Monday, January 23, 2017


This morning I heard from one of my mother's kindergarten students, who is now retired from the marines and reading my books with the intention of introducing woodworking to his three sons. He asks whether I think my mother would be proud of me, and I assured him that she would be proud of him, too.

I was listening to the radio yesterday as they interviewed an actor and film director who's done a documentary film on the reformation. What the reformation did, was take religion out of the sole hands of the specialist priest class and put it in the hands of common folk. Part of the power of the reformation had to do with the invention of the printing press and the ability to print bibles in all native languages. But when Martin Luther nailed his treatise to the doors of the church, such a dramatic act of opposition and defiance could not be ignored.

I participated in a similar act of defiance over the weekend when my wife and I joined 10,000 others at a rally of solidarity with millions more around the world, in opposition to the trump presidency. I believe many of those who supported trump during the election had many of the same hopes and frustrations shared by the millions of women that marched on Saturday. The question we all had, both in the march and in the election, was how do we make the world a better place for our children.

I have some ideas of my own but that are rooted deeply in human culture. Martin Luther insisted that each man be taught a trade, not just one of the mind, but of the whole body, that human culture might be of whole cloth. That would be a first step to take in education. Why should there be a purely academic class that fails to excite future plumbers and electricians in the intricacies of human history when that class might be made hands-on and appealing to all? Why should the classes that enable children to create in tangible ways, be denied to those who may ultimately shape the course of human destiny?

Betsy Devos, trump's nominee for secretary of the Department of Education insists that parents should have a choice as to where they send their children to school. That may be all well and good for some. I would go further and ask that all children have the opportunity to choose what they learn in school, that it apply directly to their interests, and that schools and children should (must) do real things.

There is a story I've told before about Pestalozzi. One of his teachers was troubled when a child learning vocabulary challenged him. "Why should we look at a picture of a ladder when there is a real one in the shed?" "We don't have time to go outside," the teacher answered. Later when they got to the word window, the student challenged him again. "Why should we look at a picture when there's a real window right there and we don't even have to go outside to see it?" The teacher out of frustration went to Pestalozzi to complain. Pestalozzi replied that in every circumstance, when education can be made real and be drawn from the real world that surrounds us, it must be.

And yet, we have schools at all levels k through college whose foundations are built upon artificiality, and wonder why children's minds wander and they fail to become engaged. I propose that every child learn a trade (of their choosing) and be trusted with doing (and learning) real things.

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

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