Saturday, November 18, 2006

The "Columbus egg" of education... Otto Salomon, who led the international movement in Educational Sloyd, made reference in letters to his discovery of the "Columbus egg." While some educators might be watching for a mystical philosopher's stone to bring pieces of the puzzle together, the "Columbus egg" has its roots in the practical rather than the mystical. The original story of the Columbus egg was as follows:

Many, many years ago, Christopher Columbus was sitting in a tavern with some other sea captains who where joking and making light of his discovery. “Anyone could have discovered that!” they said. “No big deal!" (The quotes here are not exact, as I don’t speak Portuguese or Italian.) Columbus grabbed an egg off the table and said, ”I can balance this egg on end.“ The other sea captains tried and then proclaimed, “Impossible!” "You are a fool!" they said. Columbus tapped the egg on its end, cracking it slightly and set it down, perfectly balanced. “That’s cheating!" The captains complained, “Anyone can do that!” “Yes," Columbus said, “now that I’ve shown you how.”

I asked Hans Thorbjörnsson of Sweden about Salomon's discovery-- "Otto Salomon had the opinion that building the Nääs system on exercises was his own invention, his Columbus egg. Salomon was proud that he had analysed sloydwork, finding out that it could be divided into 70-80 different exercises – exercises that could be put together in different combinations – each such combination ending with a complete sloyd model."

Perhaps a greater Columbus egg that Salomon and many others knew but took for granted is the connection between the hand and brain in learning. The use of the hands pulls the heart into the matter of education. You can see it each day in woodshop. You can see it when Clear Spring School students go outdoors to study botany. We saw it clearly when Clear Spring students went to New Orleans, before and after Katrina, first immersing in culture and then working in service of restoration. Where the hands lead, the heart follows, and the attentions of the mind will be dilligently applied in learning.

Putting our students' hands in service of their education is as simple and as practical as as a Columbus egg. Crack the end, it will stand. Some, like the captains who taunted Columbus will claim that our discovery is of no consequence, but our children will grow and prosper beyond measure.

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