Thursday, June 26, 2008

On the educational value of craftsmanship... Early in my woodworking career, I realized that our American hardwoods were an under-appreciated resource. Some woods like walnut, cherry and oak were valued in the marketplace, but so many others were not. And yet, a healthy hardwood forest is diverse and every species deserves an understanding of its value. My idea was that by using some of the under-appreciated and less known hardwoods, my small boxes could serve as an environmental education tool that would help my customers to become more interested, more knowledgeable and more appreciative of our forest resources. In essence, I discovered that I could best fulfill my role as a craftsman if I were an educator as well.

Later, as I developed my business, I learned marketing. Marketing and sales are two different beasts. While you hope that marketing efforts lead to sales, marketing is really about the exchange of information with a customer base. You learn what they need, adjust what you make to meet their needs and then educate them as to the ways in which your products can meet their needs. It is more complex than selling something to someone, because it creates the kind of long term relationship that builds success year after year. Again, what we are talking about is education.

While not all craftsmen feel comfortable teaching classes, we all have a role to fill in education.

Now, for just a moment, let's look at formal education. It has systematically excluded particular learning styles throughout the history of university education. The value of hand work has been systematically denigrated since before Socrates, and then Socrates made it official... Artistry and craftsmanship were to be performed by slaves. Citizens were lowered in status by participation in such things.

My point here is not to turn tables and find fault with all those who have worked hard for their university degrees or diminish the value of their accomplishments, but to note that those who work with skill and creativity expressed through their hands are equally deserving of society's recognition and respect.

I have expressed before in the blog, the need for an affirmative action program to fully recognize the value and contributions of hands-on learners. We need to start at the other end as well. This means that we, the hands-on makers need to step forward into the full light, revealing ourselves as educators with duties and potentials beyond those of making and marketing our products. We of all American resources are the one best capable of reshaping American education.

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