Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A visit to Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC

I had my visit this morning with Kristine Roome, assistant Dean in the Provost's Office at Teachers College and received a tour of the Macy Manual Training building. I don't think many arrive at TC asking specifically to see the Macy.

As a wonderful bit of affirmation, Kristine's son's preschool woodworking was displayed in her office, an example of the kind of sculptural object the kids at Clear Spring devise when they get a "make anything you can imagine free day" in the woodshop. An adult viewing such an object will ask what is it? But the child knows, and in the explanation are the seeds of language and perhaps poetry. According to school principal A. G. Boyden in Bridgewater, CT, 1883:
It will be noticed that the pupil starts with a distinct idea of something which he needs for his own use, and is stimulated in his work by the desire to supply this need. He learns the nature of the materials which he uses, and how to use tools, so that he is able to go on and make for himself other apparatus as he may desire.

The benefits of this training are noticeable in all the lines of school work, the use of the hands, and consequently greater interst in their work. It induces accuracy and skill."

You can see bits and pieces of my tour in the photos above and below... The top photo is at the corner of 120th and Broadway, and was my first indication that I had nearly arrived at the first American University to offer advanced degrees in manual arts education. The machine shop is gone, and when Apple Computers offered a grant to TC in the early days of the computer revolution, the Macy Building became the place for the installation of the system, it being the only building on campus with a sufficiently robust electrical supply, as the industrial tools had been removed long before.

The first prospectus for the college stated, "...for the present at least, the instruction given will be almost wholly confined to those hitherto neglected factors in education which may be included under the name of industrial training," and so you caan see that the training of the hands was truly at its heart. At this point, the first building on campus, the Macy Manual Training building is interconnected to several other halls, and the original building can only be viewed from 121st Street, but the interior displays the craftsmanship of earlier times. The photo below is of the room in an adjacent hall honoring Grace Dodge, founder of the Industrial Arts Association and first woman member of the New York School Board. Her organizational skills and vision led from the forming of the Industrial Education Association to the founding of Teachers College.

In these times, one would consider the "art" of domestic service as being too demeaning to teach in schools, but in this room, students learned the art of serving fine meals. A similar classroom experience was offered at Nääs, in Sweden in association with educational sloyd.

I am sorry to state that I concluded my tour without ever finding a woodshop, not even one like the one I visited at the University of Helsinki where kindergarten teachers were being taught to teach woodworking. I did learn that TC is making an effort to reconnect the hands with learning by having dinner conversations among staff in which the arts, math, literature, phys ed and arts faculties are brought together to begin consideration of integration or "correlation." Perhaps that will be like the first conversations between Grace Dodge, Frederick Barnard and Seth Low in the forming of Teachers College at Columbia University. Grace Dodge, Frederick Barnard and Seth Low are well remembered in the neighborhood. In the following photos you will see the entrance to Barnard, Dodge Hall on the CC campus and the Low Library.

Is there meaning in history? Does it sometimes repeat itself? Can our remembrances shape the future for our children and their educations? One can hope. Perhaps Columbia University, and Teachers College, having once served in revolution, may arise to the challenge of finishing what they were part of starting over a hundred years ago. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

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