Thursday, December 23, 2010

Confidence and curiosity

Curiosity is innate. Our species would not have evolved and survived without it. Confidence is not innate. It evolves in each individual through countless interactions with physical reality driven by natural curiosity. And so the two are entwined except in the case of delusion. In the US, our children have supreme confidence and a near complete lack of curiosity about so many things that matter. What can you call that but delusion? And yet, it is a delusion that serves us well. We have become a nation of compliant consumers ready to shop and buy and relinquish our souls and our children's souls for the latest gizmo.

When the hands are removed from the education of our children, we all lose. When those who are identified as "college material" are isolated from those not destined for college education, our best and brightest (as measured by the often faulty mechanisms of the educational system) are diminished in character, wisdom and intelligence that having their hands engaged would have brought them, our society and our economy.

When students are identified as being of lesser intelligence and are put in stifling, boring learning environments, they learn to self-identify as lacking in ability and interest in the understanding of complex issues. In self-defense, they adopt an anti-academic bias that inhibits future confidence and engagement in learning. Lacking in basic intellectual curiosity, they become vulnerable to outlandish beliefs promoted by those whose often malicious interests lie in the manipulation of others. When students lose their innate curiosity about the world, that tragedy affects us all, from one end of the culture and economy to the other.

Today in the wood shop, I'll be fitting parts, planing panels. So why would someone make something that could last a hundred years? When you see the interconnectedness of all things you see that whatever we do has the potential for lasting that long. When we set something in motion through anger, it may ripple throughout human culture having immense and tragic effect, but a craftsman in contrast applies his or her energy to creating things that have the potential of serving, of causing intellectual reflection, and giving pause. We have the potential to redirect through the creation of beauty and the expression of greater purpose. What we create has effect both within our own lives and in the culture at large, and what we make has those powers even when we ourselves are no longer in physical form. Engage the world. Incite curiosity. Instill genuine confidence. Make, create, fix. Two making days until Christmas.

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher extraordinaire from Australia is making letter openers this holiday season, and you can see them in the photo above, executed in a variety woods. They are from left to right, casuarina, 3 almond, 2 osage orange, almond, another osage orange, mulga and ash. The Osage Orange is a surprise to me, as it is a native of Arkansas, named after a local Indian tribe, and introduced to Australia. There, like here, it is known for making fence posts that will last forever.

Today I am working on a cherry cabinet held together with biscuits as you can see in the photo below. The dado groove in the two matching parts is to allow for the side panels to fit. The side panels will be my next job to complete.


  1. Anonymous11:28 AM

    Letter openers... I can count the number of personal letters I've received this year on one hand. Yet another cultural transformation from the physical/tactile to the electronic/ethereal media of communication. I would consider making letter openers for a local craft fair, but suspect very few people would use them nowadays.

  2. Anonymous1:09 PM

    Toysmith is right. But I still have my old and very beat up letter opener and use it. Not for bills, but for real mail.


  3. John Grossbohlin3:02 PM

    I still use a letter opener as they serve well to open the myriad bills, fund raising solicitations, other money seeking correspondence, and Christmas cards that arrive in my mail! There is still a market for them...

  4. Richard Bazeley3:44 PM

    I have an elderly mother in law who has dificulty opening any mail by hand. She is not on the internet and mail is still important to her. I enjoyed shaping these knives as it felt like a primitive act putting a sharp edge on wood. It is a pleasure to make a tool that fits nicely in the hand and has a purpose even if it is limited. I think that people will get pleasure out of looking at and handling them. Sure beats going shopping and I think that my mother in law will enjoy the gift more than something bought for her.