Sunday, January 17, 2016

reshaping education in the US...

I have begun framing my thoughts and planning for a one day education symposium for the Oregon Woodworking Guild in which we hope various educators will gather, get acquainted with each other, and conspire. In preparation for that I called my friend Miguel, the director of the North Bennet St. School in Boston to get an update on their youth programming. I was pleased to learn that they continue to work with a few very local schools where the students can walk to NBSS. They learned that bringing students by bus is out of the question, but they have programs in wood working, jewelry making and book making. I also talked with a newer friend in Indianapolis, who, with partners, has the noble idea of adding maker spaces to every school in Indiana.

Here I quote from a personal email I received from David Henry Feldman on the state of American education and its problems.
My own point of view about education is that it has gone lopsided, understandably, because of the number of kids who are unprepared for school and who don’t know how to do school work. So the system puts most of its resources into trying to get all kids at least well enough prepared to do the work up to a minimum standard.

The other, in many respects more important, purpose of education is to help each child find his or her true path. The goal tends to be relegated to after school or out of school activities. The preoccupation with ‘standards’ also has a dampening effect on this second, more sacred, purpose.

Without denigrating the very real challenges of insuring at least a minimum of competence in all of our students, if we don’t also celebrate the uniqueness and distinct potential of each student, and if we don’t guide each one toward a life well lived, we may win the battle but lose the war.
When shop classes were first started in American schools, (and as I've explained before) there were two compelling reasons. One was that we were becoming an industrialized nation and were in need of skilled hands. The second was that it was then realized that making beautiful and useful things bound the child to higher purpose, in the same manner as would engagement in the arts. I can describe (and often do describe) the many non-economic benefits of doing real things and most specifically working with wood.

For example, on Wednesday, I had my upper elementary school students turning wood on the lathe. Lily had done a beautiful handle for her small hammer. It was smooth. There were no tool markings and the shape was well conceived. She looked at me and stated, "I am very proud of this." But she did not need my guidance in her self-assessment. She knew precisely why it was good work. Moments later I heard her complimenting a younger student. "That's very good Ana." And so what I'm describing is not just quality of work. I'm describing the quality of the person doing the work. In less than a minute, Lily had self-assessed, expressed pride, and from the stand-point of her own success had encouraged another in her work. This is not to say that similar things don't happen in the arts and in music and in theater, or in other areas in which students are encouraged to do real things instead of labor senselessly on abstraction.

The loss of wood shops in schools was not because they are no longer needed, but because the true purpose of them was misunderstood. We regain that understanding, that wood shop, the arts, and music are essential, when we take note of the essential role of the hands in learning. The hands form the bridge between abstract thought and the real world. Without their engagement the mind will never arise to its full capacity.

I find it somewhat ironic, that if what Dr. Feldman says is true, schools ignore the developmental needs of so many kids because so many come to school ill-prepared for learning. For the very odd thing is that manual arts training was once considered by some to be what you do with kids who are ill prepared for academics. In any case, I teach woodworking and love it.

Make, fix, create, and extend to the others the capacity to learn likewise.

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