Monday, August 19, 2019

hands and self...

The features editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked me if there was something special about woodworking as a tool in education. "Of course," I said. And there are special wonderful things about it. Not only does it provide observable outcomes that can be shared with family and community, the products of woodworking in school are often useful. And those products (and skills) do get used.

While crayon art may be put proudly on the refrigerator for display until the next art that comes home crowds out earlier efforts, the products of wood shop are more practical. When the child sees what he's made warmly accepted and used, it informs the child of his or her usefulness in the home, and not merely as a contributor to home decoration held in place by refrigerator magnets.

When done over a period of months or years, woodworking provides evidence of learning and growth in concrete form. That growth is witnessed within by the child and also by others in the family. An early work may go home with bent nails and misaligned parts poorly sanded, but it takes very little encouragement for the child to improve his or her own work.

Does this mean that other arts and crafts are not also important? No! I say. But if a school has limited resources as most do, woodworking is a powerful activity to unleash toward crafting a creative environment in education.

Here are just a few points.
  • If children do not learn hand skills at an early age, those skills and proficiency with the hands become much more difficult (and expensive) later to develop, and likely never to the same level of ease and proficiency.*
  • These hand skills do not reside in the hands alone, but also have profound effect on thought itself. 
  • They create the sense within the child of his or her own place in the community of man: that of being a creator and not merely a consumer of cheap stuff. 
  • They create an appreciation of the things one might discover from earlier generations in museums and the like. 
  • They create a sense of the child's own investigative powers. Hands-on, children can test reality, and confirm or disprove what they are taught.
  • Where the hands lead, the heart follows.
If we want to create a society of do nothings, American education is generally on the right track.

Make, fix, create, and adjust American education so that all children learn likewise
*Hand skills are very much like language skills. It is easy for a child to develop fluency in various languages in very short time and much more difficult for an adult. What it takes children months, it can take adults years.

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