Thursday, December 14, 2017

the power of the workbench

I ran across this wonderful article on the power of the workbench: http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2015/woodworking

It is distressing that so many children are being controlled by gaming platforms and iPhones when in the past, kids were left somewhat to their own devices (of hand and mind) to discover their creative capacities.
“Clunk, clunk, zzzz-zzzzz—thunk!”
These are sounds of kids using tools at a woodworking bench. Sounds once familiar and pleasurable to me during my teaching days. I no longer hear those sounds during my visits to schools, nor do I see woodworking benches as part of the classroom environments. When I talk to teachers about the importance and value of woodworking for young children, they are astonished and incredulous that I would even suggest that young children use real tools such as hammers and saws. They often laugh at such an idea and say, “Do you know what little children are like?”

Oh, but I do know what little children are like.— Judith Pack
And all good teachers have known from the earliest days of education. The following is from Comenius:
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.
Girls, too, need to be engaged in doing real things. Community Playthings is a company in New York that makes wooden furniture, fixtures and teaching supplies for schools and pre-schools. The workbench in the photo is one of their fine products.

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

or no seats?

I intended to install the seats of the boats yesterday, but my students got started sanding. They like that part. We did begin installing the rails. The parts that remain are the foredeck, the quarter knees, the keel and skeg. We may leave the seats for last, giving us the opportunity to paint the insides without obstruction.

I will need to scarf join some white oak to form the keels.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

seats...

Today we may get to the point of adding seats to the Bevins Skiffs being made by students at the Clear Spring School. This time period had originally been on the schedule as a fine arts block, but what is a finer art than building a boat? Boats express the integration of form and function and are to be assessed in both the look and the workings of their parts. The following quote was shared by Tim Holton at Holtonframes.com
Of all things, living or lifeless, upon this strange earth, there is but one which…I still regard with unmitigated amazement…and never pass without the renewed wonder of childhood,…and that is the bow of a Boat…The nails that fasten together the planks of the boat’s bow are the rivets of the fellowship of the world. Their iron does more than draw lightning out of heaven, it leads love round the earth. — John Ruskin.
John Ruskin was a critic of art and architecture whose writings inspired the golden age of arts, crafts, and craftsmanship. Today, if all goes right, we will install the seats in our Bevins Skiffs. Still to come will be the keels, skegs, foredecks, and quarter knees. I have students on my hands now who can hardly wait for the time when the boats hit water.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 11, 2017

scarf joints...

Yesterday I ripped catalpa wood for the balance of the parts for the Bevins Skiffs. I cut scarf joints on the table saw to extend sections of 8 foot stock to over 12 feet. I used epoxy glue thickened with wood flour to secure the joints. This stock, after being planed and cut to width and length will form the seat risers, and top rails. Today we can begin installing the frame pieces to which the seat risers and rails will be attached. The Incra (brand) miter gauge shown is perhaps the only table saw miter gauge that can be adjusted to such an acute angle (7.5°) to form a scarf joint in this manner.

My objective is to have most of the woodworking completed on both boats before the end of this week when students (and teachers) get out for the holiday break. There may be a few small details that I'll need to attend to when the students are not present. Painting will come later. I will need to turn some of my attention during break to getting the ESSA wood shop ready for classes in the spring.

The simple point is that students need to be engaged in doing real things. There must be real things offered in school for which they find pride in having done and through which skills of mind and hand are attained. Even if we were no longer a manufacturing nation — even if we were overrun with meaningless stuff (as we are) — being a human being requires that we create useful beauty in service to each other. To fail to do so may leave us short-handed, short-sighted, ill-tempered, anxious and depressed.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

making sense

Some days I have to sit back and attempt to make sense of things.
Black Elk described the wholeness to be found in nature as follows:
Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children. -- Black Elk
Again, along the same lines, the following is from Dr. Matti Bergström's book, Hjarnans resurser — en bok om ideernas ursprung "The Brain's Resources — a Book about the Origin of Ideas."
...We evolve in order to unite the world we live in into a wholeness. ...This is why the unifying force, the collective principle ... assumes ever greater importance in our lives. It becomes apparent in our thirst for peace, accord, and harmony, goodness, a social and religious paradise, love of our fellow humans and nature and an ensouling of nature. ...Even in our science we wish more and more to be rid of one-sided analysis, divisiveness and disjointed knowledge to create instead a method of research that tends toward synthesis and holism, wholeness and cohesion, where values can coexist without battling each other. — pp. 147-8
It seems the human condition requires great effort to make sense of. While our training and relentless activity is to discern one thing from another, the understanding of wholeness, a thing Froebel called Gliedganzes, requires us to put things together and to find the common thread. An ancient  Chinese text called the Hsin Hsin Ming describes the process and the solution. "The great way," it says is, "is not difficult for those who have no preferences, but make the slightest distinction, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart." The solution it proposes is that whenever doubts or dissensions arise they must be met with the firm assertion, "not two," that there are no real boundaries between us.

The following is from Froebel and Education through Self-Activity by H. Courthope Bowen describing a conversation between Adolph Diesterweg and Froebel:
The night was clear, bright, and starry, as they drove home from Inselsberg to Liebenstein, and the beauty of the heavens had set them talking. "No one of the heavenly bodies is isolated; every planet has its centre in the sun of its system. All the solar systems are in relation and continual interaction with one another. This is the condition of all life — everywhere mutual relation of parts. As there above, in great things, unbroken connection and harmony rule, so also here below, even in the smallest thing; everywhere there are the same order and harmony, because the same law rules everywhere, the one law of God, which expresses itself in thousand-fold many-sidedness, but in the last analysis is one, for God is himself the law." "That is what people call pantheism," remarked Diesterweg. "And very unjustly," rejoined Froebel; "I do not say, like the pantheists, that the world is God's body, that God dwells in it, as in a house, but that the spirit of God dwells and lives in nature, produces, fosters, and unfolds everything, as the common life principle. As the spirit of the artist is found again in his masterpieces, so must we find God's spirit (Geist) in his works."
Have you not yourself, walked with friends along a pathway in a starry night and wondered at the billions of stars and the interrelationship between all things? You need not be religious to do so.

Make, fix, and create. Use the powers of mind that you have been given to transcend the fractures that divide us and that leave us lonely and afraid.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

ribs

Yesterday my upper elementary school students turned wood on the lathe, making small candle sticks as Christmas presents. My high school students began work on the insides of the Bevins Skiffs, forming the ribs that support the seat risers and strengthen the sides.

Fitting the ribs was perplexing at first until it dawned on me that all the chines were cut on the top edge at the same angle and were the same thickness of wood. So all we had to do to get them to fit was to make a bandsaw cut into the end of each and then use a sliding t bevel and pencil to mark the angle cut for it to fit the top edge of the chine.  Making the final cut required using a pencil and thin shim to cut the end to angle and length. The students quickly picked up the trick and the process that they believed would take hours was quickly done.

By the end of this process I will have learned a lot. In contemplating a career for myself, I had wanted to do something that provided constant learning. Woodworking can be that.

Over the weekend, I'll prepare more stock by taking pieces of catalpa and scarf joining them into longer strips for the seat risers and top rails.

This evening I will be at Lux Weaving Studio for a sale of my work.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, December 08, 2017

tool kit and bow

Grizzly has a child's tool kit on sale for Christmas, consisting of a wooden tool box like those made by students at the Clear Spring School and a variety of tools inside. For $16.95, today only, it may give you something to put under the tree that will offer real growth of character and mind and give hours of creative enjoyment. http://www.grizzly.com/products/Children-s-Tool-Kit/H5855?utm_campaign=zPage&utm_source=grizzly.com

Years ago when I presented at a conference in Little Rock, an artist came up to me and told me that she had purchased woodworking tools for her grandson but her daughter-in-law had refused to allow them in the house. Her concerns were that he might make a mess, or damage her furniture. Perhaps he might even injure himself.

So what's a wise grandmother to do? Keep the tools in her own house and claim the child whenever possible so that he  (or she) can create and learn.

Yesterday at ESSA we finalized the 2018 program catalog, and course offerings for the coming year will begin showing up on-line. If you want to receive a catalog, please contact the school through the website, essa-art.org.

In the ESSA woodshop my students and I trimmed the edges of the marine ply forming the bottoms of Bevins Skiffs. This morning we will continue the same work, and by Monday we will be ready to work on the insides of each boat.

Make, fix and create... Make certain, too, that real skills are passed along to fresh generations.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Book and DVD package deal.

Taunton Press is having a Christmas sale. Customers can use the code Gift20 to get 20% off on all orders. This is a great chance to save on my books and books by other great authors!

In addition, Taunton is offering a special package deal of my book Basic Box Making and the related DVD for a special price of $23.94. Use the discount code of Gift20 for an even better holiday savings. Many of my readers have told me that the DVD Basic Box Making is a classic that they watch again and again. The processes illustrated in it are useful for understanding the processes used in my other books, as well.

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School we took a field trip to the local Food Bank to deliver toys for holiday distribution. Our students made tops, button toys, super heroes, and toy cars, as well as an assortment of other things that came from their imaginations.

At the Eureka Springs School of the Art, I and my Clear Springs High School students installed the bottoms on Bevins Skiffs. You can see steps in our process at https://www.instagram.com/douglasstowe/

On another subject, Jim Tolpin sent me a copy of his new book From Truth to Tools. Written by Jim and co-author George Walker, and illustrated by Andrea love, it explores woodworking tools and their relationship to the exploration of physical reality. The tools of the philosopher scientist and the tools of the woodworker have common origins, and this book is one that I recommend. It would be useful to a precocious middle school child, but it is also a book that I've learned from. The book is new from Lost Arts Press. https://lostartpress.com/

Make, fix, and create. Use craftsmanship as a celebration of your life.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Chines

Chines are the parts of a boat that run along the bottom edge of the sides where the bottom is attached. Yesterday we installed the chines and began the process of planing the bottom edges flat so the bottom sheets can be tightly secured and sealed with no leaks. The photo shows the process.

Turning the process over to kids and keeping two boats going at once, does not allow for the level of finesse I  would hope for if left completely on my own. But perfect boats is not the goal. A perfect learning experience is.

Otto Salomon had suggested that craftsmen would not necessarily be the best teachers of educational Sloyd, as the objective was not perfect  or efficient craftsmanship. Joy of learning is a far better goal.

On the first day of boat building, I told my students about my first boat. I used a sheet of 1/4 in. plywood, as it was all I had, along with 1 x 2's and 2 x 2's salvaged from construction scrap. Where I had gaps in the construction that I did not know how to close, I used a tube of window caulk.

My dad was very complimentary of my work and we put the boat on a rack on top of the car and took it to Carter Lake in Omaha, Nebraska for its maiden launch. The window caulk immediately gave way even before I could seated with the oars. The boat went straight down in shallow water. My dad, surely knew in advance what would happen with the window caulk, but he made no comment or criticism about my failure. We loaded the boat back on top of the car, took it home, and it became a sand box for my little sister.

Being a good teacher is more important than being good craftsman. The things a craftsman makes may serve until their beauty and utility are worn away. The things a teacher imparts, may last beyond generations.

Make, fix, and create.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Shaped like a boat.

As you can see in the photo, parts of the Bevins skiffs are coming together to look like real boats. My students are very excited about the process. Yesterday we attached the transoms, and got the center frames roughly in place to give the boats their shape. We also laid out the shape of the bottom and got one cut to shape. Today we will fit the chines.

The chines are strips of wood nailed along the bottom edge of the sides that provide a place for the bottom plywood to be nailed on and sealed. After the chines are nailed on, they and the sides must be planed flush so the bottom plywood will fit tight.

I am grateful to have use of the new wood shop at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts to build these boats.

Richard Bazeley sent a link to an article explaining why sets of blocks are still the best Christmas gift. https://theconversation.com/blocks-are-still-the-best-present-you-can-buy-children-for-christmas-87171 Last year I made a set of Jenga blocks for the lower elementary school students to use in learning their math facts. Before pulling a block loose the student had to answer the math problem written on it.

The new way and more exciting way is for the kids to claim Jenga blocks for building stuff. If they can answer the math question written on it, they get to use it to build. Our students are competitive in wanting to gather the most blocks to then have the most supplies to build with.

Our high school students are also competitive. One asked, "When the boats are done, can we race?" Of course they may!

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn lifewise.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Woodworkers' desk vise.

The photo shows my new desk vise based on a common woodworker's hand screw. It can be easily and cheaply made and allows students to do woodworking in a conventional classroom, using tables or desks. It can hold wood for sawing, drilling planing and assembly. I will have my students at the Clear Spring School test it to make sure it works. The one difficulty I anticipate is that the screws work at cross purposes to each other and take some time to figure out. The desk vise will not be as easy to operate as a common wood working vise.

Today will be a busy day. I have high school students in the morning to begin our unit on boat building, and my elementary school students will work on Christmas presents in the afternoon.

For Christmas presents of your  own, hand screws like the one I used to make the desk vise are on sale at this site. http://www.rockler.com/wooden-handscrew-clamps-clamps

We are down to about 22 making days before Christmas.

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

Sunday, December 03, 2017

schools and democracy

I asked a good friend of mine to help me think though the various issues we must address in improving public education. Of course making education hands-on so it actually interests kids is only a part of the equation.

My friend pointed out that education in the US once had a common, accepted purpose, that of creating a democratic nation in which people found a meaningful place in the fabric of society, got along with each other and knew how to resolve their differences without damaging the rights of others.

As we wandered from that path and chose lesser goals, we've become a nation of sides in opposition to each other. We see this locally in our city council meetings, and attitudes towards each other, and in states where voters would rather elect persons with despicable moral failings than a person of the other party. On the national stage, one party joyfully pass legislation completely at odds with the wishes of the opposing party.

My illustration shows what I fear has become the accepted purpose of education in America.

Can we go back to Kindergarten and learn in some remedial fashion the things we should have learned then, but missed or forgot? Things like, how to get along with each other, how to share, how to speak kindly, to act thoughtfully and with consideration for each other's feelings? How to nourish and sustain each other and help each other to do our best?

We do need to put a higher purpose back in education. My friend proposed the following solution to the American public school dilemma:
"Less restrictions, or more freedom in choosing and developing curriculum aimed toward perpetuating and improving our democracy. More interest in ‘Honesty” and ‘Integrity’ being shared values than just words of the week."
Today I have lots of preparation to do for Monday's classes.

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

Saturday, December 02, 2017

an explanation of the relationship, wood shop and Kindergarten

Scott Bultman alerted me to an old book about woodworking and Kindergarten for sale in the UK. I have ordered it to add to my collection of early woodworking books and you can read it free online here: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t9z03967w;view=1up;seq=4
It is claimed that the correlation, connectedness, and continuity... materially adds to the educative value of this scheme of simple woodwork; for by its aid the necessity of absolute truthfulness and accuracy in definition is most strongly emphasized: it tends to creativeness; it stimulates latent inventive faculties, quickens perception, guides and directs on correct lines the natural impulses of child nature; and, whilst demanding close attention to and Observation of detail, it trains the little fingers to deftness and skill in execution without detracting in any way from the established methods of the greatest thinkers and exponents of educational reform.

The equipment necessary for each child is of a very simple character. involving small outlay in first cost and upkeep, and the work can readily be done by either girls or boys on the ordinary school desks. — Joseph Henry Judd
The book, "Learn By Doing" Simple Woodwork Designed on Froebelian Principles by Joseph Henry Judd is full of lessons, commentary and wonderful illustrations of tools and processes. The photograph above shows a technique familiar to my students at the Clear Spring School, using sandpaper on the bench to sand parts.

 My role in Scott's Kindergarten documentary project is to explain the interrelationship between the worldwide Kindergarten movement and the rise of manual arts training. This old book, when shared, will help to further an understanding of that relationship as does a journal published in the UK during the 1880's and 1890's called Hand & Eye. My new hand screw desk vise will make clear how woodworking can be done in any classroom equipped with tables or desks, thus removing one of the excuses that schools may have for not reintroducing woodworking to their students.

Please join Eleanor Lux and I at 18 White St. Eureka Springs, this evening from 4-8 PM for a show and sale of our work.

Make, fix, create, and make clear that others must join us in learning likewise

Friday, December 01, 2017

an invitation

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, my high school students will be working on a variety of projects. My older boys have been enjoying turning wood on the lathe and are testing their own skills to develop the smoothest objects they can. It is odd that at a certain point in development students begin to focus very strongly on the texture of things. My youngest students take delight in finishing their work in bright colors. My older students develop an interest in the textures of things and the natural colors of the wood.

I know that part of thir interest is that while so many factors in design are rather nebulous and abstract, texture is not. We have the ability to easily discern one gradation of surface smoothness from another. And my students have become interested in achieving their best. Does this apply to other things in life? Feeling for irregularities in touch, leads them next to observe closely with their eyes, and then often leads to starting over with a lathe tool or coarser sanding grit. In the process, are they not refining themselves as well?

The feeling for surface smoothness or irregularity involves the haptic sense, that I wrote about in an earlier blog post: https://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/2009/10/if-you-want-science-start-with-arts.html

You are invited to a show of work at Lux Weaving Studio here in Eureka Springs, both tomorrow and on December 9, 4-8 PM. The address is 18 White St. We will have wonderful Christmas gifts for sale.

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


Thursday, November 30, 2017

the assumption of stupidity

I have been reading the guidelines written for school board members. Apart from those guidelines are told we need charter schools as an official state sponsored means to shake things up. (Because it is widely agreed that public education is not measuring up to expectations).  In the meantime, local school boards and schools where some meaningful shaking up could be most easily accomplished, are strictly held to the dotted i and crossed t. Evidently, among governmental policy makers, shaking things up is OK if done in a corporate board room, or by a major private foundation but not OK if done on the local level where it is probably true that people care about real kids.

After 13 years of schooling or more people are well trained to look beyond themselves and their own common sense for “expertise.”

This following is a description of the duties and responsibilities of a local school board in Arkansas.
Education as a State and Local Partnership:
Maintaining and operating a school district is, in a very real sense, a partnership between the state as parent and the local school board as offspring (or child?) Throughout the nation, this arrangement has proved its merits: It keeps schools close to the people, stimulates wholesome and creative flexibility within schools, allows for adaptability to local needs, and promotes working toward equitable opportunity without imposing uniformity that could stifle creativity and experimentation.
In my view, the constraints placed upon school boards, allowing them only to manage the financial concerns of the district, and whose only accepted duty is to hire and fire the superintendent is the cause of the situation than then provides justification for the charter school movement, which then takes public education out of the control of local school boards and puts it in corporate hands (that then do a very poor job of it). The key phrase above states that the local board is the "offspring" of the state.

Malcolm Gladwell and others have written about the 10,000 hour rule that proposes that it takes 10,000 hours to develop a particular level of expertise, whether in music, the  crafts or computer programming as was the case with Bill Gates. By the time students have been sequestered from the real world outside for over 10,000 hours of instruction, most will have become good at nothing. Nada, Zip, etc. unless they have been lucky enough to have become engaged in school sponsored athletics or in a school that breaks all the rules that must be adhered to in most public schools. Is it any surprise that when it comes to comparing high school basket ball games to conference night we find that parents show up for one and not the other?

I call for greater control at the much more local level over such things as curriculum development and measure of school success, allowing schools to be more flexibly responsible to the needs of each and every child. The Parent/child relationship should become more like when your child goes off to College… In which a responsible state steps back and asks only of local boards, “What can we do to help?” Instead, we have a educational system that assumes the local folks are unqualified to make educational decisions that affect the lives of their own kids.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

stem and sides

Yesterday I attached the stem and sides of the Bevins Skiffs in order to be ready to proceed with students on Monday morning, the first day of a boat building block. Up to this point, there were so many things that required my thinking through. Now with this preparation work done, many hands will make light work.

On Saturday I'll be at Eleanor Lux Weaving Studio for a Christmas sale of my work.

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

tops...

Yesterday I prepared enough materials for students to make about 50 tops, and laid out small dowels for them to use to apply paint. My students exhausted my supply and I had to rush between classes to make more. The idea was to make tops as toys for children at the food bank, but with each child making one to keep and then needing gifts for family, most were taken home. What remained are shown in the photo.

The tiny Singer machine is being put to use in the lower elementary school classroom with the students making tiny pillows.

In the meantime, the world is drowning in garbage. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/world/global-waste/ It is the consequence of a world-wide consumer culture in which we buy meaningless stuff we think we need instead of being able to make what we need for ourselves. In the making of things greater meaning is found.  When we make beautiful, useful and lasting things, we have a better understanding of the value of the materials and effort required. We then make things to last and for which we take care and find lasting meaning and value.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, November 27, 2017

A slide show...

I am home in Eureka Springs after a quick Thanksgiving trip to Denver. In addition to Thanksgiving dinner with family, we visited the Denver Art Museum n Denver Public Library and were most impressed by their attention to activities for kids. If we are not providing interesting real things for our kids to do and to learn from, we are failing our future. Too much time is spent sequestered from reality, which brings me to the subject of school and where woodworking can fit in.

Everyone these days is interested in virtual reality (which is not at all virtuous)  and artificial intelligence (which is actually quite artificial and no one seems concerned about it). In the meantime, we get the big picture of things on the small screens of our iPhones, and know far too little about the actual real world that surrounds us.

Coming home across Kansas yesterday morning early with the sun yet to rise it seemed as if we were in a magical paradise of earth and sky. My wife asked me more than once, to "take a picture of that." The beauty was breathtaking. The land was flat enough, that it seemed we could observe the curvature of the earth, and that we were surrounded by a golden valley of earth and sky, but that we might never really know which was which. Of course, no phone could ever take a picture of that.

The point, of course is that in schools, children need to do real things that pertain to real life. Woodworking connects the child to a deep heritage of human development and culture. The fact that the materials come from the forests of our own communities give the child insight into nature that will not be gained from the manipulation of on screen data.

The world seems to have become addicted to tiny screens, when we need most to become more closely attuned to the real world that surrounds us.

I am working on a slide show to bring my high school students up to date on my preparation for building Bevins Skiffs. The slide show is just a glimpse of the making. The iPhone photo of the Kansas sunrise is not the real sunrise, and schooling in general  is too often a means of sequestering children from reality not preparing students for real life. Today I have a full day of classes.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Alfredo Bosi

As a special Thanksgiving weekend message, I refer my readers to a translation of Alfredo Bosi's essay, the Work of the Hands, translated at my request by Rose Ann Reeser  in 2012 from the original Portuguese. It can be found here:  http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/2012/12/alfredo-bosi-work-of-hands.html

Included in the translation are Rose Ann's notes regarding the meaning of certain words and their relationship to english. Watch for the word scarf, as that is what I've done to join the pieces of plywood in preparing to assemble Bevins Skiffs.

Amidst the litany of what the hands do, it is important to realize that they also shape the way we think and who we are.

Make, fix, and create...

back to the land...

A growing number of young folks are attempting to go back to the land as described in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/a-growing-number-of-young-americans-are-leaving-desk-jobs-to-farm/2017/11/23/e3c018ae-c64e-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html?undefined=&utm_term=.4ed802251870&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Perhaps as this movement happens, it will also carry with it a resurgence of interest in crafts and craftsmanship just as it did in the 1970's when it carried young college graduates like me to places like Eureka Springs to fulfill the intention of building more meaningful lives.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, November 24, 2017

what makes a genius?

An article in this last week's Time Magazine asks the question "What makes a genius?" as it explores the lives of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci. Believe me, or believe the article, they did not become geniuses due to their schooling, but in spite of it. http://time.com/5027069/what-makes-a-genius/

In every case:
"Being a genius is different than merely being supersmart. Smart people are a dime a dozen, and many of them don’t amount to much. What matters is creativity, the ability to apply imagination to almost any situation."
The article describes Da Vinci's insatiable curiosity. It also told how the answers to persistent questions often result from a willingness to ignore conventional wisdom and to look directly at reality as it presents itself.
"So it was that da Vinci learned to challenge conventional wisdom, ignoring the dusty scholasticism and medieval dogmas that had accumulated in the millennia since the decline of classical science. He was, by his own words, a disciple of experience and experiment–“Leonardo da Vinci, disscepolo della sperientia,” he once signed himself."
Just this brief article should open eyes in education. If we want our children to be creative problem solvers, we could do something about it. Music, laboratory science, wood shop, field trips, internships and more should be added to the public school plan. That which is learned hands on, is learned at a deeper level, having holistic effect.

It is black Friday and a good day to stay away from the shopping frenzy. It is a good day to hang out in the shop, planning gifts that you can make.


Make, fix, create...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Moxon Table Vise

Happy Thanksgiving. You may have noticed that I've been working on gifts for you in the form of designs for safely holding wood.

For someone with both welding and woodworking skills, this vise would be useful for attaching to table or desktop, and hold wood safely for being cut. This style of vice is named after Joseph Moxon who wrote the Book of Trades, a classic from the 17th Century.

Woodworking can be done safely in school and at little cost in comparison to the amount spent on other things of lesser value.

Black Friday is starting early, as many stores have extended it into the Thanksgiving holiday. Folks will be walking away stuffed from Turkey tables to go out and attempt to satisfy other cravings. We are a consumer culture and pay a price for it. Loss of creativity, loss of self. Our endless consumption of meaningless things, leaves us craving more and destroying the planet in the process.

This year, instead of heading for the mall, head for the basement or garage workshop instead. Instead of being engaged with rude bargain hunters, you will discover a new life.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are early this year, leaving us a number of making days prior to the Christmas holiday. A black Friday sale you may not want to miss offers 12 in. handscrews like the one used to make a bench vise in yesterday's post for $9.99 ea. Buy 4 to qualify for free shipping. http://www.rockler.com/wooden-handscrew-clamps-clamps Four of these clamps and a bit of effort would get 4 students busy working in your shop.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

hand screw table vise.

For years before I had a workbench with a woodworking vise I used hand screws to hold drawer sides for cutting dovetails. For those unfamiliar with hand screws, they are an ages old form of clamp used by woodworkers. They range in size from 6 in. long to 12 in. and longer. A couple of them clamped to a workbench can serve in place of a bench vise and provide an amazing amount of holding power. The wooden jaws will not damage delicate stock, and can be adjusted to irregular shapes.

Now, with some schools wanting to try a re-introduction of woodworking, I've come up with a simple woodworking vise based on the readily available wood bodied hand screw. The idea is shown in the illustration, and it allows woodworking to be done on a table top or desk. With this tool, woodworking can be done in any classroom provided other tools are supplied.

A twelve inch hand screw can be purchased new for under $15.00 and smaller ones are available for much less. Two "c" clamps are also required to secure the hand screw table vise to a table or bench.

A vise is the key to safe use of hand tools, and I believe this one will assist schools in getting their students started. More details will be shown after Thanksgiving.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

center frames

Yesterday as our students were involved in Trashathon, picking up road side trash as a community service project, I went to ESSA to get another step completed on the Bevins Skiffs. I am developing various parts as a kit, so that my students can be successful in our boat building project. They would not be involved without my leadership, and they will not be successful without my having done some of the complicated stuff.

The parts for the day were center frames. The center frames  require precision and careful thought that will not happen in a class full of kids. I had cut the parts from white oak and quickly learned the difficulty involved in hammering bronze ring shank nails into oak. Even with a pilot hole, the task proved impossible and rather than go home for a larger drill, I simply remade the parts from Catalpa. The photo shows the template for the center frame, the template for the gussets, and a gusset being nailed in place with Sikaflex adhesive and 1 inch bronze nails. The Catalpa, gussets, nails and glue provide a strong midpoint around which the sides will bend to form the shape of the boat.

My hope is that by December 4 we will be ready to begin forming the boat from the various parts, sides, stem, transom, center frame and bottom ply. Starting  on that day, many hands will make light work.

My first, second and third grade students have been busy making Barbie clothes, so I got an old  1950's Singer SewHandy sewing machine tuned up for their use. It was not working so I studied the mechanism, took it apart, put it back together and got it working just right.

Many years ago, my sister Ann had gotten a child's sewing machine as a gift. She was or seven and I was 4 or 5. I took it apart and it never worked right again. Perhaps my making this one work, and providing it to a classroom of very young fashion designers will make up in some small part for my earlier failure. When I left school for the day, one of the girls had already used the machine to make a pillow. Every elementary school classroom in America should be equipped with such wonderful machines and the chance to use them.

Unlike the cheap plastic toys of today the Singer model 20 was a real sewing machine made to last generations. You can find one for sale like it here: https://www.ebay.com/itm/VIntage-SINGER-Sewhandy-MODEL-No-20-Childs-Sewing-Machine-Original-Box/122812699507?epid=661334956&hash=item1c98351373:g:xlQAAOSwAHBaDhRT

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 20, 2017

the case against charters...

A number of large foundations and corporations are spending billions to privatize education. The following is from an email I received from the Network for Public Education:
In 1988, AFT President, Al Shanker, voiced his support for charter schools. His hope was that a new school model, judiciously used, would be an incubator of innovation.

However, as Network for Public Education President, Diane Ravitch, reminds us, by 1993 Al Shanker became disillusioned. Shanker saw what charters had become—a privatized system run not by teachers, but rather by non-profit and for-profit corporations who believe that schooling is a business rather than a community responsibility. Instead of supporting and sharing practices with neighborhood schools, most charters have become rivals that seek to attract the most motivated families and the most compliant children. https://networkforpubliceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/NPE-Report-Charters-and-Consequences.pdf
Many charters schools in their quest to prove their value through attaining higher test scores limit their enrollment to those students who are easiest to teach and who are already destined toward greater success thereby shifting the burden of teaching under performing students to the schools from which they have starved funding. Even with the cards stacked in their favor, many charters fail to deliver improved test scores. (And I'm not claiming here that test scores are a valid measure of school performance. They are not.)

Yesterday I shaped the 3 remaining boat sides. I laid the carefully shaped first side as a template over the remaining three and used a saber saw to cut just outside the line. Next, I used a template following router bit to rout the clamped together bundle of sides to be exactly the same shape. I also planed and cut the chines to their required size and shape and then formed the center frame gussets. My objective is to develop the parts of the boat into kit form as there are a number of steps for which the students have not developed sufficient skill or experience.  The photo shows a pair of center frame gussets, made to hold the parts of the center frame together.

Today at the Clear Spring School, my elementary school students will make toys for distribution to kids through our local food bank. I get questions on occasion about the Clear Spring School, asking whether it is a charter school. No, it is not. It receives no public funds and does nothing to cost the tax payer or take funding away from our local public schools. Clear Spring School is an independent school accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Independent School Association of the Central States (ISACS).

Unlike charter schools, we serve as an innovative learning laboratory of the kind that AFT President Shaker had hoped for in 1988, but that the charter school movement has failed to deliver. We serve at no cost to the taxpayer. As the holiday giving season begins you are welcome to support the Clear Spring School through the school website: http://clearspringschool.org/giving/ways-to-give#annualfund

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

the case for hand tools.

Power tools are intended to make things easy and fast. They can also make cuts more accurate, thus requiring less skill. They can plough through tough grain that would trouble a hand plane or hand saw. They can saw things that a teacher would not intend, and they exert enough force that parts can be thrown into the face or across the room at others. Some are noisy and dusty and can frighten sensitive kids

Hand tools on the other hand are slow and can wander. They demand continuous attention to the material as it is transformed. I can have a room full of hand tools at work, and can hear their effects, and know from what I hear that they are being safely used. A room full of power tools would frighten me for the safety of my students.

If the purpose of learning is to impart the skills of attention and mindfulness, a room full of hand tools will do that job better than a room full of power tools and at far less risk.

The book shelves hanging from my vise are ones I pulled from my closet to show an example of my 7th grade work. My mother had kept them in the basement of her house in Omaha, Nebraska, and had asked me when I had been there for a visit, "Do you want those shelves you made in wood shop?" I could not imagine she had kept them for so long. But with these as evidence to remind me, I am carried back to the days in which I made them. I remember sawing their shape with a coping saw. The teacher had marked the shapes of the parts on wood. I had felt troubled as my coping saw wandered off the line but was consoled when I looked over and saw how much  worse my neighbor had done on his. On the last day of school, I was using a nail to assemble the shelves and one nail went astray and split the wood. I showed the error to my teacher and he said only these words, "you have done well."

If the purpose of woodworking in schools is to prepare students for the use of power tools then perhaps there's justification for them be used to teach children in school. On the other hand, if woodworking in school is practiced to impart an understanding of materials, and processes and  to develop character, intelligence, mindfulness, and skill, hand tools more safely fit the bill.

This said, I do allow the use some power tools at various ages. First grade students are allowed to use the drill press, operating the switch and handle if I hold the stock. Third grade students (with instruction) can safely operate a scroll saw on thin stock, provided they use safety glasses and properly adjust blade guards. My students begin work on the lathe in 4th grade using a face shield and with proper attention to hair being pulled back and loose clothing secured. At each use, I check to see that the work piece is properly installed and the right tool is being used. In high school, and under close supervision I allow the use of the band saw, and saber saw.  I regard the use of hand tool processes to be the precursor for all else.

Another simple point is that hand tools slow the pace, making the experience more about learning than about getting work done. With the pace being slower I have more time to attend to safety and individual learning needs. Students are working instead of waiting for the teacher's assistance. With the pace being slower and more educational, I need, also, to prepare less stock.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

class size matters

The principles of Educational Sloyd were based on direct observation of how children (and adults) learn. 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.

These principles are not just for wood shop learning, but apply to all learning endeavors. They fit science, music, reading and math and all else as they are universal. If anyone is uncomfortable about learning something from wood shop that actually applies to all else, let me assure you that these principles came from the followers of Pestalozzi and Froebel and have their origins in the teaching theories of Comenius.

These very simple principles challenge conventional thinking about education.  Children are never exactly on the same page in things. They do not all have the same interests. They do not all have the same prior experience and capacity as a starting point for class room learning. Even if, through extreme effort and care, a good teacher is able to bring all students' attention to the same page for a moment or two, for a child (or an adult) to find a place in the mind for information to be taken in, successfully managed and usefully stored the mind must wander out of the moment into the student's catalog of experience and compared to what's known. At any given moment during a classroom lecture or presentation, the various students' minds are not all in the room or in the same place or on the same page. If you do not believe this, take a few moments to test the workings of your own mind.

And so, Otto Salomon likely got in some trouble with educational policy makers when he insisted that classroom teaching was ineffective. All those concerned with the economic bottom line would want learning (and values) to be injected into the student mind as cheaply as possible. And I will likely get in trouble with educational policy makers today, when I insist the same thing. We learn best when our individual learning needs are met, and small class size is a determining factor in school success. Class size must be small enough to allow for the teacher to make a very personal connection with the learning needs and interests of each child.

Mostly, however, educational policy makers are less concerned about student learning and more concerned about cheaping out.

The photo is of an old-timey fidget spinner, more commonly known as a button toy. We are making them to give children visiting at our local food bank. Unfortunately, most children no longer know how to use such things. With a bit of practice and a bit of skill in making it, and decorating it, you can be distracted, just as kids were in the 16th century...  even before Comenius, when children learned just as we all learn best, doing real things.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, November 17, 2017

Standards...

One of my students took a martial arts practice sword (boken) he had made in our wood shop to a weekend Akido competition and it faced scrutiny from a variety of masters. One (an expert in the sword) pointed out that there were several points about my student's boken that did not meet "standards." Nevertheless, all agreed that  it surpassed all others on the site in one particular way.  He had made it himself. None of the other practitioners could say that of their own swords. All of the participants wanted to try his sword, and so they did. The result was that the student received a dose of pride and brought his boken back to wood shop to do a bit more sanding and refinement on it.

Standards must be flexible enough for students to arise through them with spirits energized, not merely in tact. There are higher standards than those grasped tightly on the surface of things. Woodworking in school can be a means through which higher standards than those present in conventional schooling can be met.

Black Elk told that the Lakota Sioux selected their leaders from among those against whom nothing bad could be said. As an observer of the American political arena, I find it a shame that we fail to follow that same strategy. There are so many on both sides of the aisle, whose abilities to lead are encumbered by serious character flaws. They live in hopes that we do not discover the things they have done. I lay the blame for this situation on the failings of our educational institutions.

When you learn to do real things in school, you contend with real consequences that are visible as measures of character and intellect. When students are sequestered in abstraction and unreality, life becomes a game of manipulation and deceit. If we want better, we must be better and hold those around us to higher standards.

Yesterday in woodshop, and as shown in the photos, some of my students assembled a toy car to be given as a prize in a holiday raffle. Tickets are being sold by the parents, students, teachers and board members at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

two points

A nineteen year study of child development and success conducted by Penn State and Duke Universities discovered that a child's success in college and in life is directly related to social and emotional skills developed and learned in Kindergarten. While many schools continue to focus only on reading and math readiness, they are missing the point, as reading and math have too little to do with it. https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/kindergarteners-with-these-two-skills-are-twice-as-likely-to-get-a-college-degree-according-to-a-19-year-study.html

In Finland, they begin reading at age 8 instead of age 5 and by the time their students are tested in the international PISA study, they beat American students hands down in 30 percent less time. I can keep hammering on this in the blog, and on facebook, but until others join the chorus and make direct demands of our educational policy makers, we're screwed, our children are left behind and the American culture becomes increasingly dysfunctional.

Point number two for today has to do with the ineffectiveness of classroom instruction. As I've mentioned before, the principles of Educational Sloyd (derived largely from Kindergarten) are as follows: 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.

First, not all children have exactly the same interest.
Second, not all children entering a classroom have the same experience as a starting point.
Third, not all things are equally easy at the same point for all children.
Fourth, not all children adapt to increasingly complexity at the same pace.
Fifth, all children must be continuously engaged in doing real things as a foundation for abstract study. Even when the facility for abstraction is established, real testing of what is learned is essential to avoid traipsing into the realm of the absurd.

Otto Salomon stressing the ineffectiveness of classroom instruction, insisted that teaching become personalized to the needs of the individual child. To do so, we must drastically reduce class sizes in American schools.

Yesterday in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School my first, second and third grade students finished work on platforms. One made a cat farm as shown in the photo.

Make

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

just another gun-down-day

Whenever there is a mass shooting event, some representatives in the house and Senate who have sworn allegiance to the National Rifle Association, tell us we must not "politicize"by discussing the causes of the tragedy,  or ways to  prevent such things from happening again and that we should pray instead. "It's too soon to talk about it," they say.

About noon yesterday it occurred to me that there had been no mass shooting events having taken place up to that point in the day, so I wondered if it was time to talk about gun tragedy in America. But then I looked at the news. Damn,  there's another. It seems every day is gun down day in America and we have lots to pray about. If gun tragedies keep happening at their current pace, we'll never have the conversation we need to have about stopping gun violence and making dead certain that those who should not have guns do not have such lethal capacity.

As politicians continue to tell us not to "politicize the issue" we should recognize that the issues surrounding guns were "politicized" years ago when the National Rifle Association began pouring money into political campaigns and threatening those politicians who did not vote their way.

If you are hunting for food or for recreation, a fine rifle is a necessary tool. When we choose tools as means to threaten each other, perhaps we should be thinking in a more creative manner. There are lots of tools that do a better job of building character and culture. Woodworking tools come to my mind.

Yesterday, I made progress on projects. I routed the first side of a Bevins Skiff to shape, and also scarf-joined catalpa boards to sufficient length to use as chines. Chines, for those out of the loop on boat talk, are the boards that connect the bottom to the sides.

In the photo, a narrow and therefore flexible piece of plywood screwed to the side is placed according to calculations derived from the boat plans and serves as a router guide. When one side is fully formed, it can be used as a guide to rout the other using a router bit with a guide bearing on the shaft, thus assuring both sides will be perfectly symmetrical.

Returning to my home shop, I began making drawer parts for maple jewelry chests. The photo above shows using a router and a screwed-in-place guide strip to shape a boat side.

Make, fix, and create.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What will we do?

There are folks wondering what we will do when the efficiency of our machines completely overwhelms the need to do things for ourselves. It's getting bad folks. Human beings have always found our meaning in service to others.

And so what happens when our service is no longer needed and no longer demanded of us? Some folks are asking what we will do for a living when machines replace human beings at all tasks. There is hardly a thing humans do that cannot be done more efficiently by machines, as long as we are willing to accept a life stiffly scripted by standardization.

Some economists are saying we need to provide a basic unearned living allowance to all persons so that we can afford to keep all the machines going, producing the stuff of "civilization," thus keeping the machine owners happy as the money pours in.

The other thing that some have noticed is that mental health is dependent on finding value and meaning in one's service to others. What we must do is make for ourselves, and for others, useful beauty in defiance to the direction of our society. The easy path is to simply buy stuff and let the stuff overwhelm us and our environment. The more challenging and fulfilling path will be to make for ourselves and make meaningful lives in the process.

In Minneapolis, in about 20 minutes (I could have done it in 10 without 86 people watching) I made a simple box joint jig that would allow me to make lots and lots of boxes. I could instead have bought a similar jig from a retailer for about $50.00 and then would have waited a day or more for the UPS truck to arrive. Then I would have had to figure out where to store it when not in use (after all, I spent good money on it). Buy enough jigs and you need a larger shop. Make enough jigs, and you've made yourself smarter in the process and your work easy. The ones you've made yourself can be thrown out when you are done with them. Or used for years and years if they are still of use.

The jig shown is one I made and used recently to scarf join the material for the sides and bottoms of the boats I'm building with my high school students. It can be put away until we start some more boats. It could be sold to another boat builder. Or it could be taken apart and used as kindling.

Today, being back from Minneapolis, I will begin shaping the sides of Bevins Skiffs. My target is to have parts ready for my students to begin building in December.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise

Sunday, November 12, 2017

ON my way home

I completed my two days of class with 85 woodworkers in Minneapolis, MN. I've had a great time and made many new friends. Somehow or other, I was able to get through most of my planned curriculum and I'm grateful to all those who helped. I fly home to Arkansas tomorrow and will resume work on the Bevins Skiffs on Tuesday.

Those who are new to the blog, http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com will find thousands of earlier posts, each gathered around the main point: We learn most effectively and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on. To sequester the mind from the engagement of the hands leads to disinterest, disaffection and disruption, the 3-Ds of a failing educational system.

Some new readers may prefer to follow this blog on facebook as a means of sharing it with others. The link for that is: https://www.facebook.com/dougstowewoodworking/ The point of sharing is that in order to have effect on the educational system at large and on the policy makers that keep screwing things up, we must each assert and reaffirm and demonstrate for them the ways in which use of the hands make us whole, rooting what we learn in real life.

Make, fix, and create.

Minneapolis, day two

I am here for day two of my box making seminar with the Minnesota Woodworking Guild. Yesterday we cut miters and installed miter keys. I adapted my most recent miter key jig to fit an old Craftsman table saw that was selected for the conference because it would run on 110 volt power and could be moved to the site. I have over 80 students.

Today, I will show how to cut the lid from the body of a box. I'll finish a demonstration on forming a mitered finger joint. I'll cut a hidden spline joint, and I'll show how I install butt hinges. It will be a short day with a lot of ground to cover.

I want to publicly thank the members of the Guild who have worked hard to transform the cafeteria of the Dunwoody Community College into a wood working shop. It is minimalist, just as was the shop I started out with over 40 years ago, reminding me that great boxes can be done with a relatively small commitment to tools and materials.

There's little standing in the way of finding joy in the process of creating beautiful boxes.

Make, fix and create!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

September 21, 1780

On September 21, 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold met with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”

It is odd to me that so many members of the Donald Trump campaign and administration met with Russians with an eye toward sewing chaos in the American democracy, but few call it treason. Perhaps we should think about that.

In the meantime, I am in Minneapolis to teach. During the opening presentation we had a large crowd. Tomorrow for class, we have 85 or 86 students. They will all get a taste of my techniques.

Make, fix and create


Friday, November 10, 2017

Minneapolis...

Today I'm headed to Minneapolis for an evening lecture and two days of demonstration class. I heard there are 76 or more members of the Minnesota Woodworkers guild planning to attend, and that will be my largest class ever. Please wish me luck.

In wood shop yesterday at Clear Spring School, I had enough projects going so that each student (4th, 5th and 6th grades) was able to work at his or her own level of skill, confidence and interest. Some made toy cars, some made button toys, some made super-heroes, and some turned on the lathe.

Later in the morning I had a planning session with my editor from Springhouse Publications on the "Wisdom of the Hands book." It will start with about 30 pages or more on the philosophy of hands on learning, but then launch (as a workbook) into giving the reader the information necessary to plan projects for kids. The is will not be a book for kids to read (though some might). It is to inspire adults to give children what they need to inspire themselves. The audience will be those who as teachers, grandparents and parents want to  be sure that the children in their lives and for whom they are responsible, get the best learning opportunities available, hands on. It will also convey the following simple message, a thing you can learn yourself if you've been paying attention to your own learning and to your own life.
That which we learn hands-on is learned at a deeper level and to deepest lasting effect. Don't believe me? Examine the things you have learned. Hands-on is a measure of engagement in real life, and no doubt the lessons in your own life that had greatest effect were not learned from google but were learned from real life, doing real things.
In the photo, with a freshly made button toy in one hand, a first grade student in the Clear Spring School wood shop shows her construction of a miniature bathroom, complete with sink, tub and toilet.If children are given the opportunity they will build.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

cat

I am packing and preparing for an evening lecture and two days of class with the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild. Today, in addition to a 9 AM class at Clear Spring School, and an 11 AM meeting (also at school) I hope to fine tune my presentation. The two day class will be easy (I tell myself having done such things many times before) but there are things that inevitably come up.

Life is like that. Yesterday, I had four projects for my students (grades 1-3) to work on, and they still came up with the unexpected. For instance, the cat in the photo is one that a student made from beads glued on a board. The same student worked on a wooden wheeled skateboard to replace the earlier one she made that broke.

I was grateful to have their classroom teacher in the wood shop. He made the engine of a toy train.

I can understand why some administrators and teachers would like more control and predictability in the classroom. But we have to ask whether we want children to adjust to being controlled, or whether we want them be creative, thoughtful and to control themselves. I would choose the latter, and that requires allowing some opportunity for the children and teachers to engage in a bit of chaos.

Matti Bergström, Finnish neuro-scientist who had written lovely books about the brain, noted that children must play the "black game," to engage in "possibility" space. Adults often play the "white game" in which all action is to lead to a proposed outcome. Can we not admit for once that the white game is an impossibility? If you work with real wood, on any given day, on any given project, and regardless of your best intentions, things most often do not turn out exactly as you planned. The same is true of working with kids. By allowing their creativity to enter the learning process, they and I get better, more meaningful results. If you engineer schooling, rather than allowing it to flow from the fabric of real life, the whole thing sucks.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

How kind communities teach children

Progressive education (like what we practice at the Clear Spring School) traces its roots to  Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. By "progressive" I do not mean the next new thing (as in progress) but rather a system of education in which the life and learning of the child was to unfold incrementally in a natural way and without being forced. Pestalozzi's contributions to progressivism were expressed through a number of failed schools, each of which attempted to serve the poor, and a book that he wrote called "How Gertrude Teaches Her Children." It's a worthwhile book to read even today, as it lays out what we still face, the dichotomy between an authoritarian structure and a natural unfolding based on love and respect within a community.

Pestalozzi's Gertrude was a young mother who gathered her own children and some of her neighbor's  children into her home and provided instruction all the while she worked at her craft, that of spinning and weaving. The transference of learning took place in a gentle atmosphere of absolute love in which Gertrude and the older children provided lessons a completely natural setting doing real things of real value.

Pestalozzi’s ideas are reflected in the following:
  • Particular attention paid to the interests and needs of the child
  • A child-centered rather than teacher-centered approach to teaching
  • Active rather than passive participation in the learning experience
  • The freedom of the child based on his or her natural development balanced with the self-discipline to function well as an individual and in society
  • The child having direct experience of the world and the use of natural objects in teaching
  • The use of the senses in training pupils in observation and judgement
  • Cooperation between the school and the home and between parents and teachers
  • The importance of an all-round education – an education of the head, the heart and the hands, but which is led by the heart
  • The use of systemized subjects of instruction, which are also carefully graduated and illustrated
  • Learning which is cross-curricular and includes a varied school life
  • Education which puts emphasis on how things are taught as well as what is taught
  • Authority based on love, not fear
  • Teacher training
A good place to read about Pestalozzi is here: http://www.jhpestalozzi.org/

If someone wants to know why Finnish Schools beat the pants off American Schools in international testing, I suggest that Finland's adherence to the ideals set forth by Pestalozzi holds the answer.

Yesterday, I scarf joined pieces of plywood for building Bevins Skiffs using epoxy glue. The photo shows scarfing of the wide bottom pieces.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

scarf joints...

Yesterday after school, I cut scarf joints in the plywood for the sides for the Bevins Skiffs. I will scarf the ply for the bottoms tomorrow and begin gluing the scarf joints together into seamless plywood parts. The jig I designed for routing the joints worked flawlessly. In the photo, you will have to look very closely to see the joint, invisible but for the fuzzy edge that will disappear with just a bit of sanding.

At the Clear Spring School I have the most wonderful class of first, second and third grade students, and while it might seem daunting to some to have so many children working with tools, it is a thing of pure delight, seeing what they can make and how much joy they find in it.  They love wood shop and tell me so.

There is something very special about learning through doing real things. And it is disturbing to me that most public education schemes fail to recognize this simple fact. When we (children and adults) are engaged in the creation of useful beauty, whether in music, science or the arts, we are operating at a higher standard and apply greater attention. We seek to excel.

David Henry Feldman recognized this in his award winning essay, "the Child as Craftsman." In it Feldman recognized that children have a natural inclination to strive to excel at things, and we must provide the opportunity and encouragement for them to do so. That's a far cry from the way public schools are managed now. Children under rigid external control are steeped in artificiality that robs them of their natural love of learning.

I will repeat the theory of Educational Sloyd until all my readers know it by heart. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. These simple principles were learned by watching children learn and remain unchanged through the ages. One further thing should be mentioned. Children (and adults) learn best by doing real things.

On another very sad subject, speaker of the house, congressman Paul Ryan assures us that prayer actually helps in the aftermath of mass shootings to prevent the next. Let us pray now that congress acts on OUR prayers and removes such foolishness from office.When faced with a crisis, a humane individual would use every tool at his disposal, including the law and federal government to prevent such senseless killings of innocent children and adults from ever happening again. To languish in prayerful silence when you have the power to serve God by actually acting in the defense of children is not enough. The government is a collective tool which must be activated in the defense of our nation.

Click on the photo above to see a larger view.

Make, fix, and create.

Monday, November 06, 2017

If you own a backhoe

It is just another sad day in America. In congress and in the administration, Republican folks are praying once again for the victims of gun violence as their excuse for doing nothing about it.

If you own a backhoe you will dig holes and ditches with it. If you own a Sloyd knife, the deep seated inclination is to see how well it will carve wood. The mind directs the tool, but the tool also directs the mind. If you are inept in the use of the backhoe, you'll make a mess of your garden. If you have no piece of wood handy, you might whittle the edge of your dining room table to see how well the knife works. The tools we possess shape who we are, and if you have a closet full of guns, it's best that they be kept locked up, that you may avoid having killed someone you did not intend. If your mind is weak and and your perceptions distorted, that closet full of guns may call to you, demanding your attention, and you may get to join the huge numbers of folks in America who have become participants in gun violence.

I pray, for the victims of gun violence, and also for the victims of the gun disease that has taken over the American mind. Apply common sense. Guns do not make us safe. They do not make men manly. They have nothing to do with courage, or patriotism. They are a curse. They are devices that cowards hide behind. They are tools that are best avoided, as they have only one purpose, that being to kill others and deprive them of meaningful life.

There is a relationship between the having and owning and knowing how to use woodworking tools to create useful beauty and getting a grip on mental health. That's why many woodworkers describe their time in their basement or garage wood shops as "sawdust therapy." When we use tools to create useful beauty, we are made whole. Guns, in contrast, may convey to their owner, a sense of power and control, but they do not make us whole.

Can we not apply just a bit of common sense and take a few guns away from those who should never have had them in the first place? And can we have a discussion in which we can acknowledge that guns are for cowards, and will not be the instruments that make a safe, meaningful and creative society in which we may each find joy?

Make, fix, and create.


Sunday, November 05, 2017

uncommon sense...

Yesterday at ESSA, a small group of wood carvers from around the area converged to whittle, carve, share techniques and encourage each other. It was nice for me to observe as they worked quietly together, and perhaps next month I'll take a project along and join them for some quiet work.

Working with real wood, getting it to do what's in the mind's eye requires patience, and careful observation. As our minds have been overwhelmed with too much information, generated by others in their efforts to manipulate us, it is good to slow down, clear the mind of useless data points and destructive ideology, and engage directly and purposefully in the real world. If the tool is not applied to take advantage of the natural proclivities of the wood, having to do with grain direction, we screw up, and it's noticeable in real time.

In other words, and other worlds apart from the one that politicians and their scheming handlers have mangled for us, there's a lot to learn from the exercise of simple human creative craftsmanship.

It's like healthcare in America. Minds have become inhabited by distraction. One side warns of socialism, and the other asserts need, when both should be looking at the facts. If we, in Carroll County, Arkansas are dying in general, two years or more before our time, as measured and compared with others in our state, and we in Arkansas are dying 6 years before our time in comparison to other countries where national health care plans provide for all citizens, what we have created for ourselves is a simple matter of life and death for ourselves and for others in our community.

There is something simple that happens when a man or woman picks up a gouge or knife and attempts to whittle or carve a chunk of real wood. We learn that it's incontrovertible in that it has qualities of grain, hardness and individual temperament that are not to be denied. The same is true of the real world, and a craftsman, trained to observe what's real and override the blast of disinformation, distraction and purposeful deceit, may stand a chance of putting real things in their place. Only God can help us if we do not.

The photo shows the joinery of a small jewelry chest of drawers. Next comes the routing of drawer guides. The design of the chest is such that it narrows toward the top, leaving it firmly planted in the real world. Would it not be a wonderful thing if our political schemers and voters were as firmly planted in reality?

Make, fix, and create.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

transoms

Yesterday I cut transoms to shape and size to fit the Bevins skiffs and began shaping jewelry chests of maple. The sides are now ready for drawer guides to be routed, which is a complex measurement and set-up problem that I make easy for myself through the use of spacers. I may try to take a photo that will explain it.

Yesterday I also met with a small group of the local Democratic Party to help in deciding what things will be important in the next election. Some things are staggering and demand attention and explanation.

The United States, among other nations, ranks 31st in life expectancy, even though we maintain the delusion that we have the best health care in the world. We certainly do have the most expensive. Among states, Arkansas ranks 46th out of 51 and while among Arkansas counties, we rank 7th, (OK, right?) we are 3 years off the mark when it comes to reaching the statewide average.

In other words, there's something going on here (or not going on here) that costs the average Carroll County Arkansas resident 3 years of our lives. There is something going in (or not going on) in Arkansas that costs each of our residents an additional 6 years of our lives if compared with such nations as the top five. Each of the top five has something we do not have. A national health care plan. And so, are we stupid or what? We keep electing those who would rather we die 5 to seven years early than to take care of our children and families as a national priority.

All politics, they say, is local, and how much more local can it get than to die years before your time.

The big argument against national health care is the fear of socialized medicine and that the government will mess things up. The situation now is that hospitals are forced to take patients on an emergency basis who cannot afford the care. When those poor patients are released, they are advised to file for bankruptcy as their only recourse. The costs for the care those persons received are shifted within hospital accounting, and added to the bills of those who have insurance or who can afford care. So, like it or not, under the system we have, those who can pay are paying for the extreme care of those who cannot.

In the meantime, health insurance companies have large staffs to allocate expenses and deny care. This following explains how health insurance put hospitals at risk:
Hospitals across the country lose approximately $262 billion per year on denied claims from insurers, sparking huge cash-flow issues and recovery costs, according to new data.

Payers initially deny about 9% of hospital claims, putting about $5 million in payments per hospital at risk, said Jason Williams, vice president of analytics for Change Healthcare, which collected the data.

Although hospitals ultimately will secure payment for 63% of initially denied claims, it costs $118 per claim on average to recoup the money, not to mention the cost to hospitals of foregoing the payments while they claw back the funds, Williams said.— (http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170627/NEWS/170629905)
So the system we have now costs at both ends, as insurers have a huge staff to deny coverage, and hospitals maintain a staff to insist upon payment. It's no wonder they tell poor folks to file for bankruptcy immediately upon release and it is no wonder that medical expenses are the primary reason people file for bankruptcy in the US.

But bankruptcy aside for the moment, the system we have now is costing lives. Yes we need to exercise more. Yes we need to improve our diets. But yes, we also need access to better health services and a single payer national plan to make certain quality care is available to each of us.

Make, fix, and create...