Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sloyd System vs. more creative work

I have been reading from the published "Proceedings of the 1904 Philadelphia Convention" of the Eastern Manual Training Association and it illustrates that things really don't change very much and also that when an idea is presented in a variety of cultures, many of the same issues arise. This book is one one of those obscure kinds of things that get discarded when educational libraries no longer see the value of the subject material.

In this convention, papers were presented by a variety of teachers, and followed by discussion, giving insight into a variety of perspectives on the material presented.

One of the papers presented was written by Gustaf Larsson and presented by one of his associates. By this time, most of those in attendance were well acquainted with Sloyd, and many had used Sloyd in their classrooms. Some of the discussion involved which models the students did not like and why, but some comments were about the lack of flexibility and spontaneity in the teaching method. The following is from Mr. Bates, Supervisor, Dept. of Manual Training, Jacob Tome Institute, Springfield, Massachusetts:
"I am glad to say, however, that I know Mr. Larsson personally; I know the history of the development of the Sloyd Training School; I have come in contact with a number of its graduates; I am cognizant of the work being done with Sloyd as a system; and I feel that there is something in it. I believe that there is real value to it; but I would not hesitate today to refuse absolutely to institute a system—if we may choose to say, called Sloyd, and perpetrate it upon the community and do nothing else in the vast realm of possibilities in manual training matter. I would take the best of Mr. Larsson's work and the best of the individual teacher's work. I have found after well-tried experience that the individual teacher, well trained, energetic, thoroughly conscious of the possibilities in manual training matter, can do far more for the right development of the pupils than thru the slavish adherence to any system already extant, or which, he may be fortunate enough to devise.

I have had teachers come to me and say, "I do not wish to undertake this model, or that lesson to-day, I have found a suggestion in the class which I would like to follow up." Now I would prefer to have that spirit in the teacher: that ability to cope with the situation as it develops than ninety- nine systems cut and dried, brought forward as "Courses in Manual Training." I am free to confess that I fight shy of courses in manual training; as a rule they lack vitality. Give me the earnest, well-qualified teacher, and a corresponding alertness on the part of the supervisor and I will guarantee for you that manual training lives! lives forever; cannot die; will not die; cannot be put inside the beautiful graveyard referred to by a previous speaker; it is going to come out thru the cracks and crevices where the grass grows free as nature brings it forth to kiss the sunlight; and that is the real virtue, real life, real hold on manual training in this country today; in that it supplies to the boy and the girl a means of self-expression.

I hold that the boy or girl in his or her home who can assist in the material development of the household by contributing something of value whether it be a cake-spoon or boot-jack, is doing more for their own self-development along natural lines than if he or she has read eight books of Caesar in fifteen weeks. My object is and always has been that the boy and girl shall be for themselves a quantity of value; that they shall never be on the minus side; that their objects and their aims shall be worthy ones and that they would contribute thru these aims and objects something for the upbuilding of character; something for the duties of American citizenship; something for the development of individualism. (Applause.)
The point Mr. Bates makes is that flexibility to meet the interests of the child and to creatively challenge the teacher are essential elements of a successful manual training program. These were the same issues that concerned Otto Salomon at the end of his career, and the same issues that perplex many educators today. We have made education "cut and dried" to make it efficient, and we have lost the heart and soul of it, not for all, but for some, making it oppressive for teachers and students. Fortunately, this is not something wood shop and creatively engaged teachers can't fix.

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