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.

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," 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.

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 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


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.