Friday, March 31, 2017

off to showcase...

I am flying to Albany New York today to be a juror at Woodworker's Showcase, and to teach 4 one hour classes. Unfortunately, my classes will not be hands-on, but hopefully what I present will be useful to woodworkers.

The show features a huge number of entries in a competition, and my judging responsibilities will begin tonight.

If you are in the New York area and enjoy woodworking, plan to attend the two day event. In addition to classes and the display of member's work, there will be vendors selling woodworking products, and I will have a supply of my books for sale.

The photo shows two additions to Froebel's gifts given to me by Scott Bultman when he was here this week to work on his Kindergarten documentary. These are the divided cylinder, and the curvilinear gift.

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

community helpers

Our first, second and third grade students at the Clear Spring School are beginning a unit of study of community helpers. The idea is quite Froebellian. Froebel had done illustrations of various important roles played by adults in community life and shared the songs of mothers about them in his book Mother Play (Mutter und Kose Lieder), which St. Louis Kindergartner Susan Blow published in a volume, Songs and Music of Froebel's Mother Play. That book can occasionally be purchased online, but is also available as a free download from Google Play.

Some of the community helpers that Froebel honored in song, illustration and finger game were the carpenter, the blacksmith, the baker, the furniture maker and the charcoal maker.

The charcoal maker living in a tiny hut in the woods, and no doubt blackened by making his wares, was given a place of honor in Mother Play, as he was the one who enabled the work of the blacksmith, and kept the child's home safe and warm. It was a tradition in Kindergarten and in Educational Sloyd, that craftsmen of all kinds and at all levels of society, be honored for their work.

While modern kindergartens are focused on making the children read, Froebel's Kindergarten had a higher purpose in mind... integrating the child into the whole of life, consisting of both the world of nature and the world of man. And part of that process was for the child to join the larger forces of creativity in life as a maker of useful and beautiful things.

Froebel came up with an odd German term, Gliedganzes, meaning member-whole and meaning that each part is integral to a larger whole and that the whole itself consists of smaller parts, each reflected in each other and in the whole itself. This may sound confusing, but last night I was party to an example of it, as hundreds of people showed up to celebrate the retirement of our ESSA director, and the growing importance of our Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Great ideas and greater ideals bring people together in ways that some folk may fail to understand.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood of others discovering themselves in higher form.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

whittling and turning a maple bowl.

In the Clear Spring School wood shop my first grade students put on an excellent demonstration for a video crew working on a documentary project about the history and impact of Froebel's Kindergarten. My students whittled sticks, turned wood on the lathe, made toy cars and were both careful and cute.

I enjoyed having Scott Bultman and his crew Jay and John for their visit, and for extended conversations about Froebel, both on and off camera. Kindergarten for most people has become a thing in name only for most people who have so little understanding of Froebel's original intent. It is refreshing to spend time in the company of others who share a similar vision of what education should and could be for all students.

Some of  my high school students began turning bowls. I am turning one of my own using a large piece of maple provided by a friend. My student's bowls are rather small and from dry wood. My own is large and green so will take additional steps. The first steps were to roughly shape the outside and then begin removing material on the inside. It is somewhat nerve wracking to turn such a large piece. When not on the lathe I keep it in a plastic bag to keep it from cracking. More steps will come on it next week.

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Happy Birthday Mr. Comenius...

If John Amos Comenius was still alive, he would be 425 years old today as he was born March 28, 1592. If you wonder about boys and learning, and how they learn best, or about the arts and why they are important in schooling, use the search function at upper left and type in Comenius. He was considered the father of modern pedagogy, invented the first picture books, and knew a lot more about learning than most educational policy makers of today because he took the time to directly observe children first hand. He could be considered the start of a long line: Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon, Dewey and Montessori.

Children actually haven't changed all that much in the last 425 years. But their toys may leave less room for imagination. Give a child a stick and it will be an umbrella one minute and a hockey stick or light saber the next. Most of our toys today, including all the high-tech wonders, have all the creativity built in that the engineers can muster, leaving less for the children to imagine themselves.

Last night I was interviewed for a documentary film on Kindergarten and its direct relationship with Educational Sloyd. Today the film crew will join me at the Clear Spring School wood shop before traveling on to St. Louis and Louisville for additional interviews.

On another subject, I received my first look at the layout and proposed cover for my new book on making box guitars. Part of the process is for the editors to lay out the first chapters to see how the book is going to work with the intended design. What do you think? You may leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

The book is arranged chapter by chapter according to the specific parts of the guitar.  Chapters include making the box, carving the neck, decorating your guitar, adding frets, adding electronics, installing tuners and tail pieces, and the all important bridges and nuts. Each chapter offers a variety of choices. As a special treat for those more ready to go off the deep end, it shows how to make a uke. The book was inspired by a guitar making project last year with my students at the Clear Spring School and my hope is that the book equips the reader to make decisions and exercise creativity that excede my own.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

a return to classes...

Spring break is over today at the Clear Spring School, and while my students are coming back and looking forward to wood shop, I know that the balance of the school year will go by quickly. It always does. The students have camping, and travel at the various grade levels, and those important hands-on activities cut into time available for wood shop.

I will enjoy the time we have left, and will reflect upon my student's steady growth.

This evening I expect a small film crew to arrive for an interview about the interconnections between Manual Arts education and Kindergarten. The idea was that the self-activity begun in Kindergarten would be kept alive throughout a student's time in school. As children had gained all they might from the Kindergarten gifts, real work in the transformation of materials would lead them toward fulfilling adult responsibilities in family and community. The motive behind Educational Sloyd and many individual manual arts programs was to sustain the kinds of learning that took place in Kindergarten that it might last throughout the students schooling.

In preparation for the interview, I've been thinking of my mother who was a Kindergarten teacher. She began teaching Kindergarten in the 1940's when Froebel's idea of learning through play was still the guiding principle. Then in the 1970s and 1980s educational policy makers began transforming Kindergarten into the new first grade. My mother would tell her worried parents that when they ask their children what they did in school today, and they say '"played", remember that play is the way their children learn best. It is the most important work they do. From that high point of understanding, things have gone way down hill.

By pushing reading down into Kindergarten, American schools have shown no improvement. For comparison, in Finland, they start school reading at age 8 and according to international standardized tests, Finnish students have far surpassed American readers at the eighth grade level in 30% less time.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

a welcoming address part 2:

The is the conclusion of Henry C. Muckley's welcoming address to the Eastern Manual Training Association meeting in Cleveland, 1900.

Why would this be important today? If we are to live in a nation of people whose minds have been made sharp and whose bodies have been made whole and productive, we have great work to do.
Two theories have been advanced in support of the introduction of manual training as a part of public school education. The one is the utilitarian theory ; namely, that our boys and girls should learn skill of hand in order that they might the better earn a livelihood. This theory lays its emphasis upon the thing done, upon the iron shaped, the wood turned, the drawing executed. How desirable it is that we have those in the world who are capable of doing the fine work of the world. Let us, therefore, say the advocates of this theory, educate our children in this direction, to the end that they need not be mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, but that they may occupy a place above the ordinary plane of labor; that they may become skilled mechanics, architects, draftsmen, and the like.

Now, this view of manual training is a worthy enough one. It is important that our boys and girls be able to accomplish things, be able to make things, be able to join together the various materials that constitute a machine, be able to give the artistic and skilled touch to everything which they undertake. Yet this, it seems to me, is not the loftiest and most inspiring thought which the manual training teacher should have in mind. The great thing after all is man himself. The reflex influence of all this upon the individual himself is of more importance than the objective result of his work.

One may stand and admire the architecture and artistic adornment of a great cathedral builded in the centuries of the past. He may say it is a noble work. It stands forth as an embodiment of the devotion and hopes and aspirations and religious fervor of the time in which it was built. Yet when we know that such structures are often built at the expense of the better aspects of our life; when we learn that as the building grew under the hands of the workman, the workman shrank in the presence of his structure; we wonder whether, after all, the sacrifice was not too great for the result. The mere accomplishing of some great thing does not necessarily react in the most helpful way upon the doer. Men live in the presence of the most sublime scenery of earth and yet remain groveling, inferior beings.

The mere existence of an objective world, however beautiful it may be, is not of itself sufficient to awaken the highest nobility in man, nor is the putting forth of energy to the construction of things necessarily productive of the highest individual development. The theory of manual training that places it not as a mere acquisition of skill to shape materials into convenient and useful forms, but as a means for the most complete development and enlargement of manhood and womanhood is to me the most worthy, and the one which furnishes the strongest reason for giving manual training the prominent place which it has in our educational system.

Whether a boy is to be a mechanic or not depends largely upon circumstances. But he will be a larger man in every way; he will be the better man no matter what his vocation in life may be, for having the development, the education, the skill, the judgment, the accuracy and precision which come as a result of a course in manual training.

It is, therefore, because you are a body of educators whose object is not to make things but men and women that we welcome you to this city. You have on exhibition in the rooms and halls of this building some beautiful examples of your work. Curious and elaborate shapes have been given to iron and to brass and to wood, but you must all feel that the principal product of your work is not on exhibition here to-day. It is to be found within the nervous systems and chiefly in the mental and moral natures of the boys and girls whom you have had under your instruction.

If your work has been well done, and we have every reason to believe that it has, then the subjective part of it — the part which has remained within the pupil, which has added to his character, has made him more honest because he finds honesty in the materials with which he works, has made his judgment clearer because he finds as a result of his misjudgment a want of harmony of the parts which he is attempting to fit together, is of infinitely more value than the things which you have on exhibition here to-day. I trust that you will find your visit to our city a very pleasant one socially and that your deliberations will be profitable to all who are in attendance. – Henry C. Muckley, 1900.
And so the manual arts in schools became and had been at one time a means through which all students were raised in both intellect and character. But there were those in the administrative and political class who believed that manual arts training should only be wasted upon those who were incapable of academic work. And so by the time I reached high school, my parents were given a choice. I would be directed to the trades or to college. Being in the college prep program closed all opportunities to enliven my education by doing real things. As a consequence, I was bored and made little effort toward my own success. It was only later after stumbling through college that I discovered how much joy and how much understanding might come through the engagement of my hands in creative processes. Are schools to be places where we warehouse kids and sequester them from real life? Or may we engage them in doing real things? I urge the latter.

The cartoon above is from France, 1910, imagining education in the 21st century. It's what some people want today who find no terror or error in it. By the French artist Villemard, it was part of a series "En l'an 2000" ("In the Year 2000") from around the World's Fair and the new century that was packaged in cigar and cigarette boxes.

Make, fix, and create.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A welcoming address, part one:

In 1900 the Eastern Manual Training Association met in Cleveland, with the opening remarks of Henry C. Muckley, Superintendent of Cleveland Schools. This short address lays out the original vision of manual arts training that was long forgotten in American education except by those who continued to teach manual arts. I present it here in two parts, today and tomorrow in the hopes that some tomorrow(or even today), American educational policy makers will re-awaken to the essential role the hands play in learning. Dr. Muckley:
We take special pleasure in welcoming this body of teachers because of what you bring us. We expect to derive great benefit from your visit among us. You represent one phase of the complete education of man.

The modern ideas of education are somewhat different from those which prevailed in earlier times. They have kept pace with the enlarging conception of man himself; for any theory of education must rest ultimately upon the nature of the individual who is to be educated. It is not enough now, that men be skilled in mere dialectic. That would have answered in the days of the scholastics, when the subjective nature of man was unduly emphasized and his outward relation measurably lost sight of.

The modern view of man is that he is a being of infinite possibility. While this theory of man has lurked in the writings of great and good men of the past, it has not been as thoroughly emphasized in practice as it ought to have been. Sometimes one phase of man's life has been emphasized by one people and sometimes another, but we believe today in education as the development of every power which man possesses.

Memory is no longer thought to be a power resident within the brain. It is defused or distributed through every tissue of the body. Single muscles have their memories, sets of muscles have their united memories, and every activity of the body seems to have this quality of memory resident in some way within the organ which manifests the activity. Connected with all these various organs of the body, we have at the center the great nervous axis, consisting of the brain and spinal cord. These are the great storers up of the power to liberate the energy of these organs; and the development of an individual is in a way measured by the development of these centers.

It is a physiological law that the growth and development of any part of the body is conditioned upon the exercise of that part. It would follow then that the highest development of these nervous centers is only secured by the exercise of every part of the body with which they are connected. The organs react upon the brain; the brain in turn sends out its stimulus to the various organs, and thus there is a mutual benefit accruing to either by their joint exercise.

You come to us as representatives of that practical form of education which comes through the doing of things. You would educate man to greater skill, you would educate the eye to greater precision; all of which means that you would develop and strengthen those portions of the central nervous system which control these organs, which preside over them, without which they themselves would be meaningless and helpless. Thus manual training becomes in its analysis, nervous and mental training. ––Henry C. Muckley, 1900
It is a rainy day in Arkansas and so I share (once again) one of my favorite illustrations showing a father and his children at work on a rainy day. Can there be anything more pleasurable or meaningful than that?

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

divided sphere part 4

I managed to get the divided sphere assembled with a total of 7 hinges. It folds and unfolds from a sphere to a hollow cube and back again, and I can attest that this was not easy to make. So why make it? It seems that it is difficult to ignore challenges, and the artifacts of Kindergarten point us in an important direction.

The historic relationship between Kindergarten and the introduction of manual arts training in the US makes Kindergarten relevant today as we as we attempt to renew interest in wood shops in today's schools. The purpose of woodworking education was not to make carpenters, but to make responsible and creative citizens.

As we look at the politics and political shenanigans of today, we can wonder, where were wood shops when we needed them most? Have you ever seen such a mess?

The wood shop at ESSA received its garage door yesterday and the carpenters are putting metal siding on, starting with the back.

Work benches have been ordered and are being shipped. Ordering tools is the next thing on my mind as we proceed toward completion and summer classes.

Today I'll work on my presentations for the Woodworker's Showcase April 1 and 2 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

turned sphere part 3.

I am preparing for my classes at Woodworkers Showcase at the end of next week and for the arrival Monday of a small film crew doing a video on Kindergarten in which my students will demonstrate "self activity"in the wood shop and in which I will explain the important relationship between the rise of Kindergarten and the rise of manual arts training in schools.

My mind/hand therapy has been to turn a hinged sphere from wood. In order to do so, I made 8 2-in. cube blocks, routed them to form hinge mortises in just the right places, and then glued the blocks together with brown paper between so that they could be turned on the lathe as shown.

The cuts in the side of the sphere are where the various hinges will fit between the segments when the ball is broken apart and rejoined.

Today I will install the hinges and see what I get. The objective is to make a segmented sphere as shown at the bottom of the second illustration.

 Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Yesterday I attended the Ozarks Woodcarving Seminar in Springfield Missouri and met a number of fine carvers that we will attempt to recruit for teaching at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. There were over a hundred students, 18 teachers and several vendors in attendance for the 6 day event.

Shown in the photo is my friend Bill admiring many of the fine tools for sale at the event., Bill Hinson had invited me to the event and made introductions to some of his favorite carvers and those he thought would be of interest to ESSA. He had also taken our catalog to the event so that various teachers would know about our school.

The work by both students and teachers was beautiful.

The show is held in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Springfield, Missouri and is an annual event. Visitors are welcome and the show is open until Friday, March 24.

One thing a visitor will notice at the show is that there are very few young people involved. It seems that we've a great deal of important work to do if we want to maintain craftsmanship in our culture, by passing skill into the hands of fresh generations.

Make, fix, create, and  increase the opportunities for others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

divided sphere part two

By gluing square strips of wood together with layers of brown paper between, I was able to make the eight separate parts of a divided sphere.The problem came in attempting to use very tiny brass hinges to rejoin the parts of the sphere back into a united whole.

It seems that the normal hands of a craftsman are just to large to manipulate such tiny nails and hinges. The solution will be to make one of a much larger scale and to use hinges and screws I am capable of inserting myself.

You can see that the brown paper dividing line between parts worked great.

"Theory," says Vives, "is easy and short, but has no result other than the gratification that it affords. Practice on the other hand, is difficult and prolix, but is of immense utility." Since this is so, we should diligently seek out a method by which the young may be easily led to the practical application of natural forces, which is to be found in the arts. -- John Amos Comenius (1592-1670)

To divide the sphere after it is turned on the lathe, simply place a sharp chisel at the line between parts and slice. The pieces come readily apart.

Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon cleaning up and recycling lumber from the delivery of roofing materials at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Today I will visit a woodcarving club at Springfield, and look at more tools for the new wood shop.

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

making a divided sphere, part one

Some time ago I bought tiny brass hinges with the plan of making a divided sphere like those that were made and used in some Kindergarten classes. The divided sphere was not the kind of object that would be made by most home craftsmen, but my idea has been that by using a modern turning technique that involves a layer of brown paper glued between layers of wood, separable objects can be formed.

The first step is to glue a piece of brown paper in between two pieces of wood.

Then, after that piece is cut into two pieces, glue another piece of brown paper between being careful that the corners line up.  This piece of wood will then be used to turn two matching half spheres of wood.

To divide the half spheres into the 8 pieces of the divided sphere, I'll use a sharp chisel to divide the half spheres along the paper line. The brown paper will separate at the center, leaving just a bit of remnant to be sanded from the wood.

Then I'll have the challenge of hinging the 8 pieces into a divide sphere.
Wish me luck.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others have the experience of learning likewise.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

the country boy...

Milton Bradley wrote the following as part of his introduction to Knife Work in the School-Room, 1891:
Manual training is no new thing in our every-day American life. In the country districts fifty years ago the children had nine months of manual training of the best kind, because of the tasks required of them on the farm and in the shop and the kitchen. They also averaged three months of mental training, during which time they learned rapidly, in spite of the lack of ability on the part of their teachers. They had too much manual training and were hungry for the mental, consequently it did not hurt them to study night and day, through the two or three months that they were in school.
These days there are many proponents of year round schooling. In their view 9 months of academic work is not giving the students enough mental training to measure up. Can further numbing of student's mental faculties bring the results these educators hope for? While in the early days of American education 3 months of academic work was more than enough? The point is that children need to do real things to balance and make alive to them the work they do in academic subjects. For those with trained hands, this idea may not be so hard to grasp. But there are educational policy makers who've not acquired the wisdom that training of the hands provides.

From the time that manual arts were first introduced, proponents of academic studies have claimed, "there's no time for that." They've traditionally failed to understand the relationship between doing real things in real life and the readiness to grasp academic content. One kind of exercise prepares the mind for the other.

In addition to working on boxes in my wood shop, I'm working on my presentations for woodworkers showcase, and researching tool acquisitions for the new wood shop at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

moving toward a new era of craftsmanship...

It is spring break at the Clear Spring School, so I have the coming week off to attend to other things. One thing is to prepare for the Woodworker's Showcase April 1 and 2 where I'll be a judge and teach 4 one-hour and 15 minute classes. Another is that I have a film crew coming on March 28 to take some video footage for a documentary film about Kindergarten. A third thing is that I always have wood working to do in my own shop.

We have been making progress on tools and equipment for the new ESSA wood studio. Lee Valley is preparing benches to ship which should be completed in about 10 days.

Thorstein Veblen was a Norwegian American economist and sociologist who explored the relationship between workmanship and economy. His years (1857-1929) roughly paralleled the rise and fall of Educational Sloyd which had promoted woodworking in all schools for all students as a way through which society at large would be lifted toward respect for all persons within. Along similar lines, Veblen invented the term conspicuous consumption, and suggested that the pecuniary impulse in a society is often at odds with the rise of individual craftsmanship. In fact, the leisure class may place economic value on the work of certain individual craftsmen, but show disdain for the irksome craftsmen who had created the work.

The interesting thing is that we know that craftsmanship, the practice of getting good at some tangible act, is one of the means through which human beings moderate their emotional lives, finding self-esteem and through which we create meaningful communities. The rich may look down upon those who've created our cities, and on those who place food on their tables, but to do so is destructive, just as we have learned so many times before through the rise and fall of empires if we were paying any attention at all.

What we need is for a new era of craftsmanship to arise: one in which people at all levels of society are creatively engaged in the practice of making beautiful and useful things.  How can we move in that direction? Only as we take matters into our own hands. In the Educational Sloyd image above, Otto Salomon was careful to show that woodworking was a gentlemanly pursuit, one that the rich might pursue and expressed dignity as well as skill and intelligence.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 17, 2017

The lift of real learning.

One of my fellow teachers at the Clear Spring School confided to me, "I'm not really good at lecture." My thought in response was that the student's aren't either and not being good at lecture means that he's found more effective ways to teach. In fact, lecture is a way to present scads of information that will inevitably be poorly received and poorly processed. And the evidence is already in that students learn better by doing things themselves than by being lectured to.

Let's have a show of hands. Raise one or both if you are one of us... Can you remember a time in which you were extremely excited by something you had learned? Think back to the circumstances and please let me know immediately if it was given to you in a lecture format. I suspect that in nine cases out of ten the lift of learning would have come to you by doing something real.

And yet, schooling persists with millions of lectures being presented each day. Oh, the absolute weight of it all! Teaching and learning can be a heavy burden shared by teachers and students alike when lecture is the primary means of schooling. Compare and contrast it to the lift of spirits that comes when children and adults are given the power to learn through doing real things.

A parent of one of my first grade students told me that sometimes her son (being very young) is hesitant about coming to school. She needs only mention that "today is a wood shop day" to get him dressed, out the door and in the car for the trip to school.

Make, fix, create and compare that others may be encouraged to learn likewise.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

the impulse to create...

Yesterday in the CSS wood shop we had a new student attending for just the day. About half way through the one hour class he announced, "I already know that this is my favorite class." Why would that be? Perhaps because he was already making a thing that he perceived as useful, that he had designed himself, that served as a sample of his learning, that was concrete in its form and that he could take home. He also said, despite being in third grade, "I've never used a hammer before." The act of making something useful is primal according to both definitions of the word.
  1. relating to an early stage in evolutionary development; primeval. "primal hunting societies" synonyms: original, initial, earliest, first, primitive, primeval "the primal source of living things" Psychology relating to or denoting the needs, fears, or behavior that are postulated (especially in Freudian theory) to form the origins of emotional life. "he preys on people's primal fears"
  2. essential; fundamental. "rivers were the primal highways of life" synonyms: basic, fundamental, essential, elemental, vital, central, intrinsic, inherent "primal masculine instincts"
The impulse to own and the impulse to create are somewhat different in their effects. Thorsten Veblen in The Instinct of Workmanship described the relationship between pecuniary impulses and the impulse of workmanship as follows
"... the only authentic end of work under the pecuniary dispensation is the acquisition of wealth; since the possession of wealth in so far exempts its possessor from productive work; and since such exemption is a mark of wealth and therefore of superiority over those who have nothing and therefore must work it follows that addiction to work becomes a mark of inferiority and therefore discreditable. Whereby work becomes distasteful to all men instructed in the proprieties of the pecuniary culture; and it has even become so irksome to men trained in the punctilios of the servile, predatory, phase of this culture that  it was once credibly proclaimed by a shrewd priesthood as the most calamitous curse laid on mankind by a vindictive God. Also, since wealth affords means for a free consumption of goods, the conspicuous consumption of goods becomes a mark of pecuniary excellence, and so it becomes an element of respectability in any pecuniary culture, and presently becomes a meritorious act and even a requirement of pecuniary decency. The outcome is conspicuous wastefulness of consumption, the limits of which , if any, have apparently not been approached hitherto."
Veblen, one of the pioneers of sociology, wrote the preceding in 1914 or so. Since then the pecuniary impulse has completely overwhelmed  our more nativist impulses of workmanship and craftsmanship and has pushed our environment to the brink as we face global warming and waste of the land and its resources.

Getting back in balance with nature and restoring a more wholesome sense of self, requires that we learn to create objects of useful beauty through the exercise of thrift.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I was out at the new ESSA woodworking studio yesterday to go through the electrical requirements with the electrician. The roof is almost complete.

I also met yesterday with the teaching staff at the Clear Spring School, our director and the director of Arkansas A+ Schools. My hope is that since we have a 40 year track record of the arts integration they are trying to introduce to Arkansas public schools, we may be of some use to them, and their teacher training and collaborative opportunities will be of use to us.

Some have called the Clear Spring School the best kept secret in American education. Perhaps we can share what we are, and what we do and make schools and learning better for all kids.

The new ESSA woodshop looks like a mess with the roofing material being put in place. Huge crates in which the metal roofing arrived will be disassembled and used to build workbenches.  A more serene view is available from the path leading through the woods.

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

mixing up classes

This morning I meet with the electrician at ESSA to arrange placement of electrical circuits in the floor of the machine room of the new woodworking studio. Yesterday I made a map to show which circuits and how many go where. The metal roof is on, the windows are in place, and doors are hung, making the studios available for us to consider actually moving some tools in place. Today, also, the order will be placed for lathes that will be delivered in May.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring school we mixed up classes so that they could work in teams on projects in their home rooms and have a tool practice day in wood shop. I allowed an older student to instruct a younger one in using the lathe for the first time, and the interesting side effect was that by giving the older student the responsibility to instruct the younger both learned. I expect the confidence level of the older student to grow as a result.

I would have to go deep into discussion of personality types to give a more clear picture than that and so will refrain from doing so. The point, of course, and as always, is that we learn best by doing real things, that engage the interest and attention, and that are in service to self and humanity.

Make, fix, and create.

Monday, March 13, 2017

understanding 4 things.

The world would be a better place if people in general and at all levels of society were to understand 4 things.
  • The ability to do difficult things is earned through extended effort and application of will.
  • By each person acquiring or attempting to acquire the ability to do difficult and diverse things, character and morality are instilled in humanity.
  • By doing difficult things yourself, you begin to understand the investment that others have made before you in times past and in your own time.
  • We each have the responsibility to encourage craftsmanship and creativity, whether in the arts, or in music or any other demanding field of meaningful effort.
How do we identify a meaningful effort?  Meaning can be found in the simple challenge of doing difficult things, but it's best when we work hard on developing skills that have positive impact on the lives of others and the community at large.

An article in the most recent wooden boat magazine suggested that the man builds the boat, and that the boat builds the man. Is that not always the case when a human being attempts to create? Even a thing as simple as a wooden box can have profound effect on its maker.

The photo is from back in the days when these simple principles were widely understood.

Along these same lines, an experiment in Iceland led by an American researcher, Harvey Milkman, has dramatically reduced teenage drinking and substance abuse by giving students the opportunity to do real things, putting them on a natural high. How An American Helped Iceland Fix It's Teenage Drinking Problem. Anyone who has spent time in a wood shop, will be familiar with the neuro-hormones that accompany creative engagement.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop my middle school students will be designing a tool box for the garden, and my elementary school students will have a practice day with various tools.

Make, fix, and create. Provide others with the encouragement to learn likewise.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What does it cost? And what are the values?

The Clear Spring Fling was postponed yesterday due to a late season snow storm in Eureka Springs. The temperature dropped below freezing after having been in the fifties the day before. The art auction benefiting the Clear Spring School will be held this afternoon at 1 PM. The temperature will climb, the snow will be melted and you are welcome to attend.

Finnish brain researcher Matti Bergström had described a sociological syndrome he named "finger-blindness" in which those who had not had the opportunity to create and explore hands-on would be diminished in their understanding of the world in which they lived. Just as a blind person might be diminished in capacity to readily grasp the outward appearances of things, the "finger blind" would be blind to intrinsic value.

Too many of us are living that way now. The first question that one asks upon seeing something beautiful and useful that would enhance one's own life, build the intelligence and character in other people in our communities, and thus create "fabric" in our own lives, is "how much does it cost?'

If we were to expand the dialog and ask other, more meaningful questions, we might find ourselves leading more meaningful lives and building (or restoring) community and nation in new ways. So what are some more meaningful questions?
  • What are the core values we trying to express? 
  • Beyond money or even without money, what do we hope to give to each other and receive from each other? 
  • How will this benefit our kids? 
  • Does this help us to understand each other and build resilience within our communities and our nation?
  • Does this allow me to give more freely to others without resentment?
  • How may I help others to arise? 
  • How may I help others to grow?
I have been impressed by the portraiture being done by George W. Bush of wounded warriors. Perhaps the project is an effort on his part to make amends for having sent young men and women into battle in a thoughtless manner. Engagement in the arts, even in a remedial manner, brings us in touch with core human values, leading us to better understand the non-economic values of community and humanity and of the natural environment we must be educated to preserve.

The illustration above is one of my favorites as it portrays the communication of intelligence and character to a new generation.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

spring fling...

This evening Clear Spring School will hold its annual Spring Fling, an auction event that raises money for the ongoing operation of the school.

I will have a couple objects in the auction including a small walnut rocking chair that I made for Nelson Leather Company in downtown Eureka Springs about 30 years ago.

As an independent school, Clear Spring School is dependent on the generosity of many who understand its role as a leader in progressive education. It is intended to serve both the community, and the educational community at-large as a role model.

Fine Woodworking recently showed the use of marking bows to draw curved shapes. The photo shows my own version that is quickly made and easily adjusted to a variety of smooth curved forms.

The Fine Woodworking version showed the use of turnbuckles to adjust. My own approach attempts to be simple and parsimonious. It uses a stick with notches that hold the string at various positions, increasing or decreasing the tension on the bow, just as an archer would alter the shape of the bow.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, March 10, 2017

today in the css woodshop.

Yesterday I went to Springfield, Missouri to the headquarters of Grizzly Tools to check out the work benches they have for woodworkers.  I'm exploring options to buy benches for the new wood studio at ESSA rather than making them ourselves.

The one I had in mind is too large and has a tool storage system that one of the experts at Grizzly cautioned against. His advice was to go with the bench that has drawers rather than a tipping tool compartment because when loaded with tools or materials, the compartment becomes too heavy for some to operate safely.

The cabinet/bench with lots of drawers would be impractical in a school setting, but they did have the oak benches shown with two drawers and steel legs.  As it is adjustable in height and rigid, it would be perfect in a elementary or middle school setting, or would be the perfect amateur woodworker's bench. At ESSA, we are aiming to take things to a bit higher level.

On Tuesday I will have the walk through with the electrician to finalize the location of wiring.

I'll have the high school students at Clear Spring today. Some will be working on veneered boxes. Some are working on "paper" airplanes (at their own request), and some are working on practice swords for martial arts.

Parents and staff at the Clear Spring School are preparing for our annual fundraiser, The Clear Spring Fling. It is an art auction that raises money to support the school. I will have a couple pieces in it sold in the live auction. More about the event can be found here.

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

international womens's day.

Pestalozzi wrote a book called Leonard and Gertrude in 1801, that had a profound impact on progressive education. Gertrude was the wife of Leonard and the book's major protagonist. Her teaching of her own children set a new example as to how children would be best taught. In this book, Pestalozzi recognized the importance of women in the role of teaching. He was a major influence on Friedrich Froebel in his invention of Kindergarten, and Froebel, like Pestalozzi recognized that women should be empowered to take a lead in all things having to do with the education of our kids. In fact, the Kindergarten's songs and finger play came from Froebel's observing young German mothers engaged in educational play with their children.

I urge all men to follow the lead taken by early educators Pestalozzi and Froebel. Acknowledge the important role that women play and insist that they be given equal rights, equal opportunities, and greater recognition in all things. Real men stand up on behalf of women's rights.

The photo above is from my daughter Lucy's participation in the International Women's Day celebration and strike at Washington Square in New York City.

Make, fix, and create...

arising from the ooze.

Can it be that we've arisen from the ooze and need no longer be burdened by the engagement of the hands? Can now think fully and responsibly without them as fresh generations of robots arise? Author of the Hand, Frank Wilson, sent me a link to an article suggesting that soulless structures arise when architecture is divorced from the builder's hands.  The article, a memoir of sorts, is by an architect, Duo Dickinsen: 
Truth be told, many architects I know are a little uneasy about their lack of building knowledge. Since architecture without construction is largely a graphic arts exercise, this is either deeply ironic or grimly paradoxical. To bridge this yawning gap, architects today typically hire a slew of consultants—roof, skin, curtain wall, interior, sustainability, preservation—who join the growing influence of software-driven structural and mechanical engineers to absorb much of what architects once assumed they could handle. - Duo Dickinson
The problem is that without direct engagement of the hands, learning  becomes too hypothetical and overly academic (or "Purely Academic") and thus divorced from truth, and from the ascertaining abilities of the human hand.
 "... of all bodily members the hand is the most human and the most noble. In its features and capabilities is symbolized all that man as achieved in his long upward march from the primeval ooze." - Robert McDougall
It is odd that in schools, we leave teachers hands tied and students constrained to desks, while our greatest educational resources are restrained from their most natural inclination: that of ascertaining the reality of the universe.

Today at the Clear Spring School, I am planning to give my upper elementary school students further instruction on the lathe, and allow my lower elementary school students time to work on independent projects.

make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

how does this apply to me?

Yesterday I gave my first second and third grade students the opportunity to make wooden snakes, and it became obvious that the steps were too hard for some. One third grader was able  to make one but the others retreated into things they knew how to do and surprised me.  For example, one asked me to make cuts for her using the scroll saw and made a surfer as a gift for her dad. While the scroll saw cuts required my help, the design was her own.

Today my high school students will visit my wood shop for a tour and brief lecture on and discussion of micro economics. They have been studying economics, so I hope they can ask some good questions. One of the challenges involved in the study of an isolated and abstract field like economics is bringing it home to concrete reality. I guess that will be my job, hoping to help our students to grasp some relevance from an abstract field of study. Thus the question, "how does this apply to me?"

This afternoon we have an open house/potluck for parents at school. The younger children will be tour guides.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, March 06, 2017


We had a baby shower at our house on Saturday for one of my former students who is also the daughter of my good friend Greg and his wife Jackie. It was a lovely affair. Lucy's cradle was a center piece of the event as it will be on loan to the new mother and father and baby Henry.

Greg had made wooden blocks to be decorated by guests using wood burners. It was fun. Some of the guests showed a distinct artistic flair as you can see.

My own love is in the visual arrangement of blocks. They need not be quite so fancy and fine to offer pleasure in arrangement of patterns, whether in symmetry or not. Henry will get many hours of inventive play using these blocks.

The blocks were made of western cedar, fir and basswood.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School we will assemble the rain forest animal mobile we've made in first, second and third grades. We will also clean shop to be ready for an open house on Tuesday afternoon.

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

the craftsman's method...

If you want an explanation of the conservative interest in vouchers, school choice, and religion-based primary and secondary education, you need only look at the language used among some conservatives as they attempt to direct public money (legally or illegally) into parochial education.

A couple days ago, an Arkansas legislator and a local college president received Federal indictments in a scandal in which the legislator had directed state funds into a small Christian college in return for a kickback. The case is described in an article in Arkansas Business Week.

The article quotes a text message explaining the conservative "selling point" to be used in convincing the Arkansas legislature, largely dominated by conservative Republicans as follows:
the small Christian college "produces graduates that are conservative voters. All state and secular colleges produce vast majority liberal voters." According to the indictment, Woods replied: "Agreed."
Is the purpose of education is to control what students think and how they think, or to teach them to think for themselves? One of these objectives imposes a particular ideology and results in an authoritarian mindset. The other builds intelligence, reasoning capacity and creativity. Which do you think might better serve our democracy and the future of our communities, nation and planet? And which do you think would build smarter kids?

Unfortunately among some, science is seen as being at odds with a religious viewpoint. The scientific method requires students to observe reality rather that just adhering to preset beliefs. Craftsmanship involves the same methodology as science and presents the same threat to the totalitarian mindset but without being loaded at the front end by assumptions of it being at odds to religious belief. (Christ, after all, was a a carpenter.)

In craftsmanship  a child forms a hypothesis based upon an understanding of materials, tools and techniques, inspired by something he or she wants to make. The child then tests the hypothesis by using the tools materials and techniques at hand, then repeats with the expectation of refinement and fresh understanding based on reflection on real experience. The results of craftsmanship are apparent to both the child and to supportive adults at home and at school. Through the making of useful beauty, the world is better understood, the student finds pleasure and satisfaction in school, and the student tests his or her own ideas, using the scientific method without calling it that.

It seems that few educators today recognize the relationship between craftsmanship and the development of intelligence and character. Perhaps you and can change that.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

the sequestered child

In the process of teaching my students various techniques, I end up demonstrating again and again, so the veneered panels shown are the accumulation of work done to make a point. These will be incorporated in my work as the top panels for boxes.

Due to the ineffectiveness of lecture in making a firm imprint, students learn best by doing and having teacher input when the time is right.

For example, yesterday I was helping students turn spheres on the lathe. To tell the entire process at once would have left them not knowing what to look for as the point of readiness for the next step, and that next step is only effectivelt described when the student is ready to take it.

One of the major arguments some educators made against Educational Sloyd was Otto Salomon's insistence on individualized instruction. If you pay attention to how children actually learn, it's not by being fed a constant stream of information without relevance to what children are doing in their own lives. And so the teacher's job is to encourage interests, and provide the tools that those interests can take root, and to be ready and available to guide the next steps.

You can argue that learning academics and learning manual arts are different things, and perhaps some students are more ready for abstraction than others. I will argue in return that all children deserve to learn from the real world, and learning from the real world must be the case if we are to preserve it.

We all know without question that the things we have learned that left the deepest mark on character and intellect have been the things we have learning by actually doing something real. And yet we settle for schools in which children do nothing real and are instead sequestered from being of service to family and community.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, March 03, 2017

being clear...

I want to be clear that I'm not one who believes students should not go to college, but that all education, including college should be hands-on so that students at all levels receive real learning experiences, have the opportunity for deep engagement in learning, and develop the character traits and value system associated with real work.

My insistence on this stems from my own experience, the reflections of countless educators for centuries, and the Theory of Educational Sloyd that demands that learning move from the concrete to the abstract. Abstraction without the opportunity to test learning in real life is "purely academic," and what all schooling should seek to avoid.

Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, testified before Congress again, insisting that not all students need to go to college and that we need to re-examine what a good job may be. The idea for years now has been that if you are to be "successful" you will not do "dirty jobs" but will go to college instead.

I am reminded of one of my father's customers Louie, in Valley Nebraska. He had a junk yard, and would come into my father's store with grease deeply embedded his clothes, hands and face, but with a kindness and sense of humor and joy in his life that could have raised serious questions for those who aspired to live a finer life, untouched by real work.

Mike Rowe was interviewed on Fox News and told how the process of "making America great again" requires that we "make work cool again."

 In "Dirty Jobs," Mike has tried to show viewers that there is dignity and satisfaction in what some have termed "alternative employment." In the show, he goes around the country doing jobs that some would consider dirty, disgusting, and beneath their own dignity. He has attempted to show that all jobs have the potential of enriching humanity and the social barriers that some have constructed stand in the way of some people finding true satisfaction in their work.

Mike is an advocate of manual and industrial education in high school. I'll concur with that, as I've made clear time and time again. I also suggest, however, that all children, even from the earliest age, and even those who intend academic careers, even in the best and most expensive universities, should have the the opportunity to make beautiful and useful things as a crucial element in their intellectual and social development.

The making of beautiful and useful things, even getting dirty in the process is the soul of the human cultural developmental process. When we leave some members above it all and untouched by the reality of work, they are diminished by it. They fail to draw upon the intelligence real work provides. They also fail in their responsibility to grant dignity to those who labor for a living.

There is no career and no profession in which the practitioner would not have learned things of value from making something beautiful, useful and lasting from wood. The image above is of some of my sample patterns for making veneered boxes.

This blog has been getting a number of visitors from the industrial design magazine and a post about how the nation is losing or has lost its tool box. Maslow had said that if the only tool you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. I can tell you that if the only tool you have is a digital one, regardless of how powerful that tool may be, you've left yourself shorthanded.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 02, 2017


I have been attending to the beginnings of the editorial process on my box guitar book by re-sending all the files that have been misplaced.

In school yesterday my students made toy jet planes, and as I left school to come home, they were playing with them in the volleyball court, building sand piles and crashing jet planes in the desert. Fortunately the wooden planes are more resilient than the real thing, and can be played with roughly for hours.

A school principal from Canada mentioned the difficulty engaging boys in learning:
If they do not have more hands on activities I feel that we as educators fail to engage them. You know this.
Yes, I do know that. But I am also having some problem with older boys (fifth and sixth grades) who express large ambition in the things they want to make, but have allowed themselves little or no time to gain some level of mastery in the most simple things. "Do this first and develop the skill to do that" is not a thing that some boys want to hear, as some do not want to admit their lack of skill and are frustrated that they are held back. For me as a teacher, to allow them to proceed without requisite skill becomes a waste of their time, my time, and the materials. The answer, I believe in this case, is to set some reasonable goals that the student can achieve, as markers for their preparedness to do more complex things. That was one of the methods illustrated in Educational Sloyd.

I remain concerned that digital technology is intended to make once difficult things easy and near mindless, making extremely complex things seem like child's play, but the real satisfaction in life comes from doing difficult and demanding things. By infusing children's lives with the latest fads in programs and devices (and thinking mistakenly that we are doing great things), we are allowing children to skip important developmental levels leaving them unaware of the full process required to do complex, difficult, meaningful things.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Action and thought

I did this little sketch some time ago to illustrate the relationship between action and reflection. It makes sense to me to see action as a form of thought, whereas for some it would be considered a wholly inside the head trip.

Which comes first, action or thought? It's like the chicken and the egg.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my students in first, second and third grades will be working on a rain forest animal mobile and my students in grades 4-6 will work on the lathe.

Yesterday, I worked through our ESSA wood shop tools acquisition budget, attempting to make some decisions on tools to be acquired before opening for first classes in June.

I've also been cleaning the shop and finishing boxes.

Make, fix, create, and resume a legacy of learning likewise.