Monday, June 26, 2017

ESSA box making

Today my ESSA box making will begin. Months of preparation have gone into this day. A couple years ago I sketched out a basic floor plan taking into account the placement of tools, lathes, and work benches. Those sketches went to the architect, etc. etc.

The building was built, tools ordered and put in place, jigs were made, and with some supplied from my own shop we will have nine students for the next 5 days making boxes. Some of the students are old friends, and others will be new friends, starting today. Any any case,  there will be more to share during the week.

Make, fix, create, and help others to understand the necessity of learning likewise.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


It will take months to get the ESSA wood studio into its final form. We still have machinery arriving. Storage shelves must be built. And general organizing must be done.

Yesterday I assembled small  pieces of PVC pipe, nesting one inside the other to connect the compound miter saw to a dust collector. I was thinking at first I would have to craft a special part from wood to connect the 1 1/2 in. outlet port on the compound miter saw to fit the 2 1/2 in. dust collector hose, or order something and wait for UPS.

Instead, I found the solution right at hand. I took two pieces of electrical conduit of two different sizes and carefully fitted one to the other and then to the dust collector hose. It is gratifying when the immediacy of observation and imagination replace waiting for the arrival of the UPS truck. Best of all was that my solution used pipe left over from making tool holders for the lathe room. If not for my use of them they would have been thrown out, and my solution required less time than searching google for the right part.

 I also finished sleds for the table saws but for the first cut which will be made when my students are in the shop on Monday morning. The rack my volunteers and I made for pipe clamps works just as I intended.

Today I'll continue organizing the shop. What I do in preparation for Monday's class will serve other instructors as well in the finished shop.

Make, fix, create, and increase the odds that others love learning likewise.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

a free book? I'd like friends to win. offers a free excerpt of my new book Tiny Boxes, and you can sign up for a chance to win a copy by using the rafflecopter link at the end of their blog post.

The excerpt describes how to put a lift tab in a pen box as shown in the photo. The tab presents an elegant way to open a box. The same technique is useful for other design boxes as well.

Good luck! I hope that one of my readers wins.  Two copies of the book will be given away.

Richard Bazeley in Australia sent a link to a wonderful free woodworking resource online. It was once well known that woodworking was a form of child's play. This book is based on Froebel's Kindergarten philosophy that recognizes the value of play. Play in the wood shop is suitable for adults as well.

A reader noted that the same problems I've discussed in the blog concerning reading also apply to math. Children having been forced into abstract instruction in mathematics before they are ready feel inept and tune out for the balance of their schooling. Woodworking is an activity that builds math readiness, but it seems our educational policy makers are inept and have tuned out. If we want our children to be smart and have the fine character associated with craftsmanship, we'll need to take matters into our own hands.

In Steven Palmer's beginning woodworker's class at ESSA this week, the students were delighted with what they had learned and with what they had made. The new wood studio (with the exception of a few small equipment glitches) was enjoyed by all.

Today I'll begin setting up the ESSA wood studio for my own class beginning on Monday.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, June 23, 2017

the problems educational policy makers do not want to fix.

The problem is cheaping out. The wealthy will pay huge amounts to send their own children to schools where the student-teacher ratio is more favorable, and their children can associate with their own kind.

They choose to cheap out when it comes to the education of others. We could as an alternative, invest more in raising families out of poverty and reduce class size across the board. Instead, educational policy makers put their energies and billions into useless schemes that do nothing to advance American education. We had "No Child Left Behind." That left millions behind. We had "Race to the Top." That never reached it on any level. Now we have "Every Student Succeeds," for whatever good that does us.Through a system of vouchers the current administration plans to turn American education into a cash cow for it wealthy clients.

In August 5 through 6, the Froebel Society will hold their annual conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will not be able to attend, but there should be a big buzz to the conference this year due to screenings of material from the documentary film project The History of Kindergarten. A huge amount of useful information will be presented for educators who want to make use of the child's natural capacity to learn by doing real things.

I will remind my readers again that the original idea behind Educational Sloyd was that manual arts would provide Kindergarten style learning to the upper grades. It was discovered also that manual arts are useful in the lower grades, and for all students.

When I visited the University of Helsinki in 2008, I got bored with the conference I was attending and wandered into the University wood shop where students working on their masters degrees in primary education were learning to teach wood working to children as young as Kindergarten and first grade. In the US, masters degree students would be learning how to force reading on the very young.

You can't push a rope. You can pull one. But when push comes to shove as it does in forcing a kid to read, jamming the words in before the child is developmentally ready to read is not only a waste of time, it shatters the child's self-esteem and kills the child's enthusiasm for school. It can take years for a child to recover from such abuse. Woodworking can be a way for a student to discover he or she is smart, even when the reading regimen suggests otherwise.

Forgive me, if there are times when I feel like screaming. The photo above is of children saluting the founder of Kindergarten. But who will celebrate the educators of today? To give children something to celebrate will require a revolution.

My thanks to Scott Bultman for having sent me some newly available images of Kindergarten. I love the oversized Froebel balls hanging from the ceiling, a salute to gift number one.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

size matters.

Last Saturday in a discussion of public school, one of my students started to place blame for the problems in public education on teachers. There may indeed be teachers who are burned out. There may indeed be people teaching who are frustrated with the profession. There may indeed be teachers who were poorly trained. There may indeed be teachers who are less qualified. But the vast majority have good intentions and apply themselves diligently in circumstances that are far less than ideal. They are expected to overcome systemic obstacles that are insurmountable.

The two primary obstacles that children face in education are well documented. The first is that the number of years children face living in poverty is a primary determinant of their educational success. Help to lift children out of poverty and educational attainment will rise.

The second is that too many children in a class tie the teacher's hands. Class size matters. When my mother was a kindergarten teacher in the Omaha Public Schools, she would feel greatly relieved at the beginning of the year if her class was as small as 25. Her classes had been as large as thirty, and she knew the difference that 5 extra students could make. It was not just that an extra five students made more work for her. It was that the extra five students diminished her capacity as a teacher and diminished the amount of attention she could give each one and the families from which they came.

This is not rocket science, or the theory of relativity. This is something that's easy to understand if you've been given the blessings of both mind and heart. Some educational policy makers have not received those gifts.

Today one of my blog readers will be making a presentation in Indiana on the necessity of Career and Technical Education (CTE). He will use some photos from Clear Spring School to make his point. My point in that is that every child should receive it. They should each become makers in their own right. What we do with our hands informs the mind and determines its character. If we want our world to be a better place, we must empower our children (all of them) to create.

Make, fix, and create. Insure that others learn likewise.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

advocating for smaller class sizes

At the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA) today,  Woodworker Steven Palmer will begin a class with six students. I'll check in during the day to take photos and to deliver pipes for pipe clamps. Yesterday I got the dust collection system assembled just in time for the launch of today's class. For the balance of the week I'll prepare for my box making class at ESSA that begins Monday, and clean my own wood shop to prepare for an article for Woodcraft Magazine.

Fine tuning of the new studios will take months, as we need to develop storage for tools and supplies, and we will still have new equipment arriving over the coming month.

Anyone who thinks class size does not matter in education is a nincompoop. Divide the teacher's attention by one more student and the time he or she has available to others is diminished. Does it require a brain to know that? Can we not see that for a teacher to have 12-15 students in a class might be just enough?

At Marc Adams School of Woodworking I had 18 students and 3 assistants, making certain that each student got the attention required for safe work. Careful supervision and instruction are particularly required when students are doing real things as they (in a real world) should be expected to do. If you want to know more about class size, go to Class Size Matters, where they've collected enough research to convince even the most reluctant of educational policy makers that class size matters (but experience observing the long history of educational policy makers suggests that will not be the case).
"Reducing class size is among an even smaller number of education reforms that have been shown to narrow the achievement gap. Its benefits are particularly pronounced for lower-income students and children of color, who experience two to three times the gains from smaller classes.

"Smaller classes have also been found to have a positive impact on school climate, student socio-emotional growth, safety and suspension rates, parent engagement, and teacher attrition, especially in schools with large numbers of disadvantaged children."
The new Federal legislation on education (ESSA) Every Student Succeeds Act, has the same nickname as our local school of the arts. Not to worry. The way federal education legislation comes and goes, it won't be around long enough to compete for the use of the name. In fact, for states to use Federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act to reduce class sizes, will require evidence of positive effect. The whole of Federal education policy is so closely tied to standardized testing one must wonder if its a plot. We had no child left behind. Then we had "the race for the top." Now we have Every Student Succeeds, and that will not be the end of federal foolishness.

In the meantime, teachers all know that class size matters. Parents should be brought up to speed on the notion, and schools should be required to stop cheaping out.  We should invest in education like our future depends on it. In actual fact, it does.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others love learning likewise.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


An example of student creativity.
I will resume getting the new ESSA wood shop ready for classes today following my week at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. To get the dust collection set up in the machine room is my primary objective. I also need to make sleds and router tables, and begin arranging some of the new tools that have been ordered.

Getting all arranged in the classrooms will take time.

I have had students ask where else I'll be teaching this summer. My weeks at ESSA are June 26-30 and July 24-28. On August 7 through 11 I'll be teaching box making at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, Connecticut. For readers on the East Coast, there are still openings in the Connecticut Class. Join me there if you can. Each student will gain confidence in creativity and technical expertise.

Reports are that our first woodturning class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts was a great success. Our next scheduled class in the lathe studio will be a class by nationally known woodturner Judy Ditmer. Class enrollment is limited at 8 students guaranteeing the instructor's personal attention to student growth.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Oh, if this was but a game, we could clear the board and carefully place the pieces and start over. But it is not. Educational policy makers and politicians have made such a mess of American education. Ideas and patterns have become deeply entrenched, and the politicians keep hammering away at it, most often from the wrong direction.

I am intrigued that as toddlers, some will begin walking as early as 10 months, and others as late as 13 and pediatricians tell their parents, not to worry. We know that to walk requires the development of two things, (not necessarily separate things) the brain and the body. Not all children develop at the same pace. But when it comes to reading, parents and teachers are programmed to panic if their children are not at their proposed "level" when they're in first grade. The stupidity of that is enormous and destructive. Not only do schools then have reading experts to apply special attention to those kids who do not measure up, some children learn to hate reading and form a resistance to it.

Do we think that children past the age of 5 no longer have variations in the rates at which their minds and bodies mature? Or do we know enough about the variables of human development to understand that developmental ranges widen rather than narrow and that academic success may be denied to many children simply because the pressures of their schooling denied them the gift of receiving the right stimulation at the right time? I suggest that we ease up on the early years (and all the years), allow children to play more in school, feature things for them to do and allow academic success to come in its own time. Let's allow for the late bloomers.

I watched 60 minutes last night and they featured a chess program in Franklin County, Mississippi in which the game of chess has been introduced to elementary school children as a means of assisting their academic success. The program is remarkable. Chess has transformed much more than school. Many of the children play the game on and out of school, and have been made aware of their intelligence. Many now want to go to college, an idea that would never have occurred to them in the past.

The point is that there are very many wonderful things to do in school other than fill out worksheets. The children in Franklin County, Mississippi are going home with chess, not homework, and because of their enthusiasm for it, get much more than homework worksheets could provide.

There are any number of ways that schooling can take advantage of real life to capture the child's attention and interest. Music is one, making useful beauty another. How about dance? It appears that chess is another. Are our children not worthy of the investment?

Make, fix, create and offer others the opportunity to love learning likewise.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

heading home

Today I'm driving home to Arkansas, following a great class on making Froebel's gifts. We made gifts 3 and 4 in addition to viewing a video trailer on the History of Kindergarten documentary film and going through my slide lecture on the subject. We also made miter boxes for the students to take home so they can make more.

The History of Kindergarten documentary extended trailer can be viewed through this link:  and features students at the Clear Spring School doing woodworking.

I am tired after 6 days of class. During class I am busy moving at every moment from 8 AM to 6 PM to make sure my students needs are met. But that's what teachers do... Make certain each students needs and interests are met.

Educational policy makers on the other hand, seem to have other interests at heart. These are apparently, to keep kids off the streets, and efficiently managed at minimal expense regardless of the damage inflicted on the individual child. If a child can't sit still in a classroom of kids, use drugs. But that same child, given a hammer and saw will make useful beauty to serve family, community and self.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

by this time

By this time on Saturday afternoon, I'll be loading up to travel back to Arkansas following 6 days of class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. In the meantime, fidget spinners seem to have risen to the top of the charts and now sharply fallen as far as their  popularity is concerned.

They were claimed to be a cure for what ails you. Attention deficit disorder? Spin the thing and avoid the rising costs of ritalin. I suspect that if we had children in schools doing real things in service to family and community, we would need neither. Ritalin and other drugs are given to kids to get them to sit still for passive learning, but children as observed by Comenius in the 17th century were as follows:
"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them."
The great stupidity of education in the US is that educational policy makers refuse to accept the theories of the father of modern pedagogy, Comenius. The foundation of Comenius' thought was based on observation of real children and how they learn primarily through the senses. All of them.
"The ground of this business is, that sensual (sensuous) objects be rightly presented to the senses for fear that they not be received. I say, and say it again aloud, that this is the foundation of all the rest; because we can neither act nor speak wisely, unless we first rightly understand all the things which are to be done and whereof we have to speak. Now there is nothing in the understanding which was not before in the senses. And therefore to exercise the senses well about the right perceiving of the differences of things will be to lay the grounds for wisdom and all wise discourse, and all discreet actions in one's course of life, which, because it is commonly neglected in schools, and the things that are to be learned are offered to scholars without their being understood or being rightly presented to the senses, it cometh to pass that the work of teaching and learning goeth heavily onward and offereth little benefit."
I spent the day today talking about students about the potential of woodworking education to transform the education in this land. I thank the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and my students for allowing me to do so.

Make, fix, create, and help others to learn likewise.

Friday, June 16, 2017

day five, box making at MASW

This photo of my class shows evidence of learning ready for the journey home. These are not all the boxes made during the week, as two students were required to leave early and others chose to only put some of their boxes on display.

I am grateful for the experience of watching my students grow. It seems that my students set a record for the number of boxes made. They also came up with some interesting designs.

Tomorrow I have a class on making the gifts of early childhood. Then home to Arkansas!

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

End of day 4...MASW

We have had a great week at Marc Adams School. I have 17 students, most of whom registered on the first hours of registration back in November. I would have had 18 except that one student had to withdraw at the last minute.

It is a pleasure to be so much in demand, and to be so appreciated for what I can share with others. At dinner tonight, one of my students asked about the difference between teaching kids and teaching them.

All of us learn best the same way, through play, but adults at Marc Adams School of Woodworking are more attentive than most because they've chosen to be there, and have signed up for classes due to their specific interests.

All have made a significant investment in being there, and will let little learning  go to waste. Children in school often do not have such well defined interests in what they are to be taught.

So that was the reason that in Educational Sloyd, teachers were to start with the interests of the child and build carefully from there.

Today I demonstrated how to install hinges, and how to rout large finger joints. I assisted students in problem solving and design. I also enjoyed witnessing my students' growth expressed through many well made boxes.

I have one more day of box making class and then will teach a special one day class on making Froebel's gifts, before heading back to Arkansas on Saturday evening.

Make, fix, create and guide others to love learning likewise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

At the end of day three box making

My adult students have been doing well with their box making. Most have unusual boxes of their own design, as well as boxes like the ones I often make on my own. One student is attempting to learn to cut dovetails by hand.

Today I demonstrated hinge installation, and making mitered finger joints. I also assisted my students with troubleshooting, design questions, and attempted to offer encouragement when things were not going quite right.

As all my students know, there are many ways that box making can go wrong. But if it was too easy, it would not be so fulfilling.

Today I began ordering a few things for the new wood studio at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. It will take a period of time to get all things up and running the way we want.

I have heard from two educators in the last two days. One is using my books and DVD to teach box making. Another,  in Vancouver, BC has started a program in which he invited a first nations woodcarver to build a tool box with his kids. The lovely box with carving tools is shown in the photo above.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

end of day two MASW

I have completed my second day of teaching box making at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. One of my students told me that he's already learned enough to cover the cost of the week full of instruction. The rest of the week will be fun for us all. All of my students have at least one interesting box in the works and some are making several.

So far, I've demonstrated finger joints, hidden spline joints, and keyed miter joints. Students have learned how to make floating panel lids, lift off lid, sliding lids and tomorrow we will begin using hinges.

It's fun. I'm making new friends and selling a few books. It is energizing. If I were at home doing nothing, I'd be tired by now.

I had a conversation with a friend who has taught science to middle school students for 28 years. In comparing his students today and those of the past, he said that students seem to take far greater prodding than in the past and are too often unwilling to invest time in doing anything that appears difficult to them. That's a tragic state.

We grow in character by doing things that are difficult for us. Digital technology is continuously made easier and easier, and gives the appearance of being both powerful and creative. But the creativity is in the program and not in the child. The power is in the device, and fingers sliding over glass are left with too little capacity to do real things. This is not my appeal to do away with digital technology. It is my sincere request that we put real tools in the hands of  both children and adults that they may create useful beauty.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Monday, June 12, 2017

a long day...

I've finished my first day of teaching at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I gave demonstrations in cutting mitered corners, fitting floating panel lids, gave personal box making advice to a number of students and covered the basic principles and elements of design. Tomorrow I'll teach how to cut finger joints. The students have all been planing wood, resawing on the bandsaw and a few of them have already cut mitered corners. There are so many aspects to consider.

My class is a bit unusual in that the object is not for all of us to make the same box, but for each of us to make boxes that fulfill our own creative inclinations. This approach leads to some head scratching, but also leads to more effective learning.

I was too busy to take photos, but will try tomorrow. Come back to see more.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017


I've arrived in Indiana for my 6 days of classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The school has been busy over the winter months with a major expansion, including a new kitchen, lunch room, dedicated lathe room and technology center. The state of the art technology center will allow students to use laser cutters, plasma cutters, CNC routing, and laser engraving, all controlled wirelessly from computers. This is the world's largest woodworking school. With their staff and teachers, the best. Continuous growth over the last 22 years will keep the school at the top, and a destination for woodworkers for years to come.

As you know, I have also been involved in my local community in a more personal endeavor at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA). I remind myself that with the current state of affairs, the arts crafts need all the help they can get. So whether a school is large or small, the need is there. I hope to enlist new teachers and build our program at ESSA. The object is not to compete, but to offer much needed healing to a fractured culture. The arts bring us together, and help us to stick like glue to purposes that are transcendental.

Make some thing useful and beautiful and you've changed the world for the better.

Become a maker of useful beauty, and you've transformed your self.

The photo is of the new addition at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Tomorrow my box making class will begin.

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

packed and ready for MASW

I have my box making supplies packed and ready for Marc Adams School of Woodworking and I leave today. Being prepared to be away from home for a week is one thing. Being prepared to teach for six days another. At some point during the summer, I may regret being so heavily booked. In addition to classes, I have articles to write for Fine Woodworking and Woodwork magazine. The secret of course is to do but one thing at a time and transition swiftly between endeavors.

I also need to begin ordering additional tools and supplies for the new wood shop at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

As I travel today, I cannot help but be aware of the fact that our country seems to be coming unglued. We have a president who lies routinely and with ease to foreign leaders, to the press, to his family and even to himself, and his presidency seems to have fallen into complete disarray. He's being faced by public servants who hold tightly to the truth.

In the meantime, the United States has been made the laughing stock for the world, and world leaders have had to distance themselves from the erratic, egotistical fool Americans elected through the interference of a foreign power. In 2015, a Russian cyber warfare expert had told their Federal Assembly that they had a new tool to use against the US that would put our nations on a point of parity just as things had been during the height of the cold war. It appears to have worked, but only to a point. An intelligent free press is protection for Democracy.

We will get through the crisis and will be made wiser by it, and I'm reminded that when we are faced by obstacles that seem far greater than our capacity to fix, we may yet move forward by simply doing good things.

Make, fix, create and help others to live likewise.

Friday, June 09, 2017

even to stand slack jawed, open mouthed and dumfounded.

William James had come up with the maxims, “No reception without reaction” and “No impression without expression” in his discourse supporting the manual arts in school. Even for a child to stand stack jawed, open mouthed and dumfounded indicates some level of response. But then I'm not sure that's what William James had in mind.

Today I hope to get the bandsaws wired and ready at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and begin installing the pipes and hoses for the dust collection. I will also pack my truck for travel to Marc Adams School of Woodworking for six days of making boxes.

I searched through my files of photos for one that shows students in a classroom. You may not need one to be reminded of what it's like. Kids slouch at desks, bored and disinterested as if they've already seen it all. To sit bored and unresponsive is great preparation for a life of idle consumption of products and ideas. Being bored and unresponsive in the classroom trains students to do nothing about the stupidity and insensitivity  encroaching on our humanity.  Assured that students (and adults) will not rise up in response, corporations that care nothing for the environment, can trash it and leave what had been communities as wasteland.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Sympathetic and intelligent appreciation of each child.

I am turning my attention back to the ESSA wood studio, as items have been arriving that are needed to further prepare for coming classes. Today I'll be making sleds, and push sticks and cutting floor mats to appropriate size. The following is from Junius L. Meriam's book Child Life and Curriculum.
“Sympathetic and intelligent appreciation of the boy and girl; the contrast between intense activity out of school and comparative inactivity within the school; the contrast between the viewpoints of child and adult, — these considerations suggest an approach to conception of the purpose of elementary education. It is this: Let us for the time forget that we have studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and others of the traditional subjects. Let us set aside the notion that we adults have attained to our present stage of development by virtue of our study of these traditional subjects. Let us not feel certain that our pupils can develop only by the course we have taken.”

“Statement of the problem. Face to face with her group of pupils, each teacher may formulate her problem in this way: How can I help these boys and girls to do better in all those wholesome activities in which they normally engage? This statement presents the point of view taken throughout this volume. The emphasis is upon helping rather than merely teaching; consideration is directed to boys and girls as individuals, not as groups and averages; pupils are helped to do better than they have done before, rather than to compete with others; the subjects for study are the normal experiences of children and people in whom they are concerned (limited, of course, to wholesome activities) in place of the formal Three R's.”— Junius L. Meriam, Child Life and Curriculum, 1920
The point can be simply stated. Children (and adults) in the real world learn with energy and enthusiasm by doing real things. Schooling, in contrast, is hindered its artificiality. One aspect of its artificiality is that of considering students as a class rather than as individuals. The early progressive educational theorist knew this, but the demands for efficient management of kids got in the way of actual efficiency in education. Do real things, and anchor learning in real life and real learning results.

Yesterday my wife, her sister, her granddaughter and I went to Silver Dollar City and had a wonderful day of play. Was there learning involved? Perhaps so. It was fun, and we will remember it for many years to come.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Meriam's principles for curriculum design.

I realize the title of this post would make a reader choose to ignore it.

Junius L. Meriam in his book Child Life and the Curriculum, 1920 attempted to redirect the design of schools to meet student needs and student interests. Meriam was an advocate of manual arts training, but I do not know whether he was influenced by Educational Sloyd, or formulated his ideas by simply observing the way children learn, and what drives them to learn and to love learning.

Direct observation was the way Comenius learned about kids, how Pestalozzi learned about kids, and how Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon, and Dewey learned about kids. Children have not changed much in all this time, and you can learn a great deal about learning by watching kids at play. In this book, Meriam laid out five principles to assist schools in establishing a curriculum that takes into account the student's motivation.
Principle One: The curriculum should contribute primarily to enabling boys an girls to be efficient in what they are now doing, only secondarily to preparing them to be efficient later.

Principle Two: The curriculum should be selected directly from real life and should be expressed in terms of the activities and the environments of people.

Principle Three: The curriculum should provide for great scope and flexibility to meet individual differences in interests and abilities.

Principle Four the curriculum should be organized that it will admit of easy rearrangement of the schedule for any day, of the work for any grade, and even of the transfer of work from grade to grade.

Principle Five: The curriculum should lead the pupil to appreciate both work and leisure, and to develop a habit of engaging in both.
It is cheaper and easier from an administrative perspective to fill a classroom with as many bodies as possible, and have a teacher trained to maintain order, control the class and deliver lessons, whether the students are interested or not. The idea then becomes one of designing the curriculum to flow from one uninteresting thing to another. Is it any wonder then that students would be under motivated, inattentive and in some cases drop out?

I have been working on two fronts. One is to prepare the new ESSA wood shop for classes. The other is to prepare for my own classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I'll drive to Indiana for that class on Saturday.

Make, fix, create and design schooling in which children (and adults) are given the power to do real things.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017


Junius L. Meriam wrote the following as the preface of his book, Child Life and Curriculum published in 1920 and available as a free download.
Bobby was one of my foremost pupils in a village high school. He was fourteen years old but small in stature. At times his face was radiant with boyish joy; at other times his face bore the serious demeanor of a judge. Bobby was one of the very first to reach the playground at recess time. After recess he was among the first to open his books for study. He played with those younger than himself because the younger ones played the more. In the classroom he worked with those older than himself because with these his good mind had more companionship. He was punctual, regular, and reliable in both work and play.

But before the close of the year a marked change took place in Bobby. He played less and studied less. Something was wrong with the boy — or with the school.

As his teacher, I had come directly from a classical college. I required all my students to take Latin and mathematics. English grammar and history also were emphasized. Hard work and vigorous drill characterized my school policy.

I wondered what caused the change in Bobby.
One day three of my grade teachers reported to me that Fred, known in the school and in the town as " the worst boy in school," had been asked by Bobby to join his gang. He declined, saying that that gang was too bad for him. My Bobby's gang too bad for Fred? Thus through Fred it was discovered that Bobby was the leader of a gang which had as one of its purposes: How to make swearing easy. These boys held regular and irregular meetings in a little covered bridge near the pastor's house. There they exercised in their self-chosen art.

Explanation of the changed attitude of my favorite student was now clear. The usual play at recess had not provided the needed activity. The serious school studies had not given the boy opportunity for invention, self-direction, genuine inquiry into real life. This he craved, and the gang became his more effective school.

I give to Bobby and his gang the credit for suggesting to me the problem I have endeavored to present in this book.
I am able to quote liberally here because the book is no longer in copyright protection. The ideas in it, however, will never go out of date. A principle of Educational Sloyd is involved, that of starting with the interests of the child. And actually, an effective teacher does not just start with the interests of the child. He or she is continuously monitoring that level of interest, and shaping the curriculum to fit and sustain it.

This is of course difficult in the modern American classroom in which teachers are given little time to consider the needs of individual learners.

I am getting ready for my class of adult box makers at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Each of my students will have signed up well in advance of the class, will have invested in tools and materials, will dedicate a week to the process, including travel and motel costs. And when I arrive to teach, I can be assured that I will have my student's interests. But I must also  tailor my lessons  to meet each student's individual interests and goals. That I do so insures not only that my students learn effectively, but also that I am invited back to teach again the next year.

Is there not something important to learn here? Are we so foolish and naive to think that adult human beings and children learn in different ways, and that children should and can be exposed to a higher level of manipulation without cost to their interest in learning?

One morning a few years back I followed a link sent to me by a friend and found that I had been quoted in The New York Times. That’s not a thing that happens often to wood shop teachers.

The article linked to my blog in its discussion of Matthew Crawford’s best selling book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. Crawford’s book opens chapter one by quoting me 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.”
Such a statement could have been made by any of the remaining wood shop teachers in America. We all know in our hearts, through our own soulcraft, that our students learn best when their hands are engaged in real problem solving.

I have  downloaded Junius L. Meriam's book free from the internet to my iPad so that I have something to read evenings in my motel room after teaching each day at Marc Adams School. I leave on Saturday.

Make, fix, create, and lead others toward learning likewise.

Monday, June 05, 2017

ribbons and all...

We had our ribbon cutting ceremony for the new wood working studio at ESSA yesterday. I was selected to be one of those wielding the huge scissors for the event.

We had over 200  people there to get a first hand look at the new woodworking facility, and to take part in the Incredible Edibles Art competition. I was kept busy most of the time, answering questions and showing guests through the wood shop.

The following is from the Report to the Commissioner of Education for the year 1887-1888:
The Dwight School, 1882 is often thought of as the first effort at integrating manual training in American School curriculum, but it was built on an earlier example.

In 1872 a society known by the name of Industrial School Association established in Boston what was called a whittling school, carried on in the chapel of a Boston church of evenings. In 1876-77 this society united its school to the industrial school that had for two seasons been holding its sessions in the Lincoln Building, the supporters of the two schools organizing as one body under the name of the Industrial Education Society. The city gave them the use of the "ward room on Church street," where from 7 to 9 on Tuesday and Friday evenings instruction in wood carving was held. Firm benches were obtained, provided with a vise and carving tools for each of the thirty-two boys, ranging in age from twelve to sixteen. About half the pupils were still attending school.

The report, written in 1877, from which these facts are taken, closes thus: "The object of the school was [at the date of its inception], not to educate cabinet-makers or artisans of any special name, but to give the boys an acquaintance with certain manipulations which would be equally useful in many different trades. Instruction, not construction, was the purpose of this school. We cannot but believe that it would be easy to establish in connection with all our grammar schools for boys an annex for elementary instruction in the half dozen universal tools; i. e., the hammer, saw, plane, chisel, file, and square. Three or four hours a week for one year only of the grammar school course would be enough to give the boys that intimacy with tools and that encouragement to the inborn inclination to handicraft, and that guidance in its use, for want of which so many young men now drift into overcrowded and uncongenial occupations or lapse into idleness or vice."
We are now faced with a challenge of making certain the wonderful new facility gets maximum use. Perhaps a whittling school would be a good idea. Children these days are given digital tools that are powerfully engaging and purposefully distracting, but of little real use in shaping their own environments. Some reach college age without having used simple tools like scissors and hammers and the like. How are students to understand the materiality of their existence without having once tried to make something from it?

We know that doing difficult things is the way human resilience and character are developed. We also know that the whole thrust of digital development is to make stuff easy. So unless we propose and accept meaningful challenges for ourselves in the making of beautiful and useful things, we're screwed. As someone said at yesterday's event, schools like ESSA and the volunteers that make them happen are examples of how America IS "truly great."

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

Sunday, June 04, 2017

almost ready for class...

Yesterday I went out to ESSA to make a few last minute adjustments before our opening of the new wood studio this afternoon. With students and classes, it may never be quite so new, shiny and clean ever again.

I still have some work to do setting up the dust collectors, and more tools will be added, including many of the hand tools necessary for an effective learning environment.

Our new wood studio is a lovely building with lots of natural light, as you can see.

In any case, I know that you and our many guests will find the new building amazing. I was concerned at one point that I'd not planned enough space for equipment, and students to share the same space. But I'm very pleased with how it has turned out.

On Monday I begin ordering more tools and supplies for the ESSA wood studio, and will begin preparing for my classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

As I begin to pack boxes with tools and supplies. I get excited about it, for when people learn such good things, making beautiful and useful objects, new friends are made for life. The objects, carried home, will also delight and students having been engaged in learning through their hands, have a broader view of life, as well.

Today's opening reception for the new studio and the incredible edible art competition is from 3-6 PM.

Make, fix, create and delight others by helping them to learn likewise.

Saturday, June 03, 2017


I have been re-reading How Dewey Lost: The victory of David Snedden and Social Efficiency in the Reform of American Education by David F. Labaree. It is a remarkable story of how a nut case's vision of schooling came to rule for most of a century, over the more thoughtful and appealing ideals of John Dewey.

Dewey won the debate among educators and earned world-wide recognition for his ideas. Here in the US, Snedden and the proponents of industrialized education got their way. Those who have been watching the current round of top down schemes to re-shape American education, may see a painful connection.

David Snedden's ideas were strikingly similar to what Woodrow Wilson proposed when he was president of Princeton University and before he became president of the United States.
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.
Snedden got so carried away with Wilson's vision that he proposed special isolated schools for every conceivable occupation. And so with Wilson's signing of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1918 which granted funding to only certain kinds of manual arts training, it became an accepted purpose of education to engineer society along pre-existing class lines. Tied up in this story are the psychology of G. Stanley Hall and the standardized testing movement.

Unlike Snedden, a man whose name is largely forgotten, Dewey's name lives on to inspire. He was a proponent of manual training for all students, including those who might be destined for college and advanced degrees. The object of Dewey's manual arts training was not to prepare students for particular industrial tasks or occupations, but (in alignment with the ideals put forth by Educational Sloyd), to shape the way students think, learn, and care for each other. The life of humankind is not shaped as much by what we are instructed to think as by what we learn to DO, and what we learn to do can shape the way we think, AND what we feel for one another. Those things that are learned hands on, have the greatest educational impact, meaning and longevity in student's lives. Adults, too, benefit most in their learning by doing real things.

I am taking a day off from ESSA and invite you to attend the opening day of the new wood shop, tomorrow, June 4,  3-6 PM

Today I'll be catching up on yard work and begin reading through edited texts for my book on making box guitars.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 02, 2017

While i was at work...

Yesterday while I was at work, getting the new ESSA wood shop ready for classes, our president (of the US) decided to abandon the United State's role as a leader in the free world by removing the US from the Paris Climate Accord. Most world leaders are against the move and even the CEO of Goldman Sachs tweeted against Trump.

When it comes to the climate, I am compelled to speak out. The forests that surround my own home are molded to the climate that existed prior to the disruptive force of human induced climate change.

The acceleration of climate change affects my own trees, and the wildlife that lives here in Northwest Arkansas. We are losing songbirds. Real winter seems to have become a thing of the past. Bugs, bugs, bugs, galore are no longer killed by the deep freeze that came every winter like clockwork. 

Most people in the world are simply trying to do good things. We work as volunteers to make the world  better, all the while trying to minimize our own effects on the natural world that surrounds us. We recycle. We conserve energy. We tend plants. We attempt to conserve and protect the history of our culture, and we care deeply for each other. Others appear to care very little for the natural world that has always sustained us. Their idea seems to be that if you can build it and make money on it, who cares who pays? and who cares what the real consequences are? I am compelled to write because I do care.

The photo is a view of our lathe room at ESSA being gradually fitted out for our first classes.

Make, fix, create, and pray that others learn likewise. Woodworking is a means through which we learn about woods, trees and forests, begin to understand their value and are motivated to take a role in protecting our environment.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

this day.

Today I'll be at the new ESSA wood shop and continue to prepare the new space for classes and for the grand opening on Sunday. I have been putting so much time and thought into the new wood shop that I've let other things slide. And even after the opening day, there will be a lot to do to get the shop organized and ready for my own classes later in the summer.

So far I've relied heavily on a team of dedicated woodworking volunteers, and I am grateful for their help.

While I'm involved at ESSA, I'm also working on articles for Fine Woodworking and Woodcraft Magazines, going over edits for my box guitar book, and preparing for my own summer classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, and ESSA.

What I also need to do is make boxes, and as I awaken in the night, box designs are on my mind.

Assembling tools and figuring out where to put them and how to hook them up, is an exciting thing. The new ESSA wood shop is working out pretty much as planned. Yesterday was the first day to operate table saws and the planer in the new shop.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

completing the new shop

I will be at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts each day this week, continuing to assemble tools and getting the wood shop ready for our first class. The photo shows our new work benches as they are being arranged in the bench room.

As we prepare for the grand opening, I am struck by the enormity of this project, of which the wood shop is only a part. About 15 years ago, other artists and I were discussing the need that we had for an art school. We decided to build one. Not having money or resources, we decided to start as a school without walls, using various private studios in town. The purpose was three fold.
  • Allow the various artists in town to have a means to engage others in the arts.
  • Build the stature of the arts in a community that was already known for the arts.
  • Preserve and protect our community, for artists are the ones who remind us to recognize and protect cultural and aesthetic values.
We proceeded to build a school. At this point we have a 55+ acre campus and studios for pottery, jewelry making, leather work, painting, drawing, iron work, and with this new building have added woodworking.

At this point in my own life, I am in awe of a number of things. And I am mainly reminded that people can gather together and add their strength to each others to accomplish what may turn out to be great things.The long range success of the school is not assured by any means. But our hope is that it gains in credibility, others in the community will realize its value to us, and step up in its support.

I, in the course of things was lucky to recognize a few things. As a newcomer to Eureka Springs, I invited a few members of the local community to gather and create the Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople. Through that organization and as first president, I fell into association with a number of wonderful artists. After that organization had met and worked for many years, we closed it specifically to form the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Put the date on your calendar, June 4, 2017. Come join us to celebrate the new wood shop. It will not be complete, as we may be fine tuning it for years.

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

p. 22

A copy of Fine Woodworking magazine came in the mail this week with a note attached suggesting I would be particularly interested in P. 22. That's where (if you are a subscriber) you'll find a review I wrote on the Infinity Dovetail Spline Jig. The jig and matching sled are used to cut tapered dovetail slots in the corners of a box, and dovetail shaped tapered keys to fit the slots. If you are not a subscriber, look for the magazine at your local book store or news stand.

I am home from Portland and will spend the week cleaning up at Clear Spring School, preparing the new ESSA wood shop for its opening day, and beginning to consider my first summer classes.

While my box making  class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking is full, there are still openings in my one day class on making Froebel's gifts number 3 and 4.

Our first general woodworking class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts needs more students and it would be a very good introduction to basic woodworking and a great chance to learn in our new woodworking studio.

Under the guidance of furniture craftsman Steve Palmer, students will have a choice of making a serving tray, cheese board, display tray, bread board, cutting board or similar project.  Students will be asked to pick a project, determine its size and shape, choose from a selection of woods to determine color scheme, glue up the board, cut it to size, and add details such as inlay, finger holes, edge contours, etc.

Steve's previous students at ESSA had a lot of good things to say about his classes, including the following:
  • Steve was great! I would like to take more classes from him.
  • Patient, knowledgeable, experienced - can readily see he enjoys what he does!
  • Steve has an engineer's brain which is perfect for teaching safety and being thorough about teaching proper wood working techniques.
  • Encouraging, accommodating, patient, willing to stay late - start early. Great - Great job.
Sign up today:

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, May 29, 2017

entanglement part two

I am working on my end of year conference reports that give me the opportunity to review the school year.

My upper elementary class determined that they wanted to make a see saw in wood shop and following its completion a couple months ago, it was in constant use during every break, and after school.

Yesterday I mentioned the idea of educational entanglement and I had written about the idea before.

The simple seesaw in the illustration from that post shows the idea. In the principles of educational Sloyd, lessons were to start with the interests of the child. The drawing is intended to show balance. The teacher's role is to utilize the student's pre-existing entanglements to create the foundation for further, deeper and greater entanglement.

Today we are leaving Portland. My wife and I fly to Arkansas and my daughter to finish her school year in New York. The wedding was lovely. This next week I'll be continuing to prepare the new ESSA wood shop for its opening on June 4.

Make, fix, and create...

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Yesterday, my wife, my sister Mary and I wandered around Portland and made our way to the Real Mother Goose Gallery, one of the finest craft galleries in the US. I saw many fine and wonderful works by many of the artisans who inspired me in my earlier days as a craftsmen. We also wandered through the Portland craft market and were amazed at the volume and quality of work.
Each material has its own life, and one cannot, without punishment, destroy a living material to make a dumb and senseless thing. We must not try to make materials speak our language. We must go with them to the point where others understand their language. — Constantin Brâncuși 
As craftsmen, the can force the wood to tell the story of our mastery over it. Or we can use our own handling of it to enhance and enable others to understand the beauty we find in it. In other words, we  can go one way or the other, and it often appears as through many of us are swimming against a strong tide that's headed in the wrong direction.

Last night I talked at some length with my nephew Logan who spent the last two or three years in  Southeast Asia on the trail of musical instruments and performances that are endangered by the universal culture that seems to be sweeping through. He told about his passion for languages that are being lost. The quote above speaks to a sensitivity to the language of form, for language itself comes first from the experience of life itself. And as we seem headed into a non-sensual, non-sensical landscape of fingers sliding over glass, experiencing no longer the world through our hands, we need to carefully consider all things.

Logan told me about the stringed instrument player, who when a string broke, went to his motorcycle and unwound one of the slender wires from his brake cable. For surely music is more important than life itself.

I can kind of understand the theory of relativity, but what amazes me most is the concept of quantum entanglement. If you introduce two atoms to each other and then separate them to the farthest corners of the universe, what you do to one has measurable and observable effect on the other.

And so what do the hands have to do with that? It may be too deep for a single blog post, but our hands, open or closed, held to strike or used to create, or locked together as a means of sharing our care for each other, are expressions of entanglement.

Let us be entangled. In education and in each others lives.

The photo shows all that remains of the battleship Oregon, except a scrap of wood (teak) used to make a frame that surrounds an etching of the Battleship that hangs in my office in Arkansas. My grandfather had given me the framed etching during my first trip to Portland as a very young man. It was a treat to stand by a part of the original battleship Oregon here in a Portland riverside park.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others are given the gift of learning likewise.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

last night...

My wife and daughter and I arrived in Portland last night to attend the wedding of a niece. It was late and we hoped to catch the last train to our hotel. Unfortunately, the train was delayed. There had been an anti-muslim incident in which two men were killed. Three men had intervened when an angry man was harassing two muslim women on the train. The angry man attacked, leaving two dead.

One must wonder what kind of world we have on our hands. There is a relationship between hateful speech and hateful acts. And we have choices to make. Do we train the hands in service of humanity or do we clench them as fists and bludgeon each other? Those who are engaged in the making of useful beauty are too busy for anger. The party in power seems to not care one way or the other.

So what's so special about wood?  It’s lovely. You can craft beautiful and useful objects directly from the most basic of raw materials. It unites us with the natural world, and invites us into a profound relationship with nature. Objects whittled or sawn or shaped from it, if cared for, can last a thousand years or more. There is absolutely no limit to what you can learn from it, things even about yourself. And yes, it does grow on trees.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Plein Air

Our Eureka Springs School of the Arts concluded our week long Plein Air Festival last night with a display of artist's works.

I  purchased this lovely view of one of my favorite things in Eureka, Perkins Mill. It will hang in my office when I have a bit of time to rearrange things. What you don't see in the picture is that within Perkins Mill are all the old wonderful tools, line shafts, belts and diesel engines that were used in the making of Eureka.

If I had a million dollars to buy it and another million to protect it in perpetuity, I would. It is the most important structure in Eureka Springs and rarely noticed. Perkins Mill and Lumber Company was involved in much of the construction and preservation that took place in Eureka Springs for over a hundred years. It is a humble, industrial building but a symbol of creativity and meaningful labor.

The painter of this work, Marty Benson, received an award as best new beginner. It is hard to believe that Plein Air painters can do such lovely work in a single day. Throughout the week painters were in town on street corners and in various odd places, where-ever the view captured their attentions. Rain or shine, We are enriched by the arts.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in finding the value of learning likewise.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

the necessity of doing it.

Today is the Celebration of the Child at Clear Spring School. In addition to music and performances, each child will be honored for their qualities that make them special in our small community.

President Obama was in Germany yesterday talking about education. Contending that poor education policies breed inequality, Obama said that:
“no country will be successful if it leaves half of its children... uneducated and on the sidelines. We have to think of them as all of our children. If Malia and Sasha are doing well but the majority of their peers are not, that’s gonna affect their lives in some damaging way.”

“The good news is that we know what to do, the bad news is that we haven’t convinced everybody of the necessity of doing it,”
Stupidity is alive and well. There are many who think that by ignoring the needs of particular children everything will be OK. But it will not. We have terrorism in the world that can affect even the most sheltered and cherished of our kids because we have stupidity and poverty.

Blog reader René, translated the principles of Sloyd into German as follows:
Prinzipien der persönlichkeitsbildenden, handwerk-orientierten Erziehung:
  • Setze bei den Interessen des Kindes an.
  • Arbeite dich vor vom Bekannten zum Unbekannten,
  • vom Leichten zum Schwierigen,vom Überschaubaren zum Komplexen,
  • vom Konkreten zum Abstrakten.
The point is that we've known about effective education since Comenius. And yet we appear to have chosen instead to run our children through  educational canning factories as though they are cans to be filled with certain things. And the children of immigrants or of the poor and in other parts of the world? The conservative Republican attitude seems to have become, "who cares?" But we must care.

Make, fix, create, and accept the responsibility of helping others to learn likewise.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

a questionable cut

What you see in the photo is not good. The young woman with her shop teacher or a fellow student standing over appears to be getting ready to free hand a board through the table saw. I hope this is not the case, as it should not be. Safety requires that she use the table saw's miter gauge or a sled to make the cut. If she is using the fence to control the length of the cut, the risk of kickback is extremely high. If she is simply going to stick the wood into the blade her chances of an accurate cut are null and the risks of serious injury are high.

The picture is from a web page advertising Concordia University's online industrial arts teacher program. Other than the photo that screams STOP!!! The page offers useful information for anyone wanting to become an industrial arts teacher and asks:
Who makes a good industrial arts teacher? People who are:
  • Good with their hands
  • Fanatical about problem solving
  • A compulsive tinkerer
  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Capable of motivating and inspiring students
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to service and education
  • Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Qualified with a degree in an education-related field
The web page further suggests:
Becoming an industrial arts teacher requires a high level of skill in two areas. First, you must have mastery of the industrial arts you plan to teach. Second, you must have expertise in teaching itself. No matter how skillful you are as a carpenter, you won’t succeed as an industrial arts teacher if you can’t teach woodworking skills to others.
I hope everyone understands that teaching industrial arts requires much more than online learning. Assuring safe practices (both in teaching and making) requires actual experience. One of the best ways to assure safe learning and safe teaching is to take a class. Steve Palmer's 3 day class at ESSA would be a good starting point.

This is my last day of teaching for this school year. I begin preparing for adult summer classes.

Make, fix, create,and make way for others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Orka du?

The first supper.
I continue to study both Norwegian and Swedish using the program Duolingo.

Orker du is a Norwegian phrase and according to Duolingo it means "Do you have the energy." According to Google translation it means "Do you breathe?" or "Do you work?"

The Swedish phrase Orka du, according to Google means simply, "Can you?"  And I must say, "Yes, we can!"  It's not just because we breathe that we can, but because we do and have practiced doing until we've become better at it. Together, we can make the world a better place, and transcend the selfishness that holds us back.

Yesterday the electricians turned on the lights at the new Eureka Springs School of the Arts wood working studio. I can assure you that a lot more than breathing has been going on. Now we have plumbing, and lights, and soon will be able turn on any number of power tools at the same time. We are aiming toward the opening day of June 4, 2017. Everything will not be perfect at that point, as it will take some time to put everything in tip top shape. Today I plan to go out and assemble some tools.

Our first wood turning class using all new lathes and turning tools in our new building is nearly full at this time.

Our maiden voyage class in the bench room and machine room will be a three day class in woodworking techniques taught by Steve Palmer, furniture maker from St. Louis. There are still openings in that class that we hope to fill. Steve has taught before at ESSA and has received glowing reviews from his students at ESSA.  His class will cover the basics of safe and appropriate tool use  and absolutely no prior experience is required. I plan be there for part of it to assist. Students will carry home lovely wood art as evidence of what they have safely learned.

At that time I will have just returned from classes at the Marc Adams School and will be preparing for my own 5 day class in box making.

I invite you to join us. Steve's class would be a good introduction to woodworking, and woodworking is worth being introduced to.

The image above is of our publicity photo for the grand opening of our new woodworking complex and for our incredible edible fundraising event on June 4. It features woodturning tools used as forks, and a Lee Valley workbench as our lovely table.  The bowls holding fruit are made by Les Brandt.

While the image may vaguely resemble the famous painting, the last supper, there is more serious painting going on this week in Eureka Springs as the Eureka Springs School of the Arts hosts our second annual Plein Air Festival

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise

Monday, May 22, 2017

the tempo of human labor

A while back I read an article about Marcin Jakubowski's Factor e farm in Bloomberg Business week. Jakubowski is working on  "open source" mechanical equipment that can be made from readily accessible junk. I am also remembering my summer visit with Bill Coperthwaite. Both Coperthwaite and Jakubowski were driven by a goal of regaining a necessary democratic distribution of human resources. Both were concerned with the tools of civilization.

If you were to have known Bill at an earlier time when his imagination had been captured by the huge power supply potential of his mill pond tidal basin, at Machiasport, Maine, it might have appeared that he and Jakubowski were speaking the same language. But that was before Coperthwaite who died in an auto accident in 2013 discovered the powers of his own hands. While Jakubowski is concerned with tractors, Bill was working on the crooked knife, a democratic axe, block knives and wheel barrows: things that can be handled through the energy of man. You can learn more about Coperthwaite, by using the search function on my blog:

Human beings these days seem to have become unfamiliar with the rhythmic potentials of our own bodies. Give a kid a chisel, and he wants to drive it straight into the wood in a single whack, not realizing that work is most easily accomplished through rhythmic (and thoughtful) application of force. By dividing work into smaller increments, human beings can have tremendous power. The illustration above is from Rudolfs J. Drillis' "Folk Norms and Biomechanics" and shows the optimum work tempo for man. Don't expect others these days to make such observations or to be interested in such things. We have reached the point of foolishness in which human labor and the productive capacities of our own bodies are things to be escaped rather than studied and cherished.

A poem from Two Hundred Poems for Teachers of Industrial Arts Education Compiled by William L. Hunter, 1933 tells a bit of the story

The Potter
The potter stood at his daily work,
One patient foot on the ground;
The other with never slackening speed
Turning his swift wheel around.

Silent we stood beside him there,
Watching the restless knee,
'Til my friend said low, in pitying voice,
"How tired his foot must be!"

The potter never paused in his work,
Shaping the wondrous thing;
'Twas only a common flower pot,
But perfect in fashioning.

Slowly he raised this patient eyes,
With homely truth inspired;
"No, Marm, it isn't the foot that works,
The one that stands gets tired!"
-- Author unknown
I am finishing my school year at the Clear Spring School and preparing for summer classes. I've a lot more to do to prepare the new ESSA wood shop for an opening celebration, June 4.

Make, fix, create and help others to learn likewise.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


Larry, Sam, Ken, Buz, Mike, Suzanne, Bill, Steven, Les, Cliff and Dan. With these volunteers I spent the day Saturday, cleaning the new wood shop at ESSA and assembling our new work benches and various machines. Even with a dozen of us at work, we still have more work to do. But I was amazed and pleased at our progress. I may be able to work a bit more on Tuesday and Wednesday of this next week.

Outside the shop, we've accumulated a huge pile of cardboard.

Pictures of our work day are on our ESSA Facebook page.
My thanks to all the volunteers. It is a remarkable thing to be a part of such a fulfilling enterprise.

Today is Books in Bloom, the small town literary festival that  my wife founded with friends and the Carroll and Madison Library Foundation.

Last night at the Books in Bloom author's reception I talked with a friend who works with "Gifted and Talented" students.  I was curious about the means used to identify those students who fit the program. It is my own belief that almost all children are gifted in special ways and that their gifts deserve to be recognized within schools. That does not happen often enough in schools designed from the outset to run students through in large numbers. As much as I admire all teachers, we can use reading as an example to explore the system at large.

In the US we begin applying pressure to read in Kindergarten. In Finland, students begin reading in second or third grade and by the time they are tested in the international PISA study, they far surpass American readers in 30 percent less time. And so what do Kindergarten, first and second grade teachers in Finland do instead of making their students read and do homework? Perhaps they are helping to identify and awaken their students' many and diverse gifts beyond those of reading and math.

More reading here:

Make, fix, create, and improve the chances that others learn likewise.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

ESSA volunteer work day.

Today at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, volunteers will be helping to assemble workbenches and machines as we prepare for our opening day celebration, June 4. There is a lot of work to do. But willing hands make work a joy.

Yesterday I had my most successful White St. Art Walk ever, thanks to having sold a walnut hall table and a number of books and boxes. I faced a continuous stream of old friends and familiar faces throughout the evening.

The hall table was made for my book Rustic Furniture Basics. It is on sale, so use the discount code SPRING20 at checkout.

There seems to be a growing interest in our Wisdom of the Hands Program of Woodworking with Kids. That's a good thing. The idea is simple. The use of the hands facilitates learning and remembrance of learning. To observe the hands and what they create provides a sincere and truthful measure of character and intellect. When children are given the opportunity to measure their own growth through what they create they need little adult interference. Given tools and guidance we can watch them joyfully create.

Last night some attendees at White St. commented on all the things I do. I write, I make, and I teach. My excuse is that it all revolves around woodworking, and I need to do only one thing at a time.

Make, fix, create, and give a lasting gift to others by helping their hands learn work.

Friday, May 19, 2017

funny development.

A friend, Les Brandt is a wood turner who will be teaching our first class in the new wood studio, and he volunteered to do research among wood turners concerning lathe tool holders. Ironically, he sent me the photo here which I recognized as being my own, made years ago for the Clear Spring School wood studio.

The thing I like about this design is that the tool is held in such a way that the tip can be observed. It must be wall mounted high enough that the points of the tools present no danger.The design also relies on a French cleat. One angled piece is affixed to the pipes, and the matching angled piece is attached to the wall. The rack is easily removed so it can be put away when the lathe is not in use.

A wood turner had found the image on Pinterest, and thinking it a good idea, had saved it. I had shared it on the internet sometime in about 2002. The arm in the photo holding the tool holder is indisputably my own. The collection of tools in it belongs indisputably to the Clear Spring School.

So, it is extremely funny to have chased around the internet for ideas, only to be directed home to my own shop. The idea of using PVC pipe to hold tools is not originally my own, but my own simplification of the idea using seems to have inspired others, and has come home to roost again. A friend said, "full circle."

Yesterday I took a walk through of the new ESSA wood shop with the architect and contractor to go over final details. Today I have White St. Art Walk where I will be selling my work at Lux Weaving Studio.  The White St. Art Walk is one of the premier arts events in the state of Arkansas. Come see me and enjoy the works of many of our fine artists. Buy things. Your money can support the arts.

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 20, volunteers will join me at the new ESSA wood shop to assemble woodworking equipment.

Make, fix, create, and enable others to learn likewise.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

purposeful repetition

I repeat myself for three reasons.
  1. Readers of the blog are constantly changing. 
  2. The same exact points remain pertinent. 
  3. By repeating myself, I have hope that my message is refined to the point that it cannot be ignored. 
It's a lot like making boxes. Your first won't have the same level of refinement as your second, and by the thousandth time repeating myself, I hope to be crystal clear.
I was talking with a robotics teacher yesterday, and we know that robotics are all the buzz. Kids and parents are excited about the subject. It's new and exciting. But he's found his students have no idea of how to use a screwdriver. They've held complex objects their whole lives but without ever having developed the necessary skill or curiosity to take something apart.

So here we go again with the principles of educational Sloyd one-more-time (it will not be the last).
  • 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
  • From the concrete to the abstract.
These days all things have become screwed up in reverse order. Parents put technologies in their children's hands that they have no way to understand. Children can manipulate what an iPhone shows on its screen, but have no idea what exists at its heart, and no way to control its actual impact on their lives except as consumers constantly in search of newer and more of the same old thing.

This may sound like I'm attacking technology. I am not. If you read the principles of educational Sloyd and understand them, they came to us one hundred years before Jerome Bruner developed his concept of "scaffolding." We throw children willy-nilly into advanced technologies without providing the scaffolding for them to become masters of it.

So, is there a place for wood working and woodworking education in the world of the iPad and fingers sliding over glass? I call for all hands on deck. We need whole persons to inhabit and protect our lovely planet. We need whole persons to make lovely and useful things that continue to express the heights of our humanity. Do we need more robots working mindlessly, or do we need thoughtful human beings to whom we may entrust the sacredness of life?

Make, fix, and create.