Monday, November 02, 2009

The Boston Compromise

As I have mentioned earlier in the blog, the North Bennet St. School was a central point in a rivalry between two manual arts methods, with both being practiced in the same building at 39 North Bennet St, the current location of the North Bennet St. School. At the North Bennet St. Industrial School, the Russian system introduced by Della Vos at the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition was used in the training of students. Gustaf Larsson's school for training teachers in the Sloyd method was located in the same building, so visitors could pick and compare and consider which system should be used in creating an industrial arts program in Boston schools. No doubt the Boston Public School system felt they had given an adequate assessment of each. They chose what they thought was a compromise, adopting a tenet of Sloyd but missing its core. They decided that as in Sloyd, students would work on whole objects, start to finish that would have direct use to the student and his family, whereas student work in the Russian system was to make parts of things as someone would do in industry. The image above from Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd illustrates this subtle distinction. But of the many facets of educational sloyd which the Boston compromise chose to ignore was the Sloyd focus on teaching the individual child. The Russian system was depersonalized classroom instruction while the sloyd method was individualized, giving direct personal attention to each child.

The Boston Compromise became the model for nearly every manual arts program in the US.

Can you tell me from your own personal experience why one works and why one does not? One method takes greater investment by the teacher in the emotional, mental and physical state of each child. The other allows children to be packed in classes without regard to whether the outcome is successful. Do you have any ideas at this point, why we have a 30% drop out rate in the US and why American schools are falling behind? Have you ever experienced someone caring sincerely about you and wishing your success? Did those things help or not?


  1. At the end of a TV program about a sixth generation violin maker, the craftsman had a visit from an old friend, who cradled the new violin that had just been completed in his hands, and radiated the pleasure he had in hearing its sound for the first time. So, too, the maker himself must have kept that in mind while perfecting the instrument in the creative process.
    The affective is essential to excellence in learning and making. I'm an electrician, just finished wiring a new cottage, and I took great pleasure in the positive response of the owners and the contractor with the extra effort I made to accommodate their wishes and make constructive suggestions, as well as good workmanship.

  2. When the kids at Clear Spring finish a project, they ask,"Can we take this home today?" They want to show what they've done to their parents and family, but also want what they've made to be kept close as it reflects some new aspect of personal identity. This isn't a hard thing to explain. There is pleasure in making things that involve our best efforts. The making of such things is the making also of self, and to know oneself in such light is an amazing thing that all children should have the opportunity to experience.