Sunday, October 18, 2020

for a fair selection

Other woodworking teachers will be interested in this website hosted by Woodcraft Co. to benefit those few woodworking teachers left. 

http://woodworkingteachers.com/

The cartoon illustrates the absurdity of standardized testing in American schools.

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


 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Woodworking with Kids Volume 2, number 2

I just sent out my email newsletter Woodworking with Kids, Volume 2, Number 2. You can subscribe through this link: 

https://mailchi.mp/1993eade6205/woodworking-with-kids-volume-2-number-2

The photo shows the type of hall table I'm making in my home wood shop.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2020

finished buddy bench

We finished making buddy benches yesterday. I  attended and supervised the first and second grade class via google meets. The benches turned out strong and cute, and the students are very proud of their work.

In the old days, I might have been questioned for doing so much of the work, but welcome to the real world. No craftsman is an island unto him or herself. We are all supported and encouraged and "scaffolded" by others. I remember taking pottery classes both at Hasting College and at Memphis State, and realizing that if I were to work on my own, I would need a wheel, knowledge of where to get supplies and the means to acquire them, and a kiln to go along with the skills I was learning. Then, once pottery was made, I would need a means to sell what I'd made. Each of these components would be dependent on others.

So perhaps the greater lesson in wood shop and in life is that of learning to work with others toward shared goals that align with personal interest.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Building a buddy bench

Today at the Clear Spring School, first and second grade students will be assembling buddy benches. What are buddy benches? When you feel alone, you can sit on one, and be joined by another, thus assuring you're not alone. These are being made from weathered white oak, and will likely last no more than a couple seasons or so. But that will give us the excuse to make more when we have a fresh group of first and second grade students.

I'll be instructing the class via google meets, so have prepared a tutorial covering the making of them. It's roughly done but can be found on my youtube channel. https://youtu.be/l2wRcImKZtg 

Many of the steps involved require greater strength and skill than would be found in an elementary school student. So this is a cooperative project with children and adults working together toward a common goal.

In my own shop I'm building "torsion tables" using a simple technique of my own invention. I've given them that name due to rods used to stabilize the design. The table base is held together with turned front to back cross members, tenoned on each end with holes drilled to allow for the addition of the rods that triangulate the structure. Because the tables are a unique design, I'll attempt to interest various woodworking magazines in allow me to write an article about making them. The photo shows the turning of a basic part.

Make, fix and create.

 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

first dibs?

A gallery that sells my work asked about a hall table they'd sold a number of years ago, wondering if I had more. The one they sold was part of my response to the Bush Era economic collapse. Remembering depression era furniture, made of scrap wood when furniture makers had very little to work with, I raided the barn where I keep various woods. As a result, I made and sold almost a dozen tables that year, while the economic prospects appeared nearly hopeless.


And so, not having exhausted my supply of beautiful and interesting woods, and not having wasted the knowledge and aesthetic judgement required, I've begun making two tables. Let me know if you want one. Between the two (and a reasonable price), you can have first dibs. The tops are made of soft maple that's spalted. The worm holes, sealed with epoxy, are free.

Yesterday I resupplied Crystal Bridges Museum store with a supply of boxes.

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

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Woodworking at home or in school with kids.

Woodworking at home or at School with kids, Volume 2, number one is out now and can be found here. https://mailchi.mp/186daa7cac4c/woodworking-at-home-or-in-school

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 02, 2020

Carving a spoon knife

This is a video  produced today for my students at the Clear Spring School. The full playlist of 9 segments can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCe5BXfmi4bMHWzUNMILcZ20IjThSYBBz

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

Monday, September 28, 2020

Irregular blocks

Our lower elementary school teacher Rigdon asked me if I could make some irregularly shaped blocks for his students to explore. I struggled in my mind how to make enough of them without spending long hours at a sanding machine. The solution came to me, as many thoughts do, in the quiet laying awake time at 3AM. 

I remembered a cedar log that I had in the woods, and that by simply splitting it, irregular staves could be quickly produced. Then only minutes at the band saw would turn each irregular stave into short irregular blocks. While these are not exactly what Rigdon had showed me in the first place, he assured me that these are even better. And as one student suggested, "they smell good!" too.

I suggested that they be used the same way that Froebel used his blocks, suggesting that the students create forms of beauty, forms of knowledge, and forms of life to represent the important things in their lives.

The blocks are a hit. You can make them yourself with a short piece of cedar log, a splitting maul and a band saw.

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



Saturday, September 26, 2020

tool box kits..

I have finished making tool box kits for our Clear Spring School elementary school students, and will offer lessons for their assembly under the guidance of their core classroom teachers. Today I also made 24 sanding blocks for use by our students, and these sanding blocks will go into the students' tool boxes for use on other projects, along with the student's own hammers. I believe that every child should have their own tools. The kits will be delivered on Monday to the core teachers for use later in the week.

The writings of Adolf Diesterweg were the source for Otto Salomon's principles of Educational Sloyd as you will discover in the following passage. 
Teach naturally! Organize instruction according to the natural developmental stages of the children. Start teaching from the pupil's point of view and direct his progress steadily, firmly and thoroughly. Do not teach anything for which the pupil is not yet ready and do not teach anything with which he is already familiar. Teach in a lively manner. Proceed from the familiar to the unusual, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the difficult, from the known to the unknown. Do not teach in an academic way (in other words, the lecture-type teaching methods used in higher educational institutions), but simply! Always remember that you are aiming at the abstract (increasing the intellectual capacity) and the material (provision of the curriculum) at the same time.—Adolph Diesterweg 
Diesterweg also advised the educator, "Learn to do by doing." That is good advice for anyone wanting to start woodworking with kids. You will notice that children and adults follow the same sequence in learning. And yet schools are too often designed while ignoring student needs.

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

designing education with a better outcome in mind

A friend began the arduous process of examining the Arkansas Democratic and Republican platforms for education and found them to be rather meaningless documents, suggesting things like, "We want a world-class education for all our children, regardless of zip code." So what is a world-class education? And which world are they thinking of? Is world-class to be measured by the standardized PISA testing? Lots of work to do there with the US ranking down in the middle of the pack and well behind other developed nations.

Yes, I know party platforms are generally meaningless documents, but it is particularly disturbing to me, that the education upon which our future depends is so poorly adressed. The differences between the parties fall more closely along the lines of certain issues without either considering the needs of our kids except in very vague terms. 

Republicans in general favor charter schools as a way of disrupting public education, and Democrats in general would prefer that public schools be strengthened rather than having their funding siphoned away by for profit charter schools. Republicans in general want everything privatized while Democrats in general favor strong public institutions. We don't learn those particular things from the party platforms but from their performance.

So I've been attempting to address the current problems with education at large.

The apparent purpose of education is to get children out from underfoot and safely corralled so their mothers can work two or three jobs at poverty wages to keep children clothed and fed. The professed purpose is always "to lift every child." But if that were the case, schools would be vastly different from what they are today. The real reforms needed are a very long ways off from current thinking by either party. The dividing line between the parties falls on how enthusiastically they embrace the charter school and privatization of movement as it competes with public education. My daughter got her masters degree in education by a rigorous program in "classroom management," a thing made necessary by schooling that ignores how and why we learn. I say "we" learn because all, whether children or adults, learn for the same reasons and in the same manner. If we think about and recognize how we learn, we know better how to set up situations in which our children learn. As I learned from a student years ago, we all love learning, but have less positive feelings about "being taught."

But how do we reshape a party platform? There is a vast amount of information that links poor educational outcomes (measured by numbers of students failing to graduate from high school or college) to poverty. The more time a child spends in poverty, the less likely he or she will find success in schooling (or should I say, "in being schooled." What we fail to recognize is what Friedrich Froebel pointed out about 180 years ago... Children begin learning from day one, and their mothers and fathers are in fact, their first teachers. Parents in poverty do not have the time or energy to fulfill this vital function. As children enter day care, mothers and fathers in poverty are too busy and stressed out to provide needed and traditional learning support. Then as children reach school age, the parent of the affluent child is able to provide a vast array of enriching experiences that also build support for in-school learning, thus again placing the children of the poor at a disadvantage. We then expect teachers and schools in poor communities to repair the failings of society to provide equitable conditions for student growth.

So, the idea or ideal of having schools that lift each and every child to an equal level of opportunity can only come through serious efforts to reduce poverty and raise a better understanding of the parents' role as teachers. Neither party has a good track record. For example, while Hillary was writing "it takes a village", her hubby was busy sending fathers to prison, and mothers off welfare to work while Republicans are attempting to raise standards by standardized testing schemes and privatization at public expense. I don't think that we could get either party to agree to what needs to be a complete revolution in education. Classroom learning is outmoded and has been outmoded and inefficient since the 1800's. So the platform can only take small steps.
  1. Support high levels of teacher training and teacher autonomy. 
  2. Elevate teacher pay and status within their communities. 
  3. Reduce class sizes (in half). 
  4. Support a corp of teacher aids, enabling a reduction of class size, by utilizing paid teachers in training drawn from university education students.
  5. Arrange for students at all levels to do real things in support of family, community and culture.... Dewey's learn by doing real things.
  6. Shatter the alliance between standardized testing and individual schools and school districts, allowing educational outcomes to be diverse. 
  7. Arrange for manual arts training for all students beginning in elementary school, focused on the integration of hand, eye and mind, allowing thereby to engage students in building an aptitude for scientific exploration, thereby building a respect for all labor and the contributions of others, and also providing a variety of pathways toward student success.

Paralleling this effort. 

  1.  Reduce poverty. 
  2.  Provide for extended maternity and medical leave. 
  3. Raise wage rates for the bottom tier. 
  4. Support programs though local community libraries for mother and early childcare training. 
  5.  Encourage lifelong learning through community colleges and online learning opportunities. 

Think this is an expensive proposal? Not doing these things will be worse.

Make, fix and create... We all learn best lifewise.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The school of tomorrow, today

Readers of Popular Woodworking Magazine will find an excerpt from my new book The Guide to Woodworking With Kids in the November issue that should be arriving in their homes any day now. Note the title of the article, please.

The following is from John Dewey's book, The Schools of Tomorrow, 1915.

"... In schools where the children are getting their knowledge by doing things, it is presented to them through all their senses and carried over into acts; it needs no feat of memory to retain what they find out; the muscles, sight, hearing, touch, and their own reasoning processes all combine to make the result part of the working equipment of the child. Success gives a glow of positive achievement; artificial inducements to work are no longer necessary, and the child learns to work from love of the work itself, not for a reward or because he is afraid of a punishment. Activity calls for the positive virtues—energy, initiative, and originality—qualities that are worth more to the world than even the most perfect faithfulness in carrying out orders. The pupil sees the value of his work and so sees his own progress, which spurs him on to further results. In consequence his mistakes do not assume undue importance or discourage him. He can actively use them as helps in doing better next time. Since the children are no longer working for rewards, the temptation to cheat is reduced to the minimum. There is no motive for doing dishonest acts, since the result shows whether the child has done the work, the only end recognized. The moral value of working for the sake of what is being done is certainly higher than that of working for rewards; and while it is possible that a really bad character will not be reformed by being placed in a situation where there is nothing to be gained excepting through an independent and energetic habit of work, the weak character will be strengthened and the strong one will not form any of those small bad habits that seem so unimportant at first and that are so serious in their cumulative effect."

Why do educational policy makers insist on ignoring that which we all know to be true? Is the purpose of schooling to lift each child, or to subdue them, or to only lift those who are properly subdued? Bob Dylan had written about being "bent out of shape by society's pliers." Was he thinking of school when he wrote that line?

Make, fix and create....


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Making a tool box

 

This short video shows the assembly of a simple tool box. I have other videos on my youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/MrDougStowe

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

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

child-centered pedagogy

This morning as I was investigating the concept of cultural recapitulation, I read an interesting paper, "The Savage Origins of Child-Centered Pedagogy, 1871–1913," http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Mail/xmcamail.2015-02.dir/pdf8u_DMsvIBI.pdf The author suggests that because a number of the proponents of progressive education were racists, therefore progressive education should be best understood as racist in its origins. This would require us to assume the worst of many of the founders of the progressive education movement. 

To focus on the needs and interests of the individual child is the origin of progressive education. And so I'm reminded of the greater minds and hearts, Pestalozzi, and Froebel.

Proposing my own extremely unfair generalization, there are two models of education. One applies a gentle touch and the other the firm hand of authoritarianism. One trusts the student to grow from his or her own natural inclination to grow and learn. The other insists that learning has to be imposed by the "wiser" outside authorities, political and cultural. One trusts the child, the other does not.

Psychologist G. Stanley Hall was one of the racists identified in the paper identified as a proponent of progressive education. He was also one of the founders of modern psychology, so do we then assume that modern psychology is also racist? G. Stanley Hall was also one of the authorities promoting standardized testing upon which much of modern schoolings is based. Should we also assume that standardized testing is inherently racist? There's a great deal of evidence that it is. 

When I was in elementary school we lived for a year in North Little Rock, Arkansas and for fun we would walk to a local quarry and look under rocks to find snakes. There were a lot of them. The bigger the rock, the bigger the snake. But they were not under every rock. And it seems like these days as we attempt to redeem the soul of our nation, there are lots of racists crawling around and there's a need to examine our own hearts.

I was interviewed yesterday by our local paper because of a letter I had written about Confederate flags decorating the graves of former Confederate soldiers buried in our local cemetery. I noted that many of the young men who fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side were conscripts, forced to fight for a cause in which they did not believe, the preservation of slavery and white supremacy. The vote to succeed from the Union was narrow and did not take into consideration the slaves who were not allowed to vote. 

Now, a group of folks is allowed to come each year to "honor" the Confederate dead by placing flags on their graves. But how many of those who were conscripted to fight in the "lost cause of the Confederacy" would feel honored, or if they were alive in modern times feel either embarrassed or ashamed? And how many of their descendants would prefer they be honored for their participation in the "lost cause" rather than for the many other accomplishments of their own lives? Does their conscription to serve a lost cause have to be continued even to this day?

Today I'm working on a video of assembling a simple tool box for kids. So I've got my camera set up in my finish room and I'm taking short videos that will be assembled with minimal editing into a video that will then go directly to youtube for distribution to my students. You will also find it on my youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/MrDougStowe

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


Friday, September 18, 2020

Cultural recapitulation

There was a proposal at one time shared widely in education, that children should be encouraged to grow through all the earlier stages of human development as a means of fully grasping technology, and as a means of understanding human culture and each other. 

The idea called "cultural recapitulation" was that the development of the individual would best parallel the development of human culture. With that proposal having been ignored in most schooling for the last century you can look around and discover for yourself that many folks are "out of touch." We relate to the smooth flat surfaces of our phones and devices, without going deeper into a full relationship with life.

And we think of technology as being high tech, and not the simple stuff that enabled the survival of man and the rise of civilization.

Primitive Technology  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAL3JXZSzSm8AlZyD3nQdBA is a wonderful youtube channel of interest to both children and adults that allows viewers to watch as things are made using very basic tools closely approximating how they were made by early man.

And so how does this fit into education today? In Educational Sloyd teachers were to start with the interests of the child, then learning would progress from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract, just as we all learn best in real life. Although Primitive Technology is online, it provides a basis for children to re-examine our world and how our human culture evolved.

From the wide array of offerings on the Primitive Technology channel, one could ask students to choose the most commonplace of things. How about string? How can I make it and from what? Then launch into the process of discovery. Unlike most schooling it will provide an adventure.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 17, 2020

coincidence

One thing I've noticed living in a small town is that I'll be driving down the street and have someone that I know flash through my thoughts, only to see them in the next block. This happens again and again, and I've talked with others who experience the same thing. It's enough to convince me that we are connected with each other in unseen ways.

Throughout her life, my mother would remind us that "coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." I, on the other hand, do not regard coincidence as being the work of "God," but as evidence of the interconnectedness of all things. 

It is worth paying attention to the coincidences that pop up, as they tell us we are not alone and that we are part of a network of higher consciousness if we pay attention to such things. Interconnectedness is not designed to tell us to turn left or right at the next light, as an organized religion might do. Instead, it assures us simply that we are connected with each other within a profound mystery. And knowing that we are a part of something so much larger than ourselves should give us pause to reflect and perhaps even reshape the ways we act in the world.

The mysteries of science and religion are the same mystery, but with diverging answers, as one may attempt to manipulate others toward accepting its view, and the other attempts to see reality and grow our shared understanding of it. Skepticism is the best friend of science and the enemy of religion.

Physicists these days will tell us (and it's been proven by experiment) that you can introduce two particles to each other then cast them in opposite directions to the farthest corners of the universe, and what you do to one will affect the other. And so, we are connected with each other in ways that are unseen, and that explain coincidence without requiring us to use the word God. In other words, even science, which is sometimes seen as being at odds with religion, is not at odds with the forces of the universe. In fact, science is in close alignment with reality, whereas human belief, generated through means other than by the observation of what is, is often not.

That's one reason why it is of vital concern that children in schools be constantly engaged in doing and exploring real things. Settings artificiality constructed to "educate" children are not efficient or effective in building the lives of future citizens. Children had best be brought into connection with nature, with their own natures, and with the communities in which they live, building from the central core of purpose toward an understanding of place within the vast scheme of things. That's part of why Kindergarten is so important and why we should be looking at Kindergarten as the best model for all educational endeavors. Michael Resnick's book Lifelong Kindergarten, Cultivation Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play is a worthwhile read on the subject, particularly the forward written by Sir Ken Robinson.

In the spirit of play, I have made small low-tech devices for the laptop computers at school that serve as document cameras to display hand written text on paper. These are inspired by 3D printed document viewers I saw on twitter, but made the old fashioned way with real wood, cherry.

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



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

inlaid boxes and the message behind them

I began making small inlaid boxes in December of 1977 and managed to sell just a few to friends during the Christmas season. There was a not so secret message in them. I hoped that by sharing an understanding of the diverse species of American hardwood from which I made the inlay, an appreciation of our diverse hardwood forests would be established. I figured at the time, that me standing on a pedestal and shouting loudly about the ways we were neglecting to protect our forests would quickly fall on deaf ears. So my strategy was simple. Make inlaid boxes using diverse species of Arkansas hardwoods, and write the names of the hardwoods used on the bottom of each box.

It was a good strategy, as it provided income between furniture commissions, and it got the word out in an understated and non-confrontational manner.

I do wonder, however, whether I've been strong enough in my advocacy for our nation's forests. In about 1990 I created a display of Arkansas hardwoods in our state capital building, in the hopes of compelling legislators to take stronger action to protect our forests, and to create a better understanding of their value. Of course, the forests are valuable to the lumber business and the harvesting of biofuels, but they are also of vast importance to wildlife and to our own sense of self. No doubt, the legislators walked down the hall where my display was set up, and were thinking and talking about other things.

In the mid 1970's as the Vietnam war had come to a close, the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower had warned us about, was concerned about needing to divert from the manufacture of wartime defoliants toward peaceful use. So Dow Chemical Company came up with slightly modified versions of the defoliants used in Vietnam and through the US Forestry Service began a program of defoliating our Arkansas hardwoods to allow faster growing pines to predominate. What a distressing thing that was. Just imagine helicopters spraying poisons over vast tracts of national forest. And what a terrifying thing it is when society at large adopts and industrialized approach to reality or to schooling.

Before Friedrich Froebel became a teacher, and before he in later years developed Kindergarten, he had been a mineralogist working with one of the foremost German scientists in the field of mineralogy. He had noted how a pattern among molecules at the center of a crystal would grow and grow from within, that same form infusing it throughout. As a mineralogist he recognized the same inherent patterning to be present in each living and unliving thing. Each of us and every child of course, if given proper conditions would grow to emulate the divinity within. The point of education, therefore, was to provide the conditions to achieve the development of each and every child's full potential, one that was encoded within the child from the outset. The growth and its potential was unlimited, as Froebel thought that one could be brought from isolation into wholeness with all life.

He recognized the pattern as follows. The child would be and feel united with its mother and father, and from there with the family, and from there with the community and with nature and from there with all life, as he or she takes a journey toward wholeness. That's the same order I've followed in my new book that is currently getting its first review by the publisher. Family, self, community and human culture.

It is interesting that that journey toward wholeness is never actually complete, and that it can help us to know what we're aiming at as we move forward, even through the worst of times. But then this requires us to make a small leap of faith, that we are here to serve something greater than ourselves

The photo shows some of my inlaid box lids made with the beautiful colors and textures of Arkansas hardwoods.

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




Tuesday, September 15, 2020

stone hammers

 

These images (if you are reading from facebook you'll see only one) are of a simple stone hammer that was found with others in a load of stone brought in when we had foundation repairs years ago. It is roughly made from chert and as you can see, was originally made to fit a hand very much like my own. To hold a tool like this reminds me of my kinship with those who lived here before.

Another similar stone felt awkward in my hand until I switched it from right to left and found it to be a perfect fit.

And so, these hills have been the home to our kind for well over 10,000 years. You have to look carefully for the signs of their occupancy, for they walked much more lightly on the earth.

Make, fix, create, and learn the skills and traditions of those who were here first. Our own sensitivities might evolve to the point at which we are able to preserve the gifts we've been given.


Monday, September 14, 2020

resumption of school...

Students at the Clear Spring School are returning to class today with serious controls in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus virus pandemic. 

Because of my age and risk factors, I will not be teaching directly during the start of the school year and it's a lonely feeling seeing the kids return while I'm set aside from full participation.

I was lucky to have grown up in more idyllic times, where children were allowed to play freely in the outdoors and with each other. I long for a return of those times. With careful planning, the bravery of teachers,  administrators and parents will bring those days back.

I place the blame for our current situation fully on the Republican administration and their enablers in Congress. In January, even before president Trump told Bob Woodward how serious the pandemic would be, one of his aids, Peter Navarro had written a letter of very stern warning about the dire effects on the population and on the economy, and yet that same man went on TV yesterday to claim no one know how bad the situation would be. They count on us all stupid enough to have not remembered what they've said, one minute to the next.

I'm am hopeful that at some point we have an administration that speaks honestly to the American people and is wiling to act in our defense, both with regard to the pandemic and to global warming. Had we been given clear guidance from the outset (and clear expert guidance was available), we would not be in this shameful situation today. I feel lonely and powerless like no time before in my own life.

A good question always comes up in a presidential election year. "Are you better off now that you were 4 years ago?" And if the answer is no, we do know what to do about it. Vote.

Make, fix and create.



Saturday, September 12, 2020

still ticking

The photo shows my dad's US Army WWII Hamilton watch. I was surprised that upon winding it, that it works, but only for a short time. The lubricants inside are too dry for it to work continuously. After 75 years and 199 days of combat it needs a good cleaning and to have seals replaced. So I'm considering having it cleaned and brought back to working condition. Its ticking is faint, but with modern lubricants, it could last another 75 years or more.

We are in desperate times, very much like the dark days of WWII. We are fighting a war against two unseen dangers. One is the Covid-19 pandemic. We are warned that we'll be fighting on that front for another year or more. And after enduring 6 months of isolation, to better know what we're in for brings depressing thoughts. 

The other danger is ignorance and the rejection of expertise. You take the pandemic on one hand and the belief that it's a hoax on the other. Then you add to the mix a president who has knowingly lied to the American people who insists on having super-spreader events as part of his campaign. God help us all. President Trump told Bob Woodward that the was lying to prevent panic. But now we know that the only panic he cared about would be a panic on the stock market.

Our schooling was designed to build two classes of folks, those who'll get abstract learning and are advanced in it and those who don't get it, are made angry and frustrated by the educational system and fall into the trap of thinking it's equally OK to just make stuff up. We have a president who takes advantage of the "uneducated" he has professed to love. He says whatever he thinks is necessary to slide by, knowing that as the "chosen one" he can get away with it.

I live on 10 acres of forest, surrounded by many more, and this morning I'm sitting on my porch and thinking about the folks in California, Oregon and Washington, knowing that what I see now, the loveliness within my frame of view is what they've lost. What a tragic thing. And once again, I'm reminded of those who've been actively engaged in the manipulation of misinformation. The fossil fuel industry has known for many years what was to come and actively worked for years to deny the effects of global warming. Politicians (particularly in one party) have participated in purposeful advancement of denial in order to take advantage of folks who are now made to suffer in the conflagration between belief and reality. Hey, folks, in case you've not been paying attention to the real world, global warming is real and presents serious dangers to us all. Economically, physically and culturally.

I would prefer to talk about the hands and projects with kids, and about how the hands make us smart, how the hands make us better in all things, and about how the hands placed in service lead us toward a better, more compassionate understanding of ourselves and each other. I know you would rather I talk about those things.

But right now, I must tell you to vote. We have a president who cares only about himself.  He will cheat and use whatever illicit means he can to maintain power. Vote against that man and against all those who've stood  brazenly and fearfully in his support.

As I hold the Hamilton up to my ear, the ticking of democracy is faint. Perhaps younger ears will better hear its beat. Get out there. Give the Republican party the thrashing it deserves.

And in the meantime, make, fix and create, useful beauty in service of each other.


Friday, September 11, 2020

When a heart is empty

This editorial by David Brooks from the new York Times is worth reading. How does one develop empathy when one's heart is so small and so withered as to only have room for oneself? 

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/10/opinion/trump-coronavirus-military-comments.html

Today I finished 48 laser engraved boxes that I can now deliver to a shop in downtown Eureka Springs.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2020

dereliction of duty

This is my dad's army issue Hamilton watch from WWII. He watched as thousands of these watches were run over by a steam roller on an airport tarmac to keep them from being carried home by servicemen and thus destroying the American watch market. It is a 17 jewel watch, and the inner workings were made to last a lifetime. The case was not.

I had a jeweler friend cover the case with gold as it was made of nickel plated bronze and was severely decayed. 199 days of combat will do that to a watch. After 75 years it is in need of cleaning to get it working again.

My father was in the 104th Infantry division the specialty of which was night fighting. The radium dial with numbers that glowed in the dark was a help with that.

What a difference we have been shown between courage in those days and what we see in Washington, DC now.

Now we learn that Trump was fully aware of the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic, but downplayed it, in his words, to prevent panic. A bit of panic earlier would have saved thousands of lives. But what do human lives mean to those grasping at power?

We can expect Republicans in congress to rush to Trump's defense, as they always have in the past, too cowardly to stand up.  For Trump to have purposely and deceptively downplayed the severity of the threat was a serious dereliction of duty. He should once again be impeached. His enablers should be voted out of office. Do not forget to vote. Vote like the lives of your children and our democracy depend on it. 

In the meantime, I'm in the process of making 48 boxes for an order and will receive the engraved lids today to finish their assembly.

Make, fix and create...


Tuesday, September 08, 2020

our god-awful mess

How did we get in such a god-awful mess? We have whole groups who don't believe in science, and refuse to take steps to protect others from our deadly coronavirus pandemic. They have made their own refusal to wear masks a point of pride. So how would an anti-science view of the world emerge and be nourished? I place some of  the blame on our schooling... Not on the teachers but on the structures of education.

When I was in high school, they had a two-track system, on divergent rails. One track was to lead to college, and the other was to lead to the trades. The idea had been solidified back in the days of Woodrow Wilson's presidency.

In 1916, Congress passed and president Woodrow Wilson signed into law, the Smith-Hughes Act. The Smith-Hughes Act had been regarded as a victory for the manual arts, as it directed federal funding into vocational education, but not the kind of manual arts training that would touch the lives of all students.

Smith-Hughes isolated vocational education from the rest of the curriculum and from most school settings. Woodrow Wilson, as president of Princeton University had said:

 "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."— Woodrow Wilson 

He was talking about class divide and the need to sustain it through a two-tier educational system. Haven't we had fun with that?

Proponents of Educational Sloyd warned that building a class divide within the educational system would bring the end of democracy. One of the purposes of Educational Sloyd and it being offered to all students was that all students, in order for democracy to exist, was to build, within society, a respect for the dignity all labor, and through that for each other.

Some will remember Joe the Plumber during the 2008 presidential campaign. Joe was supposed to represent the common Joe, the guy who made it barely through schooling, and would therefore have an anti-academic bias after getting out from under the thumbs of "learning" and into the real world where he would discover all the stupid stuff that supposedly smart people put down pipes. He would certainly be smart about certain things, and perhaps not others. His curiosity about things that were unrelated to his actual survival had now become dead, for science (that academics love) and intellectual stuff were not brought successfully within his scope of interest. 

There are two things at play in education that are relevant to the nurturing of the Joe the Plumber types. One is that all students are not ready for abstract studies at the same time, and flexible schooling would allow for all to reach some level of interest and curiosity in science and abstract studies. Instead, we have a system that makes some students hate such things. Those students whose level of maturity  in engaging abstract studies are promoted as smart, only to show up later in the lives of the Joe the Plumber type for sticking stupid things in their toilets, proving to Joe that academia is not at all what it was cracked up to be, intelligence wise.

The second thing in play would be that those who had been deprived of manual training would have no awareness of the intelligence involved, and would likely develop little or no appreciation of those who labored in the trades. They would think that they were justified in their feelings of entitlement. After all, they'd been promoted successfully through their ranks and had unreasonable rationale for their economic success, never realizing or acknowledging the work by others that their own successes were founded on.

So if we have politics in which the flames of resentment and fear of each other are running wild in this election season, there are things we can do to fix things. And the first is to listen to each other and to be kind. The second is to value each other and the contributions we each make toward our success.


Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 07, 2020

Sanding with or against the grain

This is a simple demonstration using a paint brush and sanding block to explain the difference between sanding with the grain or against it. We get the best results in hand work, when the mind is also present.

Make, fix and create...

Worker's Hands...

 This link is to  lovely article on worker's hands: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/06/opinion/inequality-worker-hand-photos.html

 “I have clasped the hands of some rich people that spin not and toil not, and yet are not beautiful. Beneath their soft, smooth roundness what a chaos of undeveloped character.” — Helen Keller

For her, hands were windows on the soul.

Yesterday I worked on short videos and step-by- step photos in preparation for my students making tool boxes.

Make, fix, create. Assist others in learning lifewise.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

dog tags

These are my dad's dog tags. The fact that there are two together means that he survived 199 days of combat in WWII and managed to come home from Germany and raise a family with my mom. He was no sucker for having served but his own sacrifice and service haunted him throughout his life. 

Members of the 104th Infantry Division were trained as night fighters, beginning combat in the dikes of Holland, and entering Germany in the fall of 1944. His troops held a defensive position at the side of the bulge during the winter of 1944-45 fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. As the harsh winter conditions began to pass, he and his infantry dug their way out of the mud and began their attack deep into Germany.

He was one of the first to cross the bridge at Remagen, assisted in the conquest of Cologne, then with his troops discovered the German Concentration camp at Nordhausen, and had to force German citizenry in cleaning up the bodies and rescuing the living from among them. If you have a strong stomach and are curious look up Camp Dora. My dad kept pictures of that in an old issue of Life Magazine as a reminder that we must never forget Hitler's atrocities.

If a soldier is killed in battle, his comrades will clip the shorter string and keep one of the tags as evidence of death, while the longer cord will be left around the neck of the dead.

We seem to have a president who does not consider service and sacrifice to be worthwhile human objectives. My dad was a lifelong Eisenhower Republican. I am proud of his service.

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

Friday, September 04, 2020

Yesterday, and last night

Yesterday I added some small storage cabinets to the outdoor classroom at Clear Spring School so that teachers will have places to keep supplies. The outdoor classroom will get a lot of use with the need for social distancing. At home I'm trying to learn about Google Classroom to enable me to better present lessons from afar.

At about 56,000 words, I sent a file off yesterday to my new publisher, Linden Press, with the hopes that the owner of the press likes what I've written. My working title is Wisdom of Our Hands, Crafting family, self, community and human culture. It is somewhat autobiographical but also a manifesto of sorts, calling for a gentle revolution in which we craft better lives for ourselves and each other by paying attention to the necessity that we each be creatively engaged.

Last night I dreamed about a dear friend Roger Dale. I was visiting him in his classroom to talk about an idea I had (previously unknown to me) that spot glazing of pottery could be accomplished with a torch. The idea was that you could take bisque ware, apply a glaze in a spot and then heat that spot with a torch until you saw the glaze melt. 

Roger and I discussed the complications of distance learning, and he began digging through files and putting papers in a folder that the thought might be of use to me. I asked how he was managing with the Covid-19 crisis and he told me that he was planning to die from it. "Have you told your mother?" I asked, then remembered that she had died years ago.

One of the points I try to make in the book is that even without facebook and twitter, we are connected with each other in unseen ways. The book is a bit different from other books about the hands, as it is a more personal account, more personal than I had intended, and I hope engaging. 

The owner of the press notified me that he's received my file and looks forward to reading it.

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

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

quercus


I received a copy of the Autumn 2020 issue of Quercus Magazine from the UK. It is published by a friend Nick Gibbs for whom I used to write articles a few years back.

This issue holds several articles of  interest, but most special to me is an introduction to my new book The Guide to Woodworking with Kids. It is nice to see that this new book is being introduced to an audience in the UK.


Make, fix and create. Assist others in living and learning lifewise.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Jefferson lap desk...

Struggling with the start of school? Welcome to the club.  Michele Goldberg wrote an interesting essay in the New York Times last week addressing the concerns that parents and teachers face. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/24/opinion/new-york-public-school-reopening.html 

As a mother she considers how to handle her own situation in New York City Schools. Some schools in New York City are now planning to move their activities and lessons out of doors, a strategy that the Clear Spring School has been planning for months.

The article suggests that parents all across the US are facing pretty much the same thing during the pandemic. Do we send our children and teachers into classrooms where the pandemic may threaten the teachers and the lives of their family members? Lacking real leadership they can trust, many parents are making that decision for themselves. 

I'm in the process of making tool box kits that our Clear Spring School students can assemble whether they are in class or taking part in at-home learning. The project interests me because I've been wanting kids to have tools of their own, and I hope to begin supplying them. The first tools we'll supply are hammers, and I received a shipment of hammers last week. Fortunately at Clear Spring School our school is small, our classes are small, and we can offer greater attention to the safety of each child.

I've not been writing in the blog lately due to the amount of time I've been spending on my new book, The Wisdom of Our Hands. We started with a book size in mind consisting of between 50-60,000 words, that being a reasonable read of around 250 pages. By last count, I'm at 55,000 words but have a tremendous amount of crafting to do,  cutting some, adding just a bit, and making clear. As with many things, I feel just a bit outside my comfort zone. I keep reflecting on the needs of our society, that we move more directly toward an appreciation of each other, that we build connections, not walls.

Wish me luck.

Among woodworkers, the Jefferson Lap Desk shown in the photo is a popular subject that's written about again and again in woodworking magazines and online. Giving credit where credit is likely due, an even more beautiful duplicate of this box was made by one of Jefferson's slaves, John Hemmings, though that box was lost in a shipwreck. 

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

 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

stubby hammers

I don't mean to insult you. You may have a hammer like this thinking it will fit in your drawer better than one with a normal length handle. 

When children are small and hammering for the first time, they grip the handle of a normal hammer close to the head. With practice in its use, children's hands will move to the end of the handle, giving them greater leverage and power. A long handle also brings the hammer face square to the head of the nail, thereby helping to avoid bent nails.

So I'm somewhat amazed to see so many hammers for sale that are just like this. Have we surrendered to our being inept? 

The handle is evidence of an extension of human intelligence, just as it is evidence of an increase in human power, control and reach. A heavy hammer with a short handle is actually much more difficult to use and use well, and actually places the joints in the hand and elbow at greater risk.

There are so many hammers like this being sold. Is it because so many people have become inexperienced in a hammer's use and are unfamiliar with the effectiveness of a normal one?

I'm planning for a new school year at the Clear Spring School, applying finish to boxes and I've been writing my new book.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Wood Magazine review.

 Wood Magazine published a review of my new book, The Guide to Woodworking with Kids.


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

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

rats that drive and love it.

 Kelly  Lambert at the University of North Carolina has done extensive study of what she calls "effort driven rewards", that what we do has direct impact on how we feel and how we feel about ourselves. This is a lovely bit of research that confirms the necessity of engaging the world hands-first, by doing real things.


Make, fix and create.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Getting a full grip

There's an old idiom "all thumbs" to describe being physically inept regarding our ability to do things requiring the hands. 

The origins of the idiom are traced back to before 1546, as it was published in John Heywood's collection of proverbs written in 1546: "When he should get aught, each finger is a thumb."

These days, if you watch children and adults using their iPhones you'll see their thumbs moving rapidly, while the rest of their fingers are idle supporting the device. Our thumbs can be amazingly dextrous. 

What happens however, when the rest of the fingers providing functionality to the human hand are ignored? Will we suffer in intellect and character as a species if we fail to cultivate the full range of human grips?

Technology has put us at that point that it is altering the way we think. Each of the grips shown in the drawing are also ways of grasping. We grasp with the hands. We also grasp with the mind. If our fingers are over used in poking and dragging over the glass surfaces of our digital devices, to the neglect of the dexterity of our other fingers will we lose the stronger grip on reality that we get from the full use of our hands? If our children should get more than "aught" meaning goose egg, nada, naught, nil, nix, nothing, null, zero, zilch, zip, zippo, let them develop their full capacities to grasp reality, by doing real things.

I've been at work on my new book based on the contents of this blog, developed over quite a number of years. With a goal of no more than 60,000 words, I'm over one third complete at this point. We are having A+ Schools staff training today, preparing for Clear Spring School to become a full-fledged member of the  organization bringing arts integration into American education.

These are not normal times. Our nation is in a serious crisis.

Make, fix, create, and get a grip....

Monday, July 27, 2020

no lazy-bones

The following was translated from a placard at the Leipsic Manual Training School and should be shared with those boys and girls who are today trapped in schooling. We don't want any lazy-boned boys. Girls either for that matter.
"Listen to what we have to say, boys. It concerns every true boy. Every one of you who wants to become a true man likes to watch diligent workmen and wishes to do like them — that is to say, use the hammer and hatchet, the tweezers and gimlet, the plane and saw, the file and rasp, the bolt and solder, the blow-pipe, the modeling-tool and carving-knife, etc. Every boy who is a real boy tries to use these tools. He will find opportunities to do so in our manual training-school.

"We don't want to make artisans of you, for your leisure hours would not suffice for that; but we want to make you more skillful and clever than boys usually are. How many can drive a nail without hitting their fingers? How many can make kites that balance and fly well? How many, when the skates get shaky on the ice, can help themselves and need not run to the locksmith? Yes, many of you can not even point a pencil well, or put a wrapper around a school-book without making it look clumsy.

"Your parents mean to benefit you when they present you with a tool box at Christmas. How many of such boxes are shoved into the corner, where the tools rust and the box is covered with dust? You must have some one who teaches you how to use tools. Or you get a scroll-saw, and, after breaking a number of saw-blades, you succeed in sawing out of cigar-box boards a few clumsy patterns. Then you go to a joiner to have them glued and adjusted. He is the one who does the real work. Yet you give these things away as your work. It isn't right, boys! It can't be right!

"We must talk plainly, boys. Most of you do not know how to use tools. That needs to be learned. Most of you spend too much time in reading, and spoiling their precious eye-sight. When you are called to do a manual job for your mothers, you are at a loss how to go at it. Oh, what would have become of you had you been in Robinson Crusoe's place? You would have perished miserably. Come, boys, think of it!

Things should be different. When school is over and home tasks are done, a true boy spends an hour happily on the playground and in summer takes a bath in the river. In winter he may learn to work with his hands at the work-bench and the vise. After many hours of brain-work he uses his strength in planing and sawing, hammering and chiseling. He learns to see and admire lines of beauty in drawing, and working out his drawings in models. He furnishes models in clay and carves wood. He makes physical experiments, and works neat Christmas presents for his dear ones at home.

"And when, outside, the winter storms rage and the snow-flakes fall, our pupils come together in a warm room and work like good fellows to produce something, and laugh, chat, and sing in company, while book worms sit in corners like hermits. Our pupils have had such pleasures for several years. Come and join us.

But, remember, we don't want any 'lazy-bones.' If any of you like to shirk work, and after a few weeks, when the work gets harder, thinks he has a toothache, or perchance some other ache, don't let him come. We don't want him. We want diligent boys. All who like to work are welcome. Ask your parents. They will allow you to come for an hour or two where they know you are well looked after.

"Life is full of work, boys, now more than ever. Prepare for it. A true man learns to help himself, and we will show you how. So come, and be welcomed by The Masters of the Training-School." — Richard Lewis Klemm, 1889
Make, fix and create....

Sunday, July 26, 2020

An old diploma

A reader sent me a photo of his grandfather's graduation diploma from Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training School in Boston. Dana Andrews Stanley, upon graduating in 1912, became a teacher of the manual arts, leaving a lasting legacy among his students and within his family. 

Thousands, like Dana Andrews Stanley went on to teach woodworking throughout the US.

Recognizing that the power to create and to serve society through what we made, was just as important as literacy, the manual arts were an important part of American education. Then, in an odd twist, educational policy makers decided that all students were to go to college and the manual arts were brushed aside. 

We went from being a manufacturing nation to being one in which students attend college, fail to get college degrees and are left with massive debt and in which we're addicted to buying foreign made stuff. When you make something, you are not just making that thing. You are remaking yourself as a craftsman.

We must look at American education and make an important change. All students should have the opportunity to learn real things by doing real things.

Make, fix and create....

Saturday, July 25, 2020

First and second sleep

It was once well recognized and accepted in human culture that instead of going to bed and sleeping through the night, human beings would sleep for a few hours, then get up and do a few things, driven either by necessity or inward awakening, and then go back to bed. This was called first and second sleep by some. In 1840, Charles Dickens wrote in Barnaby Rudge (1840):  
"He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream."
You can read about it here: https://www.sciencealert.com/humans-used-to-sleep-in-two-shifts-maybe-we-should-again The point may be to help us toward finding a rich, more personal inner life. I can attribute much of my waking life creativity to being sleepless from about 2 AM until 3 or 3:30. It's a time in which the day just passed is done, sleep has begun to bring detachment from it, and the next day's wonders are fresh on the horizon. I learned the inlay technique that I've used on thousands of my small boxes by going to a lumber yard one day, becoming entranced with the variety of colors and textures of different species of woods, and then wondering in the middle of the night how I would use them in my work.

I think the larger portion of human creativity arrives to us through those times we are awake and unable to sleep. I do some of my best planning when we think I ought to be sleeping, but that is indeed the natural pattern of our human kind.

For that, we can make plans. Awaken and watch the wonders come. I thank my friend Grant Mallet, for helping me find a name for the phenomenon.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

getting better at zoom

Last night I attended the Oregon Guild of Woodworkers meeting via zoom, and it seems that with the pandemic, I'm zooming a lot. It allows me to connect with woodworkers from around the world from the convenience of my office. 

Today I have a zoom conference with folks from the Idea Center at Notre Dame (the university, not the cathedral), and tomorrow one with the program committee for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

I've been giving some thought to the importance of mistakes, and of forgiveness. Mistakes they say, are inevitable, even though we may have feelings of self-loathing when they happen. They do alert us to our own humanity. They may help train us to accept the humanity of others. Along with acceptance of blame, we accept our own humanity, and our responsibilities to attempt to do better. And the quicker we act on forgiveness, the faster we get back to the work at hand.

Only two of our presidents, to my knowledge have been woodworkers. One was Thomas Jefferson, though he likely had most of his work performed by slaves. The other is Jimmy Carter, who in time will be acknowledged as one of the greats, in that he's lived long and set an example of selfless service. There are some who despise him for that. I have a nice note from Jimmy Carter that I've kept on my bulletin board in my office, in which he thanked me for a copy of one of my books that I sent to him years ago.

I wonder if mistakes are part of the plan that sets us up for success... not success in having the right perfect stuff, but success in our arrival as fully functional human beings capable of such divinity as the practice of forgiveness. 

The world of manufactured stuff sets us up for an unreasonable competition of man vs. machine. Machines go out of whack over time. People, real people, have the opportunity to improve performance through the development of skill. But if we make a simple guess, that the reason we make mistakes is a divine plan to enable us to learn crucial lessons of forgiveness of others, would our mistakes no longer be necessary to our development? It's an experiment you can help me with. Get out there, and goof up. Then practice the forgiveness of others. You may discover that it helps. It's certainly one of the lessons we learn in wood shop.

I started last night's meeting with this brief, 8 minute video produced by the Arkansas Arts Council. https://youtu.be/L_lVlywDNo8

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, July 20, 2020

three little puppies...

I've been installing new equipment in the Clear Spring School wood shop and arranging the tools we already had to be of better service in the coming school year. This next year promises to be a doozie. We do not know whether we'll be able to have face to face classes, as that will depend on the success in removing the threat that Covid-19 presents to our families and community. Of course there's a need to have kids in school. And yes, there's a great need to keep our families safe.

I am preparing for the possibility that some at-home learning will have to be part of the new school year. The new planer and dust collector will help us to be ready to prepare take home kits for student learning.

I have been awakening in the middle of the night, thinking about the new book. If only I was able to be as poetic in the day, as the words that come in the night! Is there a higher consciousness to which we are attached when we are at the edge of sleep? I suspect so. At least when I awaken I'm able to dredge forward a few thoughts from a deeper state.

I'm proposing a slight adjustment of the title of the book. "Wisdom of Our Hands: Crafting self, family, community and human culture" feels a bit too cold and academic. To make it more personal, as if someone might take the book as a personal action plan (as is my hope), my slight change is as follows: "Wisdom of Our Hands: A guide to crafting self, family, community and human culture." It may be longer, but it implies that action may result, and as our world comes apart, to hell in a hand basket, we'll need a guide that restores the most powerful aspect of our humanity. The thoughtful relationship between head and hands in empathetic service to each other.

My wife is using this bit of time during the Covid-19 crisis to arrange photos from our lives into scrap books and she noted how many photos there are of my daughter Lucy and I in which she's in my lap and I'm reading to her. What joyous memories! I'm reminded of a story I used to tell from my own mind that Lucy requested over and over again, about the "three little puppies." I never told that story twice the same, and perhaps that will become my project when the "Wisdom of our hands" is complete and off to Linden Press for editing and publication.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, July 17, 2020

simple advice on tools

When my daughter was attending Columbia I had a friend Gus at the Teacher's College Library who would pass along discarded copies of old books on the manual arts in the hopes they would find use.

The text excerpt below in quotes is from The Amateur House Carpenter, by Ellis Davidson published in 1875. My own copy was given to me from Teacher's College Library in New York and had been acquired by them in 1887. It was the 428th volume acquired by the fledgling university and before their move to their current site adjacent to Columbia University on the Upper West Side.

The illustration of a hammer striking a nail is one of the original illustrations from the book, drawn by the author on wood.
"There are chisels which, after bending in a curve, proceed in a straight line, by which the ground under carved work may be cut. There are in fact, numerous varieties of carving tools, not a twentieth of which will be required by those for whom these pages are written and for whom a coupe of chisels,  couple of gouges, and a couple of print-cutter's tools (small chisels), and a single bent toll, will suffice for present purposes.

"It is by far the better plan to supply the necessity for additional tools as it arises, than to buy a "good set," containing so many of of such various forms, that the amateur is puzzled which to use first; and in attempting to manage a complex tool, intended only for expert workmen and for some very peculiar purpose, the work which could have been fairly done with simple tools is often injured or spoilt altogether."
The simple point is one that I try to make to my students. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the variety of tools available to the modern woodworker. There are so many tools and jigs that are intended to make fine woodworking easy enough that even an ignoramus can do it. Far better than to be overwhelmed is to take a softer approach, acquiring tools as they are needed. That way you know what to do with them, and before that time is reached you will hopefully have exhausted the potential of the tools you already have.

There's a zen saying about this. "Poverty is your greatest treasure, never trade it for an easy life." So how can poverty be a treasure? It demands growth. It requires that you refine your approach, not only to the tools and materials, but to those neighbors who surround you. It demands modesty, and compels empathy. It's just as simple as that.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

the knife

It is interesting how some things come to us in the night. Do you wake up in the night with things on your mind that are related to what you're to be doing the next day? 

Last night I was thinking of educational Sloyd and how difficult it can be to contend with grain during the use of the knife. In early sloyd model series, one of the challenging models was that of the scoop, a common tool carved from wood. 

The challenge is to get a clean cut where there's a reversal of grain. You can use a chisel or gouge, or a knife with a hooked blade, but there's no ideal tool to make the task easy without the intense application of mind and without hands well-trained and practiced for the task.

The following was translated for me from a book written in early Norwegian by N. Christian Jacobsen,
I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg
"The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool. 

"But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom which consists in developing one's own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife is especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right-angle and curved forms. 

"What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Kristiania (Oslo) January 1892"
I'm grateful to Barbara Bauer for her translation, and Christian Jacobsen, one of Otto Salomon's favorite authors suggests the complexity of one of our most simple tools.

It's amazing how academic life often revolves around the acquisition and regurgitation of information rather than demonstration of direct learning. The consequences for society are disastrous. We are carefully trained to undervalue the contributions of those who've labored long and hard to develop skill.

The photo shows a simple pin hinge inserted in a tiny box. It was one of my planned accomplishments for yesterday in the wood shop. How can such a simple thing be challenging? Would you not just simply take such things for granted? 

In order for the hinge to operate smoothly, the pin has to be positioned exactly on both sides. In order for that to be done with success on a number of boxes requires having the  right tools available, having the tools set up properly (measurement, measurement and measurement again) and having a feel for the process. For an exploration of the ways mind is applied in fields that we've been trained to think of as mindless, I recommend a book by Mike Rose, The Mind at Work.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The value of labor and the value of the laborer

I'm beginning to develop an outline for my new book and so am reading through some of the notes I've been compiling in the blog since 2006. What follows was from an earlier blog post, September 20, 2105 on the undisclosed value of manual arts training. 

Developing an ethos of craftsmanship...

Blog reader Tim Holton asked a question in response to the Forbes article on CTE/Vocational Training in School
...how can a just society, in which all are treated fairly and able to find and generate work satisfying both to themselves and to the needs of society, educate the full range of tradespeople necessary to vital communities?
This is not a new question, and is one that is almost never addressed in discussions of Career and Technical Education. Whether or not someone would find satisfaction in being a garbage collector might concern those who want to make certain that we have a culture in which all citizens are afforded a reasonable level of dignity and reward for their service. This was a big concern to Uno Cygnaeus and Otto Salomon, the two founders of Educational Sloyd. Cygnaeus wrote of his initial conception of sloyd (inspired by Froebel's Kindergarten) as follows:
"the child must not only practise intuition, and express the representation which he has thus received, but should also learn to carry out in play, and in smaller pieces of hand-work, what he has grasped — should as a productive being be educated from the beginning to self-activity and productive energy — should thus be educated through work for work. ... In this way I was led to the thought that we must introduce into the school not only Froebel's gifts and the rest of the exercises in work recommended by him, but also establish for elder children such kinds of hand-work as have for their aim the training of the hand, the development of the sense of form, and of the aesthetic feeling, and which help young men to a general practical dexterity, which shall be useful in every walk of life. ...But all these kinds of work must not be conducted like trades, but always with reference to the aim of general education and as a means of culture." 
The point was not to establish a separate system of manual arts/industrial education and a separate career track for those deemed unworthy of academic instruction, but that all would benefit from an education of the hands... It would be an easy thing in this blog to explain what should be as clear as the nose on my face.We need technical training in schools to provide the kinds of intelligent workers required in a modern society. What is more difficult to explain, and what keeps me writing is that ALL children need the kinds of learning that wood shop provides. All children need to face the challenges of learning craftsmanship. The practice of craftsmanship applies to all else that we might tackle in our long lives, and applies directly to the culture we pass along to our children. Salomon said the following in reference to the true value of Sloyd and woodworking for all students: 
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labour at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work.” 
I restate Salomon to apply additional emphasis on an important point. 
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labor and performers of that labor of at less than their real value."
In other words, those who fail to understand the real value of manual labor, what it entails, and what it costs to learn, and to learn well, will not grant dignity or fair value to those who perform it. It's why we have a 99% and a 1% who could care less for the bottom tier of society and who place themselves on pedestals of wealth as being better than the rest of us. It's also why we import so much junk from other countries instead of developing an ethos of craftsmanship in our own citizenry.

This was a point that brought some contention between Otto Salmon and his mentor, Uno Cygnaeus when Salomon made statements in favor of separate manual training schools. Cygnaeus insisted that Salomon had misunderstood the important societal principles involved. Students were not to be divided and sent along on separate career and educational tracks without having first acquired a thorough understanding of the dignity of all labor.
  
Make, fix, create, and insist that all be given an equal opportunity to learn likewise.

Friday, July 10, 2020

crafting self, family, community and human culture.

I have a contract coming in the mail for a new book that I hope will be called, "the Wisdom of our Hands: Crafting self, family, community and human culture." The publisher has the ultimate say on what the title will be. But this is huge for me... an opportunity I've been working toward for the last 20 years. 

The book will be based on personal observation and experience over my 40 plus years as a furniture craftsman, box maker, and teacher of woodworking. Long time blog readers may notice a slight shift, from wisdom of the hands (impersonal) to wisdom of our hands (very personal) and more inviting.

This will be a project to help carry me through the worst of Covid-19 with a completion date of March, 2021. Wish us all the best of luck.

Last night I had a zoom meeting with the Annapolis Woodworking Guild, and today I'll be sanding pencil cups and business card holders and cutting miter joints for a new design box.

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

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Pinch me, please...

Yesterday I finished inlaying 36 pencil cups and 50 business card holders. I also started a new design smaller box and received prototype cedar boxes back from the engraver. These are not the reasons a good pinch is called for. I've been offered a contract for the book I've been planning for years, about the wisdom of our hands. It will be published by Linden Press, a highly respected publisher of books on crafts. It will allow me to tell my story as a woodworker and teacher of woodworking and share the philosophy that emerges from deep engagement in creative crafts.

On another subject, I received an alert to a published article,  Inhuman hands and missing child: Touching a literacy event in a Finnish primary school and read the following summary:  
"This paper explores an inhuman reading of 'hands' with/in visual images of a Finnish literacy lesson. Inspired by Karen Barad's agential realism and the ontological turn, we disrupt a metaphysics of presence, the temporality of progress and binary logic, to reconfigure the child in literacy practices as a sympoietic phenomenon, always already assembled in human and more-than-human company. We think with/in the concept of 'touch' as a method to reconfigure literacies as inhuman."
I've no idea what an "inhuman hand" is and I can promise you that the book I've proposed with offer easier reading with none of the specialized jargon found in the sentences above. I spent too much time on the internet trying to learn what inhuman hands and inhumanism are about.  If any of my readers can humanize the subject for me, please do.  I find that there's something wonderful about being human and having real hands, particularly as we observe nurses and doctors caring for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the midst of all this, president Trump insists that the pandemic is almost over and that schools must start back in the fall despite the risks to children and teachers and the other support people involved and despite the risks offered to parents, and grandparents who've safely sequestered so far from exposure to the disease. The head of our nation's largest teacher's union "double-dog-dared" Trump to sit in a classroom full of kids. You'll notice that Trump and Pence have begun modeling better social distancing, by sitting at meetings six feet apart. That will not be possible with kids in a typical public school. So I triple-dog-dare Trump to allow himself to be schooled by science.


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