Wednesday, December 22, 2010

our directions in education

I have been told that direct implementation of children's hands in learning is not the direction we are going these days. Education is all about the mind, after all, not the hands. This small blog with our small collection of steady readers, and all associated members of the hand tribe, are a drop in the educational bucket, with the vast majority moving in the opposite direction towards disintegration. But on the other hand...  Things move in cycles. Screwing kids up through modern schooling may fall out of vogue. At one time Froebel's ideas had a profound impact on American education. Joy was perceived as an essential ingredient for effective learning.

John Dewey had described the influence of Kindergarten on his experimental school at the University of Chicago as follows:
One of the traditions of the school is of a visitor who, in its early days, called to see the kindergarten. On being told that the school had not as yet established one, she asked if there were not singing, drawing, manual training, plays and dramatizations, and attention to the children's social relations. When her questions were answered in the affirmative, she remarked, both triumphantly and indignantly, that that was what she understood by a kindergarten, and she did not know what was meant by saying that the school had no kindergarten. The remark was perhaps justified in spirit if not in letter. At all events, it suggests that in a certain sense the school endeavors throughout its whole course — now including children between four and thirteen — to carry into effect certain principles which Froebel was perhaps the first consciously to set forth.
John Dewey with his progressive ideas about learning is ancient history in the minds of some educators. They propose cheaper solutions for things these days. How about we forget teachers and wire the kids indirect to computers? Forget about the hands, they are simply a growing impediment obstructing the human-machine interface. But at one time, Kindergarten had a profound influence on American education. Perhaps the tide will turn. Froebel's theories provided the foundation for educational Sloyd and the folk schools of Finland, and perhaps we will come back to our senses and restore the wood shop to American schools.

The illustration above is from an early book on Froebel's method, on the game of Pat-A-Cake, which some of us played in our homes as children. It was a deliberate, purposeful engagement of the hands in learning... Something that too few educators any longer understand the rationale for. And in the meantime, as we wait for the tide to turn, make, fix and create.

The photo at above is of one of my finished cabinets.


  1. Doug-

    I just want you to know that your postings are making an impact on the "regular ed" mindsets of this teacher. When I read what you write, I feel supported to strive to make learning more hands on. As a teacher in a tradition public school, I am constantly fighting to not "go with the flow." Worksheets, textbooks and standardized testing are all around my school. My students crave the hands on work and I am lucky that my subject lends itself to being this way. Reading your blog encourages me to continue to be this way. You were right when you said that it does take confidence to stand up to administrations and not just teach to the test. And if it wasn't for people like you,it would be harder for people like me to believe in what they are doing.

    Thank you-


  2. We have given schools over to the testing industry, where as teachers were once trained as observers to witness and measure the growth that we now only accept if it has been statistically proven. When a teacher at CSS compares a child's writing, spelling and math at the end of the semester, with what he or she at seen at the beginning, meaningful growth can be measured and observed.

    And so it is like what had been said in the BBC segment on Finland schools. It all boils down to trusting the teacher and administrators to do what they have been highly trained to accomplish.

    Anything else proposed in American education is idiocy at best.

    It's like the Beaufort Scale. It is still relevant even though we now have anemometers to measure wind velocity in MPH. But now people think they have to have MPH readings of wind velocity, where as the Beaufort scale was a much better predictor of effects.

  3. And Chris, thank you for telling me that my words have effect. It means a great deal.


  4. Doug-

    I like your analogy- it's true. You're welcome for the comments, I appreciate your perspective.