Friday, March 25, 2011

a third leg

Yesterday I made a presentation to the CSS high school economics class to offer an overview of self-employment. Today I am shipping work to a gallery and helping to design a product for the economics class to make and sell as a means of making their lessons hands-on.

If one leg of the scaffold is technology, the tools available for the child to advance learning, and another leg the teacher or mentor, in position to support and encourage growth, the third is that of the school culture. The culture of a school either supports independent inquiry, or not. An atmosphere of inquiry in which each child is encouraged to reflect on ideas, and form opinions of his or her own, and then test those ideas in physical and cultural reality is essential for learning at its most efficient and engaging levels. If our hopes for our children are that they become life-long learners, the commencement of inquiry and investigation are essential to their success.

If you read here very long you will discover that I repeat myself. Sorry. But it seems that most people at some point in their lives or after they are done with their lives are remembered for simple reductionist formulas that few others may fully understand. I asked my 7th and 8th grade students if they knew who Albert Einstein was. One said, E=MC² but couldn't explain the theory, and another said, "wild hair." And so it is. When I'm gone, and have been sifted down to a few particles of bone and ash, I hope just a few will remember the strategic implementation of the hands... And so I keep repeating a few things to hone the edge of my chisel, that it may be brought to a very sharp point and cut clean and deep into the wood.

An atmosphere of inquiry is not the point of most schooling. There is a current political debate on whether or not evolution or creationism should be taught in schools. But teaching of dogma is a hollow mockery of the atmosphere of discovery that our children need in order to become creative problem solvers in the coming age.

And so I repeat, once again, the words of Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886, on the role of the hands in the process of discovery.
"It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand."
The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and thereby finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and surrendered our human culture on the altar of stupidity.

The following video is long but useful in terms of a conversation from earlier in the week on the importance of making mistakes. A culture of inquiry and investigation provides the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

Make, fix and create.


  1. My students are presently building Rube Goldberg Machines. This comes after sacraficing 2 weeks of learning and becoming a culture of boredom so that students could take the state's mastery tests. We are using our hands to reclaim our school as a place where learning occurs.

    Keep honing!

  2. This video confirms what I have been trying to convey to my art students for years. Failing and correcting mistakes (or not correcting them) often leads to a better end result and, most certainly, better understanding (hence learning)
    of the process in which they are engaged.