Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Charles A. Bennett

If anyone is interested in why the Manual Arts almost disappeared from American education it would be of some value to understand the full scope of its mission and history. Charles A. Bennett, in his  volumes on the history of manual arts and industrial education broke the history into two periods, that leading up to 1870, and then from 1870-1917. You might be curious about those dates and what they imply.

The earlier volume allowed Bennett to explore the roots and foundation of the movement, from the ragged schools in London to the thoughts of Pestalozzi, Froebel, Thomas Hartlib, John Locke, and so many others, including the Oswego Normal School movement in the US.

What the heck happened in 1870 that would cause Bennett to divide his volumes on that year? The world at that time was poised in the edge of rapid industrialization following the American Civil War. There was a huge need for warm, skilled bodies in industry, and the public, all over the world came to the same conclusion, whether in France, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, or the far east. All children needed to become educated in hands as well as in mind.

Bennett's volume from 1870-1917 told of the rapid expansion in industrial arts training that took place during that time. It begins with the introduction of the Russian System of Victor Della Vos, that was intended to develop those skilled bodies for industry that rising nation states needed to be ever prepared for war, and with Educational Sloyd that sought a means to extend the Kindergarten method into the upper years and thereby develop the whole child. These two systems using similar techniques had distinctly different purposes. During the last years of the 19th century and the beginnings of the twentieth, Educational Sloyd and the Russian system worked toward an uneasy compromise with an American version of manual arts training coming from a small school in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and the North Bennet St. School in Boston.

Yesterday I received my invitation to the 340th birthday celebration at the Eliot School in Jamaica Plain, that played an important role in the history of Manual Arts Training. You can read about their role in things here.

So what happened in 1917 that caused Charles A. Bennett to end his two volume history on that year? In 1917, American President Woodrow Wilson waded into the controversy that had enlivened the development of Manual and Industrial Arts Training, by passing the Smith-Hughes Act, which fed federal dollars into the field weighted heavily on career and technical education, and ignoring the implications of manual arts training in the development of the whole child. No longer would manual arts training be seen as having a broad effect on the whole of American education. Instead, it would only be offered to those who would not be destined for academic life.

This fit quite well with Woodrow Wilson's ideas that he had expressed as President of Princeton University in an earlier time.
We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
 Yesterday in the wood shop, students worked on their guitars and my high school students began learning how to solder so they can assemble the parts for turning their guitars electric. They are also ready to begin assembling small amplifiers. One of my students (second grade) has decided that she likes wood shop, and came in during her lunch recess to finish painting a tool box she wanted to make for her Paw Paw. The results are shown in the image above.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others an understanding of the necessity that all learn likewise.

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