Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's more than just wood shop

Fine Woodworking editor, Matt Kenney said that he is going to post a link to the Boston Globe article in which I was quoted. He said that "the demise of shop classes is a favorite subject among readers of Fine Woodworking."

But the whole problem with American education is far larger that just the loss of wood shop. The demise of wood shop is actually a symptom of much larger problems at the very core of education. In the drive for greater efficiency and cost savings, we've given up on hands-on learning, and as a consequence, we have the least cost effective educational system on the planet. We spend more and get less because we have forgotten how human beings of all ages learn best, hands-on.

And so if we have become a nation of idiots and pinheads, we have at least earned it dishonestly and not by conscious intent.

An article in Education Week, describes how experts are trying to delineate the "non-cognitive skills" required for success, as we are not doing a very good job preparing kids for life. Published Online: December 23, 2010 Experts Begin to Identify Nonacademic Skills Key to Success
As federal pressure intensifies to ensure students graduate ready for college and careers, researchers are beginning to go beyond identifying the subject-matter classes students need to succeed after high school and home in on the cognitive and non-cognitive skills that also contribute to success.
I suspect that if we throw enough experts at the problem, and they study the problem in the usual manner, they still won't know what some of us know from the experience in our own hands. We learn more by doing, and by doing we also learn being. To shape wood is also to shape self. And it doesn't just happen in wood shop, but also in music class, in art class, on the athletic field and in the science laboratory. Where the hands are engaged, real learning follows, and that form of real learning is not just short term in the head, but in the depths of character as well. Craftsmanship is more than just something you know in your head and hands. It is a caring response to all that matters, and is thus a framework for positive engagement in life and life-long learning.

I am reminded of Felix Adler's essay on the value of manual training delivered in Buffalo, NY 1888, at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. He described a meeting with an aging poet, who I've suspected was Walt Whitman*. The aged poet turned to him and said,
"That is all very well. I like your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?"
And Adler asks, "Is this civilization of ours turning out men--manly men and womanly women?" Those are the values of character that come from hands-on learning that our schools neglect and that our children so desperately need. Do you think those experts looking for "non-cognitive qualities of success" will know where to look for them or how to create opportunities for them in our nation's schools? Make, fix, create.

*When asked about Adler's quote of the "aging poet," Walt Whitman said, "I guess that's me: and it is very kindly and friendly, isn't it?"

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:20 AM

    It makes me crazy that what is learned in shop, or music class, is considered to be non-cognitive.