Friday, April 02, 2010

going from mindless to mindful

From careless to care... My high school boys have become interested in spoon carving, but I am suspicious that they are just looking for an excuse to sit outside on a beautiful day. A spoon is a relatively small object that would most often be taken for granted, and almost never be regarded as art, though it would fit in the slot shown in the photo below. Part of the challenge in making a spoon is in knowing the use of the tools required. Another challenge is to understand the qualities of the material being used to make it, the grain direction and density of the wood. The third is to understand what a spoon needs to be in the first place... understanding how it needs to be shaped for comfortable and effective use. There are mental images of what a spoon needs to be that are unrelated to its necessary shape. For instance, in carving a spoon, the kids seem to think that the bowl needs to be very deep, but by carving deep they are just making more work for themselves and making the spoon less effectively shaped for some uses.

I have this very strong suspicion that high school students are becoming more difficult to reach. They are engaged in text messaging, the internet, conversations with peers. But to get them physically engaged in the real world, practicing the things that earlier generations practiced with the intention of gaining skill can be a tough sell.

Their teacher tells me that to have a time in which they can relax the mind... doing something of a different mind and relaxing like carving wood is a necessary thing, but I have hopes that by modeling my own carving techniques that their interests will grow toward developing skills of their own. Like nearly anything else, carving wood can be careful and mindful, or something quite different from that.

Does modern technology in which everything is made "easy" and "user friendly" present the level of challenge that children need to develop as resilient and resourceful human beings? As I watch kids in the world, I am beginning to have serious doubts. Many adults have come to discover that doing things that are challenging present the greatest intrinsic rewards, but that is a tough lesson to sell to kids who have never really been expected to do physically demanding work.

The spoon in the image above is one I carved in class yesterday.


  1. I agree that students are more difficult to reach (and teach). Many of the projects that I had for my 8th graders 30 years ago are now too difficult for my seniors to accomplish. The main reason, I believe, is because they want adults (and all of society)to do it for them. Why clean your room when Mom does it for you? Why make the measurements on your project if you can get the teacher to do it for you? Why get a summer job when your parents give you a car and a gas card for free? And how about that free cell phone that mom pays the bill for?
    We are killing our kids with kindness. I am afraid we are on the path to having major problems with how our government deals with its citizens........For every hard working individual we will have one worker staying at home collecting unemployment, doing nothing to be productive because they feel that society owes them a living.

  2. The whole thrust of modern technology is to make things easy. The new iPad is designed to make things easier than ever, and that will be the reason to buy it. But facing challenges is the essence of human growth.

    No doubt, many unforeseen challenges will arise for today's kids, just as they have for every generation. Making things easy is not the proper job for a parent or teacher as we should be preparing them to face difficult challenges.