their hearing in Little Rock made clear their relationship as collaborators in this case.

The presentations make by their witnesses and attorneys were in well planned lock step. And so what we have discovered we are up against is conspiratorial malfeasance. In this malfeasance, a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas would have been destroyed, even though all the conspirators knew in advance that it would serve no real purpose for the people of Arkansas. But why would they put forth such malfeasance?

First, for SWEPCO, once the project was approved by the APSC, whether the power line was used or not, the spigot of profits would be open wide. Hundreds of millions of dollars in profits would accrue for SWEPCO and its parent corporation AEP. The Southwest Power Pool would benefit since the area to which power would be supplied is no longer a part of its territory. SWEPCO's rival Entergy had withdrawn from the Southwest Power Pool to join a rival transmission organization, leaving the Power Pool's headquarters high and dry outside its own territory. Extending a network of extra high transmission lines under SPP control across Arkansas might have felt good for them after Entergy's slap in their face.

 So why would AECC want to join such a conspiracy? They have been trying to meet their renewable energy quotas without using solar which they actively lobby against. They have signed contracts with wind energy producers in Oklahoma and Kansas as a way to forestall the inevitable solar development that is happening in every other state. Helping SWEPCO and Southwest Power Pool to build a network of extra high voltage power lines, would open the door to use of these lines to keep folks from investing in solar power and undermining the Rural Electric Cooperatives throughout the state that are the owners of AECC.

If you squeeze a watermelon seed between your fingers, it is hard to know which direction it will go. In our case, SWEPCO's pressures on our community have pushed us away from their direction. My wife and I have agreed to put solar panels on our home, and will proceed in that direction this spring to take advantage of tax incentives and the power that warms the earth. What we need in education is similar. Parental involvement should be leading us all to take greater responsibility and control over schools and schooling and the educational opportunities presented to our kids.

Parental involvement never ends. Our visit in Lucy's classroom was great. And we are very proud of the young teacher she has become.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

words will lie...

The following is from Charles H. Hamm and which I repeat not only because it serves a purpose here but because these words deserve to be remembered:
It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand. –Charles H. Hamm
On Tuesday, Save the Ozarks filed a request to surreply in our case with SWEPCO, as we now try to hold them accountable for reimbursement of legal fees for our fight against a power line that was never necessary in the first place. With words, SWEPCO filed a response yesterday to have our request and accompanying affidavit and surreply stricken from the record. It is fascinating watching the gyrations of their multimillion dollar legal team as they simply make stuff up. There is a very good reason for SWEPCO attempting to have our materials stricken from the case. Our expert witness, one of the foremost transmission planning authorities in the world, called them out for their deliberate misconduct.

You can read it all here: APSC Docket 13-041-U with the greatest interest being the last three entries on the page. Click on the date and time of submission at right to see the pdf.

We can expect SWEPCO's lawyers to lie like crazy and make up rules of their own in their attempt to avoid paying legal fees. They would owe over $150,000.00 to Save the Ozarks, and another $100,000 or more to other intervenors in the case. They have attempted to skate off scot-free by simply withdrawing their disastrous application to build a 118 million dollar power line that was not needed in the first place.

My small organization, Save the Ozarks, saved SWEPCO from making its unnecessary investment, saved Arkansas ratepayers over half a billion dollars in charges to use the power line whether useful or not, and saved our corner of the state from senseless desecration. We hope we have shown others that it's possible to work effectively against multi-billion dollar corporations like AEP/SWEPCO.

Jean and I are on our way to New York for spring break.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

any rainy day...

You can duck in here any rainy day and find the subject will be much the same. The last time you were here at the blog, we were talking about the hands and how the use of them shapes the development of character and intellect. We're talking about the same today.

Yesterday the first and second grade students at CSS carried home their newly completed tool boxes. They were excited. Their parents and grandparents were excited enough to call out to me across the parking lot at the end of the school day.

I am reminded of an artist I met at a conference who told me that she had bought some small woodworking tools for her grandson, but was disappointed that her daughter-in-law would not let them in the house. Her son, the daughter-in-law said, would make a mess with them, sawdust and all.  I am reminded further of Bob Dylan, who when asked about his long hair, said that everyone's hair is the same length, but some have it growing on the inside where it fuzzy's their thinking. The daughter-in-law would rather make a mess of her son than have one in the house. So it goes.

I sent home the following note along with the tool boxes to help parents understand the importance of tools:
Tools alter our relationships with the world, changing us from being idle consumers and powerless observers to active participants. With tools your son or daughter will better able to fulfill responsibilities to family and community.

Tools enable learners to investigate things that have broken, and learn directly from the objects that fill our lives. The idea of this tools box is to help your scholar do “homework.” Having a place to keep tools will help your scholar to keep them available when needed, use them responsibly and to put them away safely when a project is complete.

You may have excess tools to share with your child that can be added to the small collection of tools he or she has made in wood shop. Small screwdrivers and pliers would be useful additions. Also, look for small hammers, hand operated drills and small hand saws that can be purchased and added.
Yesterday we took a photo intended to express some tender ideas about Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

beyond verbal formulations...

Today the primary school students at CSS will finish their tool boxes.
From Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886:
It is the most astounding fact of history that education has been confined to abstractions. The schools have taught history, mathematics, language and literature and the sciences to the utter exclusion of the arts, not withstanding the obvious fact that it is through the arts alone that other branches of learning touch human life... In a word, public education stops at the exact point where it should begin to apply the theories it has imparted... At this point the school of mental and manual training combined--the Ideal School--begins; not only books but tools are put in to the hands of the pupil, with this injunction of Comenius; "Let those things that have to be done be learned by doing them."
Also, from Charles H. Hamm:
When it shall have been demonstrated that the highest degree of education results from combining manual with intellectual training, the laborer will feel the pride of a genuine triumph; for the consciousness that every thought-impelled blow educates him, and so raises him in the scale of manhood, will nerve his arm, and fire his brain with hope and courage.
Hamm's theory is the antithesis of Plato, from Divine Dialogs:
"...the simplest and purest way of examining things, is to pursue every particular by thought alone, without offering to support our meditation by seeing or backing our reasonings by any other corporal sense."
To Plato, I offer James' rejoinder: "Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late." – William James. The following is also from Charles Hamm.

It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand.
The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and thereby finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and surrendered our human culture on the altar of stupidity.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 16, 2015

thinking in black and white...

Yesterday I put my new hinge routing template to use installing hinges for my new chapel shaped cabinets. I will make another similar template for routing the hinge mortises for the doors, which are now cut to shape and ready for further design work. This template will serve as a guide to make the next.

I use a dado clean out bit in a small router to cut within the confines set by the template. The bearing follows the shape while the bit cuts the stock. The corners must be chiseled to fit the hinge, but the template also serves as a guide for the chisel.

In this month's National Geographic Magazine, an article about disbelief in science offers troubling conclusions about American education.
"Scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes it's not taught well... Students come away thinking of science as a collection of facts, not a method... The scientific method doesn't come naturally, and many college students don't know what evidence is."
The article makes a mistake in stating that the scientific method is relatively new. In fact the method of thinking exercised in the creation of useful objects is the foundation of the scientific method. You can call it studio thinking, a name given to it by researchers at Harvard, or you can call it maker think. In crafts, you act in an experimental manner and then observe results. What differs between science and crafts comes in the sharing with others the process through which you have achieved results.

The article wonders what we can do to restore a level of scientific understanding and literacy to our nation's schooling. The answer is simple. Allow our students to do real things. In schooling we ask our children to think in black and white,  right and wrong answers but the world of education can come in full color.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

routing hinge mortises...

Yesterday, I made a jig for routing hinge mortises in both the boxes and doors for my series "choiring of the trees."  The board fitted to the underside allows the jig to be clamped in position while a dado clean out router bit is used in a laminate trimmer or small router to cut the mortises. The openings at the ends, left and right and on both sides are cut exactly to the length of the hinge, and the exact distance that the hinge will be set in from the edge. The required depth  of the hinge mortises will be controlled as the router's depth is set.

I realize that the telling of things, even when we try to make language as precise as we can, will not tell the whole of things. A picture is worth a thousand words, but if some prior experience of what the picture portrays is not available to the viewer, even a million words will not suffice. Experience in doing something is required in order to understand.
Man is a Tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; sea are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwarying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all. –– Thomas Carlyle
But possessing tools is only part of the equation. One must also have experience in their use.

A reader, Scott, sent me a link to an article in the Cleveland Plains leader about yet another lost high school wood shop. I was hoping the tide was beginning to turn. It's the same old story. How are woodworking and craftsmanship relevant in the age of industry? Parents who haven't taken wood shop don't understand it. Kids who think all things should be spewed digitally from the end of a nozzle don't get it. Now, industry involves robotics and the idea is that fewer folks than ever will be required to have skill.

Educators often overlook the development of character that stems from making something useful and beautiful with the tools that have traditionally engaged craftsmen. So failure to understand the value of craftsmanship in schools is nothing new. Making useful objects with lasting beauty is not easy, and you can't measure skill on an ACT or SAT test. But development of skill is the fundamental building block of human morality. Some are mistaken in thinking that a moral human culture comes from Sunday school and being instructed in religious principles. But when you are directly involved in crafting useful beauty, you are engaged in exercising fundamental human values and  in learning truth from life itself.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 13, 2015

toads and archers...

Once again, I find that this blog is offered as reading in a philosophy course having to do with zen and archery, Philosophia. It appears to be an annual course and one that I wish had been offered when I was in college. I welcome readers from that course and also offer my blog sawzen as a place of potential interest.

The course states:
“Zen and Archery” teaches students to pay attention to their lives by training them to shoot a bow, to reflect, and to write. We will think about our practices both for the sake of the practices themselves and for the sake of how those practices shape us as practitioners. Our texts will help us discover how to function as mindful members of a community of practitioners.
The word archery comes from the Greek word for bow, but also from the shape of the sun's traverse of the earthly landscape and the arc of the arrow's flight.

Archimedes was a Greek mathematician and philosopher with a particular interest in geometry who came from ancient Media. Was Archimedes his real name, or was he simply an archetype for those who set the standard of scientific inquiry and discovery?

I live in the Ozarks, in the state of Arkansas, both of which are related to the arch of architecture, the arc of the bow and the arrow's feathered flight. I also live in a town named after Archimedes exclamation, Eureka, related to heuristic learning through a sense of discovery. Because our students are deeply engaged in the abundant natural life that is ever present on the Clear Spring School campus, the excitement that Archimedes felt when he ran naked through the streets is present in learning. I was in the school wood shop today when I heard the students unabashedly exclaiming to each other that toads were having sex. Eureka!

On the playground they had discovered two toads engaged in a reproductive exercise. I captured them in my iPhone photo as shown above. Their coloration made them blend in perfectly with the gravel that covers the school playground.

The cars were made for crash testing eggs as part of a physics experiment. The wheels and some of the parts were crafted in wood shop.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

home school box making

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School I started a home school box making class and we began by making basic tool boxes of the type that every child can use. To the basic design, students will add various tool holders as they think best.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

postcard on edge.

I've finished my "postcard on edge," after having taken it to the post office and having its stamps hand cancelled. The clerk apologized that her stamp was not good for curved surfaces, but she stamped both sides as carelessly as she would on paper without raising an eye to the oddity of the situation. Living in an art community is like that. Folks are prepared to roll blithely through the unexpected.

The card, laminated from four layers of veneer is walnut on one side and catalpa on the other. The cancelled stamps (One at the usual corner of each side) are images  of lovely paintings from the Hudson River School. The curved form is a different, more modern kind of art, and the curves allow it to stand on edge.

The finished work will be sold at auction to raise a small sum for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Today in the CSS wood shop, I begin a home school class on box making.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

power news...

Back side Postcard on Edge
Some of my readers may be interested in the power grid and how we address our energy future as a nation, but also as individuals within small communities. There are two views on the table. The large corporations like American Electric Power have become effective at rate mining through Public Service Commissions. That is, they make investments with guaranteed rates of return in excess of 12%. The CEO of AEP has bragged about their effectiveness at getting Public Service Commissions to routinely raise rates, which then increases the rate of return on all their investments, even those that had been fully depreciated decades ago.

Companies like AEP are very protective of their profit margins, and are threatened by the new model of distributed solar in which roof top solar panels and small community solar gardens, skim the profits off their bottom line. They are fighting in state legislatures all across the US to stop the growth of solar. So the choice we face is power in the hands of people and communities, or in the hands of corporations.

In my own life, and after having faced down SWEPCO/AEP and the Southwest Power Pool over the 345 kV Shipe Road to Kings River power line that threatened my own property, I have become convinced that taking power generation into our own hands is the most logical course.

If you are interested in your own energy future, subscribe to Power News. It is published by the director of my own organization Save the Ozarks.

We are facing a showdown here in Arkansas with the Sierra Club. They have adopted the view that a massive extra high voltage power line across the South, and through the middle of Arkansas, (Clean Line) will facilitate the movement toward green energy in the form of wind power from the great plains and have thereby chosen to stand as allies with the major investors, rather than with the people most affected by the decisions made by those corporations.

This is in direct contrast to the basic premise of the environmental movement. Think global, act local. By shifting their dependence from coal plants to distant wind turbines, they leave the traditional power transmission companies still in charge, and shift the environmental costs of managing their own lives to distant sources of supply, thus keeping damages from their own chosen lifestyles out of sight, and out of mind.

There are some things we learn from direct engagement with our hands in the creative processes through which human beings have built lives and culture. Remove the hands from this basic equation, and what we get is an alliance between organizations and corporations that damage the fabric of communities, large and small.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 09, 2015

odd things...

I was asked to take a stand-in cover shot for the book about Froebel's gifts, so took an image similar to this, but in high resolution with a real camera instead of the iPhone. Also, I've made a post card from wood, and carved a heart shaped bowl for use in a publicity photo for Clear Spring School.

The post card (walnut on one side and catalpa on the other) will be sold in a fund raiser among postcards made by other artists. I am calling this one, "postcard on edge." The shape of it allows it to free stand on one side. I'll put a stamp on it, and ask the post office to cancel it for me.

You can see that I've made some additional progress on the Choiring of Trees. I assembled the joints by using angled blocks and double stick tape to enable clamps to be used. I routed the sides to make a rabbet for back panelsand cut Baltic birch plywood to fit.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 08, 2015

blocks making a comeback?

In some schools they never went away. In fact, at Clear Spring School today, the children in primary and pre-primary still play with blocks that my daughter played with over 20 years ago.

Behold the Humble Block! Tools of the trade from NPR. To say that blocks have been around a hundred years as is claimed in this article on NPR is an understatement. Friedrich Froebel used blocks as an instructional device with children as early as the fist part of the 1800s. His block sets were a part of his invention of Kindergarten. His blocks were also unit blocks in that they all could be used in association with the blocks from each other set. What Caroline Pratt did in her "unit blocks" was make them larger, with a rectangular block being the primary component rather than the cube. Being larger meant that a group of pre-primary and primary school kids could more easily build things cooperatively rather than as personal constructions, and Froebel's blocks had been criticized by some because they were so small that some small motor skills had to be developed to be most successful in their use.

But then, who ever heard of small motor skills being a bad thing? Playing with blocks would even help in the development of penmanship. Frank Lloyd Wright got his start in architecture through the use of Frobel's blocks, and a bit of research would have informed the authors of this segment, that blocks had been around and used in education for two centuries, not one.

I thank NPR for alerting its listeners to the value of playing with blocks. I just hope folks would learn the full depth of the story. Our students in pre-primary and primary "play" with  blocks of the Caroline Pratt design.

The following applies to both play with blocks and causes one to reflect on the amount of pressure that is applied to the very young  to begin reading. Just think how much easier it is to pull a rope than to push one.
"A large part of the educational waste comes from the attempt to build a superstructure of knowledge without a solid foundation in the child's relation to his social environment. In the language of correlation, it is not science, or history or geography that is the center, but the group of social activities growing out of the home relations. It is beginning with the motor rather than with the sensory side... It is one of the great mistakes of education to make reading and writing constitute the bulk of the school work the first two years. The true way is to teach them incidentally as the outgrowth of the social activities at this time."-- John Dewey, from The University Record, The University of Chicago Press, 1896
Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 07, 2015

mistaken views of science and of reading...

National Geographic this month offers an article hoping to shed light on the anti-science bias of the American people. It addressed the lack of science literacy as apparently reasonable people adhere to outrageous beliefs. Some folks deny various things that have been well documented in history. Other folks deny global warming even though there is a large body of evidence and scientific consensus on the issue.

I lay much of this errancy at the feet of American education. How do students become proficient at interpreting real things when they've done diddly squat? Engagement in the arts and crafts and woodworking, in conjunction with hands-on engagement in scientific experimentation allows the child to enter the community of scientific and experiential method rather than being a casual bystander to science. Lecturing a child in science robs the child of heuristic engagement in it.

Yesterday we had a reading specialist at school to explain her method. I sat there imagining what my own response would have been as a child sitting in a chair looking at flash cards and making vowel sounds. Even as an adult, I was squirming and looking for a way to exit the room.

There are those who need the help of specialists in reading. Understanding the vowel sounds and the various consonants is important and can help in sounding out words. In some cases experts are necessary because children are forced to read too soon. Reading that is forced before the child is developmentally ready is difficult and distasteful for the child.  I sat as patiently as I could and then asked the specialist about reading readiness and noted that in Finland, children learn to read in 30 percent less time, because of their delayed implementation of reading instruction. She was not aware of Finland having so far surpassed American readers. When you invest your intensity in one particular direction, you may awaken to realize you've missed a few important things.

Pushing kids to read too soon should be considered a form of abuse. It can rob them of the sense of discovery that builds joy in reading. There are those who simply read spontaneously. They may need a bit of help sounding out words. But just because some read more spontaneously at an earlier age than others does not mean that we should inflict reading upon the masses before their brains are developmentally prepared. And again, doing real things comes into play. Doing things builds the vocabulary. For instance, in the wood shop we use a variety of tools that build conceptual frameworks, that are also associated with words and their meanings. Straight lines, and right angles come to mind.

Both education in science and in reading are made more meaningful, effective and complete when based on discovery rather than on instruction. Instruction can be effective on one hand, when the child is truly engaged in the instruction. On the other hand, it can be a form of theft, taking away the heuristic engagement that builds lifelong learning.

In this, I am not aiming criticism on those who attempt to teach reading and science in the severe circumstances one encounters in too many American schools. Instead, I am calling for a revolution in understanding, and a restoration of the principles laid out in earlier times.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 06, 2015

spring in step, even if it's not spring...

This day is absolutely lovely here in Arkansas. The snow is melting, and I woke up in the night thinking of woodworking. In particular, I received a new tank for boiling box sides for making Shaker, and Scandinavian boxes, and I am excited about making boxes. As I lay awake in bed, I imagined cutting wood into thin sides, and making some new forms to use for bending wood to shape. It would be a lovely thing to do with my kids at school.

Yesterday I went through my files to double check and make sure that I've provided my editor all that he needs to begin designing and editing my book on Making Froebel's Gifts. We have grown uncertain of the title. Froebel is too nearly forgotten in American education. There will be a small group of dedicated Froebel enthusiasts who will be interested in the book, but our hope is that this book will awaken a much broader interest in Froebel's methods. Kindergarten itself is so poorly understood these days with regard to what Froebel had intended of it. So making the gifts of Kindergarten would be misunderstood as well. Like the contents, a title can be the start of a change in mental state and awareness. And it must be that in this as well.

A reader asked how to build a stop into the operation of a pin hinged lid. It is a simple matter of geometry. If the pin is slightly offset in its position, as it moves through its rotation, the back of the lid comes in contact with the back of the box. The image above may help to illustrate the concept.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 05, 2015

return of shop classes...

I heard a rumor that our neighboring community of Berryville, Arkansas is considering building a new high school wood shop. That may mean that the tide is beginning to turn. When a small town in Arkansas suddenly realizes the stupidity of children not being engaged in doing real things, it may signal a return to the simple understanding that humanity is enhanced and human culture is formed anew when students are granted the opportunity to exercise their creative capacities.

This new movement in Berryville seems to be led by a superintendent who has a better grip on how we all learn and how teachers must teach if children are to be fully engaged in schooling. He had noted at a school board meeting that when he visits a classroom and sees the students passively listening to their teacher standing at the head of the class, things are not right. The vision that most administrators hold as their ideal, where students are passively listening is dead wrong.

The great mistake in American education is to think of children as a class and not as a room full of individual minds. The greater mistake is to attempt to force them to perform as a class, rather than as a grouping of individuals with varying skills, interests and potentials. While schools are testing to demand an answer to the question, "are you smart?" The big question becomes, "how are our students smart?" To learn the answer to that, we need to provide real challenges and allow demonstrations doing real things, in which students have followed their own interests to discover their true capabilities, and having been encouraged by skilled teaching staff. If you think that will look at all like a conventional classroom in which students passively listen, you are mistaken.

There is no school today as all will be digging out from our winter storm, and our roads are too steep for safe travel.  I will use the tractor to clear our road, and do the same at Clear Spring Pre-school, where the road becomes treacherous for a week or more if ice is allowed to harden on it. Fortunately we will have several days of clear skies and warming.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

tool boxes and sense of self

I am off from school today due to a pending winter storm.  I had planned to begin a class on box making for home schooled students. But that will be delayed for one more week.

Yesterday in wood shop classes, my first and second grade students continued making their tool boxes. It is amazing to me how much impact these tool boxes can have. Usually my students want to decorate the wood objects they have made and take them home as soon as they are allowed. Decoration is part of the process of claiming ownership. Taking the object home is step number two in asserting their possession of what they have made.

These tool boxes seem to signal a higher level of maturity in response to their work. They have been in no rush to finish them and are in no rush to take them home, as they want tools to go inside. Last week we added tool holders for screwdrivers and other tools to be organized in the box. Yesterday we added holders for pencils, and we began making small tools to enable work at home. We made squares that they can use to mark wood for a square cut. Next week they want to make magnetic nail holders like those we use in the shop. We will also make a sanding block to be kept inside.

A tool box and the tools that go in it are important symbols. They identify the child as one who is trusted with powerful objects, and as one who has an important role in both family and community.

I remain deeply puzzled that there are some who do not understand the necessity that all students:

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

odd joints and glue...

 I've cut the parts and routed the hidden spline slots for assembly of my small wood chapels that will hold a "choir" consisting of samples of American hardwoods. Two chapels will be free standing and one is designed for wall mounting. After the parts are sanded, they will be glued together, a back will be fitted, and the galleries will be installed to hold the members of the "choir."

An article in Fine Woodworking this month illustrates making the "perfect mitered box." We all know that perfection is in the eye of the beholder, or more accurately, in the relationship between the observer and the object, and takes into consideration a wide range of values and experiences. I asked the author about his assembly of the perfect mitered box without using anything but glue. He had used a technique of pre-gluing the mitered ends and refrained from using any further method of strengthening the joint.

I was not the only one to question the glue only technique, and he was having to answer a number of questions from readers on his assertion that glue could be enough.

My thought was that if he could provide evidence of the effectiveness of a glued-only mitered joint, I could use it in this project that I hope will last a century or more when complete. Still, I could not resist doing what I know would work best. To spend a few hours making fixtures to hold the parts for routing, and then to spend a bit of extra time during the gluing operation makes perfect sense in light of the assurance it will not fall apart due to the expansion and contraction of wood.

Today in woodshop, my first and second grade students will be finishing their tool boxes. My upper elementary school students will be working on a variety of projects of their own interest.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 02, 2015

choiring of trees...

An author friend passed away a few short years back, and my favorite of his books is The Choiring of the Trees. In that book a character was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair in the Arkansas State Prison. But while waiting on death row, Nail Chism, could hear the trees of his home forest singing in choir. The choiring was what sustained him and guided him home following his escape.

These small chapel-like boxes are to contain small choirs of our local hardwoods, similar to an earlier series of boxes I called "reliquaries" of wood. The idea is that our forest diversity is a thing that should be held sacred. An arrangement of small samples of 25 Arkansas species will form the "choir. "

The photo above shows the interesting angles required for form the shape. In the photo below are also the routing jigs that will be used to guide the stock as hidden loose tenon joints are formed. At this point, the joints are merely taped together to check their fit. At the top, the roof sections are cut at 30 degrees to form a 60 degree angle. Where the roof intersects the sides, parts are cut 15 degrees off 90 to form a 150 degree joint.

Don Harington grew up in Arkansas and built his set of novels around remembrances to visits with his grandparents in a small town between Eureka Springs and Fayetteville. Harington was left profoundly deaf by meningococcal meningitis from age 12, but remembered the patterns of speech from that earlier time which then laid a foundation for dialog in his books, which, including Choiring of the Trees have been described as an undiscovered continent.

In conversation and by email, Don remind me of the number of tools and their uses that he included in his books. So in this project, I hope to pay tribute to the forests, and to a favorite author at the same time. For those who have not read Harington, I suggest Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks as the best starting point.

Harington was a professor of art history, and you will note that the title of this first book is a word play on the shape of the arc. Architecture, Arkansas and the Ozarks are etymologically connected. The Choiring of the Trees also offers a playful word twist. Choiring can refer to both the singing and the shape of trees gathered in  a ring. The idea expressed here is that when you open the box, portions of the ringed arrangement of species will be discovered inside. The chapel shape will put the viewer on alert as to the sacredness of the contents of the box.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 01, 2015

an odd position...

I find myself in an odd position that I suspect will sort itself out in time.  We began using the 3-D printer in school because I wanted students to begin to understand the process of designing work. We started with drawing boards, made our own t-squares, did some very basic orthographic projections, and then went through an introduction to Sketchup™ in the hopes my students would follow through and use their at-home computers to take an interest in design. The making of legos™ came next in the process.

Then in order to get some additional mileage out of the machine, I introduced the idea of making a prosthetic hand and the joining of e-Nable. So we've done that. I have become a slave of the machine, in that when it needs something to complete a hand, I poke at the controls, try to figure out why it messed up, adjust things and start over.

It is a bit like baking. You have to step back out of the way while the oven does its work, but keep an eye on things so you don't lose the product. I've found that the 3-D printer is a lot like other tools. There is a learning curve in its use. For instance, the plastic is spewed in layers onto the build plate. The build plate can be covered with blue masking tape so that things can be removed. If the build surface is too slick, or the table is out of level, the parts, and supports will come loose, making the printer make messes instead of the desired plastic objects. If the build surface is not slick enough, then the plastic objects require a chisel and mallet to remove them from it. People don't automatically tell you these things, so there are still things to discover about the process. That's a good thing.

Finally, I think I have things worked out. I am using premium green masking tape on the build plate, but to make it just a little less slick, I'm wiping down the surface with alcohol between builds, and I'm trying to build fewer parts at a time, so that if something messes up, it won't be a whole hand.

I am at that point in my own life that I am beginning to come to terms with my own mortality. I have a shop full of tools that were necessary for me to earn a living. I have a barn full of woods that were gathered because they were of interest to me. I have an inventory of works that ought to be sold. And we do get to a point that we would prefer our relationships to be with people rather than with things. Things can become burdensome, whereas friends can lighten any load.

Make, fix and create...