Tuesday, December 01, 2009

making toys

Today the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students worked on toys for our annual holiday toy making project. Even at those grades there is great satisfaction in seeing something develop in your own hands. And so, when it is finished there is the irresistible inclination to play. You want to see how it works, and then make another one, even better if you can. It was nice to be back in school today and the students were also pleased to be back at work.

I spent the weekend reading in Charles A. Bennett's History of Manual and Industrial Education, 1870-1917, about the various arguments laid out by opponents of manual arts in schools. The schism seems to have been similar to what we see today. There are those who understand the value of the arts in school and those who do not. Some contend that the arts add value to every other facet of the curriculum, every other discipline. There are also those are those who demand, "prove it" and thence allow no evidence to interfere with their position. A third faction proclaims "Art for Art Sake!" Proclaiming that the value of the arts is unrelated to what the arts contribute to the intelligence and understanding in other disciplines and that to consider the needs of other disciplines when defining a rationale for the arts is demeaning of the arts. I agree completely with position one. What are the arts without science? And what is science without art? To see either narrowly defined and separate is to miss the point of each. And so I will repeat the old anthropologist's saying ..."In Bali they have no art. They do everything as well as they can." In our culture we have the term "arts" because we have a whole range of contrasting situations in which mindless creation and consumption are deemed acceptable.


  1. Good to have you back safely at home and glad that you survived a nice Thanksgiving in the Big Apple. Making toys with wheels, whether it is a car, pick-up truck, or even a pinewood derby car... I've never come across a kid in my 15 years of woodshop that didn't love making them. And that goes for the big kids (14-16 years old) just as well as the smaller ones. For some reason their minds are always wonderfully occupied when making something that rolls on a block of wood.

    My favorite line from you post this time was, "What are the arts without science? And what is science without art?" Well said.

  2. There is a similar zen story. the master asked, Is the enlightened man subject to or master of his circumstances? And the disciples argued back and forth. But the answer is that the enlightened man is neither subject to or master of... he is at one with his circumstances.

    When we took the arts and divided them from everything else, we made a huge mistake. Try to learn chemistry without math, or math without practical expressions of it. For the sake of argument, I look at the hands, hoping we will at some point engage the notion that we cannot deny their importance in the whole.