Friday, August 31, 2007

One of the most interesting things about teaching at Clear Spring School is the opportunity to engage our own creativity in the classroom. While most schools require teachers to follow a closely scripted curriculum, teachers at Clear Spring are given greater latitude and offered the opportunity to become very excited about teaching. That excitement is infectious. We all get it, from the youngest student to the head of school.

At each grade level and in every class, the Wisdom of the Hands program is an exciting and useful resource. Here are some of the things that will be happening next week.

First and second grades--- making pencil sharpeners from the book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling by Gustav Larsson.

Third and fourth grades--- making wooden pointers from the Nääs Fundamental series. This will be their introduction to the use of the sloyd knife.

Fifth and sixth--- they are studying natural disasters including earthquakes and volcanoes, so they will be cutting puzzles of the various continents as they fit together to form the super-continent Pangea.

Seventh and eighth--- Making geometric solid sets in the study of geometry.

High School--- We have moved the high school into new space on the lower campus, so they will combine outdoor studies with making personal tree branch coat hooks for use in the hallway outside their classroom.

As you can see, this is a lot to plan for,and illustrates a number of ways that the woodshop can be used to bring greater life and interest to what could be boring instead. Each project calls for cooperative planning and creative enthusiasm from each member of the Clear Spring School staff.

Next week I will have photos.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some time ago, I began work on the Sloyd entry for For months it had been flagged as not meeting their standards... meaning that editing into their approved format was needed. That was a task beyond what I was willing to learn and beyond the amount of time I have had available. (Give me a piece of wood any day.)

Now, thanks to a variety of editors the Sloyd entry has been "wikified" without much loss of meaningful content. Please check it out.

Outcome-Based Evaluation
A Working Model for Arts Projects

Measuring Joy: Evaluation at Baltimore Clayworks

Very interesting model that redefines educational objectives and that should be applied to all classes and educational environments.

I wonder how many teachers are able to look out at their students and find an observable level of joy, excitement of discovery, self-motivation and enthusiastic participation. If schools and teachers were encouraged to look for and promote these things, we would discover that the current focus on testing and test scores is way off the mark.
You may have noticed that there are some things that can be measured easily, and some things that cannot. You can check your bank account and know how much you can spend. You can measure the length or height of something provided you are tall enough, have a long enough measure, or have the right instruments. In reading and writing, you can measure proficiency, speed, accuracy, and reading or writing grade level. Can you measure the beauty in which writing is composed? Can you measure levels of craftsmanship, or the caring that one applies toward obtaining results, either in a specific task or the management of one's life?

There is a great danger in becoming fixated on the world that can be measured. And that danger is greatest when applied to the lives of our children. Our measurements cannot enter the realm of the heart, where passion for learning takes birth and then flight.

The danger I mention is that when the focus of one's attention is on measurement alone, countless other important things are pushed aside. For example, the new focus on reading in kindergarten pushes aside important things like conflict resolution, being happy, self-directed and able to learn through play.

The value of working with the hands, learning through the hands is one of those things that can be difficult, almost impossible to measure. It can be hard for those without experience or inclination to understand. The meaning and depth of it can be described at the margins and edges by craftsmen like myself. So, I urge my readers to take up a knife or chisel, a piece of wood, and begin a personal exploration. In that exploration, you will learn things that are not dependent on the opinions of experts.

By taking learning by the hand and into our own hands we move from the academic and impersonal to the heart of the matter. Learning becomes personal and life takes on greater depth and meaning.

I have been preparing projects for my students to begin next week. The photo above shows the new rack I made for the safe storage and transport of our sloyd knives. Let the fun begin.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The academic conundrum... There is a debate in academic circles about the evolution of the brain. The belief held by the followers of Noam Chomsky is that the brain developed its capacity due to the development of language, and that the written and spoken word have driven the development of intellect.

The other side of the debate is that the development of brain capacity and human intellect has been driven by the concurrent development of the hand and its creative capacities.

No doubt, by reading the title of this blog, you know which side I'm on. At every point in the life of academia, the challenge is to overcome its constraints. The movement toward diversity of race, gender and ethnicity is one of the more obvious challenges, now moving well toward solution. The next great challenge will be to overcome the academic bias that values words over hand-crafted work as the primary expression of human culture.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The following is from Otto Salomon's Theory of Educational Sloyd 4th edition, 1907:

As corporal labour has generally been performed by those who lacked culture, it came to be regarded as something in which cultured persons should not engage.

From a social point of view, if we would get rid of the antagonism between different classes of the community, and bring about a good understanding between them, it is absolutely necessary that each should respect and appreciate the work of the other; and that everybody alike should understand that all work, mental or manual, gives dignity to all who engage intelligently and properly therein.

The remedy for this situation proposed by Salomon was to place Educational Sloyd at the center of general education, meaning that it was to serve all... even those planning academic careers.

The shame of our current university system is that it perpetuates a class system based on the proposed primacy of the verbal/linguistic area of study and denial of the value of those who create culture through the expressions of their hands.

So, as I walked through the streets of Manhattan, like many tourists, I felt inclined to look up from the poverty and litter of ground level to the adornment on the beautiful buildings crafted long ago using hands-on creativity that few modern university students would understand. The tragedy is not just for those who are no longer challenged and empowered to create such beauty, but also for those academic successful students and teachers within the university system who may never have even the slightest inkling of their own creative power, nor the pleasure and satisfaction that can be derived from it.

Otto Salomon and Educational Sloyd offered a system long ago that was forgotten and ignored... but the hands are such an essential part of the human system of expression and creativity, that they will be remembered.

At some point, some great university will step beyond its sisters in recognition of the vast contributions to intellect and culture by the human hand. It will take courage. The Columbia fight song is "Roar, Lion Roar." I would love to see them take up the challenge. I'll be around for awhile if they want help.

Monday, August 27, 2007

In today's convocation at Columbia, one of the deans mentioned the need to listen attentively to those who think differently from yourself. Later in private conversation, he mentioned the need to "think outside the box." As a long time maker of wooden boxes, I have explored the concept, to think inside, outside, and most specifically, the corners that define its essential nature.

In exploring the university, as it exists in America at the present time, my own thinking outside the box calls once again for the engagement of the hands. In an age of specialization, I can tell a few things about the hands and how they shape learning... lessons that demand attention and at least an ear and full hearing from the academic community.

My challenge is this: Our universities exist in cities and communities with buildings built with hand and heart driven technologies that have been ignored and forgotten by those communities. I have mentioned before the tragedy of Yale... the world's most beautiful hand-crafted stone buildings occupied by generations of students having little or no true appreciation of the hand-on intelligence invested as craftsmanship in their education.

In response to this situation, I plan to begin work on an initiative to place hand skills for University students on the national agenda. It may take years and years to accomplish. For long generations, hand skills have been marginalized in academia. At Columbia, diversity is a priority. How about diversity that comes to a clear recognition of the vast contributions, not of money but of skill and craftsmanship. Don't hold your breath for my success. But give me a hand. In the coming years, I'll be working on it. If you have ideas to share or wish to help, send me an email from the link at right.
I have a woodworking education editorial that just came out in CabinetMaker magazine. It can be read on-line at this link.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

In 1865, my great grandmother, as a young woman eleven years old came over from Norway with her family. The times have changed. Today we moved my daughter into her dorm room at Columbia University. While the small tine or bent wood Norwegian box shown above held all my great grandmother's most treasured possessions, It took 3 of us, a mini-van and a huge college staff to carry the things for my daughter's room. Today, there were thousands of freshmen all over Manhattan with their parents filling bags and bags with essential last minute shopping.

My grandmother's box offers an interesting comparison. You decide whether it means one thing or another. I am too tired from a long day up and down stairs and through the streets of New York City to think about it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I would like to take a few moments to welcome readers of Fine Woodworking to my blog. We have a lot in common. I began as a subscriber in the very early black and white days, when editor John Kelsey and his staff brought woodworking to life and greater meaning. It stuck for me. I have been a subscriber ever since, and I continue to find inspiration in the pages of Fine Woodworking.

You may never have been to a blog before. Blogs are kind of funny things. They are like diaries that you have to read starting at the bottom if you want to follow things from the beginning. If you are one of those people who start a book by looking at the end, you may feel right at home. But if you are like me, you may end up wanting to know the whole story, start to finish. Scroll down to the right and you will find links to earlier months. If you read from the beginning, you will find a whole year of Wisdom of the Hands at Clear Spring School with lots of project ideas and photos of kids at work. You will also find a great deal of information about hands. Hands are the foundation of human intelligence, so there is a lot to know, more to explore and ample reason to be much more than curious.

At the top of the page, left, you will find a search block that will allow you to dig deeply into the blog for subjects that might be of interest. One of my favorite subjects is educational sloyd. If you search for sloyd, you will learn about its history, and some about its creators. You can learn about the sloyd knife, and find links to other interesting things, particularly related to the hands in education. You will also find out some about the trip I made to the home of Educational Sloyd in Sweden in May, 2006. There is over a year of writing in the blog, so you will notice that I tend to repeat myself. Things fall out at random. The whole thing is in dire need of editing. Forgive me for all that.

If nothing else sticks from your visit here, I ask you to begin taking greater awareness of your own hands. You will find them to be a source of endless fascination and the tool of greater consciousness and deeper meaning. If you enjoy your exploration here, mark the spot and come back again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My article Woodworking with Kids is now available on the Fine Woodworking website. I hope it does 3 things. Invite discussion on the necessity of hands-on education for all children. Encourage parents and grandparents to take time in the woodshop with their children. Bring attention to our very special, very wonderful Clear Spring School.
My time on the blog will be very limited for a while. Tomorrow we take my daughter Lucy to Columbia University where she will begin college as a freshman on Monday. It is amazing how quickly 18 years can pass. We are very proud that Lucy has worked so hard to become a student at one of America's most prestigious universities. Not all students have the level of confidence and motivation required. For that matter, not all students are best served by going to college at all. Attendance is no guarantee of success, and we should keep in mind that Bill Gates became rich and powerful after he dropped out of Harvard.

So what can any of that have to do with the hands? I would like to refer you to the blog posts of January 14 and 15, 2007 for some background. Much of the early development of intellect that is expressed throughout our lives begins in the early play with our hands. I can't point to Lucy as concrete evidence, but I can point to her early and continuing engagement in hands-on activities, from her first play in my lap to her involvement in the chemistry lab at our local high school as anecdotal evidence of what can go right when the hands are properly regarded as important tools in learning and exploration.

As Friedrich Froebel had noticed years ago, the foundation of educational success is laid in play between mother (or father) and child. As soon as the child shows an inclination to grasp at the world, let the play begin!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A few quick quotes compiled by Charles Henry Ham in Mind and Hand

Comenius: "leave nothing until it has been impressed by means of the ear, the eye, the tongue, the hand."

Rousseau: "the student will learn more by one hour of manual labor than he will retain from a whole day's verbal instructions."

John Ruskin: "the youth who has once learned to take a straight shaving off a plank, or to draw a fine curve without faltering, or to lay a brick level in its mortar, has learned a multitude of other matters which no lips of man could ever teach him."

Comenius: "Let things that have to be done be learned by doing them."
After Steve Wiebe, 38, a teacher near Seattle watches his two children go off to bed, he settles into a space in the garage between the hot water heater and his lawn mower and in front of a vintage Donkey Kong device where he applies nightly effort to either maintain or regain his world domination of a senseless pursuit.

You can imagine the fingers flashing at the control stick and buttons. You may even remember your own hunched form, standing in intense concentration of body, eye, hand and mind.

There is a quality of self that emerges when hand, eye, and mind are totally engaged. As Steve Wiebe describes, "I was looking for something that I could be in control of... I felt that everything in my life was being decided by others. Donkey Kong was something I could do, and if I failed I would have no one to blame but myself."

These same sentiments might have been expressed by someone seeking renewal of self and soul in a garage workshop, making beautiful things from wood. As Mr. Wiebe's experience shows, activities integrating hand, eye and mind are vital expressions of our humanity.

In years past, our human essence was expressed through hand crafted objects made with beauty, care, attention and love. These objects could be held, admired, shared and used to make life more meaningful for others and oneself. Now, we fill our homes with empty, meaningless objects, and our lives with meaningless distractions.

There is something very lonely and sad about about the emptiness of the digital world... human engagement reduced to numbers and score. (Personal note: Dear Steve, I wish you success in your world record and in maintaining your high score. Do you have room in that garage for a workbench? How about sharing some of your hand skills by making things with your children from wood? I'd be glad to help you get started.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In praise of hand tools.

Richard Bazeley mentioned in an email this morning, his shift of focus... directing his students in the use of hand tools rather than power tool options. There are clear advantages in the educational use of hand tools, which I'll mention even though they may be obvious to some readers.

Hand tools impart a greater sense and understanding of the material. I am reminded of an antique dealer who asked me to examine a chair he said was made in the 17th century. I looked on the underside and found planer tear-out... a large chunk missing. No hand plane could create such an obvious defect. Powerful machines act on wood without regard to the subtleties of grain direction and variation. No 17th century craftsman would have left such a defect because it would take extreme effort to mess something up so badly. It was obvious that the chair was made at a much later date... by powerful machines allowing the craftsman to act on wood in an unconscious and uncaring manner.

Which leads me to advantage number 2. The use of hand tools invites greater attention to the work and workmanship. Anyone can shove a board into a power planer in a thoughtless and disengaged manner, leading to results like those described above. But is the purpose of education to create those kinds of students, or ones well honed in their powers of attention and observation?

The third advantage (there are more that I won't take the time to discuss) is the matter of wood shop safety. You can have a room full of students standing at benches with hand saws and planes, working independently and safely. Power tools require a greater level of attention by the instructor, and all that attention needs to be applied to the matter of safety while being taken off other meaningful classroom interests like creativity and design.

I've had the idea of starting a school for young adults focusing only on the matter of quality and craftsmanship. The matters of quality and craftsmanship apply to nearly any adult endeavor, whether in delivery of goods or services. If you can attain a level of quality in anything, the process through which that skill was attained can be extended in other areas. As an example, this school might have lathes or workbenches, teach turning or bench work, and graduates would take their skills as attentive learners and apply them toward life and employment. While most schools are busy cultivating students' powers of entertainment and distraction, this school would be dedicated to raising the level of presence and attention... the powers of the hand, heart and mind to shape life and culture in more meaningful form.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I've been busy with good news today. A friend of mine runs a public relations firm and is the former director of the Hand Tools Institute, an educational outreach program sponsored by American manufacturers of hand tools. My friend plans to propose to that organization that they sponsor a nation-wide expansion of the Wisdom of the Hands program. First step for me was to register "Wisdom of the Hands" as a trademark to prevent the name being devalued by use by others. The trademark is now pending.

The second bit of good news is that my article about woodworking with kids is nearly ready for publication on the Fine Woodworking website. Now I am busy collecting the photos that will be used to illustrate the article. As we all know, the significance of the hands in learning is a "no-brainer". The hands make difficult concepts easy to grasp. And then, the hands turn learning to doing, enabling students to move from the realm of passive consumer of products, information and entertainment to active participants in life and creativity.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The illustration at left is model 2 of the Alfred Johansson's Fundamental series and illustrates one of the challenges inherent in bringing Sloyd methods into the modern classroom. Otto Salomon asked that the items made be useful to the student and his family. In most modern households, neither the rake tooth of the fundamental series nor the parcel pin of the town series would be useful or of value, but there are a huge number of possibilities... things that engage the children's imaginations, and that reflect the spirit of early Sloyd. The important thing isn't to recreate a rigid set of models, but to create fluid circumstances in which progressively difficult and complex objects challenge development of skill AND inspire creativity.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

There is an article on the first American Kindergarten in this week's American Profile Magazine. The original school building in Watertown, WI contains an exhibit of many of Froebel's original teaching "gifts". Kindergartens have changed a great deal since Froebel. They've become places where academic pressures are applied and Froebel's "self-activity" and exploration seem to be forgotten.
I mentioned last week that I would try to upload a model each week, but that may become impossible due to time constraints. The illustration above is model 2 from Alfred Johansson's town series which was designed to be useful to town or city dwellers.

The steps are:
1. A suitable piece of wood is cut four-sided so that it will have the form of a square in cross section.
2. Measure the length and cut off.
3. Chamfer as shown in the drawing. Cut the notches. (The entire work is to be done with the knife.)
Exercises.-- Long cut, cross cut, bevel cut.

Otto Salomon was particularly concerned that people would become too focused on the models and miss the method. For that reason the models were updated frequently and the teachers were encouraged to adapt and create new models to meet the specific interests of the children in various cultures and countries.

Bengt Svensson has given permission for me to use photos from the 1902 model series on the blog. As he is a long time practitioner of Sloyd, I have asked for his preferences... using dry or green wood for introducing children to the use of the knife.

Friday, August 17, 2007

According to an article in this week's Time Magazine, parents spent over 200 million dollars for Baby Einstein videos last year, money "down the Tube," so to speak. Recent studies show these products did more harm than good.

The tests at the University of Washington proved that for every hour each day that children watched educational TV videos, they understood an average of 7 fewer words than babies who didn't use such products.

Advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 not have any screen time, but should just interact with their parents instead.

With parents being as vulnerable as they are to the false claims of advertising and marketing, don't expect this information to change anything. The body of information linking television and video time to a wide range of learning disorders is more statistically significant than that linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disorders. It will be largely ignored by the American public.

You can make money selling stupid products to a gullible public. There is no way for American corporations to profit from lap-time. We'll spend millions to sell laptops to parents for use by infants when what the infants need most is a lap.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Today, our speaker at the teacher luncheon was Debbie Davis, former Eureka Springs elementary school principal who now teachers principals at the University of Arkansas.

She told the following: students learn best when their hands are involved in their learning activities, and students learn best from teachers who demonstrate a strong level of caring for every student in the classroom and in the community. Her third point was that "teaching to the test", to attempt to raise test scores is less effective at improving test scores than simply teaching to engage the student's enthusiasm for learning.

It is wonderful to meet teachers and administrators in the public school system that so clearly understand and express the educational philosophy put into practice each day at Clear Spring School. It is wonderful confirmation that we are on the right track. But it is also a marvel to me that such common sense has become so hard to come by.

Joe Barry asked about my source for sloyd knives. If anyone else is interested, click here!
Today at Clear Spring School I have two important things to attend. The first is a meeting with PB2, an architectural firm that will be designing a new wood shop and other buildings to bring the Clear Spring High School onto the original campus. All of this will involve some major changes in the next year. There will be a capital campaign, the building in which the current shop is located will be sold, and all things will seem up in the air for a time.

The second thing for today is the annual Eureka Springs Rotary Club Teacher Appreciation Luncheon. All the teachers and staff from the public and private schools of Eureka Springs will be honored. I have no idea whether other communities do such things for their teachers. They should. It means a lot to look across such a large room and to see so many who have given a significant part of their lives to teaching our children.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Sloyd knives arrived today, and as you can see, they aren't exact duplicates of the knives originally made in Möra. But for $6.25 each plus postage, they will get my students carving up a storm to the same effect as the more expensive Swedish knives. The C.S. Osborne knife is shown at center, with original Möra knives I purchased in Sweden at left and right. Later, you will get to see my students at work. Stick around for the fun.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I had mentioned that I have an article in this month's Woodcraft Magazine. The article is now available on-line. Click Here and follow the links. The article will take you step by step through the making of the box with photographs and explanatory text.
I spent the day sanding and oiling small boxes to fill an order. Today was my last day before teacher meetings start and my school year moves into full swing, so I made the most of my freedom by giving the shop my near total attention.

I had a dream last night in which I was explaining sailing of small class boats to a friend. When two boats are identical in design and equipment, two young sailors, side by side can observe the exact consequences of very small changes in the complexities involved in sailing that are present in even the most simple of boat designs... Comparing their boat's performance to an equal neighbor can allow them to come to an understanding of the most subtle effects of sail, balance, wind and rudder.

And of course it is difficult to draw precise lessons from either wood shop or life in exactly the same manner. No two of us carry the same sails or have the same hull design, ballast or rudder.

But a young man or woman in wood shop can gain a great deal of valuable information by observing as others work to gain skill. It is just one of the small, unrecognized values of working in the company of others. In most schools, students may observe differences when the grades are passed out... a bit late to make adjustments of sail, trim or rudder.

I had the pleasure of visiting The North Bennet St. School a few years back, and guess what I found? Students taking time to learn from and encourage each other. It is a lot like sailing a small boat in the company of friends.
Joe Barry's mention of students keeping their work reminds me to share the following:

Earlier in the year, I had mentioned receiving a CD of photographs from the Nääs model series from 1902, made by children. The following is from Hans Thorbjörnsson's translation of the introductory text which came recently by email.

Bengt Svensson has worked for forty years as a sloyd teacher and, furthermore, he was active as instructor for sloyd teacher students since 1980. He taught sloyd practice, sloyd methodology and pedagogy at the Department for Esthetic Art (Sloyd, Handicraft and Design) at Linköping University, Sweden.

When studying at summer courses at Nääs in the late 1950’s, Bengt Svensson got into contact with sloyd theories of Otto Salomon. For the rest of his life he became absorbed in Swedish educational sloyd, its methodology and history.

From his own home district near Borås, some fifty kilometres northeast of Nääs, he heard of Sven Alfred Kjellgren (1864-1937), an elementary school teacher who studied at Nääs sloyd teacher training school for six weeks in 1898. After that Alfred taught educational sloyd according to the Nääs-system in his own school. His pupils made the objects of the 1902 model series which took them just four lessons per week in grade 5 to 7.

Bengt Svensson met some of Kjellgren’s former pupils, who have saved their sloyd models over the last 50-60 years. He photographed these models, searched and found more models in other homes – and in the end he got a complete 40-model-series, the very one of the year 1902.

When interviewing the former pupils of Kjellgren, Bengt Svensson found out that Kjellgren had taught sloyd very close to Salomon’s ideas and methods. The interviews and the quality of the models convinced Bengt Svensson that the outcome of Kjellgren’s sloyd instruction was surprisingly good. The former pupils told him of their great appreciation and high esteem of their sloyd work at school.

The story of these models and how they were preserved confirms the significance that hand crafted objects can have in people's lives. They hold memory and emotion, telling the story of growth, accomplishment and relationship. For those who make things with their hands, all this makes perfect sense.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Joe Barry sent me the following with the OK to share:

You're right about the retention. When I tell people I was a shop teacher they light up and tell me all about their school experiences in shop. If I'm at their home they will drag out their projects. It says something about the emotional attachment people have that they would hold onto a footstool, bowl, or bookshelf for 30+ years and through several moves worth of culling out "junk". How many of us are still able to put our hands on our junior year's book report on Moby Dick? I had a kid run up to me on the subway platform at Park Street in Boston call out my name and hug me several years after I left teaching. This is not acceptable behavior in the big city! I didn't know who this teenage girl was until I saw her parents behind her and then made the connection with the 8-year old that I had known.

Thanks, Joe for sharing your thoughts.

My mother had the same "problem" after retiring as a kindergarten teacher. She would go to the grocery store and be hugged by gigantic black men, brought nearly to tears remembering their time in kindergarten, over 20 years before.

Charles Henry Ham draws the connection between kindergarten and shop class in his discussions of the ideal school, MIND AND HAND: MANUAL TRAINING THE CHIEF FACTOR IN EDUCATION. Kindergarten at its best, and wood shop have at their core, the object lessons promoted by Pestalozzi and Froebel, establishing an environment that fosters the imagination and engages the emotions in the learning process. Some progressive educators advocate an "object-rich" "jungle-like" environment as being the ideal.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Back in late October, 2001, I had flown to the east coast for the first meeting of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers, and when I boarded my flight from Providence, Rhode Island for my return flight though Chicago, I sat next to a friendly, round black woman with whom I found myself immersed in instant conversation. At that point, after the tragic 9/11 terror attack, all flyers were jittery and rather uncomfortable, so to sit next to such a friendly and outgoing passenger was a a welcomed relief.

We talked about our occupations and travels, and when I told her that I was a woodworking teacher, she lit up. She told me that her best and most vivid memories of high school were the days she spent in wood shop. I've since learned that this kind of deep connection between woodworking and memory is common. I've heard the same stories from others and have my own memories to examine.

The word that applies here is retention. You can teach people to pass tests, with memories held for the time required for success and no more. Some people are better at this than others. Most clear their minds to make room for the next set of required information, and most of the time spent in school, learning for the short term is wasted time, having value only in sorting those who test well from those who don't.

When the hands are engaged in real work and the learning is emotionally charged with the desire for tangible success, memories are made that last a lifetime. You could take my word for it or listen to my friend on the flight from Providence to O'Hare. Better yet, look back in your own memories and see what you find. If you find I am mistaken, let me know. If you find I am right, tell others. It is important that we use our own wisdom and experience to build better educational opportunities for our children. It is all about the hands and the heart, and the wisdom that grows from the point at which they intersect.
I have come to regard the manual arts as the best kept secret in education. While I was in California I met with some area high school teachers, and learned that while the governor is pushing for more money for vocational training, woodshops are still being closed at an alarming rate, that may be due in large part to our failure to fully understand the educational mission of the woodshop. Even woodworking teachers don't have the clearly rehearsed conversational understanding of what we do to be able to sell our programs. Realizing that we are linked and have compatriots, who share our concerns and interests helps us to build that conversation... First amongst ourselves, and then when it gets strong and clear, with others. As Jack Grube had noted when he was inspired to start the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers, woodworking teachers have had a tendency to work in the isolation of our own shops when we needed to be actively discussing and sharing the value of our programs.

The important value that Educational Sloyd offered to the conversation was the role of the hands in shaping and informing thought, and construction of higher values that pertain to craftsmanship and how they can extend into other areas of human engagement. For years in the US, woodworking teachers had relied on the easiest means of selling their programs... That they were justified as vocational education by American leadership as a manufacturing nation.

That has changed, and with the early abandonment of Educational Sloyd philosophy, woodworking programs and teachers have lacked a clear mission in the modern, computer obsessed educational environment. So, now it is time to return to the basics. Shown above is the proper stance for safe use of the knife.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

As a regular weekend feature on the Wisdom of the Hands Blog, I intend to offer projects from the Alfred Johannson Fundamental Series as developed at Nääs. If any teacher wants to pursue instruction in this series, he or she would need a week or so to be prepared with tools and materials. The following brief introduction explains the materials required.


To simplify matters throughout these series, the two broadest surfaces of any model will be called the sides; the two smaller surfaces in the direction of its grain, the edges; and the two remaining surfaces, showing the ends of the fibers, will be called the ends. The expression "corners" will refer to the lines in which any surfaces meet. Geometrically speaking, this would be incorrect; but mechanically-that is, in the language of the shop-it is not.

The woods, white birch, cherry, red oak, and white wood, will be abbreviated, W. B., C., R. 0., W. W. Their prices are: birch, about $5 per hundred; cherry, $7 per hundred; white wood, $4 to $6. Board measure is twelve inches square (surface measure) and one inch or less in thickness. The woods can be obtained in all thicknesses up to six inches, varying in each case by one fourth of an inch in thickness. The length varies from 12 to 16 feet. Standard lengths are 12, 13, 14, and 16 feet. Special lengths are 18 to 20 feet.

The dimensions will be given in the inch and the metric system. In Sweden the latter is used. On all the drawings, the dimensions are stated in inches. The full dimensions do not always appear on the drawings, but they are given in the statements under each drawing.

As the ordinary rule has no smaller dimension than one sixteenth of an inch, each number of millimeters is expressed in the nearest equivalent in inches and sixteenths of inches. The abbreviation cm. represents centimeter.

All models, when finished, are to be smoothed with sand-paper, but only on those parts where the use of it is absolutely necessary.

The tools are always named in the order in which they are used for the making of the models.

The Sloyd models are intended to be followed step-by-step in the exact sequence prescribed to have the greatest educational effect. The fundamental series was designed as the basic course for children from rural areas. Alfred Johannson also created model series for city dwellers, high school students and girls. The models in the Nääs series start with the knife, following Otto Salomon belief that learning had to start with the known and move to the unknown. Every Swedish boy of the time was experienced in the use of the knife.

While I would have preferred to buy original Möra Sloyd knives from Frosts of Sweden, The Wisdom of the Hands program operates on a shoe-string and a less costly Sloyd knife is available from a US manufacturer.

Model No. 1. (a).

Kindergarten Pointer of W. B. or C. (Straight Grain).

1. Cut a suitable piece of wood in its entire length, so that two of its surfaces will be at right angles to each other.

2. Cut the required thickness, having first measured same with an inch rule or meter measure.

3. Taper the four sides, having drawn a small square on one of the ends. The object will now have the appearance of a regular four-sided truncated pyramid. Cut the corners, making a regular octagonal truncated pyramid. Cut the corners again, making a regular cone.

4. Measure the required length and cut off at the broad end.

Exercises. -Long cut and cross cut.

The Sloyd teachers should practice the exercise before introducing it to the class in the hopes of anticipating problems that might arise. While this project calls for white birch or cherry, special care should be taken to get materials that are very straight grained. It should be sized 1/4" to 5/16" square and about 4 inches longer that then finished size of the carved object to allow it to be safely held during carving. Tomorrow I'll post a drawing showing the proper stance for carving. If you were reading closely, you will have discovered that the retail price for lumber was much lower in 1892.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another good book available from Google Books is B.B. Hoffman's The Sloyd System of Woodworking. To find it on Google Books, use the search function and type in Hoffman and Sloyd. This book, written by the director of the Baron De Hirsch Manual Training School in New York City in 1892 offers a great wealth for free download, including Alfred Johannson's model series from Nääs. I had thought about posting this model series on the blog, but realized it would be so much easier for readers to download the full text and images.

Alfred Johannson was the primary woodworking teacher at Nääs for many of the early years, and when I visited there, I was fortunate to find his signed, original marking gauge amongst the tools, ready for use after over 100 years. At this point in the life of the blog, I'm wondering whether scanning and publishing the original model series with modern commentary and experience would be helpful to readers. I would only take the time for doing it if I knew that there would be teachers interested in putting sloyd principles and techniques in modern usage. Let me know.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

From Charles A. Bennett's Book, The Manual Arts

(Our)forefathers came to this country civilized and equipped for the tasks before them. They came with habits of worship and reverence, with ideals of liberty and with knowledge of legal procedure. They came also with manual efficiency; some were farmers; others were carpenters, masons, millers, wheelwrights and blacksmiths; the women could spin and weave, sew and cook, clean and manage a household. When schools were established, these were to train men to become lawyers, statesmen and preachers of the gospel. Schools for the manual industries were not needed because everybody worked with his hands, and the theories, recipes and traditions of the crafts were handed down from father to son, or from master to apprentice. The common schools taught all children to read and write because such instruction was considered a necessary safeguard to the democratic form of government which was adopted. Ability to cipher, also, was considered desirable for all, and in the villages and towns it soon became essential because it had to do with money and the sale of merchandise.

Decades came and went and left pioneers still subduing the forest lands and exterminating the Indians. Generations passed; cities began to spring up and grow; the prairie lands of the Central States began to yield an abundant harvest and the mines to give up their rich stores. Manual labor, joined with natural resources, yielded great wealth. But during all this time the school was not called upon to train in manual industry. The school had, however, greatly increased its facilities for training for citizenship and the professions; academies, colleges and professional schools had been established and were rapidly growing into great universities; and the common schools had been multiplied to keep pace with the expanding frontier. Then came the demand for men trained in science and engineering to build railroads and bridges, canals and aqueducts, engines, ships and machinery of all kinds. This practical demand led to the establishment of schools of science and engineering, and soon the science studies found their way into the curriculum of the common schools. The growth and struggles of the nation demanded a more broadly educated citizenship, and historical studies and the study of social problems also found a place in school work. While all this remarkable development has been going on in the national life and in the school, the mode of living has changed as rapidly. The simple life of the earlier days has given way to the many complexities of our present life. Now we all want modern houses; we want them individual in design, finished in hard woods, heated by automatically regulated furnaces, supplied with an abundance of water, gas, electricity, and telephones connecting us with our neighbors and friends. We want artistic draperies, rugs and wall coverings, good furniture, fine pictures, statuary and musical instruments. If we compare our present homes with the homes of our grandfathers when we were children, we realize what a rapid and remarkable change has taken place. About the same change has taken place in reference to our food and clothing. Instead of contenting ourselves with what can be raised in our own garden or our own town, we get food from the most distant parts of the earth, and by rapid transportation we have largely overcome the limitations of season. We no longer spin and weave in our own homes; knitting by hand is almost a lost art, and most of the sewing is done "on the machine." When we turn from the home to business the same is true. The farmer who is not equipped with motive power and machinery, can hardly expect to compete in the market. The ox team has given way to the traction engine, the cradle to the self-binding reaper, and so on thru the list. This is equally true in manufacturing and nearly every other line of business.

While all this remarkable development has been going on in the national life and in the school, the man who would intelligently use the modern conveniences of his own home, or the labor-saving devices and conveniences of business life, must know something of the materials and principles of industry; and if he is to have any adequate appreciation of the product—if he is to judge the quality of the thing he purchases or uses, he must know something of the process that produced it. In fact, industrial development has been so rapid and so varied in our country—it has affected every man's life to such an extent that if he is to retain sufficient mastery of his environment to make it serve his needs, he is forced to acquire considerable practical knowledge of the materials, principles and processes of industry. As we have already seen, this knowledge is not being handed down from parent to child in any adequate way, and so we look to the school to furnish it. And if the school is to furnish it, the school must be equipped with the tools of industry.

Charles A. Bennett, writing in 1917 may not have envisioned a system of education in which the only tool available to our children in our schools would be the computer. It is powerful, it is seductive. But if the only tool you have is a hammer, all the world looks like a nail. Without the opportunity to create the real and the tactile, the great works of of hand through all the ages lose meaning, and our lives fall to impotency of the unreal and the unimaginable. Of course, it won't happen. The hands are far deeply entrenched in the human psyche and soul to be ignored.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Richard Bazeley sent the photo below. The trivets were made by his 7th and 8th graders in Austalia from the photo in the July 10th post. I hope to do more to utilize the CD of original student work from Sweden.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I am working in my own shop for the last few days before school meetings launch me into a new year. I have orders to fill and galleries that will be needing work for the Holiday season. That work may keep my mind off the blog for awhile, so dig into the archives if you are needing more to keep you thinking.

In the meantime, here is some more from Charles Henry Ham's book, Mind and Hand...

(The Ideal School) is the embodiment of Bacon's
aphorism— "Education is the cultivation of a just and legitimate
familiarity betwixt the mind and things." The students draw pictures of
things, and then fashion them into things at the forge, the bench, and
the turning-lathe; not mainly that they may enter machine-shops, and
with greater facility make similar things, but that they may become
stronger intellectually and morally; that they may attain a wider range
of mental vision, a more varied power of expression, and so be better
able to solve the problems of life when they shall enter upon the stage
of practical activity. It is a theory of this school that in the
processes of education the idea should never be isolated from the
object it represents (1) because the idea, being the reflex
perception or shadow of the object, is less clearly defined than the
object itself, and (2) because joining the object and the idea
intensifies the impression. Separated from its object the idea is
unreal, a phantasm. The object is the flesh, blood, bones, and nerves
of the idea. Without its body the idea is as impotent as the jet of
steam that rises from the surface of boiling water and loses itself in
the air. But unite it to its object and it becomes the vital spark, the
animating force, the Promethean fire. Thus steam converts the Corliss
engine—a huge mass of lifeless iron — into a thing of grace, of beauty,
and of resistless power. Suppose the teacher, for example, desires to
convey to the mind of a child having no knowledge of form an impression
of the shape of the earth; he says, " It is globular." The child's face
expresses nothing because there is in its mind no conception of the
object represented by the word globular. The teacher says, " It is a
sphere," with no better success. He adds, " A sphere is a body bounded
by a surface, every point of which is equally distant from a point
within called the center." The child's face is still expressionless.
The teacher takes a handful of moist clay and molds it into the form
of a sphere, and exhibiting it, says, " The earth is like this." The
child claps its hands, utters a cry of delight, and exclaims, " It is
round like a ball!" This is an illustration of the triumph of
object-teaching, the method alike of the kindergarten and the manual
training school. As the child is father of the man, so the kindergarten
is father of the manual training school. The kindergarten comes first
in the order of development, and leads logically to the manual training
school. The same principle underlies both. In both it is sought to
generate power by dealing with things in connection with ideas. Both
have common methods of instruction, and they should be adapted to the
whole period of school life, and applied to all schools. The Ideal
school, most precisely representative of the present age—the age of
science—is dedicated to a homogeneous system of mental and manual
training, to the generation of power, to the development of true
manhood. And above all, this school is destined to unite in
indissoluble bonds science and art, and so to confer upon labor the
highest and justest dignity—that of doing and responsibility.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Charles Henry Ham

CHAPTER I. THE IDEAL SCHOOL. (a vision that faded long ago.)

Its Situation.—Its Tall Chimney.—The Whir of Machinery and Sound of the Sledgehammer.—The School that is to dignify Labor.—The Realization of the Dream of Bacon, Rousseau, Comenius, Pestalozzi, and Froebel.—The School that fitly represents the Age of Steel. THE Ideal School is an institution which develops and trains to-usefulness the moral, physical,and intellectual powers of man. It is what Comenius called Humanity's workshop, and in America it is becoming the natural center of the Public School system.

The building, well designed for its occupancy, is large, airy, open to the light on every side, amply provided with all appliances requisite for instruction in the arts and sciences, and finished interiorly and exteriorly in the highest style of useful and beautiful architectural effects. The distinguishing characteristic of the Ideal School building is its chimney, which rises far above the roof, from whose tall stack a column of smoke issues, and the hum and whir of machinery is heard, and the heavy thud of the sledgehammer resounding on the anvil, smites the ear.

It is, then, a factory rather than a school? No. It is a school; the school of the future; the school that is to dignify labor; the school that is to generate power; the school where every sound contributes to the harmony of development, where the brain informs the muscle, where thought directs every blow, where the mind, the eye, and the hand constitute an invincible triple alliance. This is the school that Locke dreamed of, that Bacon wished for, that Rousseau described, and that Comenius, Pestalozzi, and Froebel struggled in vain to establish. It is, then, science and the arts in apotheosis. For if it be, as claimed, the Ideal school, it is destined to lift the veil from the face of Nature, to reveal her most precious secrets, and to divert to man's use all her treasures. Yes; it is to other schools what the diamond is to other precious stones—the last analysis of educational thought. It is the philosopher's stone in education; the incarnated dream of the alchemist, which dissolved earth, air, and water into their original elements, and recombined them to compass man's immortality. Through it that which has hitherto been impossible is to become a potential reality. In this building which resembles a factory or machine shop an educational revolution is to be wrought. Education is to be rescued from the domination of medieval ideas, relieved of the enervating influence of Grecian aestheticism, and confided to the scientific direction of the followers of Bacon, whose philosophy is common sense and its law, progress. The philosophy of Plato left in its wake a long line of abstract propositions, decayed civilizations, and ruined cities, while the philosophy of Bacon, in the language of Macaulay,"has lengthened life; mitigated pain; extinguished diseases; increased the fertility of the soil; given new securities to the mariner; spanned great rivers and estuaries with bridges of form unknown to our fathers; guided the thunderbolt innocuously from heaven
to earth; lighted up the night with the splendor of the day; extended the range of the human vision; multiplied the power of the human muscles; accelerated motion; annihilated distance; facilitated intercourse, correspondence, all friendly offices, all dispatch of business; enabled man to descend to the depths of the sea, to soar into the air, to penetrate securely into the noxious recesses of the earth, to traverse the land in cars which whirl along without horses, and the ocean in ships which run ten knots an hour against the wind. It is this beneficent work of Bacon that the Ideal school is to continue—the work of demonstrating to the world that the most useful thing is the most beautiful thing—discarding Plato, the apostle of idle speculation, and exalting Bacon, the minister of use.

In laying the foundations of education in labor it is dignified and education is ennobled. In such a union there is honor and strength, and long life to our institutions. For the permanence of the civil compact in this country, as in other countries, depends less upon a wide diffusion of unassimilated and undigested intelligence than upon such a thorough, practical education of the masses in the arts and sciences as shall enable them to secure, and qualify them to store up, a fair share of the aggregate produce of labor. If this school shall appear like a hive of industry, let the reader not be deceived. Its main purpose, intellectual development, is never lost sight of for a moment.
A few years ago I had published a short article in Woodwork magazine about Paper Sloyd, describing its usefulness, both as a precursor to woodworking and also in the development of skills required for algebra, geometry and trigonometry. I got a number of inquiries about where the book could be found, and to make it available, and as it was no longer covered by copyright protection, I scanned and copied its pages for distribution to interested teachers. Now Google Books has made that book available for free download. Paper Sloyd, by Ednah Anne Rich, 1905.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

More reading, Mind and Hand: Manual Training, the Chief Factor in Education by Charles H. Ham
Google has become a tremendous resource for teachers interested in Sloyd. By digitizing old Sloyd books and making them available for free download, Google is making up for the scarcity of these materials. It will be interesting if the computer leads us to a restoration of the role of the hands in learning... But why not? Click Here.

The following is from the introduction of Anna Molander's book, Scientific Sloyd.

Surely no teacher of any other subject will have to hear the question, that frequently is put to the Sloyd teacher by conservative people: "Of what use is it to learn Sloyd?" The answer will in the next pages be dealt with from five different views: 1. The Intellectual. 2. The Manual. 3. The Psychological. 4. The Physiological. 5. The Sociological.

1. Intellectual.—The gradual working through successive steps renders general development for the nerve-cells of the brain, and creates order of thought and self judgment. Here is no dead technical exercise, but life and reality. The useful model invigorates the creative power. The sense of observation is strengthened by learning to judge about different substances, structure and properties of wood, the quality of tools, etc. And especially by the geometrical method set forth in this book the elements of geometry are acquired without any extra effort or straining. This geometrical system creates a taste for simple, beautiful, and rational forms, and the geometrical constructions develop the pupil's reasoning power.

2. Manual-- The hand is trained to be a ready servant and medium for the brain. General dexterity is promoted and the pupils become more practical.

3. Psychological. -- the pedagogical Sloyd builds a road between the brain and the fingers and produces presence of mind and readiness to face emergencies. Sloyd thus helps to develop energetic, courageous and self-relying character. The children are gradually trained towards feeling of self-help and independence; They learn to acquire something by their own work without the aid of the almighty "penny," and are in that way led to find themselves useful members of the community. This feeling of ability will elicit patience and perseverance with work, will give the children a power of concentration, accuracy, order and carefulness.

4. Physiological.—By equal work with both hands the body grows symmetrically. The muscular strength is promoted, and the bodily exercise gives counterbalance to mere brain training. Also the eye gets a very good training, and the eye-measure is developed to an extent which can not be obtained by merely drawing lessons.

5. Sociological.— Sloyd makes the pupils independent and quick and ready to help themselves and others in their future life. It keeps the boys from mischief and renders a pleasant occupation for leisure hours. It trains to neatness and punctuality. The useful model is attractive for the pupil, as he finds himself able to do something for his home. Sloyd promotes a good discipline not only for the school, but also for life. While handling sharp tools, which are useful, if properly and discriminately handled, but dangerous not only for themselves but also for their fellow scholars, if carelessly and thoughtlessly used, the pupils develop attentiveness as to their own acting and acquire also consideration for other people's safety and welfare. Sloyd creates respect and consideration for manual labor and a closer understanding of the contributions of the workingman.
The following is excerpted from an email I received from Roy Oram, Pender Island, British Columbia, Canada.

I might never have enjoyed the pleasures of woodworking had I not been introduced to the craft at age eleven during the War. (WWII) During the War, male teachers were not available as many of the men were in the Army in Europe so women taught us and taught us well. I was once the recipient of a three-foot-pointer across the hand as I laid down a plane on its blade. But I also learned how to use the plane, square, a bench hook, a back saw and all the other hand tools which were on each small maple bench in the school. I am now seventy-four and I think of that woman every time I use a plane. I might never have had the pleasure of building furniture for my home and also building my own home in which we now live had it not been for the Sloyd classes. I figure that I've not only made myself over $100,000 part-time using my woodworking skills that began in 1944 but have enjoyed a life-time hobby. When I was out of work in the fifties, I took on a job with a framing crew for a few months. Even as a kid, I made myself a scooter out of an old roller skate and an apple box attached to a piece of 2X4. Soon afterward, I built a small cabin in my back yard in Montreal. I've built five gates on my property that have lasted twenty-five years without sagging and my workshop which is insulated and wired for an electric heater. Learning to use one's hands is an important part of education, I'd say. Right now, since my wife has told me there is no more room in the house for my creations, I'm enjoying making woodcarving knives using Warren blades, polished up nicely, with handles made of various kinds of wood such as walnut, dogwood, ebony and other exotic woods. Of course I have a well equipped shop having collected all kinds of tools since I was able to work after school to earn money to buy them. I still use the first electric motor I bought to run a small saw in 1950. Now I use it as a buffer to polish blades and other items of metal. Sloyd classes are important to a student because it can bring out talents that would otherwise be hidden for life.

Are we failing our children by not empowering them in the use of tools and by failing to unleash their innate creativity? I think so. Thanks Roy for sharing your personal experience.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The rocking chair class went well except that it was an overly ambitious project for the amount of time we had available. The students got their joints cut and were nearly ready for a trial fit. All seemed very pleased with what we had accomplished and what they had learned. Learning the use of templates and cutting guides to overcome the challenges inherent in curves and angles was the thing a number of students mentioned as the most valuable lesson from the class. Some of the students will go back to the class room on Thursday to finish. The photos at left and below show progress.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

We had a very busy day in my child's rocking chair class. We suspended the furniture design portion of the class to allow more time at the various steps involved. We worked to finish some of the tenons and interior shaping of the seat parts. We have a great deal to do tomorrow. The carvings for the chair backs have been going well. Some of the students are doing their first carvings, but you wouldn't guess that from their ambitious efforts. John is carving his grand daughter's name in the back as shown above and at left.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Today with the Diablo Woodworker's class, we continued mortising and tenoning parts for the rocking chairs. This evening after class we had a small meeting with area high school teachers to introduce a competition the Diablo Club is sponsoring to stimulate a renewed interest in woodworking education. The Diablo Woodworker's Club sets a very high standard for community involvement. I believe that those who understand so clearly the role of the hands in learning have a responsibility to share what they know with those who just don't get it. Part of the challenge is developing the language and evidence through which we can shift our nation's understanding of education. It won't be easy. But we are making progress, and the woodworking clubs in our communities are leading the way. The photo above is cutting leg tenons on the table saw. The photo below is of a student's carving for a chair back.