Saturday, January 20, 2018


Last night I made a presentation of my work to the Rochester Woodworker's Society at a meeting of about 70 members. Today I have a class with about 20 members to be held in a member's shop. I expect to present some information on design, will show how to make a sled and another small jig, and go through the process of making a box. I fly back to Arkansas tomorrow.

I am always made nervous by teaching a class to new students. Things never go exactly as planned. In order to be effective a class needs to be made responsive to the needs of the individual students involved. Knowing that, and as I prepare myself mentally for the start of today's lessons, I choose to relax.

One of the odd the odd things is how much time an effort we put into the attempt to create certainty, whereas uncertainty is what excites us. Today I will instruct my students in the value of surprise.

This picture of Anaxagoras, pre-Socratic philosopher who claimed that man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, January 19, 2018

dust separator success

In the video, watch carefully for the spiral of material circulating to the bottom of the barrel. I expect this separator to capture 80-90 percent of planer chips before they reach the two stage dust collector. The point is to increase the capacity of the system and reduce maintenance.

I'll build a frame with legs to support the box, and the drums will be put on wheels so that during cleanup ESSA students can ready the system for the next class. The translucent barrels make it easy to observe when they are 3/4's full and need to be changed.

As a kid, I subscribed to Popular Science, read it enthusiastically and hoped to become an inventor. While this dust separator is not rocket science, it is a pleasure to have made that works exactly as I intended. Is it OK to brag about such things? You can see a wider view of the system in yesterday's blog post.

Today I am flying to Rochester New York and will meet with members of the Rochester Woodworker's Society this evening, where I've been invited to show slides of my work.

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

dust collection box

The photo shows the latest ESSA woodworking studio development project. The planers fill the existing dust collector too quickly, so I'm using plastic 55 gallon drums as a first stage of a triple stage collection system. The larger shavings fall out first.

The dust collection hoses from the two planers at left and right enter on opposite corners causing a circular airflow and allow the larger chips to fall from the air stream before it is extracted from the top.

Part of the challenge of this project involved the three sizes of connections required. The planer on the left has a 4 inch outlet port. The larger planer on the right requires a 5 in. hose. The existing dust collector uses a 6 in. connector hose to go to the box. There are shut off slides to shut off one planer or the other when not in use, but I expect it to handle both at the same time.

This is experimental. I will learn quickly whether it works as I hope.

To finish the system, I'll build a support frame to hold the box up while the barrels are wheeled out from underneath.  The section of stove pipe from the top of the box will connect with the existing two stage dust collector. The barrels will each have wheels added so they can be quickly replaced and wheeled out of the shop. The shavings will be used in campus landscaping projects.

My bag is packed for travel to Rochester, New York on Friday.

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

mfg OMG

Yesterday in picking up 55 gallon plastic drums to use for sawdust in the ESSA wood shop, I visited a small manufacturing plant in Springdale, Arkansas where about 30 women were busy making and packaging scented bath salts. The pace of their work was mind boggling. It made me wonder how hands could  be trained to move so fast. The shop foreman said the women workers were like robots. He said that they were happy to develop their speed and expertise because if they got their quota done they got to go home early.

At the head of the operation, women were weighing ingredients and others were mixing them by hand with unrestrained vigor. Then, when thoroughly mixed, the materials were distributed to pairs of workers. One measured exact scoops into a die and another placed the die in a press, slapped two buttons (one with each hand) while the press dropped down to form a ball of bath salts. The woman operating the press lifted the die, and rolled the ball out into a tray, with each tray holding a precise number of balls.

From there the balls went into a drying room where the humidity and heat were carefully controlled for hardening. 46,000 balls a day. The balls upon hardening would bounce off a concrete floor if you were to throw them.

Packaging came next. From this small plant, packaged bath salt balls are distributed throughout the US, and with increasing production, the world.

What I could not describe from my visit would be the overwhelming scent of the fragrances added and the furious pace at which production takes place.

I was reminded of my own time operating a punch press in a manufacturing line. A shop manager in white shirt and tie watched me as he made notes on his clipboard. He commented on the speed of my work and noted that if all worked at that speed they'd do well. I informed him that it was my last day.

In the meantime, there are people who need to work are willing to develop skill and make money and are proud to serve their families. They deserve that we be proud of them.

Clear Spring School is out today due to severe cold and the icy road remnants of our winter storm. I will be preparing for my trip to Rochester, New York on Friday where I will make an evening presentation and teach a one day class. I am also building a new dust collection separation box for the planers at ESSA.

In Washington, DC, our legislators are about to shut down government because they failed to learn the basic lesson of Kindergarten: how to get along with each other and treat each other with respect. Some in one particular party think it is perfectly acceptable to disparage and demean large portions of our society and other nations and then lie about having done so. I wish they all had been able to attend the Clear Spring School where they might have learned more about character and integrity.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


The United States, purporting to be the richest country in the world, has a reported literacy rate of 86%. Costa Rica has a literacy rate for men and women of 98%. In addition, the US spends more on education K-12 per child, than any other country on earth. In a listing of countries by educational performance, the US ranks 17th of 40 in the list.

So why are we getting such poor results? When my wife and daughter and I visited in Costa Rica a few years back, it was obvious that each and every small town had its own school, and each small school served as a center of community life.

In the US, we go for big stuff, big schooling in which students are isolated from community life, sequestered into discrete subjects, and pushed to read before ready. Reading alone can serve as an example. In Finland students in school are asked to begin reading at age 8, and by the time they are tested in the international PISA test, age 13, they far surpass American readers in 30 percent less time. Somewhere along the way, American educators became reading obsessed as though it was the only thing that mattered. And the pressure was applied. But you can't push a rope.

The push in the US is for school consolidation to gain economies of scale at the cost of community engagement. The schools and their administrations tend to be isolated from the needs of their communities. Local school boards have little power except to go through the motions prescribed by the state and federal governments.

But real education is about real life. It is not about statistics. It is not about test scores. It is about play, and it is about community, the engagement of the child within community, and the engagement of community within the life of each child.

Today I will be working on the dust collection system at ESSA, getting the wood shop ready for summer classes. Clear Spring School is closed today due to snow and severe cold.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that each child learns likewise.

Monday, January 15, 2018

one way or the other...

One faction of society thinks that if anything is done for the poor, they will be stripped of incentive to do things for themselves, and they take that as their reason to do nothing for each other. Another faction of society thinks that if we have the power to be of service to each other we should use the gifts we have been given to make the world a better place.

We get to decide. We can act now through the creation of useful beauty. Then recognizing that the government is like a power tool, enabling us to apply collective force in the resolution of our nation's problems, we can choose how to vote in our next elections.

This is the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, and he had learned that the problems facing our nation were not simply matters of race and racial discrimination but also of poverty. We have been held back not only by poverty of physical resources but also by poverty of will. Will we choose as a nation to be of use to each other?

When I was imagining myself, in the early days of my career as a woodworker, I understood the essential relationship between the craftsman and community. I thought of the village blacksmith, and the village carpenter as examples of how people and their lives are interwoven into community life. What I did not fully grasp at the time was the responsive effect. When we work in service to each other, we are transformed in consequence. We become better, more caring persons through our efforts to be of service to each other.

If you've been mistakenly taught, or failed to get the lessons of life and of love at an earlier time, you are probably not reading this blog and will be of that faction that's ideologically opposed to helping the poor. If you are on the fence about things, test matters in your own hands. Use this holiday to try being of greater use to one another.

Make, fix, create, and adjust education so that each student has the opportunity to learn lifewise.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Up to my ears in guitars...

My publisher returned the guitars I had sent for photography but for one guitar which he bought  from me as a souvenir of the project. I now have more box guitars than I know what to do with. I will be trying to find homes for some. It will be difficult to decide which to sell or which to keep or whether to make a clean breast of things and clear the deck and mind for fresher work.

Yesterday in the ESSA wood shop, with volunteers we rebuilt an important part of the dust collection system, which had been hastily assembled last year to get us up and rolling for the first classes. We've learned a bit since those early days, as we will each year. We also installed pegboard and began arranging tools in the bench room with tool holders that I designed and that Dan assembled last week.

We expect to have a film crew in the ESSA wood shop on the 23rd. I'll be in Rochester, NY next weekend so this weekend is my best chance of getting the shop ready and in top shape.

I am grateful for my volunteers, Suzanne, Bill, Bob, Gilles, Steve, Becky and Cliff.

I am often surprised at how small a world this is. I was looking for plastic drums to use for gathering sawdust in the ESSA wood shop, and went looking for them on Criagslist. I tried to text a seller, and discovered that my phone recognized the phone number as belonging to a fellow ESSA board member. The plastic drums are now to be donated to the school and all I need to do is pick them up and get them ready for use.

My returned  guitars are shown in the photo.

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

poverty and education.

An article from Associated Press by Maria Danilova in yesterday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette points out the effects of poverty on education. This is not the first article to describe the effect. The number of years a child must spend in poverty has a well documented dramatic adverse effect on whether or not he or she graduates from high school or goes on to college. 

Forgive me for troubling you with all this, but education is an important issue and it's important that we get things right. I've written about the effects of poverty on education before:

An additional effect is that poor children often live in poor communities where educational resources just do not add up.
"Low income, black and Hispanic students often end up in schools with crumbling walls, old text books and unqualified teachers, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights."
So education will not be fixed by hands alone. We must work together to solve the basic problems of poverty. We have economic poverty on the one hand, and moral poverty on the other in which some folks think that accumulating vast wealth at the expense of others in our communities is moral and right. Those impoverished notions lead those folks to demand  that taxes must be cut and cut again, to the point that the government is no longer able to serve the people or the noble ideals to which our nation has long aspired.

Let me set the record straight. Through craftsmanship we learn that what we do has real effect and that what we do is rightfully connected to all else and all others. In craftsmanship, unlike religion and politics you can't just make crap up and get away with it. The joint fits, or it does not. It is sanded smooth and finished well, or it is not. The work will not lie on your behalf.

I have come to the conclusion that higher taxes are a must. We must have the resources to serve those communities that have been impoverished and ignored by a heartless capitalism.

From today's article in the Democrat-Gazette:
'The reality is that the United States does not offer the educational opportunity that is consistent with our ideals." commission chairman Catherine Lhamon said, "That's dangerous and all of us need for it to change."
Educational Sloyd was developed with a noble purpose in mind. Not only was it to lead to growth of the individual child, it was offered to all children in the hope that they would develop an appreciation for all labor, understand the dignity and worth of all persons and thus grasp and conform to the spirit of democracy.

In the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I decided to make some canes with turned handles as shown in the photo.

Today I join with volunteers to work to get the ESSA wood shop ready for 2018 classes.

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

Quarter knees and deck supports.

Yesterday I did some complex cutting on deck supports and quarter knees for the Bevins Skiffs.  Fitting the quarter knees requires cutting  them at angles to fit both the transom and the sides of the boat if they are to set level in place.

I first cut the quarter knees to shape and then used the band saw and fence to make the required angle cuts.  This requires tilting and locking the band saw table to the required angle, as determined by using the sliding T bevel to measure the shape inside the boats.

It is good to have tools capable of such work, and to have enough familiarity with those tools to be able to quickly put them to work.

Fitting the quarter knees is a quickly done task if you know how, and a quick way to make a mess of things if you do not. Just a few more hours of work and the boats will be ready for paint.

I received word today that the Chancellor at the U of Arkansas is very pleased with the boxes I made for him to give as gifts to international guests.

Make, fix, create and encourage others in their efforts to learn likewise.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Yesterday in the wood shop at The Clear Spring School lower elementary students began making banks to go with a project in which they will learn about saving money. The students wanted to take the banks home immediately, but will keep them in school until the lesson is complete.

Part of the process is to personalize each child's work. Markers are used to make the work colorful. Rainbows, hearts and and cats are favorite themes for illustration. Steel letter stamps are used to add names, or initials or to label the work as a "Bank." There were lots of bent nails, nails that went in the wrong spot and required removal, and a bit of learning, also. We used screws to attach the bottoms, so that when the banks have become full, money can be taken out.

My middle school students began working on canes.

I find it fascinating that the primary rationale for charter schools is the idea that public schools are "failing" and that charter schools are to shake things up and test new models for education. If that is truly the reason for charter schools, they would not be needed if the state and federal governments were to simply back off and allow local public school boards to righteously serve the children from their communities. If schools were allowed to serve all children as they all best learn, education would become hands-on, and we would abandon the teach to the test methodology that brought failing schools in the first place.

In Arkansas, and many other states, school boards are allowed  by law to do two things: Hire or fire a superintendent. The superintendent's job is to uphold state standards even when they drive education off the mark. If school boards were allowed to demand that the school's curriculum become more reflective of the needs and interests of their communities and each child, guess what? Sorry, but that's not allowed.

The point is that Charter schools would not be needed (based on their stated rationale) if schools and school boards were trusted, required  and inspired to meet the actual learning needs and interests of each and every child. If we are to ask anything reasonable of our state and federal governments it should be that local schools be given the necessary resources to meet the learning needs of each and every child. In return, for such trust, the local school boards, administration and teaching staff must respect the dignity of each child and to offer equal opportunity to education without regard to income, race, gender, sexual orientation or country of origin.

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


This morning at the Clear Spring School my middle schools children will begin making canes to give to folks at our local medical clinic. I was assured last night by one of our primary care physicians that they would be welcomed and useful. My students set a goal of making 10.

The idea comes from a request for a cane for my Aunt Wuzzie years ago made by her children. I made two thinking that my mother would (at some point) need one too.  That cane is  shown in the photo, and in the process of making that cane, I did an article for Woodwork Magazine called "A Bird in the Hand." As you can see in the photo, the shape of a bird in the hand provides a secure and comfortable grip.

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

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

the black game

Each day at the Clear Spring School, as weather permits, our children run and play in the woods. They do not mind the cold. They are given two rules. No child is to be excluded from play. All ages are involved in play at the same time and with each other. When the bell rings, they come back ready for class.

That may sound a bit like recess at other schools, but it is not. The play equipment is what they've been able to construct for themselves, mainly in the form of forts. The terrain is rugged, and well played from generations of forts having been built in the past, and yet in comparison with the well manicured school grounds (we have that, too),  the woods are where imagination (and children) can run wild.

The other day when the woods were opened for play (the cold has put predatory insects at bay) the children came back wanting to make spears and bows and arrows in wood shop. After I told them no, they decided they wanted to make hammers, as they needed those to build. And so they did.

Matti Bergström had said that children play (and must play) both the white game and the black game. (does this come from chess?) The white game is the game of society. It involves the rules set by authority. The black game is where children learn the mechanics of real life and where and how relationships work. Bergström had noted that civilization must arise anew with each generation, and the black game was the experience through which that happens.

Last night at a county organization meeting, it was noted that most of those involved are of a certain age. That rings a bell of alarm. And we wondered, how may we bring younger folks into the fold of community life.

For those of us who have learned to care for the things we can accomplish by working together in groups, meeting in the wilderness of ideas to hash things out is like play in the woods. Can it be that by overly scripting every aspect of a child's life  through schooling (neglecting time for the black game) that we've begun to breed out of their willingness, engagement in the shaping of human culture and community? We'll watch and see.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Are you wondering?

Are you wondering what human beings will do when all things of interest and value are done by machines. This question has been with us for some time now. Machines are able to do things easier, faster, cheaper and with greater accuracy. When they've taken over completely, how will we find value in our own lives? What follows are the opening lines of an article about the effects of technology,
On February 26, 1928, a headline in the New York Times announced, “MARCH OF THE MACHINE MAKES IDLE HANDS,” with the subhead: “Prevalence of Unemployment With Greatly Increased Industrial Output Points to the Influence of Labor-Saving Devices as an Underlying Cause.”

What these alarming words referred to was the abundance of goods being produced in the roaring plants, mills and farm fields of 1920s America. According to a variety of statistics cited and charted by the Times, what Americans could now make was beginning to outstrip what they could consume, to the point of diminishing employment.

“More and more the finger of suspicion points to the machine,” the Times reporter, Evan Clark, claimed. “It begins to look as if machines had come into conflict with men—as if the onward march of machines into every corner of our industrial life had driven men out of the factory and into the ranks of the unemployed.”
Those who have been introduced to the joy of creativity will still find cause to make things for  themselves, even if there is no market for the sales of such incredible things. They and some observers will note the unique qualities of humanity inherent in things made by human hands that express human intellect and human emotion.

The following is from Robert MacDougall's paper "The Significance of the Human Hand in the Evolution of Mind."
“Since every intellectual advance is conditioned upon the possibility of realizing in concrete form those more elementary conceptions from which it proceeds, it is perhaps not too much to say that the hand, through which alone this embodiment of thought and purpose is mediated, is of all bodily members the most human and most noble; and that in its features and capabilities is symbolized all that man has achieved in his long upward march from the primeval ooze.” – Excerpt From: MacDougall, Robert. “The Significance of the Human Hand in the Evolution of Mind.”
If we welcome machines to take over all service and the creation of all our goods, we will become ignorant as a direct result.

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

Sunday, January 07, 2018

becoming an agent of change.

Yesterday I worked with a team of volunteers to further develop our ESSA wood shop and prepare for spring and summer classes. volunteers assembled a planer and a small jointer, began installing shelving in the storage room, assembled the tool holders I'd begun making for the bench room, assembled pegboard panes and together we removed the cutterhead from a jointer and installed a Byrd Shelix cutterhead. The jointer is now just a bit noisier than it had been so I'll have to open the back and adjust the motor mount. I am grateful to have such skilled help. The phrase "many hands make light work," applies. And we each, I think, had fun working together on something we love.

I ask again if we are a capitalist nation. Perhaps so. And perhaps we live in a greedy world if viewed at large.  But my own town of Eureka Springs is a pocket of delightful resistance and perhaps yours is as well. If we begin measuring the value of what folks do for free in the attempt to be of use to each other, we may gain another view of humanity, in which people are to be trusted and to be empowered. Perhaps you are lucky to live in a town like ours. If not, I congratulate you for the work at hand. It is a wonderful thing to be an agent of change.

Today I have work to do in preparing for the next week's classes at the Clear Spring School.

In the drawing above, I am attempting to describe the relationship between the development of craftsmanship, and the development of the craftsman. There is an effect from that on the development of community.

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

Saturday, January 06, 2018

skiffs and volunteers...

Yesterday at ESSA we worked to complete the Bevins Skiffs. Still needing to be done are adding seats, quarter knees, foredecks and paint. We moved them into the lathe room to give volunteers room to work in the machine room, getting things ready for next summer's classes.

At Clear Spring School my students had been playing in the woods and wanted to make bows and arrows in wood shop. They were disappointed that I had them making books instead. We've made bows and arrows before at the Clear Spring School, but not so children could run and play with them in the woods.

I have been giving some thought to party politics. Republicans tend to think that people are dumb and need to be controlled and that corporations are smart and should be given free reign. Democrats tend to think that people are needy and not necessarily smart. Both tend to place emphasis on the fact that we adhere to a capitalist ideology and economic system.

I suggest that we look at who we really are. We have corporations working for the big bucks. But we are also a nation in which people go to great lengths to care for each other and to do what needs to be done, whether being paid for it or not. Take our library for example. The librarians are not paid a lot, but if you show up wanting a book or some other of the many services they offer, you get friendly and professional help. The librarians are helped by senior volunteers who simply want to give back to our community, and the whole system is backed by a board of directors who give their time free and have done so for years.

Would you like other examples? I can go through the whole town from the grocery store to the post office, from the dentists, nurses and doctors who volunteer their time at our free clinic, to the food bank, the parks and parks board and throughout our small community. We may be something special here in Eureka, but I doubt it. Even without considering the non-profits and volunteers, think of the families in which parents and grandparents are working each day to bring stability and security to the lives of our children. Capitalism is not the heart of this nation. Volunteers and those who choose to work for modest wages to serve others are the heart and soul of who we are.

The parties (as they are now) tend to not see the power or the strength of our people. Politicians need to be redirected, and the political debates should start with the idea that people are to be trusted, that they are good, that we can make decisions about our own lives.

Want one more example? Today at ESSA, a team of volunteers will be helping to get the woodworking studio ready for spring and summer classes. Want to join us, you may. Want to sign up for classes, the schedule can be found online at

The photo shows some of my students with  our boats.

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

Friday, January 05, 2018

skiffs and book boxes

Today our high school students at the Clear Spring School will return to working on Bevins Skiffs. We must get them out of the way for a work day with volunteers at ESSA on Saturday. The skegs are ready to attach. The keels are ready for additional shaping. At the end of today's work we'll move them out of the machine room and leave them right side up so I can add the quarter knees and front decks.

In the afternoon my upper elementary school students will begin making book boxes to serve as travel journals. A photo of my prototype is shown. A piece of material glued on at the spine serves as the hinge allowing the box to open and close. The book itself is made using ages old book binding techniques. Making the prototype first was necessary to have something concrete to show the kids, to go through the steps myself before asking the kids to do theirs and to anticipate the challenges they will face.  I got the pleasure of learning something first.

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

Thursday, January 04, 2018

back to class...

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my middle school students helped design our next unit. I showed them short articles I did in 2005 to describe various middle school projects, and they decided the one that appealed most to them would be to make canes and walking sticks for the elderly and infirm.

Middle school students will often choose projects that have meaning and value to their community. (or at least that's what I've observed with our kids) They are also interested in wood turning, so we will spend time between the two. While planning for the coming weeks, my students also helped me clean shop, continuing the work started by my upper elementary school class prior to the holiday break.

Some of my lower elementary school students had gotten tool boxes and tools as gifts over the holidays. That suggests that parents and family understand the value of the hands on learning. My lower elementary students told me that they wanted to work together in pairs on projects. If I were more rigid in my expectations, we would get less learning accomplished, and some of the best days in wood shop are when the children take charge of learning.

In the elementary school at Clear Spring, students and teachers have been trading art cards. Instead of Pokemon cards or baseball cards, the students are making and exchanging art of their own making on business sized cards. Each has a delightful collection of their fellow students' work.

I am planning to make book boxes with my upper elementary school students. Rather than tell more about them now, I'll show a prototype when I get one completed. Children need concrete examples to inspire their creations, and usually want to make the interesting things they have seen others make. These are principles of educational Soyd, conforming to the interests of the child, and relying on the  concrete to illustrate the abstract.

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

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

skegs and tool holders

Today I go back to teaching at the Clear Spring School following our holiday break. The students will be excited to be back in school and in the wood shop, as will I.

At the Eureka Springs School of the arts yesterday I made skegs for our Bevins Skiff's from white oak. They are fitted and ready to screw in place when I have assistants ready to help. I've begun reviewing things like oars, oarlocks and such to make the boats useful. Joe Youcha recommends 7 ft. oars, so those are what we'll get.

I've also begun planning to get ESSA ready for summer classes. I've begun making tool holders to be hung on the wall at each bench. The board shown in the photo with holes for chisels, marking gauge and awl will be attached to another board that will also hold a combination square, and sliding T Bevel and will have a shelf for a block plane to rest. The goal is to have all the most needed bench tools in plain sight at each bench and where they can be put safely away at the end of class.

We have volunteer days planned in the ESSA wood shops for January 6 and 13. Join us for some fun. We will be putting up pegboard to display tools, and shelving in the storage room. In addition, we will assemble a new jointer and planer. The list is long.

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

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

back to it.

I woke up in the night thinking of my next steps in building Bevins Skiffs. Today I'll make the skegs that fit at the underside of the boats. These parts give the boats some directional stability as they are rowed, helping them to go in a straight line. After skegs, I'll work on the fore decks and quarter knees. Seats and oarlocks will be added after painting.

During the holiday break I made boxes for the University of Arkansas and wrote a sample chapter about making a child's tool box.

The beginning of the new year is a time for planning. And with the help of friends, 2018 will be a good year.

Every child should have a tool box. It gives a place to keep tools of his or her own, and conveys a sense of power within the universe.

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

Monday, January 01, 2018

certain and indubitable

One of the principles of Educational Sloyd was to move from the simple to the complex. It is through the understanding of simple things that the ability to contend with complexity arises. For instance, once I have mastered mortise and tenon joints, and hand cut dovetails, after first mastering the use of the chisel and saw prior to the forming of the aforementioned, I might combine my acquired skills to make something rather complex, a whole piece of furniture for example, each part simply made but to fit precisely in a much larger universe of parts.

There is a saying, "keep it simple, stupid." It's offered as a goal and warning among craftsmen. Complexity grows quickly thus getting "out of hand." In growing complexity, difficulty and probability of error arise. And so it is best guarded against.The saying is not, however, "Keep it simple AND stupid." The world is actually a complex organism. To gain some sense of understanding  of it, it can be divided in parts. But we'd best not forget its wholeness. We gain a sense of mastery over the universe by laying intellectual claim to small parts of it. One might say,"I get that!'"  On the other hand, the small part of something must not be mistaken for the whole thing. I go back to Descartes, quoting again the same passage from his first meditation as earlier in the week:
"So it seems reasonable to conclude that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all other sciences dealing with things that have complex structures are doubtful; while arithmetic, geometry and other studies of the simplest and most general things – whether they really exist in nature or not – contain something certain and indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, two plus three makes five, and a square has only four sides. It seems impossible to suspect that such obvious truths might be false."
I  took his meaning in that passage as proposing that simple things have greater reality than those things that are complex, and yet the world itself is extremely complex. In his second meditation Descartes notes :
"Archimedes said that if he had one firm and immovable point he could lift the world with a long enough lever; so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find just one little thing that is solid and certain."
A lever is not a single point in space. It requires a properly placed fulcrum, a point of sufficient strength upon which the lever's force might be applied and it requires something solid upon which the fulcrum might rest. So Archimedes' metaphor functions as  a colorful illusion but does not fulfill what Descartes attempts to make of it.

And so we seek the simple solutions to complex problems and we deny the complexity of life, just as I might break the philosophy of Descartes into simple pieces, discredit them one by one and miss something of value in whole of Descartes. It would be better that we all be trained as craftsmen in some form, whether in words or in wood (or clay, or dance, or culinary arts, or music or in laboratories or hospitals in service to each other) to serve the whole holiness of all life.

By assisting students to grow toward mastery of complex relationships (starting with the simple), we prepare them for participation in the real world, where things are not always in black and white and in which important issues are not reduced to deceptive simplifications. In a world that embraces complexity we learn to allow for the differences between us, and make use of those differences to solve real problems. There are plenty to address in the coming year.

Happy 2018. May we get better at what we must do. Build community together, listen to each other, talk to each other and make, fix and create...