Thursday, June 19, 2008

Today I finished the rustic chair with Danish Oil. Using a spray bottle to apply the oil worked well. I next used compressed air to blow away any excess oil. I may do a final coat of spray polyurethane to seal the wood and bring it to a uniform flat or semi-gloss finish.
In the meantime, I am working on a proposal for a research grant in the field of crafts and it is challenging to state the need for the research in a single page as required:
The 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition was an important point in the history of crafts education. Featured at the Exposition was the world’s largest Steam engine, a 4 story wonder made by Corliss, that drove over an acre of manufacturing machinery. Also featured were exhibits by two rival systems of woodworking education. What came to be called the “Russian” System was presented by Victor Della Vos of the Moscow Imperial Technical Academy and a smaller display consisting of a series of educational models was presented by a small teacher training school in Nääs, Sweden representing a system of education called by the strange name Educational Sloyd. On the surface there were striking similarities between the two systems, but the first 40 years of technical and craft education in America hinged on a very important debate between the two. The Russian system had the purpose of training workers to take their place in the rapidly evolving industrial economy. Educational Sloyd, whose name was derived from the Swedish word slöjd meaning craft or skilled, on the other hand, aspired toward deeper effect, proposing a broad range of benefits for all children regardless of ultimate academic or career goals.

As described by Industrial Arts Historian Charles A. Bennett, the debate over the two systems was effectively ended in 1916 with the signing of the Smith-Hughes Act by president Woodrow Wilson. The Act provided federal funding for programs designed to prepare workers for industrial employment. It chose to ignore the important educational benefits offered by Educational Sloyd to all students. This act put woodworking and crafts education into the exclusive domain of vocational education while it simultaneously stripped academic education from its responsibility to offer hands-on learning to all students. The intellectual content of hands on learning and education was stripped of stature and recognition, while the important contributions that hands-on learning makes to academic development were shoved from the American educational landscape.

In 2001, concurrent with the start of my woodworking program, Wisdom of the Hands, I began researching Educational Sloyd in my search for historic and theoretical rationale for the use of crafts in general education. While the United States abandoned Sloyd in the period following WWI, Sloyd continued as required curriculum in the Scandinavian countries, currently the world leaders in PISA tests for effective education.

Educational Sloyd, now nearly forgotten in American education, provides a clear rationale for the use of crafts as a major component of general education at all grade levels. Its theoretical foundation, its history, and continued application in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway, should be a major interest among all those concerned with Craft education in America.

A great deal more needs to be done, to research the role of Educational Sloyd in American craft history and share its history and rationale with American educators.

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