Monday, February 29, 2016

yesterday, this day and tomorrow.

The image at left is an advertisement from Time Magazine, and the caption reads, "Tomorrow I hope to teach Leo to use his hands for something besides video games." Is that not a hope shared by so many these days?

John G. Neihardt wrote that among the Plains Indians, mothers and fathers were most often too busy to perform the important role of teaching their children, and so that opportunity fell to the grandparents. It was the grandparents' responsibility to bring each child into the culture of the tribe. If a boy received his first bow and arrows, they were made by a grandfather. If a child made his first bow and arrows, it would be under the guiding hands of an elder. If a young woman made a pair of moccasins, it, too, would have been under the guidance of a grandmother. And so, as families have become spread out, and the importance of developing hand skills has been marginalized, it has become of increasing importance that those of a certain age take on the responsibilities that ought to come traditionally with age. The responsibility of sustaining human culture is large, and made more difficult by the ease with which digital devices are able to distract young people from the development of diverse skills.
 "The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
If you want your children or those around you to arise to their full intellectual stature (as also suggested by the photo) lure your children into the shop, and let them discover real skills. Their intellectual engagement from making real things will lead them to something beyond the virtual (non-virtuous) world.

Mondays and Wednesdays are my busiest days with 4 classes each day. I have each student at the Clear Spring School in wood shop twice a week. And so I have the privilege of knowing each student well and to plan with them the growth of their skills and creative thought.

On Sundays I always have a list of materials that I prepare in my home shop for use at school related to whatever projects the kids are working on at the time. So yesterday I milled walnut and maple turning stock so that some of my kids can make checkers, and similar stock so that one of my students can make a chess set of her own design. She asked for walnut and maple stock 2 cm. square from which to cut the various chess pieces.

I intersperse school activities with time in my own shop working on projects of my own design. Yesterday, for instance, I made trays to fit in the chest style boxes we'll be making in one of the classes with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers.

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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

hands-on for what?

It was too beautiful for words here yesterday. As wonderful as that can be, it is also troubling as this is supposed to be winter and not yet spring. We should have had many more very cold days but have had few of them, and while there are those who deny the validity of science by refusing to accept that global warming is  real, or that it is man-made, or that we should do something about it, the weather we have and the stupidity of those who deny it suggests that all learning must be made hands-on in order that our society might escape ignorance.

So, it being as beautiful as it was, I spent part of the morning out of doors applying a final coat of Danish oil to production boxes, and then spent the afternoon in the wood shop with the doors open to fresh air.

Rousseau had said, put a young man in a wood shop, he'll become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman, and in my case (and in the case of so many others), I guess its true. While my hands do routine tasks (like oiling boxes) that require only part of my attention, I think about the state of education and what I need to tell my readers (or myself) about life and learning. I came up with a brief list of occupations that require hands-on learning and you are welcome to use the comments section below to suggest others to add to my list.
  1. Surgeon
  2. Contractor
  3. Chemist
  4. Carpenter
  5. Plumber
  6. Inventor
  7. Chef
  8. Entrepreneur
  9. Home maker
  10. Designer
  11. Artist
  12. Musician
  13. Playwright
  14. Actor
  15. Teacher
  16. Doctor
  17. Engineer
  18. Craftsman
  19. Electrician
  20. Mechanic
  21. Dentist
I can go on. Are there any in the list who are not necessary to the quality of life we enjoy? Are there any in this list who are unnecessary to our economy? And now I'll go on to list a few that you may have assumed are unrelated to hands-on learning, but even these, for the sake of society at large would best be educated hands-on.
  1. Philosopher (Did I not just prove that philosophy and the hands are related?)
  2. Poet (Where do you think poets get their metaphors if not from the hands?)
  3. Composer (Where did he get his knowledge of instruments?)
  4. Pastor or Priest (How do you relate to your parishioners if you are literally out of touch?)
  5. Political pundit (Don't we wish more of them were less out of touch?)
  6. Politician (Don't we wish more of them were less out of touch?)
  7. Scientist (Are you kidding? Can you imagine a real scientist who is not deeply engaged in learning through his or her hands?)
  8. Lawyer (I've met many who have woodworking as their hobby.)
  9. Accountant (see Lawyer.)
  10. Human resources manager. (Don't we wish THEY, too, were more in touch?)
A reader in a comment below, had asked about Finger-Blindness as described by Finnish brain researcher Matti Bergström who passed away in the summer of 2015. This post, Fitting oneself to the whole of the social order may help to explain where Bergström fits into progressive educational thought.

Richard Bazeley sent this link to an interview with Guy Claxton on the subject of embodied cognition. Embodied cognition is a field of science that I've written about many times in the blog, so you can find more on it by using the search function at upper left.

My symposium for educators in Portland, Oregon now has 18 students registered, but there is still room for a few more. Also, I've hands-on classes arranged in box making and making a small cabinet. You can register on-line here.

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

Saturday, February 27, 2016

this is your brain on jazz

Design them as you like.
In response to a question I received from a woodworking teacher via email I began looking back into the blog for the kinds of research that reinforce my position... that the hands are essential to learning and that what is true for one applies to others as well. Some of the most notable research in this area comes from Susan Goldin-Meadow and her researchers associated with her institute for the study of gesture at the University of Chicago.

If you use the search block at upper left and type in the word "gesture," you will find a number of interesting blog posts referring to the study of gesture ranging from the memorization of lines in theater, to mathematics. If there was no connection between the hands and learning (even having been given nothing more than your own experience you'd have to be an ignoramus to assert there is none) then gesture research nails the concept of hands-on learning where we can take a better look at it.

A piezo hidden in the bridge turns this one electric
The other area in which the use of the hands and their connection to the functioning of the brain has been explored is in music. An interesting piece of research was published in 2008 by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Deafness and other Communications Disorders (NIDCD), a research arm of the US government. They wanted to know how the brain functions when jazz is played by musicians as compared with those same musicians playing pre-composed structured music. They even developed their own non-magnetic keyboard and headphones to function in the fMRI intense magnetic fields. The results showed that a whole different part of the brain was utilized when musicians were allowed to participate in improvisational and innovative performance.
The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.
And so, if that's the case, and most particularly for those schools that would choose to attempt to educate the whole child, the kinds of activities in which children have the opportunity to improvise, whether in music or in wood, are essential to learning. To leave part of the child's brain undeveloped and to knowingly do so should be regarded as irresponsible. This bit of research can be found here: This is your brain on jazz.

One writer has suggested that Donald Trump's success in the Republican presidential race has been his reliance on a 3rd-to 5th grade level of speech to better entice  poorly educated voters to support him in presidential primaries. If you mastered the Dick and Jane books as a kid in first and second grades, you'd be ready for Trump. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade-Level Index can be used to measure the sophistication of written language. Applied to Trump's speeches and compared to the language used by other candidates in the field, Trump has been called out for conducting a "Captain Underpants" campaign in which he is deliberately targeting the stupid and inept. The other candidates target their speeches to the 5th to 8th grade levels.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Index measures such things as the number of characters in words, the number of syllables in words, and the number of words in sentences as an indication of the complexity of the language used.

You can test your own writing level using this free site. I used one paragraph of this blog post to measure its readability level and it measured at the grade 13.8 grade level which means that if you graduated from high school and endured almost two years of college, you would likely understand what I'm talking about. Will you do something about it?

Trump's success illustrates, there is some advantage to stating things clearly, cleanly and at a grade level the widest possible audience can understand, regardless of whether anything you say is truthful or not. One of the challenges I have in my own writing is that I use too many big words and too many long sentences, but I hope you know that what I say is true, as it can be tested in your own hands (if you've a willingness to do so).

I've been playing my box guitars and find that while I'm not good at it, I do feel a sense of meditative calm from it. I've also been applying another coat of Danish oil to boxes so that they can be sold.

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

Friday, February 26, 2016

the brain and the hands.

A reader asked the following question that may interest others as well.
I read some years back (in a text that I can no longer put my hands on) that there are specific spots in the body beyond the brain that are in and of themselves locations of brain function. This physiological support for the value of our efforts to encourage the use of one's hands and body to learn in ways that pure intellect cannot alone achieve would seem to be an area of interest to anyone supportive of your work so elegantly explored in your Wisdom of the Hands blog.

Are you familiar with this science, and can you direct me to some authoritative sources? I would love to share with our school administrators. I am fully supported in the growth of our woodworking classes -- I just like to continue to learn and grow in the area, and I think some science would be interesting and persuasive to others.
I am not familiar with that specific bit of research but I think that a fundamental problem made in science and scientific research is to take things apart and then forget how they are put together. As stated eloquently by Frank Wilson, the hands and brain comprise a learning system that co-evolved simultaneously in direct response to each other in the development of our species. If you look at the serial output on your computer, you don't care exactly where the actual processing is taking place, but simply that the data goes in and comes out in a useful form. Trying to get a handle on the hand-brain mechanism is like trying to watch what's on TV with your eyes closed. But it has long been a subject of fascination. Robert Keable Row, in his book, The Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, 1909 wrote an extensive analysis of the "development of motor control" that you might find interesting as much as indication that at one time researchers attempted to plumb the depths of the relationship between hands and brain, whereas now, researchers are mainly concerned with activities within the brain as an almost isolated organism.

While I am not familiar with recent research on the hands and brain that suggests that there are different locales for processing outside the brain, there is research that suggests very strongly that practice creates neural pathways that allow the hand/brain system to function at greater efficiency.  In this research, pianists, beginning and advanced were told to play a series of notes on a paper keyboard, while they were in a fMRI machine that could observe and record brain's electrical activity. The differences between the beginning and more advanced pianists had to do with the efficient movement of electrical activity in the brain requiring fewer neurons. It seems that fMRI research has the potential of showing us what goes on inside the box but the brain is not an isolated organism and must be explored through its relationship to the world through all its sensory apparatus.

My own study indicates that set and setting are important factors in cognitive processing. For example in my illustration above, deliberate processing in the brain notes and assists the muscular positioning and repositioning of the grip, prior to cutting, just as a pianist might adjust the bench, adjust his or her seating carefully on the bench, his or her feet on the pedals, his or her posture and his or her hand positioning on the keyboard before striking the first note. If understood in the right light, these are all part of the cognitive processing, in that they ease the flow of electrical activity in the brain, as well as to and from the brain.

Unfortunately, in this age of fascination with the brain, the hands and senses have been neglected. The best research seems to be coming from the study of music, and there had been a database for research called Music Bird created by Richard Edwards. The links to that site no longer work.

In any case, just as we needed to have study of the brain to better understand the human organism and how to teach best, we need further study of the hands' relationship to learning. We must focus our attention on more than just the minds of children to develop their intelligence, because each child is of necessity, part of a larger environment than that contained only within his or her own head.

Make, fix, discover for yourself, create, and extend the love of learning likewise.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

as I mentioned....

As I mentioned yesterday, I've brought home three of the guitars I made recently in school, and I have a fourth that I made a few years back. Have I mentioned how it can feel to to pick up an instrument that one has made and hear the sounds that come from one's attempts to play? Even if one has no skill in that particular part of the operation, pleasure can arise from the effort to play. Open G tuning makes these simple guitars sound good regardless of how inept I might be. I play one and then another, with my current favorite being my Jackson Pollack inspired guitar shown above.

I am off from school for the next two days as teachers conduct individual conferences with parents and students. Yesterday we were off from school to complete conference reports. From this point in the school year to the close of the school year will pass by in haste, as it always does.

My good friend and assistant from Marc Adams School, Jerry Forshee, has an article in the current issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Look for the full article on the newsstands in about a week or so. In the meantime, I am getting ready for 7 days of woodworking with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers. I have 4 distinct classes scheduled, and you can find a link here. You will find that there is still time to sign up, with the first class beginning on March 19.

I am expecting to sign contracts for two books during the coming weeks. One is for a book about box guitars, and the other for a more general audience book about the Wisdom of the Hands. This latter book will cover the various subjects raised in the blog over the last 9 years. (my 10th anniversary of this blog will be reached in October of this year.) If you have a favorite subject related to the hands, and as I work on a new outline of that book, please feel free to comment below.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.
Or in Swedish: Gör, fixa, skapa, och sträcker sig till andra kärlek lärande också.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

quality work

Yesterday I mentioned my concerns with getting my 4th, 5th and 6h grade students to do quality work, and of course their sense of quality is not my own. My senses have been homed by over 40 years as a craftsman. Perhaps that's why Salomon recommended that teachers of Sloyd not be drawn from the ranks of working craftsmen. We might put too much pressure on them to reach a certain standard in their work that might actually be unattainable at their age, and that by doing so we might stifle their creative interests and confidence.

I repeat myself a great deal just as I might need to sharpen my chisels again and again after regular use, so this is not the first time the subject has come up. I offer this link to an earlier post, disdain vs. care. In it you'll find this quote from Robert Keable Row, 1909 that spelled out a hoped for future that for most never arrived. It appears that the titans of corporate America could care less for the intellectual and moral well-being of our citizens.
"The marvelous development of machinery for manufacturing, with all its accompanying advantages has had this disadvantage, that it has deprived the worker of a large part of the personal pride and joy he had in the work of his hands. It is not unreasonable to hope that shorter hours for the factory worker, cheaper and better transportation to suburban homes, training in manual occupations in the schools, growth of the arts and crafts idea, and development of an appreciation of the difference between machine made decoration and the work of the artist-artisan, may restore to civilized man in general, and to the city dweller especially, much of that joy in human production of which machinery has deprived him."
I am shifting my guitar making from school to my home workshop to ease the taking of photos of various steps.You can see some of the various guitars I've made as models to inspire student work, but now as my students' work progresses, they no longer need my examples as they can observe stages in each others work. The advantage now of having them home is that I've been attempting to play them.  And while I am not trained in the guitar, and have few of the advantages one with lessons might have had, it is a great pleasure to hold one and hear the lovely sounds it can make. The disadvantage is that I make too many of them and will have to find friends to take them off my hands, despite each one having become a friend to me in its own right.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

the art of teaching...

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I set up a small gallery of tiny boxes to show the kids what I've been up to, but more importantly to show them the kinds of quality that can be achieved in work, and to frame a conversation about the hurry I sometimes find in the class.

I know that showing my work is a mixed thing. I don't want my students to feel badly about their own work, and I know that when I show them ideas they, too want to do what I've done, and those things are generally beyond their level. I could set things up so that they could go through the process and get exactly the same results,  but only by doing much of the work myself.

I felt the need for the display in response to my 4th, 5th and 6th grade class, which had been given a set of assignments related to their school travel. They did well on the tools that were turned on the lathe, taking time to go carefully through the various grits in sanding, after first having paid attention to forming nice shapes. But their making of the other tools seemed rushed, and that put me under pressure as the kids demanded almost in unison "what's next." The idea of the display was to get things slowed down so that we could talk about skill and caring, and the reasons for it, and so that I could encourage them to put more attention and mindfulness into their work.

Yesterday by private email Knud Lund asked an important, as follows:
A question is why sløyd hasn’t worked, or should that be why it hasn’t been allowed to work? I would speculate there are more than a few reasons, an obvious external one must be the perceived higher cost of progressive schooling, which with the perceived uselessness of same schooling to society’s needs would yield a very poor cost/benefit ratio. A reason internal to the educational system (teachers, administrators) could be a form/content divide.
The reason that Salomon said that his faith was in teachers and not systems was perhaps that in some cases sloyd probably worked well and in others not so well. And I think some of that must have had to do with what Salomon described as “tact” and also with the idea that sloyd must be personalized rather than taught in the collective. When 30 kids were put in a classroom (as they often were) and were expected to go step-by-step somewhat independently through the models you can see that with some teachers and some students it might have worked. But I am regarded as a good teacher and I’m nearly overwhelmed with 8 students in a class. Each has individual needs that come up in a time-specific manner, and not all exactly at the same time so they could be instructed in a collective fashion. So the teacher must have tact in the way he or she gains the confidence and understanding of the kids. Some teachers work in an authoritarian manner, and I’m not that person at all. So teaching requires a great deal of exchange of caring and concern for each other.

When I’m frustrated with something, as I had been today, we have meetings to reach collective solutions. And how my classes are working of serious enough concern for me that I wake up in the middle of the night to come to some kind of plan for the next day. Unfortunately, many teachers would prefer to see what they do as just a job, and invest no more in it that is required. In many, and perhaps most cases, they are overwhelmed by the number of students and are never allowed to be the quality teachers they might have been under better circumstances. They and their administrators look for methods and systems that allow for the application of less attention and less mindfulness and in the hopes of more consistent and efficient outcomes in the same way I might build a jig.

The unfortunate (or fortunate) thing about people is that we are each unique, come from slightly different backgrounds, and have different perspectives and circumstances that do not allow us to be easily jigged up as one would a stick of wood. And so when Salomon was talking about his faith in teachers, he was considering those who go above and beyond in the care (tact) they express for their kids.

 One of my students, in response to the show noted,  "you're not a teacher, you are an artist." It was intended as a compliment. "No, I am a teacher, I replied, and then explained that teaching is the best art of all. Like any other art, we keep practicing and getting better at it.

So what do we do about schooling? Knud notes that truly progressive education would require an investment of a great deal more money than we are spending now. That may not be the case. But most certainly, if we add together the general costs of education, and the costs associated with doing it so poorly, perhaps we could examine and consider the true cost. When you add the economic costs of institutions of education and incarceration, and consider the lives wasted through the two we might arrive at a different set of values when it comes to teaching our kids.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

mindless and mechanical?

It is absolutely true that hand work can be done in a mechanical or mindless fashion, but not to consistently good effect. If the mind wanders the results wander. Cutting along a line requires that the attention be secured to that line, and the craftsman must choose "on this side of the line, or that," when making a finer cut. The same level of mind must be applied to each step in a process, and where the mind is engaged, learning follows. With practice, some of the cognitive activity is off-loaded from the brain to the supporting structure... the position of the hands and body, and the movement of the muscles can become patterned. That is not mindlessness (although it might appear so), but is instead evidence of long term application of mind. The double helix illustration shows the interrelationship between the mindful intent, and the application of technique. The links between the double spirals could be called practice, and that there are so many of them reminds of what Chaucer had said of craftsmanship,  "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, the' assay so hard, so sharp the conqueryinge." If things are made too easy, how will young people draw satisfaction at the deepest levels.

Knud Lunde, by private email wondered whether Otto Salomon had proposed sloyd for 11-15 year old students due to their having entered the stage of brain development that Piaget identified as formal operational, giving them the ability for abstract thinking. I think that perhaps Salomon's idea as to ages was more related to his thoughts on the whole child. By the time children reach that 11-15 year age in schooling, the tradition had been that they do book studies alone, and no longer had access to experiential learning, except that which took place outside the classroom and that was often in conflict with their schooling. Just as Salomon proposed a rotation between rectilinear models and ones that involved curving shapes, a rotation of activities between experiential and passive is required for the development of mind.

Today in the wood shop, I hope to spend some time discussing quality and mindfulness. I've set up a small gallery of my own work based on objects I made for my tiny boxes book.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I repeat myself...

You need not read here every day, though I feel compelled to write, for the situation in American education in which the developmental needs of most children are ignored is indeed tragic. The message is clear and has been clear since Comenius in the 17th century and only waits for readers to act individually and collectively upon it. The following is from Susan Blow's book Symbolic Education, 1894 which I should note came well before Piaget described the steps in the development of intellect and well before studies of the brain provided a handle on learning that nearly every current educational model ignores.
The greatest mistakes in education are rooted in the failure to recognize and conform to the different stages of natural development. Educational theorists are constantly pointing out this error; educational practice is constantly repeating it. Notwithstanding all that has been said and written, we still make knowledge our idol, and continue to fill the child's mind with foreign material, under the gratuitous assumption that at a later age he will be able, through some magic transubstantiation, to make it a vital part of his own thought. This is like loading his stomach with food which he can not digest, under the delusive hope that he may be able to digest it when he is a man. It is forcing the mind to move painfully forward under a heavy weight, instead of running, leaping, and flying under the incitement of its own energy and the allurement of its own perceived ideal.

Thus to load the young mind is a grievous sin; but we commit a yet more heinous offense when we insist upon the exercise of faculties whose normal development belongs to a later age. The child is sympathetic, perceptive, and imaginative, but he is incapable of sustained observation and repelled by analysis and logical inference. The very flowers he loves so dearly become mere instruments of mental torture when we constantly insist upon his analyzing and classifying them. The attempt to force a premature activity of reason can result only in the repulsion of his sympathies and the stultification of his mind.

But glaring as are our sins of commission, they pale before our sins of omission; for, while we are forcing upon the child's mind knowledge which has no roots in his experience, or calling on him to exercise still dormant powers, we refuse any aid to his spontaneous struggle to do and learn and be that which his stage of development demands. We paralyze the spirit of investigation by indifference to the child's questions, clip the wings of imagination by not responding to his poetic fancies, kill artistic effort by scorning its crude results, and freeze sympathy by coldness to its appeal. Thus remaining an alien to the child's life and forcing upon the child a life that is foreign to him, we sow in weak natures the seeds of formalism and hypocrisy, and so antagonize the strong natures that we tempt them to become intellectual and moral outlaws.

In all attempts to conform to the different stages of natural development we must, however, be careful to recognize the fact that they pass into each other by insensible gradations. (emphasis mine) – Symbolic Education by Susan Blow, 1894
You may note that Susan Blow wrote this two years before Piaget was born, and that educators equally ignore Piaget's supportive contributions to our understanding of the stage that prescribe how children learn. So it bears repetition. "Educational theorists are constantly pointing out this error; educational practice is constantly repeating it." –– Susan Blow

I repeat myself also in the wood shop. Yesterday I began finishing boxes to ready them for spring sales. The weather was unseasonably warm and invited me to work outside. Being less dependent than I once was on the sale of my work, I have a growing inventory of work that must be cleared away for new work to be completed. You can find some of it for sale on Etsy.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the understanding that we learn best likewise.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Happy Birthday Eliot School

The Eliot School in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts is celebrating their 340th birthday. The school started as a grammar school, then played an important role in the introduction of manual training in the US, and now serves as a community art center as well as a hub for providing woodworking to students in public schools. A television report is offered here.

Another story of the Eliot School and their history and celebration can be found here.

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School I was able to describe for my fellow teachers, just a bit of my engagement in the world of Educational Sloyd. The point is not that all children should be doing woodworking. Nor is it that we must slavishly reproduce a system of education from the 19th century, but that the theory of educational sloyd and its values should be practiced in schooling. I have listed these a number of times in the past. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. Individualized instruction is also necessary, and these are all points that Otto Salomon made clear in one of his books, The Theory of Educational Sloyd.

If you begin to understand how the human learning system works you gain an understanding of the essential role that the hands play in it. You then begin to understand the important missions that wood shop, music, the arts, field trips, laboratory science and other excursions from the desk and desktop must play in it. Learning must be made real.

The illustration above would require some additional explanation, so I link back to a previous post.  One might assume that the study of child development began with Piaget. But advocates of manual arts education had long noted that children developed their intelligence through stages. Children may receive instruction, but they really learn by doing and reflecting on what they have done.

At my meeting with fellow teachers I supplied sloyd knives, sticks for carving, and band aids just in case. It was a symbolic exercise in which teachers were to observe closely, and reflect upon their effect. One teacher carved her stick to a perfect point. Another carved the start of a perfect dowel.  The goals were different but the results the same. All learned by doing, and the vacuum cleaner removed the offending evidence.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

offering a quiet influence...

My own mentor in Sloyd
Yesterday in the CSS wood shop I got a couple box guitars strung up to play and so I'm looking forward to passing them along into the music program at Clear Spring School. Today I'll make a brief presentation at our staff meeting, as an introduction and overview of the contributions of Educational Sloyd. Over the years we've had staff changes, and while I am regularly and deeply immersed in my own reflections and study, other staff members have other concerns and cope with the day to day management issues that come with being members of the teaching community.

The point of my own teaching is not that Sloyd should be preserved or re-imagined to serve in the same manner it served in schools in the 1890's, but that we reflect upon its precepts. The knife, in particular is a tool of mental acuity, the starting point in Swedish Sloyd , and so, today at the staff meeting, I will supply knives, and thin pieces of wood that can be used to make specific cuts. I checked with the head of school to make certain that wood chips on the floor of his office will be of no concern.

Otto Salomon had picked up a stone from Pestalozzi's gravesite that he kept on his desk as a reminder of his methods and contributions. I picked up a stone at the gravesite shared by Otto Salomon and his uncle August Abrahamson. And so we carry things forward with their quiet influence, hoping that others may make the best of what we offer. Salomon had said the following about Sloyd in his own closing days, knowing that what he had launched would carry forth, and that the best objective was not to find a method that could be put in place by morons without regard for the teacher's temperament, but to find and shape and mold teachers with what he called "tact."
"May it die and may it rest in peace! I will not be found among the mourners. I have long ago lost my belief in systems within the Art of Education, and believe now only in personalities."
On Salomon's grave the inscription reads, Den gode är en makt även i graven.or "the good is a power even in the grave." Let's hope that may be the case.

The photo above is my own mentor in the history of Sloyd, Hans Thorbjörnsson. My thanks to Knud for the quote from Salomon. The words on the gravesite were recorded by me on my journey to Nääs.

A Swedish word of interest here is undervisning. It means to teach. It's root words are under meaning the same in English as in Svenske, and visning which means to view. A third Swedish word must is implied in the case of instruction... tillsammans. It's one of my favorite words and means "together." So together, let's fix things. Tillsammans, låt oss fixa saker.

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

to measure and express learning

Pestalozzi had worked out an alphabet of form as an aid to students in their direct perceptions. It interests me that students can look at a form and not be able to break it down into its component parts. This may be in large part because they are conditioned to receive information from others passively either in person through lecture or delivered through a digital device. I am proving this in my student's making of guitars. "What's next," they ask, and I ask them to go and look and see for themselves. I have about a half dozen guitars in one stage of making or another. When you make something or draw something, or put it in use, things become more real and more energized in the conscious mind.
"To get rid of the 'verbosity' of meaningless words Pestalozzi developed his doctrine of Anschauung - direct concrete observation, often inadequately called 'sense perception' or 'object lessons'. No word was to be used for any purpose until adequate Anschauung had preceded. The thing or distinction must be felt or observed in the concrete. Pestalozzi's followers developed various sayings from this: from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the concrete to the abstract.

To perfect the perception got by the Anschauung the thing that must be named, an appropriate action must follow. 'A man learns by action... have done with [mere] words!' 'Life shapes us and the life that shapes us is not a matter of words but action'.

Out of this demand for action came an emphasis on repetition - not blind repetition, but repetition of action following the Anschauung." --William H. Kilpatrick in his introduction to Heinrich Pestalozzi (1951) The Education of Man - Aphorisms, New York: Philosophical Library.
And so his next step, had Pestalozzi been able to accomplish it, was to have been the development of an alphabet of skills. But, of course the wide range of human skills are difficult to alphabetize. Do we place one ahead of another when each is essential to sustaining the lives of individuals and of human culture? Try to spend a day with no music, and see what I mean.

Both Pestalozzi and Frobel had noted that what was learned by the child must be expressed by the child as a direct consequence of learning, or it and the efforts of learning it would be wasted. So completely rejecting that advice, educational policy makers devised whole systems of confinement under the guise of education.

In Swedish, the word for education is utbildning.  Like many words in the northern European languages, it is a combination of two words, one meaning out, and the other build or to form. And so that word is an excellent one to guide us in the re-form of education. Progressive education seeks to connect the inner child with the outer world, and to build is what we hope might happen as a result.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that if children were allowed (and encouraged?) to do real things in response to their learning, we would be able to completely eliminate standardized testing, as who would need artificial means to measure what they could see for themselves?

Make, fix, create, and for God's and your own sake assist others in learning likewise.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

what does it mean to be "progressive."

My student Oen finished his panjo, and then asked if he could show it to another class and then to the head of school. He plans to share it with his family.

The following is from Pestalozzi who was the educator most responsible for the progressive education movement:
I wish to wrest education from the outworn order of doddering old teaching hacks as well as from the new-fangled order of cheap, artificial teaching tricks, and entrust it to the eternal powers of nature herself, to the light which God has kindled and kept alive in the hearts of fathers and mothers, to the interests of parents who desire their children grow up in favour with God and with men. (Pestalozzi quoted in Silber 1965: 134)
It is a mistake to think of "progressive" as having something to do with progress. If that was the case and progressive meant "progress," those schools that are trying to push greater implementation of digital technology would be called progressive. Instead, progressive refers to the process and order through which children naturally progress. Progressive education is based on attending to the individualized interests and needs of the individual child and not on externalized implementation of manipulative stuff according to the dictates of society and state. I know I may have said that awkwardly, but forgive me. Sometimes I'm simply frustrated with what has become of American education and my facility with words fails me.

In any case, we must wrest education from the outworn order of doddering hacks, and most particularly from the new-fangled devices that do little to stimulate the child's relationship to community, family, and nature. I'll leave the God part to the theologians among us.

The point of progressive education is that it begins with the needs and interests of the child and takes into consideration and allows for the natural development of the individual child. In thinking of this, I was reminded of Procrustes who had a bed designed to fit every guest. If you were too tall, it cut your legs off. If you were too short, it stretched you to fit. The Greek story of Procrustes has long been used to describe the institution of education.

I want to thank reader Knud for writing and sharing his own journey into the philosophy of educational sloyd. (And I agree with Knud that Sloyd is a philosophy and not simply a method of work). My own journey is made richer and far more coherent when it is shared with friends. One of the things that Knud shared was the text of the letter in which John Dewey had invited Otto Salomon to visit in the US. That the trip never took place may not have had much consequence. In any case, the evidence of that letter is presented in Dewey's own words:
Miss Langley has written you inviting you to give some instruction in Sloyd here during our summer quarter. I am writing to reinforce, if possible, her invitation;

Hoping that you are able to do America and this Institution the honor of this visit, I remain,

Yours very truly,
John Dewey
Like so many educators at that level of importance (the world's rock star), Dewey seemed to approach learning as though  he was the first to witness it, whereas, Salomon enjoyed promoting all those educators upon whose lives and observations his own philosophy was based. He did that through weekly lectures in about 5 languages, and was quite busy during the summer months attending to students from all over the world, including from Japan, the US and Cuba. He would have found Dewey's invitation to visit during the summer to have been impractical and Salomon's instructions in Sloyd were provided by his teachers, not by himself.

What I wrote a few days back has been sent in to Wood Magazine, for a section called "Unvarnished." I've no idea as yet when it will be published, but it will include photos from my wood shop at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix, create, and share with others the joy of learning likewise.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

a new normal...

It used to be that people would awaken, prepare food, and proceed with some form of work in the real world. Our digital devices have changed all that. They elicit a Pavlovian response. With an alert sound all attention is stripped away from what we were doing and becomes invested in the device. For some, it's a form of slavery. Set the phone on the desk at a meeting and you can tell everyone there that you are too important to give them your undivided attention. Owning the device is assumed to imply status, so all are happy to thence immerse themselves in slavery to  the technology.

At school we have a policy that they are to be kept put away so that student's attention can be kept on their work, but then we have parents who feel that their investment in these expensive devices requires that they be utilized to their fullest extent. My students ask "what iPhone do you have?" and for them having a 6 when mine is but a 4 gives them a leg up except when it comes to doing real things.

Yesterday I worked with students to help them understand fractions. The task was simple. Put a screw in the middle of the end of that guitar neck. But how do you find the middle. "Measuring, perhaps?" But what is one half of 1 3/4 in.? For those who've been practicing doing real things in the real world, fractions can be easy. But even if you used your iPhone to divide 1 3/4 in. into equal parts, would it then place the proper mark for drilling into the wood?

"I hate math. I'm not good at it." my student explained. But math, I assured her, is one of the simple things, where the answers are always the same. If you want to make some sense of the world, math is actually an easier place to start than literature or social studies. Politics is worst. But there is great certainty in knowing that 2 plus 2 will always be four and not 6.735 depending on circumstances. So I first tried the backboard approach to show how you can do simple math to discover that half of 1 3/4 in. is 7/8 in. I could tell immediately that my student did not understand. Nor could she find 7/8 in. on a ruler or tape measure. That led me to explain another way.

Use a tape to measure beyond the length of an object to the nearest easily divided even number. In this case, measuring the width of the guitar neck, 2 inches. Make a mark  on the end of the neck at the one inch mark which is easy to find on the ruler. Then measure from the other side and make a mark at the one inch point. Now you have two marks exactly 1/2 in. apart. Can you measure the center between those marks? It may be easier for some than standing at the blackboard and claiming stupidity as your excuse.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others a mere chance of learning likewise.

Monday, February 15, 2016

prototype cabinet...

In preparation for a class in Portland, I've made this new cabinet design. I have yet to apply the Danish oil finish, but I am also wondering whether I should apply some lighter finish than that or apply a wash in a lighter color that would maintain the grain but also keep the light color in tact. Knobs could be added, or ignored, as the doors can be opened easily by the lip underneath. I am hoping my students find it to be an elegant design, worthy of their making and placement in their homes when complete.

A number of years ago, my students were discussing how nearly all the things in their lives came from China. I asked if they had anything that they knew was made in the US. "Yes," they answered. "The things they'd made in wood shop." And so at one time, the objects in our lives described a close relationship between family and community, as those things you owned came from those persons you knew and likely cared a great deal for. Now connections are made externally through wireless networks, but are they truly taken to heart?

At the Clear Spring School, my students are making progress on their box guitars, and I'm in the process of finishing 4 of them myself, adding tuners, bridges, nuts and strings to my demonstration guitars.

My wife remarked at the cover of this month's Fine Woodworking, asking the question, "why are all the woodworkers on the cover always so old?" And the truth is that many of us have gotten to be of a certain age. I hope that in time, we can build a whole army of younger woodworkers to take our places and  change all that.

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

Sunday, February 14, 2016


A prototype white oak cabinet
I watched the Republican primary debate last night as they took turns blasting each other with rude remarks.  They called each other liars and hypocrites and argued over who was more "conservative." I say "took turns" with some reservations, as most children in pre-school would do a better job of taking turns. They talked over each other, interrupted each other, belittled each other, and I was reminded of my early years when I taught art to emotionally disturbed children in Memphis. At that time and in that place, a child's ultimate insult for another child was to say something about the other's mother. The words "Your mama..." would bring immediate hostile and near violent response, even before the rest of the sentence came out. The debate actually got down to that exact level in an exchange between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush.

The odd thing is that if I want to avoid such immaturity, I can take refuge at the Clear Spring School. Children there are taught at the earliest possible age to work out their conflicts with each other in a peaceful manner. And they do.

I know I have blog readers from both parties, and I know the stakes are high in each election, and I would prefer not to lose readers over politics, but last night, I was left wondering which of the Republican candidates was presidential enough to have a civil debate with a Democrat in the general election that could set a better example of how we might solve real problems. And the problems are real.

If children were to watch last night's debate, and then manifest that same level of behavior in school, one can readily see why most of the time spent by graduate students in education has to do with classroom management and not about real learning. Hopefully, most children were watching other things, as the debate was a very poor model of mature human discourse. I suppose one could call the candidates' behavior adolescent or juvenile, but let me assure you that children brought up in a loving environment like the Clear Spring School don't act like that.

In my own wood shop, I've been working on a prototype cabinet for my small cabinet class in Portland in March. I am at the point now of doing some decorative shaping on the doors, the installation of hinges, and application of finish.

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

Saturday, February 13, 2016

in the seventies, eighties, nineties and on in America

In the seventies, eighties and nineties in America, the powers that be in both parties, and the financial elite, made the decision (over and over and over again) that it would be easier for them to make money by exporting jobs and manufacturing than it would be to rebuild our cities and offer the opportunity to gain dignity to the people who lived in them. This may have been a decision based in part on the overwhelming size of the problem we faced, but it is closely associated with racism. For example, we know that the Governor of Michigan would never have waited to fix the problems with Flint's water supply and no children would have been poisoned with lead if the children had not been black.

The problems in the cities tend to be self-perpetuating. Work offers dignity. Work offers hope. Lack of work strips away what little of either may remain when children and their parents are faced day to day by poverty and lack of opportunity for meaningful employment.

When schools compound the problems by remaining abstract and irrelevant to the lives of their students, and only a single door (college) is proposed by those schools as the means to escape endless poverty, lack of opportunity is assiduously and perpetually assured.

Educational Sloyd proposed that all children should learn woodworking Sloyd in school, even those students aiming for academic based careers. The point was that all students needed not only to know how to do things, but also needed to develop a greater appreciation and respect for the contributions made by others. Skilled hands were considered an asset for each individual and also a means through which the whole of a nation might be lifted to its highest potential.

This is not a difficult thing to understand except for those who've become anesthetized and made complacent by success in their academic pursuits.  Of absolute necessity in a successful democratic society is that all discover through the creation of useful beauty, the wisdom of their hands... even and most particularly those who imagine themselves destined for greater things.

I'm just a simple woodworker here, with no power to make changes in the world at large. So I am counting on you. If you know anyone with power in any of the major political campaigns, presidential or otherwise, I would like to have a chat with them.

We know that the single most significant cause of poor performance in school is the amount of time students and their families have spent in poverty. We need to alleviate that problem, and we need to make schooling more directly relevant to students by offering them the chance of doing real things, hands-on. Some people insist this is far too large a problem for us to even attempt to fix. I strongly disagree.

Make, fix, create, and extend a love of learning likewise.

what every child needs...

I was asked to write something free for a woodworking magazine and figured I might as well write what I would be writing anyway. The following which may be edited and may or may not be used.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with just one student while the others from her class were performing in a Valentines day fundraiser. It reminded me how very special it can be for children to be in a grandfather's woodshop and I must invite others who love woodworking to do just what I just did. There is no better thing in the world than to share what you know and what you love with a younger generation. I was able to work quietly on my own project while Rosie turned wood on the lathe. You've probably noticed that there are few school wood shops left. And while there's some buzz developing about the maker movement and maker shops, focused primarily on digital devices and automated production, there is a great and growing need for both children and adults to slow down, and engage deeply and skillfully in making beautiful and useful things.

As a shop teacher, I was recently quoted by Philosopher/Motorcycle Mechanic, Matthew Crawford in his new book, The World Beyond Your Head. In 2009, he used the same quote from my blog as the opening to chapter one of his best selling 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.”
In the new book, he went to some length analyzing the quote in the conclusion of the book and while he doe not seem to agree with me that the engagement of the hands is an absolute necessity for ALL students, he notes that most of us, particularly in this digital age, would benefit greatly from becoming engaged as creators of the objects that have significance in our own lives. And he agrees with me that schools should play a much greater role in fostering tangible, personal creativity.

It used to be that schools offered all kinds of learning opportunities for children of every possible inclination, but of late, they’ve become so focused on standardized test scores and academic style learning, that unless your children are lucky enough to learn in a school like mine, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. If you have doubts about it, read my blog. I write regularly about the necessity of hands-on learning, and offer encouragement to parents, grandparents and teachers who want to share their own passion for woodworking with their kids.

My Wisdom of the Hands program at the Clear Spring School is approaching its 15th anniversary this year. I have students in high school who started working with me in the school shop when they were in first grade. If you don't think there's some real magic in that, think again. Invite your own child, grandson or grand daughter into your wood shop and learn first hand. It will benefit both of you.
If you are interested in a story about schooling gone awry, (not a pleasant subject, but common, never-the-less), read the following blog post:

The photos above and below are of a prototype cabinet for a class in Portland.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Friday, February 12, 2016


At school, I've almost finished a Jackson Pollack styled box guitar. In comparison with a true Jackson Pollack design, I've been lazy and not laid on enough paint, but the blue body of the guitar needed something extra to look good. I'm making these for no other good reasons than to make them available to the students in their music room, for my own pleasure and to demonstrate techniques they may choose to use on their own guitars. The the tailpiece, bridge, nut, pegs and strings will come next, and they, too, will add interest to the design.

In my home wood shop, I've begun making a small cabinet as a prototype of the cabinet I'll make in March with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers in Portland, Oregon. I am also working on outlines for two articles for Fine Woodworking Magazine.

I've been a bit disappointed in the presidential primaries. While candidates like to talk about there being more education and that it be delivered at less cost to the individuals involved, there seem to be no questions as to the quality of what's delivered. Should we not be talking about ways to make it more interesting and engaging so that students would want to be there and be learning in the first place?

My daughter Lucy is in grad school in New York City as she also finishes her second year of teaching at Harvest Collegiate. In grad school the primary focus is in giving the teachers some coaching on classroom management, and the study of child development is an afterthought, offered only to the curious as an elective class. From my standpoint, understanding child development would be the first thing, not the last, for without an understanding of how children learn and develop, real damage may be done.

Too little thought is given to the untenable nature of the institutions in which teachers are placed. And for good reason. To teach teachers about the more "idealistic" progressive methodologies that take actual child development into account would be wasted in schools run like factories with immature minds going in one end of the assembly line, and smaller ones emerging at the other end.

I am attempting as always to get my students to use their senses, and look at examples of the things they make, instead of expecting me to be the one to tell them how to do things. It is so easy to work on the basis of assumptions. And so wrong. When we go through motions (whether as teachers or students and whether in the wood shop or public school classroom) without evaluating those motions in comparison with both a theoretical foundation and direct use of the observational powers the senses provide, our efforts are crippled at the start.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

setting kids up to almost fail and learn from it.

I have a second grade student Oen who wants to make everything in the wood shop, including the tools we use. The importance for him of making things is in part related to the ownership and control that comes with ownership. He is also a boy that revels in his own physical powers, so refining a boomerang to come back can keep him occupied for days.

You may have noticed in your own life the need to do difficult and demanding things. Children are just the same. They want to exercise prowess and control and to attain mastery in things that set them apart from their peers.

Yesterday I brought another of my own guitars to a near finished state, painting it with milk paints in a Jackson Pollack style. "How's this?" my students ask, in relation to their own work. "What do you think?" I ask in return. That give and take provides a great deal of information. I can look closely at their work and notice things that can be improved, just as I can look closely at my own work, and see those small things.

David Pye discussed the relationship between certainty and risk in a craftsman's work. We develop jigs and tools to enhance the powers of mindlessness, so that we can thus avoid failure. Whereas, the ever present risk of failure makes things more real, and requires greater attention. Should we be any less attentive to the power of failure in schools than in real life? There is an art in asking children to do real things, luring them forward when possible and knowing when they have reached their limit. Salomon called this the "teacher's tact."

Yesterday a friend Dan came to the school work shop to use one of our lathes to turn a large mallet to replace one that had been lost along the way. We talked about Heikki Seppa and the development of hollow form in jewelry making. According to my friend Dan, Seppa wrote about form in a way similar to N. Christian Jacobsen, so his is a book that I must watch for. It seems the Finns, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes have an attentiveness to form that can be inspirational.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

annual report...

I woke up in the night thinking of all the things I need to say in the blog, but in the clear light of early morning, those things have passed, and I'm speechless. Perhaps I'm so wordless because I spent much of yesterday working on my annual report, which I've posted here.

In any case, I've a day of classes to prepare for, and its not as though there's no further reading to be done here. This year will mark the 10th year of this blog, and there are well over a thousand blog posts emphasizing the necessity of learning through our hands. You will find links to all those blog posts beginning in 2006 at right.

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

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

educator symposium

Making a chess board
Plans for the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers hands-on learning symposium are underway, and you can download the application here: A Symposium for Hands-on Learning. I look forward to seeing you there. If you have any questions about content please feel free to email me or Larry Wade from the application.

I continue to be utterly fascinated by Piaget, and the development of human intelligence and most particularly that educational policy makers designed a system of education that so completely ignores what we know about human development. Should it be any surprise to anyone that only 32 percent of adults in the US operate at the Formal Operational Stage, given the educational conditioning offered, both in homes and in school? There are two things at work in the development of intelligence. One is the natural physiological growth that is to take place in every human being. There are periods of rapid brain growth interspersed with slower periods of growth in which the brain utilizes the environment to extend and test its new capacities. The old question of whether intelligence is the product of nature or of nurture gets the simple right answer, "both." Genetics can only go so far without corresponding experiences to stretch both quality and capacity of thought. These slower growth periods are called by some the "Critical Periods" of child development. The following is from Kathy Sylva, Department of Child Development and Primary Education, Institute of Education, London, UK, a paper entitled The Critical Periods in Childhood Learning.
The impact of nurture can vary according to its timing. For example, the impact of day care on a child may differ according to its occurrence in the first year of a child's life or the years right before school. The best known example of a critical period in animal development is that young ducks will become imprinted on any moving object in their immediate environment at approximately 15 h after hatching. If they do not experience a moving object during this critical period they will fail to become imprinted at all.

The broader concept of a sensitive period in human development has supplanted the notion of critical periods. A sensitive period may last for months or even years and denotes the time in which the developing child is particularly responsive to certain forms of experience or particularly hindered by their absence. A good example is the fact that children in the period 6-18 months are particularly sensitive to caretaking and that this is the time when they must develop their core attachment to their parents. Other periods may be particularly important for intellectual or linguistic development, for example the period 12-30 months when language develops so rapidly. – Kathy Silva, "The Critical Periods in Childhood Learning."
You may find the following interesting. As early as the latter part of the 19th century, there were educators, psychologists, and theorists who had recognized the existence of critical periods.  Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, 1902 as follows:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
The point is that we use our resources or we waste them, only to work that much harder if we miss the critical period in which the mind is making its necessary connections, and constructing a framework for thought that is flexible, innovative and resilient in the processing of experience. If we miss those critical periods, we must work harder to develop them if we desire to do so. Ask yourself whether sitting in desks will suffice, when there are so many better ways to learn.

An article in the Winter edition of Indpendent School magazine mentions the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School and the problem that boys are having with anxiety in school.
I had mentioned this article before, but now there's a link.

Make, fix, create, and extend a hand that others may learn likewise.

Monday, February 08, 2016

common sense learning

Kim Brand sent this link, suggesting I and the presenter have a similar view. Grant Lichtman might have saved himself from a few miles by coming to Arkansas.  He missed Clear Spring School on his journey, but he came up with the right ideas.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I worked on a k-body guitar, got the back glued on with the electronics sealed inside, and I continued working on a neck for another. As you can see, applying detail to both curved and rectilinear forms.

My students are doing the same things.

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

Sunday, February 07, 2016

hail the knife...

First coat of milkpaint
Last week, I mentioned Salomon's advice that rectilinear forms in Sloyd be alternated with curved shapes in the various models laid out in sequence for the student's growth. You can begin to understand so much more and why N. Christian Jacobsen was Otto Salomon's favorite author when you read the following:
The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool.

But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom which consists in developing own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife holds a position similar to that which the freer forms for the moment hold; its use is also especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right-angle and curved forms. What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Khristiania (Oslo) January 1892
Second coat of paint applied
My sincere thanks and appreciation to Barbara Bauer for her careful translation. Salomon's original point was to alternate models to retain student interest, but you can see that Jacobsen shed new light on the subject, going beyond what Salomon had in mind.

I have a simple observation, however, on the idea that things can be done "mechanically." Certainly, to the observer, when someone is sawing, it may seem as though he or she is simply moving the arm mechanically (thoughtlessly) back and forth. But that is not all that's going on. One must align one's body to the work, one's wrist to the proper angle, and the motions of the arm must be made smooth, within the necessary range, and no further. To get the saw to cut smoothly without jerking and binding takes concentration of mind as well as of body.

Adding the wiring and controls
In the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I am making another k-body box guitar, but this one I'm using 4 strings and am adding a piezo and electric controls. This required me to brush up on my soldering skills.

You can see that my box guitars are rectilinear in shape, but the necks require careful contouring to fit the hand, so I regard these guitars as being an excellent blend between rectilinear and curved forms. My students are excited about making them (as am I).

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

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Brain. Spurts of growth followed by periods of adjustment and implementation.

Herman T. Epstein wrote in of the Roles of Brain in Cognitive Development. It is a shame educational policy makers have not as yet learned what to do about what we know.

According to Epstein who made a life's work of his study of the brain, the human brain goes through growth spurts preceding longer periods of apparent adjustment in which newly developed capacities are practiced and become integrated, connecting the mind with reality, and thus building the intellectual capacity, which is not itself a thing isolated from the real world.
During rapid brain growth periods the brain weight increases average 5% to 10%, while during the interim periods of slow brain growth, the increase is perhaps 1%. The brain increases include significant expansion of neural network arborization: the elongation and branching of axons and dendrites. The resultant additional and more complex neural networks make possible enhancements in brain functioning, depending for their quality on both the quality of the existing networks that are connected by the added arborization and, also, the quality and quantity of the external inputs that generate the consequent network changes. Because these factors combine individual growth and experiences, age-wise and domain-wise developmental differences will be the norm. From this point of view, the Piaget stages will not necessarily be expected to be acquired in a fixed sequence nor even precisely at the canonical ages given by the Piagetians' studies, although general similarity of early experiences will preserve much of the sequence. – Herman T. Epstein, The Roles of Brain in Cognitive Development
The following is interesting in this regard as it has to do with the role of the environment and its effects on brain development.
During the first years of life, the influence of the environment on development is crucial. The most pronounced changes induced by the environment occur during windows of time called critical periods.

All critical periods have certain basic properties in common. First, they all involve a time window during which a given behaviour is more sensitive to specific environmental influences. These influences are even necessary for the normal development of the behaviour in question. Once the critical period is over, the behaviour is no longer significantly affected by the presence or absence of these environmental stimuli. And, as a corollary, if the individual is not exposed to the appropriate stimuli during the critical period, it is difficult if not impossible to compensate for this lack later on.

Many critical periods have been detected in the development of behaviours in a number of species. But the existence of a critical period does not necessarily mean that a given experience will subsequently have no effects on brain development. It simply means that certain major restructuring will then be more difficult, if not impossible, because some irreversible changes will have taken place at the synaptic level. –
And so it appears that the environment and genetics work hand in hand in the development of intellect. The brain expands rapidly, making more of itself available for processing power, then in turn, is dependent on the environment for the stimulus that enhances intellectual growth. The same factors apply to the child's development of emotional intelligence and emotional resilience.

When we sit students in desks, sequestered from the real world, and expect them to listen passively, ignoring the totality of their senses, and then later expect them to sit passively absorbing information that's too boring for words, we fail to engage the whole of their intellectual system, and have screwed up big time. The costs are enormous. Part of the mistake that educational policy makers have made is to assume that the brain is the only component in the intellectual system. The hands play an important role in the development and implementation of human intelligence that should never be forgotten, and never purposefully ignored. At Clear Spring School, we recognize that and have placed the hands at the center of learning as the hands are not only central themselves to the developmental process, they are symbolic of deeper engagement.

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

Friday, February 05, 2016

Yesterday in wood shop...

One of my elementary school students has been making a new boomerang, as his first one broke. This is a chance for him to refine his design in the hopes that he can get it to come all the way back. About every 15 minutes of sanding as he works to refine the edges requires further testing, so we go out and watch it soar.

I'm not sure how many of my readers actually have the kind of opportunity to observe youthful creativity as I do. But I recommend getting involved.

One of his classmates has been interested in making a doll house, and I suggested that she start simple and build her skills first before tackling a larger project. She agreed that made sense, so the small house shaped box at left and below is one we worked on together. This particular student is very shy about doing things that require skills she does not as yet have. To see and participate in how something can be made is a first step.

The box opens by removing half the lid which rests in place due to the piece of wood glued on the underside.She plans to decorate it at home and give it as a valentines gift.

I'm also working on an electric k-body guitar as you can see in the photo. It's one of about4 I'm working on for my own amusement. I have the neck done, the sides assembled, and have drilled holes for the piezo, jack and control knob. Next, I begin painting it.

I hope I have some readers in the Portland Oregon area who will sign up for one or more of my classes with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers. I enjoy meeting friends from the blog. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via email.

One of my former box making students asked about whether or not I'll offer more advance classes for students who have already taken one of my classes. Here is my response:
It is hard to fill classes that have some kind of restriction on who can enroll. Marc Adams insists that my classes be open to beginning box makers, so as not to discourage anyone from choosing to participate. As you know box making can go to many levels beyond what we can cover in a one week class. In fact, you can go for years of steady improvement if you like.

The same applies to my ESSA classes. I structure them and design the curriculum at an introductory level, as it would be a very poor marketing decision to exclude any of the folks interested in taking the class.

At the same time, I think that my classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, even though they are at an introductory level, have been of benefit, even and perhaps most particularly for those students I’ve had there who have completed their masters at MASW. Each year I have two or three in my class who have their MASW masters and are wanting to apply their previously earned skills to box making. Each year I also have one or two others who simply choose to take the class again, planning to refresh and take their own box making to the next level.

One woman, an MD from the Chicago area, has taken my MASW  box making class three times and has vowed to take it again. First,  it’s fun, and second, she keeps learning new things… both from me and from others in the class. At ESSA, I have had a lawyer from Tulsa take my box making class three times for the same reasons.
When I was a young man, I loved learning (not necessarily in school) and wanted to learn for the rest of my life. Woodworking is a field in which that can be done, and the simple box I helped my student make today is an example. I am in that luxurious position of learning new things. The k-body guitar is also an example of learning and testing new techniques. I've been using a tiny Veritas draw knife to trim the edges of the guitar top in a very efficient manner.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.