Tuesday, September 21, 2010

what is a craftsman?

In order to extend the child as craftsman metaphor, it is important to examine the concept of "craftsman" and to see how it offers a more reasonable, more easily measurable form of school assessment requiring no experts or trained expertise, but is instead most deeply engaging of those who have the greatest interest in the success of each child. I heard an interview this afternoon with the director of the new documentary on education, "Waiting for Superman." He mentioned that nearly all parents are interested in the success of their own children. Its why he chooses to send his children to an independent school. until we develop the national will to make certain each and every child has an opportunity for the same level of success. Unfortunately, parents are rarely empowered to participate in meaningful ways that would help guarantee ALL children's success. If you are lucky enough to send your child to a better school, that's about as good as it gets. Waiting For Superman is somewhat controversial in that its focus is on charter schools and 5 children keeping their fingers crossed for admission to the opportunities that a higher quality school might bring. But I think we have bigger issues to discuss here than charter schools which will always be limited to a few students randomly singled out for success... A fresh look at student and school assessment has the potential of being even more revolutionary.

Both Richard Sennett, in the Craftsman and David Henry Feldman, in "the Child as Craftsman" essay extend the notion of craftsmanship beyond the traditional idea of making stuff. Sennett uses the term in his example of code writers for computers. And so, we can explore many things having a craftsman-like quality. Even the mathematician standing at the black board working through a quadratic equation could be examined through his or her display of craftsman-like qualities. It is easier to follow him or her to the understanding of a correct solution if the letters and numbers of the equation are written legibly and in the right order and with a craftsman's concern with personal expression rather than being carelessly expressed. There are even craftsman-like qualities involved in "crafting" today's blog post.

I keep going back in my thoughts to the old saying, "In Bali, we have no arts, we do everything as well as we can." In other words, "who needs arts when we have craftsmanship in everything? When each and everything is done with an eye toward the expression of quality and care?" There are qualities inherent within craftsmanship of caring and growth that reflect those qualities we would most like our children to learn in school and that most closely reflect what we want them to BE when they get out on their own as adults.

As I mentioned before, using what is expressed through the arts as a form of assessment is not an exact quantitative or statistical science, but rather one that can be reasonably well understood by anyone interested in taking time to observe and compare. It is like the difference between measuring the wind using the Beaufort Scale, or using an anemometer. The anemometer will tell you approximate wind speed in the abstract scale of miles per hour or kilometers per hour, but not its direct effect or the relevance of that effect on the sails and the performance of your boat. The anemometer is an abstract tool upon which we might easily become dependent but that is less descriptive of real circumstances. Testing in schools gives us an abstract view of educational reality understood by few. But do you want to know if your school is going 35 mph or whether it is performing in the best interests of your child?

As I've been saying, creating a new framework and user friendly means of assessment won't all happen overnight, and being a collaborative experience, you can help. As I see it right now, the Beaufort Scale of Educational Excellence will be a scale in which the four fundamental principles of educational sloyd will be linked with other discernible indicators of growth and health in confidence and love of learning.

Today is to be a busy day in the wood shop.

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