Monday, September 29, 2008

I am at the airport hotel and ready for my early morning return flight to the USA and I want to share just a bit more about the hands. In the first photo, you see a coil of rope, a simple expression of ritual pleasure and pride in one's work. It is the hand's engagement in ritual that stands at the core of human culture.

In the next photo, look at the expression of ritual and rhythm made manifest through patterns of brick and stone... what might start in the human soul as a gentle tapping of fingers, becomes the undulating arrangement of pattern in physical form. Nearly all of downtown Helsinki is a network of patterns, and if I were at some future time to become a professional photographer, it would be to pay homage to the patterns created by the human hand. The meaning of the ritual expressed in stone is little different from the coiling of a rope. It tells that someone was here, whose mark is of deep caring for all that he or she might touch. Those who think the hands have no place in education are those who know nothing of ritual value in their own lives. A small pity for them. A huge tragedy when imposed on a society at large.

The third photo is not about visual pattern so much as it it about life. The stem of a boat is designed to cut water and ease the passage of a boat. There is a stem and a stern for each of us in every act. Pattern and ritual is what takes place in the space between stem and stern. Observe the ripples at the side of a boat as it passes through water and you will see what I mean. If you have the chance to visit Helsinki, or even if you are stuck in the confines of your own home, I hope these simple photos, only a small sample of what I have enjoyed seeing and recording will open your eyes to observe ritual and the engagement of the hands that has made Helsinki a place of exquisite beauty.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today I took the SuperSeaCat ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. I was told that it might be a rough ride due to sea conditions, but at least the trip wasn't canceled. I should note that going to Tallinn for a day is roughly equivalent to trying to see the Louvre in 3 minutes or less. When I arrived in the park across the street from the Ferry terminal, I found myself in a ceremony complete with brass band.
Today, September 28, 2008 is the 14th anniversary of the sinking of the Baltic ferry MS Estonia taking 852 lives.The photos below are of a news crew interviewing family members at a memorial site shown in the next photo. I spent almost all my time in the old walled city of Tallinn, and particularly enjoyed the Estonian Maritime Museum located in an old circular walled fort. It was full of hand crafted displays, and I took a number of photos before I was told they weren't permitted. I have way too many photos from my very brief Estonian sojourn to share, so you will have to take my word in their place. The old city is filled with interesting craft stores and small museums, and if you plan to visit Tallinn, plan for much more than the single day I had available.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My visit here in Helsinki has been very good for helping me gain an overview of the state of Sloyd in Scandinavia. In the mind everything can be oversimplified, but on the ground, and following over 100 years practice in a variety of nations from the date of Sloyd's invention by Cygnaeus and Salomon, things have gotten complicated. The situation in Finland is complicated enough. Here part of the country in recognition of its Swedish language and heritage practices Sloyd, while the rest of the country, being primarily of Finnish heritage and language prefers the term käsityön to describe crafts. In addition, there is a distinction made between textile crafts which are taken primarily by young women and are considered to have a strong design component and artistic value, and wood and metal crafts which are taken primarily by boys and are considered to have technical value.

So, what I seem to have discovered is not to look to the country of Sloyd's origins for the best explanation of its value despite Finland's leadership position in the PISA studies.

The other thing that I have discovered here is that those who have lived and worked in school systems that have government sponsored compulsory sloyd are not as concerned as I am about describing the basic rationale for crafts in schools. So while me may agree with each other on the importance of engaging the hands, there is some reticence to agree that crafts should be a tool specifically used for that purpose throughout school curriculum. Like most teachers, craft teachers regard what they teach as being very important, not as an integrative element enhancing other learning, but as a stand-alone, "this is my territory" kind of attitude.

This being my second conference, provided clearer insight than the last, but it should be noted that these observations are my own and if they offend anyone for some reason, please let me know. I still have a lot to learn, of course.

Today, I walked around with friends, visited the fresh market on the waterfront, checked on ferry tickets for tomorrow, visited churches and shopped for souvenirs in Finnish Design shops. As are some in the US, Finns are thinking about products that last.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My conference is over and I made some good contacts, though it may actually be weeks before I can process all the information. One thing I learned is that in upper level education, sloyd is becoming an endangered species as Europeans adapt to new uniform standards in higher education.

At the close of the conference this afternoon Leena Kaukanon, conference organizer reminded us of the question asked last night at our conference dinner at Suomelinna by Patrik Scheinin, Ph.D., Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences. In light of the success of Finland in the PISA study and with regard to the status of finland as a leader in compulsory craft education, "Can other countries afford not to have craft education?" He promised to help provide the statistical evidence to prove the connection between crafts and success in schools.

After the conference I went to the Helsinki contemporary arts museum, Kiasma. It is a beautiful building surrounded by beauty, but inside, looking at the stuff made with no real care or attention, you wonder, "Why am I here?" Or at least that is the question someone concerned with the development of skilled expression in materials would ask.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Today I made my presentation at the conference and found that I had too much to cover in too little time. But I managed to get through it and received some kind remarks from some of those in attendance. I could use a bit (or a lot) more skill in public speaking, and a combination of jet lag and over stimulation meant I really wasn't at my best.

But this is a long term endeavor.

We had dinner tonight in an island castle called Suomenlinna and took a boat to and from. The photos are from walk to the boat and from the trip home at night.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Today the flags of Finland are flying at half staff in mourning for the deaths in the school shootings in a technical university northwest of Helsinki.

The conference went on as scheduled, but with a somewhat increased sense of urgency. We all know that the engagement of the hands are part of the important key in developing a more humane and caring culture for our young.

My head is swollen larger than normal size for all that I have listened to and taken in in presentations, and conversations between. I find that I know many people here from the earlier conference in Umeå, May 2006 and we have a tendency to take up right where we left off.

The photos above and at left are Helsinki in the morning and evening. If I were to live in this place you might find me at the water's edge or walking amidst wooden boats at least some time in each day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oops, I no sooner say it than I am proven wrong. I was led to believe that there was no woodworking in the craft education department, but that was before I met Hannu. Hannu Salovalta teaches Kindergarten teachers to teach woodworking. When I found a wood shop I just had to butt in and introduce myself. And I was very glad I did. Also at the conference center, I met tomorrow's keynote speaker Ellen Dissanayake from the University of Washington at Seattle. Search for her as an author at and you will see why she was invited to speak.
I arrived at the conference this morning and went walking around the city of Helsinki. First I took a city bus in from the airport, a risky thing since I really didn't know where to get off. But it was a good way to learn my bearings, and now I am confident in going from my guest house to the conference center. I also went on a museum tour with other conference participants, two of whom had been with me at the conference in Umeå.

I had interesting conversations and learned that the Finns prefer the term KÄSITYÖN for crafts over the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian term Sloyd. But, some of the craft educators firmly believe that crafts, regardless of what you call them play a significant role in the success of Finnish schools as measured by PISA.

On our tour we spent time in a room full of drawers, each full of lace which required white gloves for handling. Some was made in the early 1800's and is clear evidence of the wise hands that preceded modern times. The patterns were incredible. Sadly, there is no woodworking in the craft program at the University of Helsinki. I plan to show them some of what they have been missing.

How does one explain something that at one time would have required no explanation? This is the situation in which I find myself with regard to the hands.

If you've had the pleasure of traveling in Scandinavia, you will know something about breakfast. Hotel breakfasts are wonderful... an assortment of meats, breads, cheeses along with eggs, sometimes salmon, and always muesli and milk and strong Kaffe, prepared and presented with a high level of care.

And so the hands... As we move in education away from the training of skilled hands, what does that do to the individual? Matti Bergström, Finnish neurophysiologist, describes our failure to engage the hands of our children as leading to "finger blindness" leaving our children and culture "values damaged".

In my conversation with the young man from the Netherlands on my flight yesterday, he marveled at the changes brought to his life by becoming a father... an inexplicable and unexpected enrichment of being. People can live fine lives without knowing those expansions of heart. But for those who have become fathers or mothers in the full heart and soul of the experience are awakened to a fullness of being that cannot be explained in rational terms. In the same way, people can live wonderful lives without the expansions of intellect and "heart" that come from the engagement of the hands in learning and making real things with tactile qualities that enrich the lives of others.

Put your hands to work and in service of your learning. You will discover an expansion of self and fulfillment of whole being. What you do and make if done with love and care will be breakfast for a hungry world, but even more, the discovery of complete self. And of course, none of this can be adequately described. Just do it and see for yourself.

Monday, September 22, 2008

One of the things I enjoy about flying is that I find myself randomly assigned to sit with someone with whom I have so much in common.

On yesterday's flight I sat next to a young man from the Netherlands, and we spent nearly the entire time from Amsterdam to Helsinki in conversation, some of it about the hands.

There are so many ways the hands engage in life, and even if we aren't making something from wood, the wisdom of the hands plays through our lives. My new friend mentioned the pleasure he found in the kneading of dough as he makes bread for his wife, young children and himself.

That is a no-brainer that anyone in his right hands could understand. As we invest our time, thought, and careful (loving) attention through our hands in the preparation of food, it is filled with nutrients unseen, immeasurable but of profound significance. If you want to have impact on the quality of your life and on the lives of those you love, the tools are there, your own hands.
I am in Helsinki as you can see from my snapshot of the Helsinki Vantaa Airport. Outside the building is different. The unique control towers are unlike anything I've seen (in my limited experience) Inside it is like so many modern airports. I am tired from trying to sleep with no place to put my long legs.

I will have more to share after I have a real night's sleep in a bed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I am leaving for Finland this afternoon, for my second visit to a beautiful country. My first was just a drive down from Vaasa to Turku in May 2006 when we were looking for a more adventurous way to travel from the Sloyd Conference in Umeå to Stockholm. We took the ferry from Umeå to Vaasa and then another much larger ferry from Turku to Stockholm for our return to Sweden and it was much more pleasant driving through the countryside of Finland than down through the heavy traffic along the Eastern coast of Sweden. The ferry trip between Turku and Stockholm was breathtaking.

I couldn't help but notice a stark contrast between Finland and Sweden. Many of the farms in Sweden remind me of the farms in Minnesota and Iowa. You drive by and can see so much from the road... the house and barn and other outbuildings, each visible and distinct. In Finland, the farm buildings tend to be arranged in close clusters each opening to a small central courtyard, their backs to the outside for privacy and perhaps also defense.

It reminds that Finland had long been a country under the watchful and controlling eye of others. It was controlled by Sweden for centuries, then by Russia. While it gained its independence from Russia at the end of World War I, Finland was next engaged in Civil War between "Reds" aligned with the Soviet Union and non-communists. Then during the beginnings of WWII Finland fought a war against Russia and reluctantly aligned with Germany to protect itself from Soviet Conquest. There was great caution in how Finland moved from under the concerned eye of the Soviets into the European Union.

I arrive in Helsinki tomorrow evening and will have more to report on my adventure when I get settled in, first in an airport hotel and then at the University of Helsinki.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I am working on all the loose ends before leaving for Helsinki, and there are a lot!

One small detail is having work done so that I can spend time writing instead of watching CNN and the American election while I'm in Europe. So I finished a table today for the book as shown in the photos below. The rectangular table will be the lead project in the book and the round one, finished earlier will be offered as a variation.

Over the past few days we have witnessed the end of the Reagan era... Ronald Reagan and his lock step cadre of conservatives believed that unlimited government deregulation would better serve the American financial machinery than the regulatory environment established by FDR.


We are watching the nationalization of the financial industry.

The thing some people seemed to have missed is that because one of the primary purposes of incorporation is to avoid individual financial responsibility beyond the value of is shareholder's investments, corporations require oversight to insure that they are responsible partners in society. Corporations have no feelings of guilt or shame to hold them accountable to higher purpose. You can't punish a corporation for its transgressions by sending it to prison (though when you can prove deliberate fraud by its personnel, they can be individually punished). Investors can scoot away scott-free, leaving huge environmental and societal disasters in their wake.

The Republicans have pushed deregulation to create an environment in which corporations are accountable only to the growth of their shareholders' investment and unlike real people, corporations feel no sense of shame for taking part in outrageous, irresponsible behavior.

Frankly, I was one of those who knew that Ronald Reagan was an idiot. And while I'm not happy to see the dire circumstances that so many Americans face, it can be gratifying for a humble craftsman to look back and know that he was right.

In working intelligently with your hands, you begin to acquire what some have called "common sense."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Today at the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 3rd and 4th grade students worked on symbols of America in preparation for our upcoming election. These will be compiled into a classroom mobile after they are painted and when I am home from Helsinki.

The 1st and second grade students made "Squib". Squib is an owl that is featured in a favorite children's book, Hoots and toots and Hairy Brutes by Larry Schles that the students are currently reading as a class.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My trip to Finland is now being featured on the Fine Woodworking website: Here! Hopefully, this exposure will help to communicate a new understanding of the hands.
The following is the Fine Woodworking condensed version of my paper to be delivered in Helsinki next week and that will also be delivered on the Fine Woodworking website:

Tools, Hands and the Expansion of Intellect
By Doug Stowe

When I was in high school and college I worked summers and holidays in my father’s hardware store and would slip away for an hour or so each afternoon to restore an old car under the guidance of a master craftsman. While home from college my craftsman friend commented, “Doug, I don’t know why you would plan to be a lawyer, when your brains are so clearly in your hands.”

His comment was prophetic. It led me to reexamine my academic path, alerted me to the pleasure I received in learning and working through my hands, and ultimately caused me to question the artificial and unproductive separation between hands-on learning and academic pursuits.

I became a professional craftsman, then author of woodworking books and in 2001 I began a woodworking program for students 1st through 12th grades at the Clear Spring School, a small independent school, with the intention of demonstrating the value of the hands in general education. A short time later I learned of educational Sloyd, and began testing its principles in wood shop. As a craftsman, my purpose isn’t to provide statistical information but to demonstrate methods and principles that would be useful to others interested in providing quality education more capable of emotionally engaging our children.

Thomas Carlyle said: “Man is a tool-using animal. He can use tools, can devise tools; with these the granite mountains melt into dust before him; he kneads iron as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all!”

American Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed an interesting hypothesis: “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” In other words, our tools and our understanding of their use controls the scope of our intelligence as well as the range of our actions...

So what if the only tool we offer in education is a computer? That seems to be a question whose answer we already know. Here in the USA children are being introduced to computers in homes as early as two years of age and in schools pressures for early reading and achievement on test scores are displacing previous emphasis on learning through crafts and through play. The evidence linking screen time to a wide range of social and developmental disorders is stronger than the evidence linking smoking and lung cancer.

Dr. Glenn Kleiman is the director of the William and Ida Friday Institute and as former director of the Education Development Center, Inc. was responsible for some of the first educational software in mathematics. He stated the following about my Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School:
…children should have lots of experience with real tools and real materials. Virtual environments should be an addition to, not a substitute for, hands-on activities of all types. I developed a middle school math curriculum some years ago. When testing it, we found many grade 8 students who had never used a ruler or other measuring devices. They had seen them in books, but never used them. The importance of concrete experiences has often been missed in text-based education practices also. When utilizing computer based curriculum we believe that students should have experience with physical materials first.
The Hands
As schools have attempted to become more efficient in the process of education, children have been confined to desks with hands stilled, essentially blocking their successful engagement in the process of learning.

Current research in the new field of embodied cognition recognizes that the whole body takes part in the processing of information and human intelligence. The idea that human knowledge is “brain based” no longer provides an accurate view of who we are or how we learn. One of the areas of research involves the use of gesture. Work led by Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, has found that children given arithmetic problems that normally would be too difficult for them are more likely to get the right answer if they're told to gesture while thinking. In fact, students who can use gesture in the solution of algebraic formulas have been shown to be 4 times more likely to get the right answer. Studies by Helga Noice, a psychologist at Elmhurst College, and her husband Tony Noice, an actor and director, found that actors have an easier time remembering lines their characters utter while gesturing, or simply moving.

The interrelationship between hand and tool

Charles H. Ham wrote in 1886, “the axe, the saw, the plane, the hammer, the square, the chisel, and the file. These are the universal tools of the arts, and the modern machine shop is an aggregation of these rendered automatic and driven by steam.”

In essence, tools are extensions of the basic motions and capacities of the human hand through the application of mind. As shown by the drawings at left from R.J Drillis Folk Norms and Biomechanics, the hands have been the fundamental means through which the world has been shaped and measured.
While the metric system is based on relative abstraction, earlier concrete systems of measure- ment were based on observation of the human hand and other parts of the human body. So what is it about the hands that would enable their movement to engage the intellect and make our learning more effective? The answer to that question may be of less importance than the question, How do we get our children’s hands involved in their learning?

The Demonstration at Clear Spring School

At Clear Spring School, we engage our children’s hands in learning and test Maslow’s hypothesis through the making of tools. Some of the tools enable children to do work, while others are used to expand the children’s understanding of concepts. Some are used for investigation and demonstration of scientific principles, some are used for organizing and collecting data and still others provide additional interest in classroom activities. Each project is planned in cooperation with core classroom teachers to integrate with current studies.
•Working tools are those that provide the children opportunity to do other projects, often involving crafts. Examples are looms for weaving, knives for carving, pens for learning cursive, and pencil sharpeners among others.
•Conceptual study tools include geometric solids for the study of geometry, math manipulatives, models of the solar system, puzzle maps for study of geography and plate tectonics, and abacuses for doing math problems and developing numerancy.

•Investigatory tools include windmills for studying meteorology, bug boxes and nets for catching insects, and projectile launchers for the study of trigonometry and physics.

•Organizational tools include collection boxes for the collection and display of scientific specimens, desk accessories for children’s desks, and more.
In addition, the children of all ages have a love of making toys and we use toys as tools to expand interest in specific areas of study. As examples, the children have made trains and various animals inspired by their reading. We have made dinosaurs inspired by their study of dinosaurs. as well as boats for the study of the sea, and cars and trucks for the study of economics and transportation. Much of the success of the program is rooted in the close relationship between classroom teachers and the wood shop.

The Key to our success
The fact that our Clear Spring School classroom teachers are part of the planning process, often suggesting possible projects, leads them to become active wood shop participants, working alongside the students, demonstrating their own engagement in the learning process. Rather than the wood shop being an isolated school activity, it is successfully integrated at all grade levels.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

People have asked about how I find time to do the things I do. It is easy. Turn off the TV.

It is interesting that television is harmful to our children, but it is also harmful to our culture as illustrated by this clipping from this week's Time Magazine, an issue dedicated to calling our nation to renewed service. Television distorts our values, but perhaps equally significant, it leaves us idle when we could be serving and making instead. In other words, cut your television time down to the barest bones and you will have time available to build, renew and serve. One of the great places to start is in the wood shop. Children who have the opportunity to explore their creative capacity in the wood shop are more confident at solving problems of all kinds in real life. So in your free time created by turning off the TV, take your son or daughter out to the garage and make something. Don't have a wood shop? Get a couple knives and whittle. It is a small start that leads to greater things.

This last weekend, we were hit by the tail end of Hurricane Ike, leaving hundreds of homes in and around Eureka Springs without power. Watching the crews at work, confidently erecting new poles and lines and removing downed trees gives a sense of the dignity and importance of such work.

Yesterday and today, both Clear Spring School and our Carnegie Public Library have been without power. At the library, my wife Jean and her enthusiastic assistants led library patrons by flashlight all day to keep them stocked with reading material.

There are those who would lead you to believe that small town values lead one to ban books, kill moose, hunt wolves by air, lie consistently and exaggerate your importance in community and national affairs while depriving the rights of others to control their own lives. They've been watching the wrong town.

I would suggest a visit to the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library this morning would be the best way to see real small town values in action. My wife is far more qualified to be nominated and to serve as Vice President than the ridiculous Republican nominee. Leading children and adults to knowledge by flashlight is heroic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

John Deal sent an article by Charles Murray, W.H. Brady Scholar from the American Enterprise Institute. Are Too Many People Going to College? Pay particular attention to the following:
There has never been a time in history when people with skills not taught in college have been in so much demand at such high pay as today, nor a time when the range of such jobs has been so wide. In today's America, finding a first-rate lawyer or physician is easy. Finding first-rate skilled labor is hard.
He concluded his article with the following: "What I have just described is the system that we have in place. There must be a better way." so I have written him about the Wisdom of the Hands.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I leave in one week for Finland (Sept. 21) where I'll make a presentation at the Crafticulation conference at the University of Helsinki. The title of my presentation is based on the quote from Abraham Mazlow "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail, and will be illustrated by the making and use of tools at in the wood shop at Clear Spring School.

You may wonder what Crafticulation means. It is actually a made up word, combining the words "craft" and "articulation". If you've ever studied Swedish, you would know that many of their words are composed from two or more words, leaving you head scratching and combing your Svenske to English dictionary in more than one place. Finland actually has two official languages, Swedish and Finnish, leaving some talking with each other in English.

Articulation means the action of putting into words an idea or feeling of a specified type, and the idea of crafticulation is similar to an American crafts concept shared by participants in the American Crafts movement who use the word narrative to explain that crafts are actually a means through which to tell a story. The words text and texture are both derived from the Latin word textus referring to woven fabric. Ironically, crafts are often more honest and direct as a tool for communication than words, which are used to distort and befuddle. You can lie like a rug, but make a rug carelessly and everyone knows.

Fortunately the conference will be in English rather than either of the official languages of Finland. And of even greater importance, most of my presentation will be in the form of photos of children at work... A language than anyone in their right hand and mind would understand.

So why the heck would an American woodworker go to Finland? First, because they were willing to invite me, and secondly because a friend donated frequent flier miles to cover my ticket. But why else would I go besides looking for beautiful woodworking? There are two answers, both somewhat strange to most Americans. The first is that Finland is the home of Sloyd, a system of woodworking education first invented by Uno Cygnaeus in the middle of the 19th Century. The other reason is that Finland is the world's leader in PISA testing which compares educational effectiveness at the 15 year old level throughout the world. With Finland leading by a huge margin, the US, the world's wealthiest and most powerful country ranks 25th.

You could ask what the Finns are doing right, or what are we doing wrong, and probably come up with the same answer. But these are things I plan to explore while in Finland and are things I will share with you as I am engaged in sharing with them, how we utilize Uno Cygnaeus legacy in the wood shop at Clear Spring School.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pressures are building up with lots of things to do before I go to Finland on the 21st. First of all, I have to finish the paper I will deliver. Then there are projects to complete before I leave, like the Arkansas Governor's Award bases to be made for the Arkansas Quality Awards commission. It looks like there may be as many as three Arkansas businesses reaching a high enough standard this year to receive the award. Then I have one week of classes to prepare for and drawings to complete for new library furniture before I leave .

We are in the midst of another presidential election. This year, is more like a class war than ever before in my lifetime. So, in addition to everything else, I find myself with a sense of outrage at the deliberate lies and hypocrisy. It can be distracting.

Today, John McCain (without his sidekick) and Barack Obama will meet together for a few moments of silence at the site of the twin towers in NYC and then go to Columbia University for separate Q&A sessions in Lerner Hall. My daughter Lucy will be watching on the big screens erected on campus.

We have had 8 years of ugly politics in which the American people have been deceived and distracted by the political machinations of Karl Rove and gutter politics, leading us away from finding real solutions for our nations problems. Read New York Times Columnist Roger Cohen to understand the Biblical proportions

If you believe in prayer, now, while the candidates observe a moment of silence, and while they travel to Columbia University to be faced with real questions rather than political distraction, please pray that the blessings of wisdom enter the conversation about America's future.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I finished the first of two small twig tables for the book this afternoon as shown in the photo below. The first and second grade students are studying weather, so we made pinwheels. And then played with them! Also shown are the first of my bench designs for Crystal Bridges.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Today I have been working on one of the last projects for the book, a table made with branches. I think you can see from this photo how much fun it can be to engage with a variety of textures, making something that can be done in an afternoon and last and be useful for many years to come.
In the US, we take numbers and counting very seriously, except in empowering children to understand them. During the time of the presidential election, polling to predict election outcomes captures the public attention. "Who's ahead, we ask!" One book I remember from my college days was a 1950's classic, "How to Lie with Statistics" by Darrell Huff. It reminds us that statistics are more art than science and that they can be manipulated to further the devious intentions of those who are masters in their use. The chart below is from R.J. Drillis "Folk Norms and Biomechanics" illustrating the origins of measurement... that they once provided a concrete, deeply personal entry to the abstract. We introduce children to measuring whether inches or centimeters as an abstraction. Can you see why statistics might come as a challenge, being understood by very few? What if we gave our children the fundamentals of measurement? The gradual movement as suggested by Salomon, from concrete to abstract? It would pose a danger to those whose intentions are best met by our complaisance. Another of Salomon's principles was the movement from the known to the unknown. What is better known to a child than his or her own hands?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The following is from Mario Nunez, woodworker, teacher, drummer in Buffalo NY:
That differentiation between a liberal education and a vocational one is so artificial. So sad. Maybe I was exceptionally lucky to have been around people who did both, like my uncle who was a surgeon and a woodworker and built the stone retaining walls at his house. And it dawned on me not long ago that people ask me "how" I do all those different things like woodwork and playing music. But nobody has ever asked me why, which I think is a much more important question.

Friday, September 05, 2008

We are starting to have some interesting designs for the bench project. And students are studying the wood grain using gouges and planes. The model below is a walnut bench with a graphic pattern derived from walnut leaves burned in the top.

There is a distinct relationship between the scientific method, and a craftsman's work in wood. As I shared with my students today, you examine the wood, formulate a hypothesis on which direction the grain goes, and which way will offer the least resistance to the work of the plane. Then you test your hypothesis -- by planing. Your complete attention is required and you adapt your hypothesis as you address other areas of the board. I had one new student today who just went through the motions, planing, and planing without attention. I think it was her intention to express boredom, and the process of woodworking won't grab the complete attention of all students. But I have had bored and resistant woodworkers before who have become my most enthusiastic woodworkers, when given time to feel the results, both in the wood and in their own confidence.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Today we started working on designs and practicing with tools for making benches for Crystal Bridges. There are of course no guarantees that our work will be useful or successful enough for museum use. But the project provides the rationale for developing our best work and the students are enthusiastic about it.
Class war and the denial of expertise. You may have gotten your fill of moosemeat watching last nights Republican convention. Alaska governor Sarah Palin, McCain's attractive but shrill and bellicose Vice Presidential nominee ranted against the "experts" in Washington, insisting that her own experience in the PTA, small town politics and 20 months as Alaska governor gave her greater insight into the needs of real Americans.

The class war that Palin opens like a wound in this election has been with us a long time, and was sustained by the liberal elite as described by Woodrow Wilson when he was President of Princeton.
"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."
Educational Sloyd, as proposed by Salomon sought the dissolution of the class system, through the introduction of manual training for all. Learning the work of the hands by the upper class was proposed to create in them respect for ALL labor and a sense of its dignity.

But there are other things that happen when manual training is used pedagogically for the full development of all children.

What I am referring to is the movement from the concrete to the abstract. Concrete experience is the foundation for abstract thought and there has to be a continual testing of the relationship between the two. It is the same as whittling with a knife. Your blade enters the wood, then through constant observation you adjust the angle and force of the blade, making its motion through variations of grain and density conform to the desired result. As education proceeds far beyond a child's first experiments with the knife, concrete skills of making lead to greater ability for abstraction. In moderns schools and for the sake of efficiency, children are launched into abstraction at the earliest possible age, laying the foundation for class war and the manipulation of classes by destructive divisive forces in American politics. Children are taught that there are right and wrong answers, and given few of the tools necessary to explore things for themselves.

We know now that McCain will do or say anything necessary to win, including lying to the American people, manipulating those who have no concrete means, confidence or inclination to test reality. And the dangers are very real. Examples: Sarah Palin does not believe in global warming ignoring the huge amount of scientific evidence that it is real and having profound effect. She believes that abstinence training is the most effective means of preventing teen pregnancy and should be the only training available to children, ignoring the obvious swelling belly of her own poor child and what that describes of her own failure and the failure of education that ignores concrete reality.

We live in a society in which people just choose what to believe as though reality has nothing to do with it. We say things over and over thinking that mind numbing repetition will make them true. We are in very serious danger.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Today, I introduced hand planes and saws to a fresh crop of first graders. In the first and second grade class we made pencil sharpeners as illustrated in Gustaf Larsson's Elementary Sloyd and Whittling and in the 3rd and 4th grade class we began making note holders for their desks, a project which will be finished next week. Tomorrow, the students from 5th through 8th will work on designing the benches for Crystal Bridges Museum using the walnut that was harvested when the grounds were cleared for construction.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The following is from another paper about the mistaken valuation of higher education: The Overselling of Higher Education By George C. Leef
Higher education in the United States has been greatly oversold. Many students who are neither academically strong nor inclined toward serious intellectual work have been lured into colleges and universities. At considerable cost to their families and usually the taxpayer as well, those students sometimes obtain a degree, but often with little if any gain in human capital that will prove beneficial in the labor market or in dealing with the challenges of life.
And further:
The great expansion of higher education has led to an infusion of large numbers of “disengaged students,” which has had a deleterious effect on academic standards. In order to keep such students enrolled, schools have lowered academic standards, inflated grades, and degraded the curriculum. Many of the students who now obtain college degrees graduate with weak skills and can do no better in the labor market than taking “high school jobs.” Keeping large numbers of academically indifferent students in college is costly not only in financial terms, but also in its tendency to lower academic standards and thereby waste the time of better students.
From the Christian Science Monitor College is not a Must:
Los Angeles - Fall classes are barely under way and already guidance counselors across the country are conferring with students about the courses they need for their high school diplomas. In the process, more than 90 percent will be steered toward a college-prep curriculum, according to the Alfred P. Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development. This, however, is not as laudable as it seems.

The reasons serve as a cautionary tale that the US ignores at its peril. Despite what the public is willing to acknowledge, the importance of a bachelor's degree has been wildly oversold. In 2007, for example, about 67 percent of high school graduates went directly to college, compared with just under half in 1972.

The usual argument put forth in defense of a four-year degree is that it contains a decided wage premium. Studies have consistently found that those who have a degree on average earn more than those who don't. But all these studies were conducted before the new global economy fully emerged. Its presence calls into question long-held assumptions.

If Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, is correct, the only jobs that will be secure in the next decade will those that cannot be sent abroad electronically. That means plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics, for example, will be working steadily while many of their degreed classmates will be collecting unemployment checks.
I am back from my trip to New York and had hard drive failure in the laptop along the way. So I am like Zippy in the post below, except that hammer and tongs don't work as well as Norton System Works and diagnostic disks. It turned out to be something beyond my personal expertise, so I have an appointment tomorrow to get things checked out by trained experts.

There are actually some things in which experience counts and the vice president of the US is one of those cases in which some clear experience beyond shooting moose, making moose burgers and having John McCain look down your dress would be useful. So I will take my laptop to Megabyte and I hope the nation will take its leadership as far away from the irresponsible idiocy of the Repubican Party as possible.

Tomorrow, I will have the 3rd and 4th grade students making desk accessories and the first and second graders making Sloyd pencil sharpeners. The seventh and eighth graders will begin working on the benches for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photos will be available tomorrow.