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.

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