Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year 2016

On becoming a sloyd teacher, Otto Salomon said the following:
It is most important that this should be laid down once and for all, because some teachers possibly imagine that the technical skill necessary for teaching may be obtained by attending one or two sloyd courses. This is by no means the case, and the organizers of such sloyd courses are the first to understand and to insist upon the fact, that they can only aim at laying a foundation on which students may afterwards build by means of independent work. Just as little as one can learn to play on any instrument by merely taking lessons for a given time from a music teacher, can skill in the management of tools be acquired and maintained without continuous and earnest practice. The teacher who feels real interest in sloyd must therefore, on his own account, endeavor to improve in respect of technical skill, and this will prove a two-fold gain because the bodily exercise affords a healthy change form the mental work with which the time of the teacher is chiefly filled.–The Teachers Handbook of Sloyd
As we look to a new year with an understanding of what must be done, we must also ask who can do it. I can assure you that it is far easier to teach a skilled craftsman to teach woodworking than it would be to teach a trained teacher unskilled in hand work to teach woodworking. I am assisted time and time again in the classroom by having had the opportunity to understand the nature and characteristics of individual species of wood, how to sharpen tools, how to plan projects so that they offer my students some possibility of success. So, to be completely honest, what we face in restoring wood shops to schools will be an enormous challenge. What are your ideas about this? If you have none, I will proceed on my own, but would prefer to move forward with help.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others have the opportunity to learn likewise.


  1. When wood shop was offered in schools 15-20 years ago the kids had more experience working with tools before they even entered the shop. Less technology meant that we'd do things with our imagination and hands to create and fix.

    Kids aren't typically exposed to tool usage like they were in the past. Teaching a skill like wood working at a certain level does need to be taught by a competent craftsman, not by someone who has never swung a hammer. But, exposing the kids to wood working at a younger age can be taught by most anyone with basic skills. Kids can take blocks of wood and create airplanes, cars, or basic sculptures by drilling, screwing, and nailing the pieces together.
    Younger kids can take a precut "package" and learn to clamp, glue, nail it together to create a birdhouse or toolbox. They can learn to sand and finish to make a functional and aesthetic piece. The basic skills needed to take the next step to a more advanced level.

    One suggestion is to start classes at an elementary level where art is still somewhat valued and teach the basic skills with basic hand tools.

  2. At Clear Spring School, we start hammering with nails into a log at pre-school, and then twice a week wood shop at first grade through 12th. I agree that kids can get an enormous sense of pride just from gluing blocks together and building from kits. And to guide in very simple projects does not require as much in the way of experience.

    When I visited at the University of Helsinki in 2008, I toured the wood shop where kindergarten teachers were learning woodworking to introduce it to their kids.

    In the US, masters level classes would all be dedicated to reading or classroom management.

    What I am hoping for is a broad approach toward making things real in American public School classrooms, with a renewed emphasis on the arts, music and wood shop.

  3. The arts have suffered as soon as we left no child behind. Which in reality left them all in the dust.
    Schools teaching to the test without time to make real life connections to the subject. Test scores become more valuable then the actual child since scores produced funding. How can the Dept. of Educ. create a standardized test for the arts? Or creativity, or expression? They can't so they minimized or eliminated what they can't score.

    I recently started working with a group of kids aged 7-14...basic skills in a confined space. Most of them have never pounded a nail, drilled a hole into wood, or created something on their own. I'm starting with precut pieces and leaving them room to expand and to make it their own. They're all excited to learn and hungry for more. The first steps have been to get them to actually put the tools in their hands with a reason to use them.

  4. Jim, what you describe is exactly what we need... a grassroots effort to take matters into our own hands. A number of readers are woodworking with their children and grandchildren or making their skills and interests available through scouting or to home schooled students.

    No Child left behind was a disaster. We will know we are headed back on track when Kindergarten and pre-school teachers are learning to incorporate woodworking along with the other arts and music back in classrooms. As far as reading goes, we should again be paying attention to Finland. There, instead of starting reading at age 5, they start at age eight, when children are developmentally ready for it, and by the time they are tested in PISA testing, they far surpass American readers in 30% less time, while also learning to speak English and make things from wood.

  5. I taught in the primary level for 5 years and had to get out. I couldn't take the bureaucracy, testing, and lack of concern for what was actually going on. The teachers driving force was how to get better at teaching to the test-which is really not teaching.

    I decided on my own to put tools in the hands of kids and start working with them. To foster their creativity and allow them to tear things apart, build with wood, and to build something that they've imagined.

    Grassroots is the only way things will begin to change-I see a lot of good things happening over the past few years, websites like yours, maker spaces, maker faires, tinkering schools, and art workshops. Most of these places weren't around 5 years ago-we just need their numbers to keep multiplying to reach more kids.

    Tackling the Dept. of Educ. is another matter. They don't understand the importance of play, the arts, creativity. I knew we were in trouble when recess time started to get cut.

    I agree with your reading assessment. Kids will pick up the process naturally-especially in today's technological world.

  6. Jim, the people in charge of education are most often selected from those who were somewhat successful in it, going on to get masters and doctoral degrees. So trying to turn education is like trying to turn the Titanic. The guys at the top of the ship are often isolated by fog from what teachers see on the ground. The statistics are that almost 50% of teachers with Masters degrees leave the field of education in their first 3-5 years.

  7. Doug,
    Are there industrial/manual arts education advocacy organizations, or manufacturing organizations advocating for industrial arts in the schools? Also, somebody (with the initials D.S!) needs to write a great book arguing for bringing back shop class -- something like "Shop Class as Soulcraft" but specifically addressing arts in schools.

  8. Interesting question. The National Association of Manufacturers said this in January 2015...

    Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)/NCLB:
    What It Is:
    The Act funds primary and secondary education though an emphasis on equal access to education and accountability. Funds are authorized for professional development, instructional materials, for resources to support educational programs, and for parental involvement promotion. The most recent reauthorization is known as “No Child Left Behind.”

    That's their position and their sticking to it, even though that legislative policy is failed and out of date.