Sunday, September 11, 2016

An experiment in education.

Forgive me, this is long, but I've felt compelled to leave it so.

Yesterday I had a brief visit by members of the American Folk Art Museum. I led them through an overview of my philosophy and work, gave them a tour of the shop, and some brief instruction in the processes of my work. It was a very small pinprick of time that I hope was useful and informative for my guests. I sold some boxes. At the end of the week we will have a visit by 25 more members.

My daughter graduated yesterday in New York with her second master's degree. This new degree is in education.

We would all like education to be cut and dried, in that we want each child to be treated fairly, and with respect, and that each will be fully prepared for a future that will be forever unknown to us. I have been reading Seymour Sarason on the subject "Why teachers must also be psychologists," and visited with a friend yesterday who had pulled her daughter from the Bentonville School of the Arts, after her teacher had a near breakdown in class, screaming at the kids, and blaming them for everything that was wrong. Sarason noted: "Teaching teachers involves every psychological issue and principle involved in teaching children. The would-be educators, like the pupils they will later teach, are not un-formed, empty vessels, devoid of knowledge, assets, interests, and experience in matters educational."

By the time a student graduates from high school, he or she will have spent in excess of 15,000 hours in schooling, whereas, 10,000 hours has been recognized as the threshold of mastery in various fields. From that vantage point, we can see that our students become masters and a half in being schooled while learning much too little about life.

Sarason does not offer the most hopeful view of what we are up against. He notes how little use education makes of the resources offered by modern psychology, and that most of our experiments in education pay little attention to how children learn or to what drives them to learn. The point is that teaching children can be like walking through a minefield. On the one hand, you have the truth (or lack of truth) of the material being taught. On yet another, each child presents a complex psychological pre-disposition in its own right. Parental expectations pose yet another potential for explosive and disruptive force. Add to this, that all teachers and all administrators are by their own rights, walking sets of psychological pre-dispositions, and that each and all are given the rights in the classroom to perform in manners that either enhance the child's interest to learn, or threaten psychological harm.

I am often reminded of Bob Dylan's line from a song,  being "bent out of shape by society's pliers." Having been in school at the time the song came out, I knew exactly what the words meant. Schools have a not-so-well-hidden purpose of twisting students into shape, that they may perform in ways pleasing to adults, but that do severe damage to the child's interest in learning. And if a child simply emerges from the process of being schooled with some great love in hand, that child may arise in time to conquer all.

When my daughter attended our Eureka Springs Public High School, she came home several times in tears, not because of what other children had said to her, but because of insults laid upon her by a particular member of the teaching staff. And so a strong personality can overcome the slights and insults offered in schooling, and propel beyond them.

Some good while back, Matt Crawford had used a quote from this blog as the opening line of chapter one of his book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, as follows:
“In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
Part of the point is that when children have real things to do in school, there's more at work than wrestling with the psychological insuffiencies of the parents or of the teaching and administrative staff. The student instead becomes engaged in real life and may actually learn more about himself  or herself in the process.

On yet another subject, a blog reader expressed his admiration for my triptych boxes, and wants me to bring one to my class next summer at Marc Adams School. That suggestion led me to submit photos of one to editors and friends at Fine Woodworking. A comment from a friend had led me to submit photos of my walnut work bench to Fine Woodworking and that led to it being included in their magazine several years ago. Perhaps this will work in that same manner. When friends offer encouragement of your work, make the assumption that others may also.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

No comments:

Post a Comment