Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Today, I am writing an article for Fine Woodworking, reviewing my Building Small Cabinets book and attempting to get an idea what it would cost to manufacture a new tool for woodworking. On the subject of woodworking education, I have these quotes:
I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education. ~Tallulah Bankhead

A child educated only at school is an uneducated child. ~George Santayana

Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. ~Malcolm S. Forbes
My review of Veritas Detail Rabbet Planes in Fine Woodworking arrived today, FWW NO. 220, August 2011. My article on making a Sliding Bookrack will appear in the August/September issue of American Woodworker.

The following article, Cause for alarm: Antipsychotic drugs for nursing home patients contends that we are over medicating our nursing home patients to keep them quiet and manageable. I have news. We never outgrow our need to be creatively engaged through our hands. What a waste we create of our lives when we deprive ourselves and others of the fulfillment that comes from creative work expressed through our hands. As I have been engaged today in computer based work, rather than in the wood shop, I feel disoriented and slightly depressed. But fortunately I know how to fix that. I go to the shop and make something.

Go ahead, make your day, make, fix and create.

Monday, May 30, 2011

lower visual field...

This is a long video and you most likely would not watch the whole thing. It is useful in understanding the significance of the hands in relation to the brain. We know that the eyes are important, but this video explains that much of the information processed from within the lower visual field is actually devoted to the hands. We constantly watch our hands and observe how they interact with our physical environment. Not only are our hands sensory organs, they are also primary objects of concern for the other senses. It has been well stated that our intellectual growth is the result of our motor activity rather than sensory input. And yet we put children in school situations that restrain their natural investigations.

Today I spent some time cleaning the Clear Spring School wood shop to prepare for this summer's classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I also planted tomatoes and peppers in containers on the deck. I am hoping to get deeper into growing some of our own food, and this is a very small first step.

Make, fix, create... and grow a few things, too.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

how we understand ourselves

Throughout the ages, man's conception of self has had major impact on how we act, and on the decisions we make. For instance, Freud's notion of the unconscious brought major changes to our perceptions of self. The resulting field of psychology has had profound impact on business, education and culture, and how we think of ourselves.

The drawing of the homunculus above should be telling us something. It illustrates the proportion of the motor and sensory cortex devoted to particular portions of the human anatomy, with the hand occupying a disproportionately large proportion of the brain's activity. This is nothing new to early educators, who based their teaching on the direct observation of the hand's role in the development of character and intellect, and its unique ability to capture the child's attentions and interests in learning. There is not so much to say here that I've not said before. What we learn is best learned by doing. What I've told here is best tested in your own hands.

If we were to better understand and accept the role of the hands in our perceptions of who we are, we would come to the point of dramatic change in the ways we educate our children, and be more successful for it. Want me to spell it out more clearly? Restore the arts, music, dance and wood shop and integrate them with core subject areas. Each is a way to bring the hands into the classroom, and engage the heart of every learner.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

start with the interests of the child

Our front yard has been a pool of water for weeks, as heavy rains have regenerated a spring that had been active in the years before our house was built. Early settlers had built a dry stacked stone spring box large enough that we can walk inside, and it 's the only discernible evidence of their having lived here before our time. Now we have a steady stream of clear water flowing across in front of our house. That much water is no surprise. A neighbor measured 38 inches of rain this month, with the bulk of it coming in two storms. The first was 24 inches delivered in two days, and the second was 14 inches in a 36 hour period. Now it is beginning to dry again and we have the kind of beautiful early summer day that we are used to having in Arkansas.

I want to restate the principles of educational sloyd.

Start with the interests of the child.
Progress from the known to the unknown
from the easy to the more difficult
from the simple to the complex
from the concrete to the abstract.

A mistake has been made in thinking that once we get over the simple stuff, or the known stuff, or the easy stuff, or out of the concrete, we move on, without looking back...  but child-like wonder is something we must never allow ourselves to escape. It is the instrument that lures us onward toward growth. We think we have matured, but matured to what? And in what ways? Are our lives as meaningful as we have become adult? There is a difference between mature behavior and maturity of spirit, and maturity of spirit is the opposite of what we might think.

In my very early days, I wanted to be an explorer and inventor, discovering, sharing new ideas, in the making of new things, and what I've become instead is an inventor of methods specific to woodworking, that I have been given the privilege of sharing through a variety of means. I make things in the wood shop, and tell how they are made, and why they are made, and in the process, as described by Comenius, "We give form to ourselves and to our materials at the same time." In the making of things, I myself am made, and that too, is a process I can share. And all this begins with a child-like wonder. The precept, Start with the interests of the child applies to the child within each of us as well as to the children we are privileged to instruct.

My box for the article for FineWoodworking is nearly complete and is shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, May 27, 2011

10 years

My wife reminded me that I've now taught woodworking at the Clear Spring School for 10 years, and while I've been a friend of the school for far longer, these 10 years have passed quickly, and have brought a great deal of excitement and interest to my own life. I have been enriched in so many inummerable ways. For instance, Oakley's dad told me that last night he had the toy tank he had made in wood shop earlier in the day at the dinner table, as he and his brother contemplated using rubber bands to form treads. There is a huge excitement in a child's life when he or she has the opportunity to engage in physical creativity, and besides the enrichment of my own life, I can see that what the kids and I do together in wood shop has lasting value in their lives as well.

This afternoon, I've been finishing boxes and a small cabinet for shipping to Fine Woodworking, and continuing to go over edited text and layout for my Building Small Cabinets book. The photo above shows setting up to rout the cherry door frame for the fitting of knife hinges. I use a story stick technique of my own invention to set up for the hinges at top and bottom to be in perfect alignment.

I often listen to the radio as I work, and was listening to a program at noon in which a man was describing the impact of human negligence on our streams and waterways in our communities. He used the phrase, "out of sight, out of mind," which I know is familiar to most of my readers. Another phrase comes to mind. When things are "out of hand," they are out of control. If we were to cease our hands-on engagement in nature and preservation of our natural resources, do you have any idea where we would be going? A third old colloquialism fits the bill. "To hell in a hand basket."

Make, fix and create. Come alive to your own creative potential

Thursday, May 26, 2011

educational waste?

At left is a preview of a box I'm making to illustrate box making techniques for Fine Woodworking Magazine. The article will instruct on a variety of box making subjects including the making of the pull and feet used in this box.

The following is from John Dewey:
"A large part of the educational waste comes from the attempt to build a superstructure of knowledge without a solid foundation in the child's relation to his social environment. In the language of correlation, it is not science, or history or geography that is the center, but the group of social activities growing out of the home relations. It is beginning with the motor rather than with the sensory side... It is one of the great mistakes of education to make reading and writing constitute the bulk of the school work the first two years. The true way is to teach them incidentally as the outgrowth of the social activities at this time."-- from The University Record, The University of Chicago Press, 1896
I don't believe most Americans would know how important John Dewey was in the international arena with regards to education. He was certainly well known and admired throughout Scandinavia, and perhaps some of my international readers would comment on the importance of John Dewey in their own countries. Here in the US, it seems Dewey is largely forgotten, as we have designed the structure of American education to be so contrary to what he had in mind.

In Finland schools, as I've mentioned so many times before, they don't bother with reading until the students are 8 years old. Here in the US, we are pushing reading in kindergarten, which had been invented as a method of learning through play. Talk about twisted! We've got both Froebel and Dewey rolling over in their graves. By the time students in Finland reach 8th grade, they far surpass American students in reading with 38% fewer years devoted to the subject. In Finland students in the earliest grades do all those things that Dewey had proposed including wood shop, and the results should be telling us something.

Some of these things are not hard to fix. Give teachers better training in the fundamentals and educational theory. Allow them greater autonomy in making learning fun and correlated with the child's relationships with family and community. Make way for schools to become laboratories and workshops for hands-on learning. I call this the strategic implementation of the hands.

This morning we had the end of the school year program at the Clear Spring School, "the Celebration of the Child". It is hard to believe that another school year has passed. Now I have a summer filled with teaching, and writing and making.

You may know that I love discovering new things, and today I needed to make a new jig for cutting miter key slots in the corners of boxes. While making the new jig, as shown in the photo, I also discovered a new way to easily position boxes on the jig, by using measured blocks between the box and the slide that fits in the miter gauge slot. It is easier now for me than ever before, easy to repeat set-ups using the same blocks, and it will be a treat to share this new technique with my summer classes at the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild, ESSA and Marc Adams School of Woodworking. This new technique also eliminates the need for clamps and clamping stop blocks in place on the jig. If I make box making any easier for my students, it may take all the challenge out of it and they may have to turn to making small cabinets to keep their growth of skill challenged. The photo shows the new jig, box with miter key slots complete, and the 4 blocks used to position the cuts. The three thicker blocks position the height of the cut from the top of the box, and the thin block is used to raise the box so that the blade will not go as deep on the adjoining cuts.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

celebration of the child...

The students at Clear Spring School are busy today rehearsing for their end of the school year performances in what we call, "the celebration of the child," our end of the school year program. This year, we are losing our beloved head of school, Phyllis Poe, as she retires from a distinctive record of service to the school. We are sad, but also thrilled that a well qualified replacement has been found.

I have been so saddened by the devastation brought to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Southwest Missouri, by this tornado season. The storms have been of unusual ferocity and destructive force. At Clear Spring School, we are having a toy drive to supply toys to children who survived the Joplin tornado, that lost everything as their homes were swept away. Our hearts go out to our neighbors who have faced such loss with such courage.

I am entering my own whirlwind of sorts, though one much more positive, knock on wood, than what we've witnessed around us. I am cleaning the school wood shop, working on last minute edits of the Building Small Cabinets book, writing an article for Fine Woodworking, preparing to teach this next month with the Kansas City Woodworking Guild, and laying out cabinet parts in preparation for the production of my DVD on Building Small Cabinets that will also be published by Taunton Press. I will also be fine tuning my Wisdom of the Hands book proposal, with the much needed help of my former editor from Woodwork Magazine.

The following is from The Century Magazine, 1885:
"There is an industrial training which is neither technical nor professional, which is calculated to make better men and better citizens of the pupils, no matter what calling they many afterward follow; which affects directly, and in a most salutary manner, the mind and character of the pupil, and which will be of constant service to him through all his life, whether he be wage worker, or trader, teacher or clergyman. The training of the eye and of the hand are important and essential elements in all good education. These elements the State is bound to furnish." --Washington Gladden
Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

sticks, tools and kids

This was the last class of the school year for my 7th and 8th grade students, and they can be a challenging bunch of kids, especially when the weather has been haywire, and they are counting their days until summer break. Their hands want to be engaged in everything. Sticks are of particular interest, as they denote power. If it is a movable object, it gets fiddled with, clunked, turned into a disruption, and the opportunity to ask children to develop self-discipline and self awareness is ever-present in the wood shop. Seventh and 8th grade students like to make threatening gestures toward each other, and at times I have to corral them and correct their behavior to keep the wood shop a welcoming, learning environment. Frankly, I can understand why some teachers would prefer an object free lesson plan in a sterile classroom, devoid of the kinds of objects that lay claim to children's attentions. It is easier, and less demanding of self-discipline. The clear need to reinforce self-discipline is why most shop teachers take on a curmudgeonly demeanor. But are we supposed to make schools easy or hard? How about difficult and challenging? ... Even when that means that children must develop self awareness and consciousness toward others, taking charge of their own impulses...

Today, I was able to explain to the kids why lessons on learning styles, and making things in the wood shop are closely related... that when they are making something, its value is not in the object made but in the skills and character they develop in the making. We also made cards to send to Beth Ireland as a small token of thanks for spending her time with us making whistles in the wood shop. Some kids got the creative spirit, and some did not. After one more day of classes, I spend time getting the wood shop ready for this summer's classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Kids are shown above and cards below.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, May 23, 2011

cherishing the views

General Francis A. Walker, President of MIT in 1887:
Cherishing the views I do as to what constitutes a complete education, I would allow no pupil to graduate from a high school who was not as proficient and exact in mechanical as in grammatical exercises; I would not make myself responsible for adding to the number of youth who have been trained in description, without having been taught to observe the things they should describe; who have spent years in the art of rhetorical elaboration and ornamentation, without acquiring any adequate body and substance upon which to exercise those arts; who are clever in dialectics and declamation, but purblind in perception and feeble in execution; great at second-hand knowledge, but confused and diffident when thrown upon their own resources; skillful with the pen, but using any other tool awkwardly and ignorantly.
This week I am wrapping up another school year, reviewing pages of my new book, checking for errors before it goes to press, and working on text for an article for Fine Woodworking. Our hearts go out to the people of Joplin, Missouri, who have suffered a tragic tornado, destroying nearly 25% of the city. My wife and I had been to Joplin on Saturday and had driven through the area hit by the deadly storm, and so seeing the damage on TV brings special sense of relationship and concern.

Today, my article on slow making appeared on p. 17 of the Summer 2011 UU World Magazine. If you are a UU, your own copy of the UU World should be arriving soon.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

failings and grace

This morning I listened to parts of an interview with Mike Rose, author of The Mind at Work, about his new book, Possible Lives, the Promise of Public Education in America, on the hopeful, grace-filled, elements of American Education. Mike reminds that while education in America has been taking an incredible beating in the press and by American politicians and corporate CEOs either trying to score points or make big bucks, there are some wonderful things happening in the lives of children and teachers in schools. There are schools that work and teachers that make them work, and if we look toward what has been demonstrated as possible, the chance of meaningful change is brought to the fore. Mike finds public schools and teachers that can inspire and lead the way. From the interview:
"As we continue to emphasize -- almost exclusively -- the economic, vocational purpose of schooling, and we tie that to a particular technocratic kind of assessment, that is, the standardized, high stakes test, we end up with an education system that narrows, rather than expands, and certainly doesn’t befit a democratic society...We know from research that particular subject areas are de facto being addressed less in our schools: the arts, music, literature, history, some of the social studies."
If you look back, the same dilemma in American education has been with us for some time. I was reminded of this by recent reports on the decline of engineering in the US, related to our failure to launch enough young engineers to fill the positions available for them. Calvin Woodward of Washington University was considered one of the two fathers of manual arts in the US, and like John Runkle at MIT, started his manual training program because his engineering students, most deficient in  practical hands-on experience, were coming to university unprepared for success. It was a situation very much like today, and so it is worthwhile to look back. (Though very few are looking in that direction.)

In Dec. 1885, Dr. Woodward spoke at a public gathering in Boston at the invitation of various leading citizens including the mayor, the superintendent of schools, the governor of Massachusetts, and the president of MIT. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"We are students of words; we are shut up in schools and colleges and recitation room from ten to fifteen years, and come out at the last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or eyes, or our arms... In a hundred high schools and colleges, this warfare against common sense still goes on."
And so Dr. Woodward stated the problem that is still with us today. He also proposed a simple one line epigram for educational reform. He said, "My educational creed I put into six words, Put the whole boy to school." As you and I know from our own learning, where the hands are engaged, the heart and mind are also engaged and the whole boy (and girl) follows. From the vantage point offered by our human hands, we know where the arts, music, manual arts, laboratory science, field trips, camping, nature studies and so many other fields of human adventure fit in American schooling and why they are too important to continue to neglect. Neglect the hands on the other hand, and intelligence and educational enthusiasm wither on the vine.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

hands and transcendence

Last night I had a wonderful White Street Studio Walk experience, seeing many wonderful old friends, meeting some new ones, meeting for the first time, people who have had my work in their small collections for many years. And I sold a bit of work to dear friends. This morning, I will spend a bit of time as docent at an exhibit of local art work at the Queen Anne Mansion in Eureka Springs, then return to work in my own wood shop. After being away for a few days, it is always refreshing to be creatively engaged.

Richard Alpert, A.K.A. Ram Dass was an early leader in bringing an interest in Eastern Religions to the US in the 1970's. His book Be Here Now, 1971 was a long time best seller in the hippy generation, and remains in print today. My wife and I had attended one of his lectures in the very early 1980's. He was quite popular at the time, and at the end of one of his lectures, many from the audience would line up to have personal words with him and to seek his blessings.

Ram Dass told us of an earlier lecture in which he noticed an elderly woman sitting in the front row. Her hands were quietly busy, but as he would make various points in his lecture, she would nod vigorously in agreement. Out of curiosity, Ram Dass began telling some of the more interesting and unusual things he had discovered about meditation, thinking to himself, "At some point I'm going to lose her." But she just kept nodding in agreement.

At the close of the talk, the woman joined the line to come up to meet Ram Dass. He asked her, "I noticed you in the audience, and you seemed to agree with everything I said. How can an elderly woman in America know so much about things that I had to go to India and study with a master to discover?" She replied, "I knit."

When the hands are purposefully and mindfully engaged in the creative exploration of physical reality, there are things that can happen that are transcendent of conventional human experience.

On the more practical side, a reader, Mike, in the UK sent this link,"Not Made in England". Americans also are becoming aware of the stupidity involved earlier decisions to no longer being a manufacturing nation. We will never outgrow our need for intelligent and creative craftsmanship. It has important consequences for the spirit and intelligence of a nation. I quote:
"People who make things do not just have superior mechanical skills to lard-arsed incurious tourists flying towards a temporary nirvana bought on credit, they have superior cognitive skills, as well."
CNN has an article on why we fail to graduate enough engineers. Why would-be engineers end up as English majors. I will take the liberty to suggest that students would be better prepared for engineering if they were better involved through crafts in scientific exploration at a much earlier age.
Freeman Hrabowski, president of The University of Maryland Baltimore County, said American attitudes toward science are hurting STEM graduation rates.

"We in America have accepted that science is just not for everybody. We send messages to students all the time that, 'This is not really for you,' " he said. "One of the reasons American (students) aren't more excited about science is that adults themselves aren't excited. Most (students) have been weeded out before they even get to college."

Hrabowski said many people assume they're not smart enough to study science or math. His response?

"No. Your teacher wasn't innovative enough."

Schools admit more science majors than they expect to graduate, and don't teach students to support each other, Hrabowski said, instead fostering an atmosphere of cutthroat competition.

"We say, 'If we accept you in science, you have ability to do it, and we'll help you succeed,' " Hrabowski said. "What has made the difference at UMBC is the way we encourage group work and teachers to rethink their approach in the classroom. The results are significantly more students are succeeding."
The hands provide significant leverage for learning, that is most often overlooked in American education. In other words,
Make, fix and create.

Friday, May 20, 2011

white street studio walk

Tonight is the White Street Studio Walk in Eureka Springs, an arts event founded by some friends who all live on White Street in Eureka Springs. They expanded the event by inviting friends to participate, and as usual, I will be displaying my work at Lux Weaving Studio from about 4:30 to 10 PM.

Despite the heavy rains, we expect a large turnout. If you live close to Eureka Springs, join us for a unique arts experience.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

home again...

I am back in Arkansas after watching my daughter Lucy graduate from Columbia University. It was a big deal. There were over 19,000 graduates in all including Columbia College, the engineering school,  Teachers College, Barnard, and degrees offered at the masters and doctoral levels in social work, nursing, journalism and nearly every other field of academic endeavor including medicine and law. While there, I received the cover image of my new book, number 7, Building Small Cabinets. The final manuscript for review and last minute corrections was waiting for me when I arrived home. The final cover design is shown above.

While these things are exciting to me, being with the graduates of this major university reminded me of the great work at hand.

One of the things that stands in the way of educational reform is that understanding of theory is used as a gate, rather than a gateway to action, which is contrary to the ways that most human being learn best. So we ask students to take theoretical classes long before they have practical experience in the subject matter. We ask students to study teaching as a theoretical model long before they have classroom experience. Long hours of boring lecture forms the gate, rather than the gateway to experiential learning. And so, many students arrive at their last day of school, knowing little more of what they are to become than they knew when they first arrived.

Some of my daughter's friends are planning to go wwoofing as the followup to their academic careers. This is brought on in part by the faulty economy and lack of jobs, but also by their frustration with the unreality of their college careers. They have a longing to do things and become engaged in things that are real to them. And what can be more real and at greater distance from the their stifled academic existence than the world of organic gardening, getting hands in dirt, and watching real things grow.

Can you see how and why it would be important to have greater emphasis on hands-on learning in the modern university experience? Can you see how universities might become more gateway than gate, by getting students more deeply engaged in their studies? We all know that we learn at greater depth and to greater lasting effect when we learn hands-on. A simple recognition of the importance of the hands in learning can make all the difference in how we shape our children's educations, and our own lives as well.  Or have I lost my marbles in New York?

Years ago, when Lucy began her first year at Columbia, I had conversations with Alan Brinkley, then Provost of Columbia about adding hands-on components to their core curriculum. I know how naive I actually am in such matters. But that will not prevent me from making the same attempt with their new Provost, Claude M. Steele. Education is nearly all about the hands. It is not enough to fill brains with ideas that are untested through hands-on exploration of physical, intellectual and emotional realities. And there are important reasons to get hands dirty, and deeply engaged in learning. As I've stated so many times before, the engagement of the hands develops character and intellect.... and does a whole lot more besides.

On the same subject, can play get your kids into college? Read this from CNN. My hypothesis is that not only will play get you into college, it will help you to know what to do when you get out.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

at the core

One of the things that sets some great universities apart is their "core curriculum" in which all the students, regardless of major are required to take certain core subjects which are intended to bring them to a particular level of shared culture. Many schools, like the University of Arkansas, are abandoning their core curriculum to allow more time for specialized training in specific vocational fields. At Columbia University, the core curriculum is still strong, at least for those students enrolled in the Columbia College for bachelor of arts degrees. Those enrolled in engineering have a completely different set of classes, and it surprises me that you can go through engineering, get a degree in financial engineering, become a project manager and never actually making anything in your life.

Some of my long term blog readers will remember 4 years back when my daughter was first enrolled at Columbia College. I began a conversation with Alan Brinkley, provost, concerning my naive proposal to add a hands-on component to the core curriculum. Oh, well. Here we are 4 years later, and the core curriculum on the Titanic remains the same.  I would never suggest that the core curriculum be abandoned. But I will continue to suggest that if the purpose of the core curriculum is to bring us to a common point of human culture, to leave the development of skilled hands out of the formula, is to sustain one of the worst shortcomings of American education. Early proponents of manual arts understood that to teach all to create useful and beautiful objects was an important component in essential democracy, as it helped to sustain the shared sense of the dignity of human labor. What would happen if students of one of the world's great universities were to enter their intellectual engagements through the shared framework of humanity that only the hands can provide?

As today is Lucy's commencement day, I realize that I have little leverage now to continue to propose change.

Make, fix and create. Nearly everything depends upon you and me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

can't shake a stick

Anyone who has been around kids for just a bit of time, will know that holding a stick brings flights of imagination. I remember watching one of my students about 40 years ago, standing at the top of a slide on the playground holding s stick. Held above his head, he proclaimed it an umbrella, extended, it became a sword, a bat and several other things besides.

I am here in New York for Lucy's graduation. Without my conventional tools, I've dressed in suit and tie to make up for being naked in comparison. A panhandler in the street referred to me as "Hey, Mr. Businessman" though I'm a long ways from that.

In the woodshop, there is a constant temptation for kid to pick up sticks, dowels or boards, and to wave them as did Adam in taming the wild beasts. There are deep seated primal concerns when we handle common objects, and so I can see clear reasons why many American classrooms have evolved toward being object free. There are complexities involved in management of things. One of the things we are in here in New York to do is to gather Lucy's things and arrange for their safe transportation to Arkansas. At University Hardware, I purchased 8 large shipping boxes which will be packed and sent by parcel post. And so, I can commiserate with those teachers who lean toward object free lessons. But remove the object and you have lost connection with objective. What if we became so diminished in actual capacity that we could no longer shake a stick?

Have you ever attended a symphony performance? Have you noticed that orchestra students can be brought to perfect attention, and that what arises in the presence of instruments can bring delight and surprise?

John Grossbohlin has informed me that Chris Schwarz has given kind mention of the blog and sloyd in the June issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, which is still for sale in your local magazine outlet store.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Last night my wife and I attended art gallery openings related to our May Fine Arts Month here in Eureka Springs. Seeing old friends in the arts community, I was reminded of how it feels to be tightly woven within the threads of community. We form a seamless tapestry. Pull one thread, and the entire community life is effected.

Today my wife and I will travel to New York City to attend our daughter Lucy's graduation from Columbia University. These four years have passed quickly. I seem to be left speechless. What is there to say, but that we are very proud of her and the young woman she has become? We trace many of her blessings of character and intellect to the tightly woven threads of of our community that we have been part of. To find oneself so deeply, and tightly woven within community would be the gift I would wish for each of my readers.

I may not have much time for the blog during the next several days. If you are needing something to read on your visit here, you can find a link to my published works here, or you can use the search function on the site to explore a variety of subjects related to hands-on learning.

Or take a break. Make, fix and create.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

pick up a stick...

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."
- Ernest Hemingway, author and journalist, Nobel laureate (1899-1961)

This morning, I'm interested in the relationship between measured intelligence and depression, and there's method in my madness. First, it has been long noted that men and women of higher measured intellect have a higher incidence of depression. There's a lot of speculation as to why this could be true. Some think that higher intellect brings greater awareness of complexity, and the complications of modern life. Secondly, studies have shown that episodes of depression have direct effect on performance IQ. This should be much easier to explain, as depression is known to cause one to become inattentive and distracted, focused on things other than the task at hand... which often involves learning and creativity.

I am interested in this because I know from personal experience that being engaged in the wood shop makes me feel better. When I am engaged or have been engaged in making objects of useful beauty, transforming raw, rough materials (wood) into finished, useful objects, there are feelings of power, completion and satisfaction that arise within me.

If we were to combine the the wood shop and laboratory with the classroom, creating one seamless experience of emotional and intellectual enrichment, can you see the value of the lessons we might create?

The following is from Charles H. Ham's book, Mind and Hand, 1886, exploring the idea that man is the wisest and most powerful of all animals because he has hands.
There is a legend to the effect that on the day when Adam revolted against his Maker, the animals in the turn revolted against him, and ceased to obey him.

"Adam called on the Lord for help, and the Lord commanded him to take a branch from the nearest tree and make of it a weapon, and strike with it the first animal that should refuse to obey him. Adam took the branch, the leaves fell from it of their own accord, and he found himself furnished with a stick proportioned to his height. When the animals saw this weapon in the hands of the man they were seized with an instinctive fear mingled with wonder, and they did not dare to attack him. A lion alone, bolder than the rest, leaped upon him to devour him, but Adam, who stood upon his guard, swift as lightning whirled his stick and felled him to the earth with a single blow! At this sight the terror of the other animals was so great that they approached him trembling, and in token of their submission licked the stick that he held in his hand."*

Throughout all the early ages the stick was both the symbol and the instrument of power; and it is only the hand that can grasp and wield the stick. The early kings reigned by virtue of the strong arm and supple hand. They claimed to be descended fro Hercules, and their emblem of power was a knotty stick. Nor does empire depend less up the hand now than it did in the morning if time.
So in the interest of inquiry, I offer this simple test for the value of engagement of the hands in the relationship between intelligence, and depression and the hands. Pick up a stick and wave it in the air. Like Adam's stick, it should be proportioned to your own height. See if there are feelings that arise from it. Take note of your own thoughts. See if something lifts in your own spirits. You may feel foolish doing so, or you may feel something more. Let me know, please, as I hope that this might reveal things that interest us all.

And in the meantime, Make, fix and create.

*"The Story of the Stick" p. 2 Translated and adapted from the French of Antony Réal

Friday, May 13, 2011

Today in the wood shop

This has been my second day in the wood shop posing for photos for two articles for Fine Woodworking Magazine. It has been intense. We've made bridle joint glass doors and made small parts for boxes, including 4 kinds of pull, two kinds of feet, and dividers. We've also started developing proposals for future articles.

With all that photography taking place, I couldn't resist taking one of my own. Matt Kenney, senior editor at Fine Woodworking is shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Teacher appreciation week...

It is teacher appreciation week at the Clear Spring School, and the parents have planned various things each day to show teachers how much they are valued. Politicians seem to want to beat up on teachers, but most parents seem to know that most teachers are doing their best under sometimes difficult circumstances. There are often new orders from the top, offering new strategies to which teaching must be adjusted, and long time teachers have seen new systems come and go. I offer my thanks to those parents who have an appreciation of what teachers do.

So what about the strategic implementation of the hands? Can it be a simple thing, barely felt, that in time can provide the foundation for reformation? The idea here is not to offer something new from the top, but something that can deliver from the hands up. There are examples out there. Montessori, Waldorf, the schools of Finland and our own Clear Spring School. It is a simple thing. You note the relationship between the hands and the development of character and intellect, and allow that recognition to become the guiding principle in the development of lessons within every facet of education, thus allowing for the multidimensional growth of each child.

On the other hand, lecture based education may be the direction things will be going. In a highly competitive environment in which students have accepted full responsibility for their own learning, and in which other troublesome multiple intelligences have been successfully weeded out from the student mix, lecture can be the way to cover the most ground at the lowest cost. In this article Eighth-Grade Students Learn More Through Direct Instruction Harvard's Paul E. Petersen lays out the case for Sage on the Stage, stand up and deliver, lecture style of teaching. The idea is that you can cover more ground if the instructor just stands and delivers rather than developing multi-dimensional, project based cooperative learning opportunities. We know from research that the brain can't track all that long, but if it is cheaper and faster, why not? And then there is the matter of our humanity.

Today in the wood shop, Matt Kenney, senior editor from Fine Woodworking will be joining me in the making of bridle joint doors for small cabinets. I make, and Matt will take photographs to illustrate an article for an upcoming issue.
Be smart, be wise.
Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dalai Lama in Arkansas

Today, along with teachers and students from Clear Spring School, many members of the UU church, and hundreds of residents of Eureka Springs, my wife and I are up early for a trip to the University of Arkansas to spend a day with 15,000 others and the Dalai Lama. The theme of his first panel discussion is changing swords into plowshares, and as one who has given great consideration to our tools and how they are used creatively, as expansion of intellect and development of character, I plan to take great advantage from the event.

I was contacted by a woman who is interested in interviewing me for a documentary film on the effects of modern technology from one who has great respect for the old. I am reminded of Chaucer:
"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, the' assay so hard, so sharp the conqueryinge"
It is interesting that technology is leveling the playing field, making everything easier for those who can afford it and yet it is the challenge of doing something difficult and demanding that leads to our growth. We offload intellectual content onto the tools we use and then have so little else for which to recommend ourselves. Call it the death of character, if you will. But think back to those things that demanded the best of yourself. Are those things of so little value?

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

very simple stuff...

Today, I'll have very little time for the blog but just want to share what was circling in my thoughts during the night. "Creative self-actualization." What is it, how is it related to the hands? What is the difference between one engaged in service to others, and one caught twiddling thumbs in senseless, and meaningless acts? Which is the direction we have chosen for our children? What is the path we would hope they might travel and what are the rewards of that journey? Are there feelings that arise when someone is creatively engaged? To facilitate children's growth toward Self-Actualization could become one of the primary objectives of education. As we seem to be so incessantly concerned with things that can be measured through standardized testing, we seem to miss the point. What if we were to adopt self-actualization and the feelings that arise with it as a primary concern? The metaphor, "Child as Craftsman" recognizes the needs that each and every child has to develop skill and expertise at something.

Abraham Maslow, who proposed a hierarchy of needs with self-actualization being at the top, studied the healthiest 1% of college students, recognizing that to study only those who had neurotic symptoms would yield only a philosophy of illness rather than a philosophy of health and strength.

Make, fix, and create.

Monday, May 09, 2011

lifelong kindergarten

1. Belonging naturally; essential.
2. (of a muscle) Contained wholly within the organ on which it acts.

1. Not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.
2. (of a muscle, such as any of the eye muscles) Having its origin some distance from the part that it moves.

1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: knowledge of many things.
2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: A knowledge of accounting was necessary for the job.
3. acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: a knowledge of human nature.
Knowledge can be either intrinsic, arising from one's own investigation and experience, or extrinsic, fabricated by others. We have a choice in which we pay attention to, and unfortunately we learn in schools to accept the one and repress the other, making us dull in comparison with what we could become. Our schooling teaches us to accept knowledge that comes from outside and to ignore that which arises from personal experience. We place greater value on extrinsic knowledge and suffer the consequences in every facet of human culture.

MIT has a lifelong kindergarten group which is concerned that children no longer get the opportunity to learn through their own creative enterprises.
"In the Lifelong Kindergarten Group, we're trying to change that. We believe that it is critically important for all children, from all backgrounds, to grow up knowing how to design, create, and express themselves. We are inspired by the ways children learn in kindergarten: when they create pictures with finger paint, they learn how colors mix together; when they create castles with wooden blocks, they learn about structures and stability. We want to extend this kindergarten style of learning, so that learners of all ages continue to learn through a process of designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring.

Our ultimate goal is a world full of playfully creative people who are constantly inventing new opportunities for themselves and their communities."
Some of my readers may recall that educational sloyd was first proposed as a means of extending the investigatory values of kindergarten into the upper grade levels. They scratched that. Now kindergartners are being trained to take bubble tests. Froebel is rolling over in his grave.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Living with monkey mind...

Today at the Unitarian Church here in Eureka Springs, we had a visit from 5 Tibetan monks traveling with the Dalai Lama. They chanted during our traditional Mother's Day Service, so between regular members and guests who had come just for the monks, the church was crowded. In a question and answer session in which attendees were able to ask one of the monks questions, he mentioned what has been called "monkey mind," the incessant interior mental chatter that most often revolves around the painful injuries we may feel we have sustained, or the hopes we may have of changing circumstances to elevate our own position in things, in life, and within our communities.... A great deal of monkey mind is plotting and scheming and taking us out of the moment.

A quick question of my readers... "Is the status of monkey mind alleviated or made worse by our technologies?" I suspect the answer is obvious. If students, and we ourselves cannot observe at least a few moments of silence, how can we learn things that are most truly meaningful?

This afternoon, I'm exercising my monkey mind by doing sketchup drawings for boxes to illustrate a Fine Woodworking Magazine article on the safe machining of small parts. I am also working toward transcendence. Being in the woodshop with real wood is much easier and more fun.

Join me this day as I fall silent in my own quiet symphony of hands.

The photo above is of small boxes I am making so that I can adorn them with pulls and feet for an article for Fine Woodworking on machining small parts.

Richard Bazeley sent a link to a David Brooks talk that relates to the monkey mind, and how we are a social animal.It is a long thing to listen to, but worth the listen as it applies to education and craftsmanship. According to Richard,
"He refers to the transcendent state of mind of the craftsman and how some of these ideas are relevant to education."

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 07, 2011

ameliorate or exacerbate?

Unplugged Schools--Education can ameliorate, or exacerbate, society's ills. Which will it be?. This is a great article suggested by reader Cindy, exploring the role of technology in schools and suggesting that schools become purposefully "unplugged." There is a huge chorus orchestrated by industry proposing that we turn over all of schooling to the wonders of technology... that there is nothing that can't be taught more efficiently or at less cost by computer gaming. This article presents an alternative view:
It is possible that a school system wholly devoted to developing technical skills would not be particularly damaging if other institutions compensated for children’s severely mediated lives. Unfortunately, the institutions that could serve that function—church, family, community—have been diminished by technology’s cultural dominance. School is about the only institution left that has the extensive claim on children’s attention needed to offset that dominance.

THE HEALTH OF OUR CHILDREN’S INNER LIVES, their civic engagement, and their relationship with nature all would be improved if schools turned down the thermostat on that technologically overheated aspect of American culture. Schools dedicated to that task—we might call them “unplugged schools”—would identify the values associated with technological culture and design curricula and an environment focused on strengthening the human values at the other end of the scale.

The most obvious thing schools can do in this regard is give children experiences with the real things toward which symbols are only dim pointers. Unless emotionally connected to some direct experience with the world, symbols reach kids as merely arbitrary bits of data. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but to a second grader who has held a squiggly nightcrawler in her hand, even the printed symbol “worm” resonates with far deeper meaning than a thousand pictures or a dozen Discovery Channel videos.
As so many schools are rushing toward becoming completely dominated by the current technology, Clear Spring School students spent the last two days camping, grades 1 through 8. Some high school students went along as camping assistants. Getting immersed in nature is a strong antidote for the dubious wonders of technology. But read the whole article. It is illuminating. If our schools don't offer what our children need, we have to take matters into our own hands.
Make, fix and create.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Bayyari Elementary School

Today I gave my career day talk to 100 4th grade students from Bayyari Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas. It was a wonderful time for me. The students were very well mannered, and attentive. They asked great questions. I was amazed by all the things they knew could be made from wood, and I was impressed that so many of them already enjoy making things. In other words, our nation's future is in good hands.

I was also reminded of the exceptional job done by our teachers. Twenty five students to a classroom is not an easy thing. And these exceptional teachers do what needs to be done, exercise as much creativity as is allowed to make learning fun and exciting for their students.

My friend Jan, counselor at Bayyari, who had invited me to speak, told me that the students have been challenging of late. They spent last week filling in bubbles in standardized testing. Even the kindergarten students face state mandated batteries of standardized tests that they must prepare for and pass. We all know how wrong that is. children need to learn from their senses, from experiences being creatively engaged, using real tools, and making things that are of service to their families and community.

One little girl informed me that she wants to grow up to be just like me, and one boy asked me when I can come back. I wish I, or someone like me could be there in their school for each of them, providing opportunities to make things from wood. I passed out pieces of my inlay to each of them with the words on the back, "If you can think it you can make it." And I know that can be true for each of them.

Make, fix and create.


I have posted a couple more photos above of yesterday's Clear Spring preschool project, building a guinea pig outdoor play yard. I had most of the the planning and assembly done in advance, but that did not mean that hammering down all the staples that didn't go in all the way was not important work. And the kids had a great time. Some also helped me to drive the screws attaching the top to the base. For some it was their first time to use real tools.

Today I am taking care of a few things in my home wood shop, and will make my presentation to 100 4th grade students in Springdale this afternoon. I am hoping that they have some good questions and that we have a lively interchange.

My wife brought home copies of Make Magazine from the library and even though I have an article coming out next month in the magazine, I had been severely negligent in not more thoroughly exploring and promoting the magazine earlier. It is full of wonderful, inventive things to do whether you are a kid or all grown up, and many of the projects lead you directly into expansion of your scientific and technical awareness. If we are going to reinvent schooling to become based on the notion of laboratories and work shops,  Make Magazine will be there playing an important part.

Make, fix and for God's sake create.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Back when I was in 4th grade...

I am working on my talk for Bayyari Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas on Friday, and while I may wing parts of the talk, it is good to write it out in advance to collect my thoughts. Here goes:
Back when I was in 4th grade people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would just say whatever popped into my head. Sometimes I’d say fireman. I knew that was a good answer. But I really didn’t know what all my choices would be. So I am glad to be here today to tell you about working with wood. I believe it is important for children to know what all their choices will be and being a craftsman of some kind can be a good life.

When I was your age, my father would give me things that were broken and no longer worked. I liked taking things apart and trying to figure out what was inside and trying to guess how things worked. Some times I’d put things back together and once or twice I was able to fix things so they worked again. From that time I began to think of myself as an inventor, and I began to think about making things. My dad had a few tools to repair things around the house and he would allow me to use them if I remembered to put them away when I was finished with them. I made all kinds of things. Once I figured out how to turn a self-propelled lawnmower into a riding mower, and that made the chore of mowing the grass a lot more fun.

When I had graduated from high school, I went to college and my parents thought I should become a lawyer because my grandfather had been one. But I didn’t have any idea what lawyers did. By the time I’d graduated from college, I’d realized that the thing I really enjoyed the most was working with my hands. I still liked making things, and I had noticed that things that I learned hands-on were at a deeper level of interest for me. So I went back to school to study pottery then moved to Arkansas as a professional potter. I became a woodworker in 1975, so at this time, I’ve been working with wood for over 35 years.

I make small wooden boxes and furniture and some sculpture. I also write books and articles about woodworking. If you go to Barnes and Noble and look in the magazine section for Fine Woodworking or American Woodworker Magazines you might find copies including my work. I design the project, write the article and take the pictures. Just in case you are wondering how I can take pictures of my own hands doing the things in the photograph, I’ll let you in on a secret. I put the camera on a tripod, aim it at where my hands will be at work, and set the timer so I have just a few seconds to get my hands in position for the shot. In the books and articles, I write, act as photographer, and do the woodworking, almost all at the same time.

There are some things I really like about my work. The first is that I get to be my own boss. I get to make almost all the decisions. I can work as long as I want to and I get to do lots of different things and take breaks when I need to. If I get tired of doing one thing, there is always something else I can do. But I don’t get paid for sitting around. If I don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done and I don’t make any money for it.

Another thing I like about working with wood is that it allows me to use most of the things I learned in school. Every day I use math, I use science, biology, and physics. I make things that are inspired by history, and social studies. And so woodworking is a place where I get to put everything together like a hands-on living puzzle of what’s in my mind.

When I make something from wood, I start with plain rough-sawn boards and go from there. Every step is one I take myself, so when a thing is completed, I feel pride in what I’ve done. Each and every day I can see real, tangible things I've gotten done.

I also like that working with wood makes me feel connected with the natural environment. I love wood, the smell of it, how it goes from coarse to smooth as I sand it. It is very pretty to look at and even more beautiful when I’m, finished with it. I also love trees, and by working with woods from Arkansas, I feel that I can help the forests by helping people to understand how beautiful and valuable the woods of Arkansas are even before they are made into useful things.

I also teach woodworking. During the school year, I teach students from 1st through 12th grades at the Clear Spring School in Eureka Springs. The students come to class and make things, and I get to see my own interest in making things passed into new hands. In the summer months I teach box making to adults. In both cases, it is fun to see how excited my students become when they have created a beautiful box or other useful thing using their own hands.

One of the best things about wood is that it can last over a hundred years if it is made into something beautiful or useful that people are willing to take care of or use carefully. I have been in museums and seen wooden furniture over 400 years old that could still be used in someone’s home, so I know that some of the things that I make may last on this earth a lot longer than I will, and it is a very great pleasure to see things I’ve made being used and cared for in people’s homes.

You may wonder if there are some things I don’t like about my work. First, it is messy. I sometimes have sawdust all over me, and I have to clean up a lot because sawdust can get on everything. Secondly, woodworking is not always a steady income. Sometimes I worry about whether I can sell enough woodworking to pay all my bills. It can be demanding.

Another thing, when I tell people I’m a woodworker, they want to see my fingers to see if I’ve cut any of them off or something. I work with sharp tools that demand my attention. You can get injured in woodworking so you can’t let you mind wander very far from what you are doing. I’ve had lots of small injuries, but so far, after over 35 years, I still have all my important parts. Doing something that is a bit dangerous is actually a good thing, as it keeps me living in this exact moment, instead of wandering off into fantasy and missing out on real life.

One of the things I like best about wood working is that I have to come up with new ideas all the time, so in some ways, I am the inventor that I wanted to be now that I’ve grown up.

At this point, I would like to open things up for your questions. Are there some things you would like to ask me about woodworking or what it is like to be a woodworker?
My audience will be 100 4th grade students ready for transfer to middle school, and at a good point to begin thinking of what their own futures may be. I will have a small piece of furniture to display along with books and magazines, and my reliquary of wood containing samples of 25 species of Arkansas hardwoods. In addition, I have a small piece of inlay to give each student with a label on the back which says, "If you can think it you can make it.
Make, fix and create."

reading vs. doing...

This morning I'm sitting at the computer for a few minutes wondering what to say, that I haven't said so many time before. The hands are not such a complex matter. But they do give shape to every facet of human culture. They have given shape to our natural environment in ways intended and unintended. An early proverb quoted by Comenius in the 17th century was, "We give form to ourselves and to our materials at the same time." And so the question is, "Do we gain knowledge best by reading or by doing?" And I suspect most of us gather a far greater quantity of information by browsing the web, than we would gain by twiddling our thumbs. But another question comes up, leading us in a new direction, "How do we find the truth?"  A passion for the discovery of truth demands action. While I'm at my computer, and you are at your computer, we are missing a few things that demand we get up and examine truth through our own hands.

Today in the woodshop, I began cleaning to prepare for next week's visit by Matt Kenney, and I visited the Clear Spring pre-school to work with the students building an outdoor home for their guinea pigs as shown in the photo above. The children ages, 3, 4 and 5 got their first experience working with hammers. For me it was just plain fun.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Quincy Experiment

Today the kids from Clear Spring School in grades 1-6 go for their annual spring camping trip. It is part of the long tradition of progressive education at our school. In case you want to know more about progressive education, you might want to read about the "Quincy Experiment"  (1881---) which took place in the public schools of Quincy Massachusetts.  The success of the Quincy experiment led to the adoption of the Quincy Method in Chicago public schools, paving the way for John Dewey. The theory of it goes back to Comenius, father of modern pedagogy, who stressed that children should learn through the engagement of the senses, that we learn best by doing, that children have natural inclinations to be active, and that educators should not waste those natural inclinations, but rather utilize them by setting the children to creative tasks designed to stimulate their learning and encourage their growth.

I will be working in my own shop to finish and assemble a small cabinet in preparation for a visit next week from Matt Kenney, senior editor at Fine Woodworking. The photo above shows the dowel joint used to construct the carcase of the cabinet. At one time, I had thought the doweled joint inferior to other forms of cabinet joinery. Then I remembered seeing it in use in the making of some of James Krenov's cabinets. If it is good enough for Krenov, perhaps it's good enough for the rest of us to make a small cabinet able to last beyond our time on earth.  The groove at the back is used to house the back panel and the small mortise shown at the front edge (away from camera) is routed for the knife hinges to fit. These things and sanding must be done prior to assembly.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

the other things...

I keep talking in the blog about the way the hands can transform education. When learning is hands-on instead of scripted to conform to text books, when teachers are provided the creative challenge of doing real things hands-on with their students, incredible things can happen to enrich learning, to improve teacher self-esteem and transform the effectiveness of education. They have to be trusted for that, and sadly, our nation does not, but would prefer to vilify teachers as the cause of school failure.

But that is only a small part of the story. There are other things the hands do. And so here is a partial list as a brief reminder, encouraging you to get in touch.
  1. Being creatively engaged through the hands brings connections to the whole of human history and culture. If you visit a museum or walk the streets of New York (or your own community) and have experience in the making of things, you see things with greater insight, and deeper feelings of connection.
  2. Being creatively through your hands brings changes in chemical balance, alleviating depression, enhancing feelings of well-being.
  3. Use of the hands brings feelings of self-esteem, feelings of real accomplishment, personal power, and sense of place within community.
  4. Use of the hands builds character, patience, and appreciation of the contributions made by others.
  5. Use of the hands makes us smarter, provides a foundation for common sense.
  6. Use of the hands allows us to test our intellectual hypotheses, bringing us closer to the truth, engaging each of us in the exploration of science.
  7. Making things is fun. The things we have made contribute to the lives of others. And you and I can go on and on citing one benefit after another.
You don't have to take my word for any of this. These are things you can test in your own hands. Please accept this list as an invitation to reflect on your own hands-on engagement. Heads sans hands makes us a nation of dummies. Heads and hands, and the reverse shall be found true.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the first, second and third grade students worked on fractions. We took round discs of wood, cut them in half, then cut half into quarters, then a quarter into eights. Then I showed them how the same fractions are used in measuring for woodworking, by comparing the small parts we had cut to the "super inch." Tara questioned, incredulously,"You mean we've been doing math? In wood shop?" "Yes, in case you hadn't noticed, wood shop is all about math," I replied. "I didn't know that math was fun!" Tara replied enthusiastically.

I am preparing a lecture for 100 4th grade students at Bayyari Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas on Friday. How do you hold the attention of 4th grade students for a twenty minute presentation? I'll have to do it without my usual array of tools, and it brings me to contemplate what teachers in public schools do each and every day.

For yourselves and for your children, make, fix and create.

Monday, May 02, 2011

blaming the teachers...

The following editorial is worth reading:The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries.
"The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent."
Today in the wood shop, the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students practiced whittling in preparation for their camping trip this week. The 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students made Jacob's staffs to assist in their study of trigonometry.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Not waiting...

I watched the movie "Waiting for Superman" last night about the faltering state of American education. It does a pretty good job of documenting the state of angst among children and parents facing the dilemma of schools that offer near-certain failure as their end product. That we have so many poor schools in the USA is a continuing nightmare for families and embarrassing for our nation. I can't imagine anyone watching the children and parents in the film without wanting us to do a much better job.

The movie lays blame on poor teachers, and if you were to watch the movie AND try to figure out someplace to point the finger of blame it would be at the teacher's unions and the inability of administrators to fire teachers who don't measure up. If you were to watch the movie hoping to find a solution, it would be the charter school movement, even though statistically, charter schools show performance measured at equal to or less than that of the schools they hope to replace. So, if you are waiting for "Waiting for Superman" to present clear answers, or hope for American children don't wait.

What we need most is a clear vision upon which to proceed.

One art teacher told me that what we've discovered, you and I, in this blog, is the "philosopher's stone of education." It is nothing complicated. It is nothing new. It works. It applies to all students regardless of social class, sex, race, or ethnicity, and it applies whether or not children have been read to and nurtured and prepared for learning in their homes. It offers dignity. It offers growth. It fits those who are going to college, and it fits those who for a variety of reasons will not.
Where the hands are engaged in learning, whether through arts, crafts, music, science, or athletics, what we learn hands-on is learned at greater depth, to greater lasting effect. Where the hands and mind are engaged as partners in learning through the development of skills expressed as meaningful accomplishments, there are transforming effects on the character of the child.
I don't know how I could be more precise. "Waiting for Superman" presents a complex problem. How do we get a grip on American education? With our hands.
Don't wait. Superman isn't coming. But YOU ARE SUPERMAN when your own hands bring wisdom, and when you offer your hands in transformation of education. Don't wait, Make, fix and create.

I've been retaking some photos for an article in American Woodworker Magazine, on making a sliding book rack. Math is not simply numbers, but also involves "spatial sense" which is the foundation of geometry, but also key to the making of things. I use a process of flipping objects as a way of developing symmetry in the fitting of parts and in the design of symmetrical objects. So how do you mortise or drill in from both sides of an object to get perfect alignment from both sides? That is the hidden subject of the article, and as you learn how to make the sliding book rack you also learn other things through your own exercise of spatial sense that forms the foundation of mathematics, engineering and human culture. The photo below shows the use of a flipping set-up piece for locating the fence and stop blocks (left and right) for drilling mortises that intersect perfectly at the center of the stock.