Wednesday, March 24, 2010

expanding the toolbox

"Can the hand coexist with the digital in the education of future makers and designers?" That is the question raised at the start of an article on the use of new technologies in craft work in this month's American Craft Magazine. My own answer is not "yes it can," but "yes it must." One of the earliest schools to adapt computer technology, the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, acquired its first 20 Apple IIe's in 1984, but still finds a role for the hands. Associate professor Daniella Kerner observes, "Students fall in love with hand fabrication." Professor, Stanley Lechtzin who acquired the Apple IIe's in 1984 notes, "Without experience of materials, processes, hand tools, and hand manipulation, students lack the experience necessary to be good designers using computer programs, as they don't have the 'feel' and the knowledge of how a jewelry piece is made." The author of the article, Jo Lauria notes: "Thus, the hand empowers the computer in many ways beyond the obvious tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard." In fact, one might say that computer technology is simply one additional step in the 5 million year history of tool making. 35,000 years ago, the handle was discovered, giving the basic hand tools additional force. Two hundred years ago, we began our experimentation with steam and complex machinery to speed production.

The hope of many designers is that they can create things that will become mass produced by modern manufacturing processes, devoid of hand, and equally devoid of hand skill, and yet it seems that the effective design of these products requires some hands-on experience of the properties of the material... as the foundation for digital creativity.

There is a sensitive quality that can be felt within hand-crafted objects, an indescribable uniqueness. As we have strayed so far from the experience of those feelings, and as we have isolated children from their own hands-on creativity, I wonder if we are losing cultural depth. While in Nebraska last weekend, I drove across the Platte River, which has long been described as a mile wide and an inch deep.

Have we created an American culture resembling the Platte River, wide but shallow? If education is a cultural rather than computational process, what are we doing to our schools when we neglect the education of our children's hands? As Clear Spring School is one of very few educational endeavors in the US to put children's hands first, we are likely to find out.

I have been reading a several Jerome Bruner books, and in one he noted the difference in teaching methods between the chimpanzee and primitive man. While adult chimpanzees do no direct or conscious teaching, primitive man is often engaged in the process of showing, or demonstrating how to make things, or how to perform certain skilled tasks. And so you can say that pedagogy, teaching, is a uniquely human endeavor. Some will insist that we arose as a species through the use of language, but those of us who work with tools of all kinds know that creative actions shared through the process of demonstration are the true foundation of human culture. Human beings, throughout our long history have been the unabashed makers of things.

Today the first, second and third grade students will be in the Clear Spring School wood shop.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the Advanced Virtual Reality Museum, where today we will take a tour of the early 21st. Century school known as the "Clear Spring School." You will experience the smell of the odors, the textures of the items they worked with, the experience of having a human body, hands included...

    Imagine if you will, a future where the toolbox of life has been fed into a database which can only be experienced through Virtual Reality, because mankind has converted into Mind. You are about to enter the...