Thursday, June 30, 2011

changes and growth...

This is math and science teacher Pete Golden's last day at Clear Spring School, as he is moving on to other interesting teaching opportunities. I have been thinking about all the wonderful learning projects we did together at CSS over the last 10 years, and hoping that we can find someone who can grow into his replacement. In the photo above you can see one of our collaborative projects, a periodic table of elements. The wood components were only a small portion of the project, as Pete, actually filled the compartments behind the wooden tiles with samples of as many various elements as he could gather over the last 3 years. The project is a work in progress as there are elements that are unstable, and many that are hard to get or hard to handle and may not be included at any point in time. After this photo was taken, we used stamps to put the element codes in place on each tile, and built a stand for its display. The project is an example of two things, what a wood shop can do to stimulate hands on engagement, and what happens when teachers are given generous latitude to follow their own creative collaborative inclinations on behalf of the education of our children.

Pete reminded me that when he first came to CSS, he knew nothing about alternate learning styles and non-standard means of assessment. An example he mentioned is that he did not know that proficiency in geometry could be demonstrated in dance. And so, CSS is a culture of learning. Pete learned a great deal and brought his many gifts to CSS and has now grown on, only to leave space for a new teacher to grow with us in the coming year.  I will miss Pete, and do celebrate the years we spent teaching together.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

those things for which we have use...

This morning, I've been working on a small maple cabinet with hand-cut dovetails, and panel doors as shown in the photo at left.

I am also beginning work on a somewhat personal history of education to use as a part of my book, Wisdom of the Hands. The idea of a personal history is that so much of history is dealt with in the abstract, and is therefore taken out of context. A personal history allows for that context to be put in place and in all things, move from the concrete to the abstract. Which brings me to today's topic... that we best learn those things for which we have use, for which we have concrete placement and that we are often unable to learn complex bits of information until we have arranged space within the brain for those things to be stored relative to potential use.

Looking at education from the vantage point of the hands and hands-on learning, you begin to understand that most education is arranged backwards. We present theories and then expect students to store them in memory when they have little or no experience to arrange for their placement in memory or retrieval from memory. Can you see the knuckleheadedness of that? I could present numerous examples, but instead will invite your own reflection on this concept. I know I am not unique, but rather very human in my experience of learning. Do you have examples you might be willing to share with other readers? I hope so. Please comment.

make, fix and create.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

today in the wood shop

I am working on the small cabinets from the DVD so they can be safely finished and put out of the way until they are either sold or exhibited at the Historic Arkansas Museum in 2012. I have been troubled by outfeed roller markings on the wood passed through my Grizzly planer, and a call to technical support informed me that I needed to make adjustments that had not been made at the factory. Now will some messing around, I am getting a better finish with less sanding, and I should be more satisfied with the product now that it is working better.

In the CSS woodshop today, Les Brandt is teaching an ESSA class on wood turning as shown at left.

Philadelphia charter schools are suffering from financial mismanagement and fraud. Which reminds me that schools are complicated, and that people often have objectives in mind other than just the education of our children. Charter school boards are often set up using the friends of the founder as board members, and they tend to take a hands-off approach to school governance, when hands-on is required.

I received a gift in the mail this last week from a wood worker-machinist at the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild, which you can see in the photo at left. It is a set of adjustable box maker's clamps, having a range of up to 24 inches. It is finely crafted by John Van Goethem, who began as a machinist/tool maker in 1960 and has been self employed since 1975. He says, "I was fortunate to have a high school experience that fostered my interest and provided opportunities." If you would like to order a set, you can contact John at

I have been thinking about part two of my book Wisdom of the Hands, which will deal in greater depth with education. What better thing is there to do when we fully understand the fullest implications of our hand-mind partnership than to take on the future, through making life better and more meaningful for our children.

I have also begun as an official blogger for Fine Woodworking with my first blog post about Beth Ireland's Turning Around America.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Education, 2000

Richard Bazeley in Australia sent this French postcard from 1910, predicting what education would be like in the year 2000.

bad teacher...

Bad Teacher Movie Boasts Bad Taste It seems that battering teachers is not bad enough when it is being done by politicians. Now Hollywood is getting into the act with a movie whose trailer states, "Some teachers just don't give an F." I'm sure the movie, starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal will be funny as it explores the notion that "the United States used to have the number one educational system in the world and we now rank 17th." But for most Americans, what administrators, state and federal regulations and politicians have done to American education is not all that funny.

With my wood shop lessons complete for the time being and 12 hours of tape off to Taunton for editing, I return to the subject of education. How do we restore common sense? I'll ask you to reflect on your own experience. Is it true that some school is boring? Is it true that some teachers are boring and that that some students sleep through classes in which the subject matter and teaching style offer no interest to them? Can it be that some teachers deliver the same rote textbook lessons year after year, and have no greater interest or enthusiasm for the subject matter than their sleepy kids? The forced use of text books can turn teachers into information delivery automatons, and it was said by Arthur C. Clarke, "a teacher who can be replaced by a machine should be."

Can I take a moment to offer advice in the face of what we know to actually be true about American education? When you put the hands to work in learning, students won't be asleep during their lessons. When teachers are challenged to make lessons hands-on, they will not be repeating themselves from last year's notes. Students will have greater interest, attention and participation. It is a simple, old as ages but revolutionary notion that I call the strategic implementation of the hands. Where the hands are engaged, the attention and intellect follow. If we have become a nation of knuckle heads, we'd best not blame our nation's "bad teachers," but rather the unreasonable expectation that learning can be hands-free, for it is by neglecting our hands that character and intellect are diminished.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

what gives you pleasure?

This morning, we finished my week long video shoot of building small cabinets. It's been an intense week. After teaching last week in Kansas City and this week in my own shop, I am ready to unwind. In addition to demonstrating for the camera, I've made three new cabinets, including the maple cabinet with hand-cut dovetails shown above. The angled doors turn the cabinet from a simple large box to a more interesting cabinet design. Next I'll make a decision about pulls, do the final sanding and hinge the doors. This morning we recorded a few closing lines and a few techniques. Gary will come back later in the year to finish the last remaining techniques which we didn't have time for in this session and we'll do voice overs to fill in places we've overlooked or where sequences need additional introduction or transition. About 12 to 14 hours of video will be edited down to about 90 minutes. My work on the DVD is done for now.

Researchers have noted that video gaming, and time on-line increases the brain's production of neuro-hormone dopamine, a pleasure related chemical that lures human beings into sustained effort, while overcoming difficult or uncomfortable circumstances. This relationship is described here. What we do that requires alert, sustained mental engagement produces dopamine which then causes us to feel the sensation of pleasure which then lures us do it again and again, even though we've done it before. Some educational researchers believe that the relationship between video games and dopamine dependency is a tool we should be using in schools, even though we know there are also proven relationships between screen time, anti-social behavior, poor motivation for learning, and severe health effects.

The use of intense human activities to induce feelings of pleasure and accomplishment is nothing new. In fact, the dopamine created in response to video gaming is the same pleasure creating experience as that of applying oil paint to canvas. The rush of sensation may be faster in one than the other. But is there a difference in outcomes? Can each be shared equally for the betterment of man? You tell me.

Is our human purpose merely that of seeking pleasure in the form of chemicals rushing through the brain, or is there something more we could be sharing with our kids? Slowly made perhaps, more slowly shared and longer lasting?

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Is your brain like popcorn?

Does life online give you 'popcorn brain'? As if we didn't have enough to worry about.
Over time, and with enough Internet usage, the structure of our brains can actually physically change, according to a new study. Researchers in China did MRIs on the brains of 18 college students who spent about 10 hours a day online.

Compared with a control group who spent less than two hours a day online, these students had less gray matter, the thinking part of the brain. The study was published in the June issue of PLoS ONE, an online journal.
The study called Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder suggests that intense use of modern technology is changing the ways our brains are structured. What is the fix? Getting back into real things of a slower pace will help. Engagement with computer gaming and rapid stimulation from technologies can "activate dopamine cells in the nucleus accumbens, a main pleasure center of the brain." But these changes are not being understood by researchers as a positive development, but rather are proven to interfere with normal social development and cognitive capacity.
In a blog on Psychology Today, psychologist Robert Leahy recommends experimenting with BlackBerry-free times. "For example, "I won't check my messages between 6 and 9 p.m.," he writes. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, also recommends rewarding yourself for every hour that you don't check. "Tell yourself that you are reclaiming your life," he writes.
Reclaiming your life requires setting distinct boundaries for technology and building in times to shut things down, engage with real life and the people around you. Today I'll continue filming of my DVD Building Small Cabinets.  While the camera is watching me, this is what I see. Photo at left. Gary Junken is  the Taunton Press Video producer and if it is featured on Fine Woodworking or any of Taunton's related websites, you can be certain Gary was therewith his eyes to the camera. We have one morning of filming and then another brief session later in the year.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

an intense week...

I have been under the glare of lights all week, with two more days to go. Video production is not easy, and I'm not really the kind of star quality for this kind of attention. It is hard to get my lines stated just so. However, we are working our way through the making of small cabinets. Yesterday we started on bridle joint doors, and you can see in the photo above some of our efforts. Next we will move on to decorative effects, assembly, hinging, and details. I am grateful to be working with a pro.

We have a very slim chance of finishing the video this week, but will probably require one more two or three day session later sometime in the next months to nail down the various techniques we are illustrating.

Tomorrow we will begin assembling three cabinets and their doors. I've been sanding tonight to get ready. In a comment below, a regular reader informed me that I was being too demanding and didactic. Read or don't read at your leisure. Don't waste your time reading here if you are inclined toward more direct action.What I offer is for your own experimentation, and I would prefer that my readers learn from their own direct observations than from what I say. There are thousands of ways beyond craftsmanship to take advantage of the wisdom the hands offer. Even a task as mundane as washing the dishes (sans dishwasher) done in the right spirit can bring deeper engagement.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

mystique of the manual...

Henrique in Brazil sent this link to an article, the Mistique of the Manual about Simone Weil, noted socialist writer from France. It is a wonderful article, intelligently written and if the link doesn't work, the article can be found at the Lapham's Quarterly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

decline of facebook?

Some facebook readers are deciding that real face to face is better than what happens online, as described by this article, Why some dissatisfied users are shunning facebook. They've become bored with the overly predictable, and are moving back to real exchanges with real people. The same will happen at some point with this blog, if it hasn't already begun its decline in that direction. How much can I say about the hands? Of course the hands touch every aspect of human life, human intelligence, etc. etc. But it is better to use your hands consciously to create than to merely read about their unfulfilled potential.
...there are also some recent signs of "Facebook fatigue." There is only so much you can do to socialize online, especially after you've exhausted your friend list. Some people also complain they're spending so much time on Facebook that they're short-changing the rest of their lives.
I have watched things come and go for a number of years, and even the greatest of things arise only to retreat into oblivion. My public school teacher friends tell me that each year, there is some new fad that they are supposed to introduce and master. Then the next year, they are told, "we don't do that anymore." But the hands have staying power. They put us in touch. They are the defining feature of our humanity. They are the source of all human wisdom. We WILL get to the point at which my gentle reminders are no longer required, and this blog, too will go bye bye in its time. When the strategic implementation of the hands becomes widespread throughout education, this work will be complete.

Today I continue "filming" my small cabinets DVD. As you can see in the photo at left, among the various joinery techniques for attaching cabinet sides to top and bottom, I've been cutting dovetails for a wall hung cabinet. As a student mentioned in Kansas City, he loved it when I make mistakes. Mistakes made by a "pro" are reassuring. So far my dovetails are OK, not perfect and not to write home about. It is a technique which requires practice and undivided attention. If the mind wanders, blade and chisel follow.

make, fix and create.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Building Small Cabinets DVD...

This week I'll be working with Taunton Press video producer Gary Junken on the DVD to go with my book, Building Small Cabinets. It will be 90 minutes in length and cover various  techniques used in building a variety of building small wooden cabinets. This will be an intense week. Take a break from the blog if you wish. I'll be talking about the same things when you come back. Or dig in more deeply. We know that our lives are richer and more full when our hands are engaged. We are better connected with human culture, and feel better about ourselves when we are physically engaged in making real things, tending real things that grow, offering healing touch to those we love, preparing nourishing foods to share with family and friends. We know that we are brought spiritually into the moment when we play music and that psychic and emotional burdens are lifted when we are in the company of those who use their hands in creative fashion. We and those around us are lifted by the hands.

To take the hands into consideration in American education is a relatively simple step. It may have to be taken quietly and against the wishes of administration, and without the knowledge of those bean counters who know only beans and so very little about the needs our children have to be creatively engaged.

On a related subject, researchers have noted a distinct correlation between the amount of television watched and a rise in type 2 diabetes. So just in case you wonder how you can find time to do woodworking and other crafts, think how much longer you will live if you do so. This may seem ironic to propose on the day I start DVD production, but turning off the TV will be a great gift you give yourself in longer life and opportunity to  create. And think of the gift you give your children if you get them started on the right foot! Health, happiness, intelligence, character, creativity and more.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

happy father's day...

I am back in Arkansas after a great 4 days in Kansas City with the Kansas City Woodworkers Guild. Kara Paris, guild member with whom I had planned the classes and evening presentation wanted to close yesterday's class in time for me to be home on Father's Day, and yes, I've made it home safely and in plenty of time.

I want to thank all my new friends in Kansas City for the opportunity to share our  love of working with wood with each other. I want to thank them, also for their many activities as a club that encourage others to work with wood. We have watched our nation struggle and decline for too many years, but the men and women who work with wood and share freely with each other preserve something very important to the American spirit.

As described in this article, America's tale of two different dads, a report from Pew Research tells that there are two kinds of fathers in America.  There are those who take a significant role in the raising of kids and those who do not. On the one hand some fathers are very deeply engaged in parenting, while on the other, there are more single mothers and children abandoned by fathers than ever before.  Many of my friends with KCWG can describe the rewards that come from the kind of fatherhood (and grand-fatherhood) in which we are engaged in sharing what we love with our children. One of the challenges that many fathers face is that of defining meaningful roles for themselves in relation to their children. The ideas of craftsmanship and responsible creativity offer  a clear rationale for sticking things out in relationships and for making things far better for our children. And while we seem unlikely to bring forth the revolution in American education that our children most need, wisdom of the hands is not completely dependent on what happens in schools. We can take matters in our own hands, and even small gifts of our time and attention shared in the wood shop with our children can have significant effects.

Happy fathers day.  Make, fix and create.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Small cabinets...

Today is the start of an intense week making small cabinets. This morning I have a one day class with students at the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild, and then on Monday morning I will begin production of my DVD Building Small Cabinets. This will be my third time to work with Taunton Press video director Gary Junken, so I am looking forward to a reunion with a great professional. I'll share photos if I have time to take any. In the meantime, there need be no obstructions in your own creative life. Make time to make.

I have been very impressed with the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild, and I plan to write in greater depth about this fine organization and its many activities when things have had a chance to settle and the DVD "filming" is complete.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 17, 2011

prejudice against hands-on learning...

This article explains the obstacles faced by hands-on learning in our nation's schooling: Vocational education advocates battle ‘enormous’ prejudices. Mike Rowe from the TV program Dirty Jobs, explains:
"We've elevated the importance of 'higher education' to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled 'alternative,'" he said. "Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as vocational consolation prizes, best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of 'shovel ready' jobs for a society that doesn't encourage people to pick up a shovel."
Fortunately, Mike is finding many educational experts in agreement, and his view has been supported by the recent Harvard report.
"We don't encourage our kids to pursue those careers--we don't aspire to those things," he says. "It's the first thing we'll portray in a negative or typical way on TV. There's the plumber: He's 300 pounds and his butt crack's hanging out."

The new crop of advocates behind Rowe's cause argue that good vocational education doesn't mean kids have to choose between college and a career. They point out that some of the best new vocational programs combine rigorous academic standards with career-focused, real-world curricula and offer the opportunity for students to earn certificates in high-earning fields while they're still teenagers.
We've become a nation of knuckleheads through our failure to include the hands in our nation's schooling. Best is when the hands and brain are challenged to work together in the development of skill, character and intelligence. Turn every school into a workshop/laboratory engaging science through the making of tools for educational exploration and we will see more intelligent results. Give students the hands-on opportunity to discern that which is real from that which is not, and we will discover wisdom in our nation's youth. My thanks to Richard Bazeley, for the link.

In the photo at left, you can see some of the finished boxes from my Kansas City Woodworker's Guild Box Making Class. Students! Great work!
Make, fix and create...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kansas City Box Making

 I had a very busy day today making boxes with students from the Kansas City Wood- worker's Guild, as you can see in the photos above and below. More to follow.

make, fix and create...

Talking heads

I am in Kansas City to teach a class with the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild so unlike most mornings, I am in a motel room watching talking heads on TV. I think that being connected through the hands to physical reality gives me a different view, but they(the talking heads) are the ones who are paid big bucks to shape public opinion and manipulate our elections. I am reminded why John Stewart is thought by many to be the bests source of news commentary as much of his program makes use of the foolishness of talking heads, who seem to be out of touch.

It is important to know what is going on in the world, but perhaps talking heads could be made more accountable to physical and cultural reality by bringing more of their whole persons into actual engagement. A wood shop would help bring some common sense grounding to their opinions. I'll wish for it.
"Put a young man in a wood shop, he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman." --Rousseau
This morning at the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild, we will begin making boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kansas City Woodworker's Guild

I am in Kansas City for a presentation tonight, and then 3 days of classes on box making and building small cabinets. I may not have much time for the blog, but would invite you to explore. There is not much new here on the  hands. People have had them for millions of years, with the hands operating in seamless harmony with thought. Take note of the amount of time that you use your own hands unconsciously and then check the list below to see what you've been missing. Without getting very specific, here is a brief list of some (11) of the wonderful things we do because we have hands, ways in which the hands have shaped our lives, and that we seldom acknowledge.
  1. The hands make us smarter.
  2. The hands make us feel better.
  3. The hands connect us with human culture.
  4. The use of the hands in learning help us to discern truth
  5. The hands lead to scientific hypothesis.
  6. The hands improve communication skills and comfort in communication.
  7. The hands allow us to share with others things made to last generations.
  8. They express care.
  9. They express skill.
  10. They sense in greater detail.
  11. They take the place of other senses when those senses are impaired.
If you want to know anything about any of these, you can attend tonight's meeting with the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild, 7 PM, 3189 Mercier St. Kansas City, MO, or you can spend a bit of time in my absence digging more deeply into the blog.

Update: My presentation with the Kansas City Woodworker's guild went well and was attended by about 150-200 members. What a wonderful group! I promised them that I would upload a photo to the blog showing the Krenov inspired cabinet that I showed in step-by step slides. Photos follow.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

segmented turning at ESSA

Today the Clear Spring School wood shop continues to be used by the Eureka Springs School of the Arts for a segmented turning class with Delbert Dowdy. In the photo at left, Delbert is gluing a small ring of wood using tape to hold the parts in alignment just as I do with box making.

A couple days ago I mentioned a post about narrative based on Jerome Bruner's discussion of narrative in one of his books. One point of distinction is that while Bruner did not recognize the significance of non-verbal narrative, I do. To fail to understand the narrative significance of art is to miss one of its important points.

My post on narrative continues to be a favorite among blog readers, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, many of the readers are from the Philippines. Now, why would that be? perhaps some professor at a university has told his students, "read this."

On the other hand, there is a close relationship between narrative and the true meaning of art. We tend to think of narrative as being a matter of written and spoken word. That limited perspective marginalizes the voices and stories of creative peoples placing greater value on the things that can be published in books over those things which take personal attention to create.

The internet is leveling the verbal playing field giving all a voice in written words that might be compelled to demand it. But wwe must be careful not to neglect other forms of narrative for they are what give us things to write in the first place. The post to which I refer is 3 characteristics of narrative.

While the CSS shop is being used by Delbert's class, I am packing and preparing for my classes with the Kansas City Woodworkers Guild on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. My evening presentation will be on Wednesday night, 7 PM at 3189 Mercier St. Kansas City, MO.  I'll be presenting on the Wisdom of the Hands.

Come if you can.
If not, make, fix and create.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A role for the arts...

Some readers may remember a campaign years ago, "arts for the arts' sake," which was intended to suggest that the arts had value without us expecting anything more from them. But why should we ignore the diverse benefits of the arts and leave them uncounted? The following is from Wikipedia:
"Art for art's sake" is the usual English rendering of a French slogan, from the early 19th century, "l'art pour l'art", and expresses a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function. Such works are sometimes described as "autotelic", from the Greek autoteles, “complete in itself”, a concept that has been expanded to embrace "inner-directed" or "self-motivated" human beings.
To see the arts as thus isolated is crippling and narrow minded, in the same way that to see physics, biology or math as isolated from the arts is destructive of education. To put the arts on a pedestal takes them out of reach, and hides from the bean counters among us their true value. If we were smart in American education, we would see that making, fixing and creating are tangible extensions of literacy, moving children from one side of a consumptive balance into the other as full creative participants in human culture. Maybe balance will be restored in the next generation, for it will certainly take some time for the wisdom of the hands to build a head of steam, and for NCLB legislation and its damaging effects to be left in the dust.

The arts are important as a means through which to engage the hands in learning, thus shaping character, intellect and creative relationship between individual and society at large. Simple but true. And the hands, in turn, provide a complete rationale for the arts of all kinds in American education. If you are concerned about learning, think of the hands, if you are concerned about how to engage the hands, remember the arts. One, two. Schools designed as studio/laboratories will be the new ideal for those who manage to get their hands on straight.

Today Delbert Dowdy, wood turner, will begin his 5 day class on segmented turning at ESSA, the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I will meet him this morning to get the Clear Spring School wood shop ready to welcome the class. The turned hollow form vessel shown above is a piece of Delbert's work. Can you see in it the integration of art and math? You'd have to be fingerblind to miss it.

In the photo above, Delbert and his students have made sleds for cutting parts for segmented bowls.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, June 12, 2011


American Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is planning to relax enforcement of the No Child Left Behind legislation in light of its general all-around failure, according to this article, Fighting the Slow Motion Train Wreck of American Schools. Just in case you don't follow the link and read for yourself, I've quoted as follows:
"Republicans and Democrats agree the law is broken. The Bush-era legislation has led to schools being labeled failures even though they are making improvements, and has discouraged states from adopting higher standards. Duncan said he's encouraged by talks with federal lawmakers in recent weeks indicating the law might see revisions this year. But he said he wants a backup plan in case that doesn't happen. "We can't afford to do nothing," he said.

Duncan said the department is talking to state officials, teachers, principals and parents about how to help schools if the law isn't rewritten. He said any actions taken by the department would not prevent Congress from continuing to negotiate re-authorization.

The news comes as relief for governors, who say their schools should not be punished because of an outdated law. In Georgia, for example, the state Department of Education is creating a "performance index" that measures growth in academic achievement rather than just year-to-year test scores and looks at more subjects than just reading and math, the only two required under the federal law."
I hope that at some point, we all will realize that top down measures for educational reform will not work as well as those from the bottom up, and this too, involves the hands' close proximity to the problems at hand. Get administrators out of the way instead of forcing them to interfere in classroom management, then allow teachers to teach from the foundation of a clear understanding of what works. We all know that we learn best, learn most thoroughly, with the greatest energy and enthusiasm for learning and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands on. It is a matter we each can test for ourselves, and then put in practice if we are brave enough to do so. Call it the strategic implementation of the hands. Where it must be done behind the back of reluctant administrators, call it the surreptitious, strategic implementation of the hands. In either case, put the hands to work for benefit of learning.

Does this sound overly simplistic? Believe me, there is nothing simple about the hands. They have given shape to human intelligence and the entirety of human culture. Then again, a bit of training helps. Please don't leave them dangling.

The photo is from last year's ESSA class for teachers that I co-taught with Dr. Peggy Kjelgaard, The Brain, the Hands and the Arts.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


One of the ways that I can assess my own participation in this blog, and its value to my readers is through a tracking service which tells me which posts are read again and again by readers or forwarded to new readers via email. It also tells me how readers have found their way into my site. Tracking services are one of the advantages that internet writers have over writers of the past who often labored over their words for years before seeing any kind of response from their readers. Most wrote without knowing whether it would be of any interest whatsoever. Writing with the assistance of modern technology is far easier than ever before, and is thus of less value. In that it is on a par with most other human endeavors that have been assisted and simultaneously undermined at the same time.

One of my readers' favorite posts has to do with the narrative, or story telling aspects of craft, and a search for a discussion of narrative is a thing that brings many first time visitors to this blog. Seeing numbers is not the same as having a personal conversation with readers, but it does show interest in what I've had to say, and helps me to know that what I discuss has growing relevance. You can read a reader favorite on the subject of narrative here. The photo above left is a "narrative" work, as  described in the earlier post. Another favorite post concerns the relationship between Pestalozzi and Froebel in laying the groundwork for Educational Sloyd. That post can be read here. Readers of this blog can give feedback through the comments link below. Do you have a favorite post or subject area? Let me know. A conversation if far better than statistics.

A reader, in Buffalo, Jeff, who does woodwork with his 7 year old son, sent a link to Childhood Engineers. The article describes how the various opportunities that children have for play can be a strong influence in their future capacities in science, technology, engineering and math.

Today, I am cleaning the shop and preparing for my class at the Kansas City Woodworker's Guild and for filming my DVD Building Small Cabinets the following week.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, June 10, 2011

casting doubt...

One of the lines in yesterday's quote from Jules Payot on the subject of will used the term "methodical skepticism." Can you imagine a school system or educational method in which children are led to question rather than accept as certain the proclamations of the teaching staff and the state approved text books? The idea of methodical skepticism is related to Cartesian doubt, and the writings of Descartes:
Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation... – RenĂ© Descartes, Meditation I, 1641
One of the things that happen when we work with wood or other real materials in our efforts to craft useful and beautiful objects is that we encounter physical reality and are forced to learn from it, not simply accepting those things that are described by others. Misquoting Descartes, he proclaimed, "I tinker, therefore I am..." Cast doubt, and see what you can catch from it... the truth perhaps?

So I raise the question, and cast the doubt, is education designed to put us to sleep? Or to awaken us to a world of exploration and discovery? As Jacob Bronowski said, "the hands are the cutting edge of the mind." Still the hands, still the intellect, and stifle the imagination.

According to a shocking article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, my home town's public high school has been measured by Diplomas Count as having a graduation rate of 55.2%. That is an alarming figure, and while there may be some anomalies on which to lay the blame, it is obvious that our public education is not doing enough to encourage students to stay in school. According to Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate,
"If students have information about all the opportunities that exist after high school that might encourage students to persist. They'll see the connection between a high school education and future job opportunities."
I have been an advocate for mentoring and internship programs to engage students in outside the school learning opportunities, and have discovered that I have not done enough.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

the education of the will

The development of will, "The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action," is a more common subject for discussion in Europe and in Waldorf education than in the US. We seem more concerned with controlling willful behavior than developing children's motive force. How do we develop within students, the willingness to try difficult things, to face failure, and to thence try again and persist toward excellence? Are schools merely about meeting standards or transcending them? And is "ease of use" our terminal objective? Is it the anvil upon which human character is forged?

I have been reading a book from Waldorf Education called Will-Developed Intelligence, Handwork & Practical Arts in the Waldorf School, and also found a much older book, The Education of Will by Jules Payot, available as a free download. It can be read on Kindle or Nook or directly on your computer screen. The following is from the preface to the 27th edition.
The age to which we belong is conducive to mental unrest. Neither in dogmas nor institutions can be found the peace of mind which comes from the certitude of complete repose. Even Catholicism itself, which at one time offered a secure sanctuary for the unsettled mind, is full of the most serious internal dissensions.

In politics, sociology, and morals no principle remains undiscust. Secondary education, knowing nothing of the will, remains almost exclusively intellectual. From the moral point of view, it is an ineffectual compromise between precedent and innovation.

Young people start in life with a handicap; they have not been trained to patience long sustained, to disinterestedness, to methodical skepticism, all of which go to constitute the philosophical spirit.

Their tendency is toward intolerance, and this because the great doctrine of the relativeness of knowledge has not penetrated their practical rule of life. A discipline of liberty has not instilled in them the habit of looking for "the soul of truth," which gives birth to new ideas. They take sides too soon, and from that moment they are useless for the elaboration of superior syntheses, or in other words, for the search after truth. Every man should apply himself with all his soul to the truth. It is in this that freedom consists--in the infusion of one's personal attitude with the realities of life.

To be free means, therefore, that one realizes the laws which register the exterior and interior realities of life, and that one realizes one's self. If these two conditions are not fulfilled, the complete and harmonious development of the personality is impossible.

This double consciousness moreover can only be acquired by action. In observing the effects of action on one's self, little by little the cloak of prejudice and suggestion which conceals our deeper tendencies is penetrated, and the fundamental ego is revealed. Emerson remarks that his duty is something which has to do with his own personality, and not with the opinions of others-- a rule as hard to apply in the practical as in the intellectual life, but which can take the place of all distinctions between greatness and littleness. We must therefore have a distinct consciousness of ourselves if we wish to fulfill our personal destiny completely. If we do not know ourselves, we become the sport of circumstances, of suggestions, and of erroneous beliefs which mar our development and give it a direction, which does violence to our fundamental tendencies.

Realizing ourselves and taught by realities in the midst of which we move, in order to fulfill our destiny we only have to treat with the law of causation. It is thus with the commander of a vessel. It is the tendency of the waves to swallow him up; he obliges them to support him, in the same way that he compels a contrary wind to take him to port. Not only does reflex action lay bare our fundamental tendencies, but it renders almost tangible the great moral law which dominates our social structure. The expansion of my personality and the proportionate value of my cooperation in the common task depend for a large part on the richness, intellectual and moral of other men. My highest individual power coincides with the greatest degree of outside support and of justice.

But the slow exploration of our fundamental tendencies and the intelligent development of our will, subjected to the law of cause and effect, make repose necessary. We must resist the dilettante habits acquired by an early encyclopedic training; we must resist the terrifying menial dissipation of useless reading, and the trepidation of contemporary life. Tranquility is required before a solution will form into crystals of regular beauty. In the same way, we need meditation if we would mold our fundamental personality into good, energetic habits.
--Jules Payot, April 10, 1907
I know this is long but worthy of study. People like to read the short and sweet things that can be easily digested, but there is meat here. You will need to chew. We think of schools as imparting knowledge when we also need to think of them as building and informing character. Knowledge is easy, character is hard.

Today in the wood shop, I am working on small cabinet parts to prepare for beginning to film my DVD Building Small Cabinets.

I was just informed that readers can now download my DVD Basic Box Making direct from the Fine Woodworking Website for a price of $14.95, a significant savings over the hard copy price. You can also preview a portion of the DVD from the same link.

Make, fix and create. What the craftsman striving toward excellence most sincerely creates is him or her self.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

subversive implementation of the hands...

I had a young friend here to visit yesterday with her husband and accompanied by her parents who had been my best friends when I moved to Eureka Springs. It was a very pleasant reunion. As a professional matter, I will not name her in the blog, but my friend is a first grade teacher in the poor area of a fairly large mid-western city and she's very well aware of the problems that face American education. Nearly every year, her administration orders some new program that is supposed to make things better. When she finds one to be working in her own classroom, they change the next year anyway, saying, "We don't do that anymore." And so the changes keep coming, rolling down from the top, devised and imposed by administrators sincerely trying to gain control of a system that is out of hand. And in the midst of that, teachers burn out, resign, and move on in desperation and despair.

My friend stated, "I wish someone knew what to do." And that was my invitation to raise my hand, and to suggest, "I do know what to do." Even in the face of administrators who just don't get it, who are driven by fear, I do know what to do! Teachers can and must liberate their children's hands. The use of the hands is the pathway to the development of mind. If crafts are denied you in the teaching of literature or math, begin a program of advanced deliberate sneaky subversive doodling. We learn more efficiently with greater lasting effect when our hands are engaged, and while administrators can attempt to control many things, the solution for the problems within American education are not ones that we can expect to be delivered from the top. The simple revolution I propose is all about getting a grip, gaining and offering a renewed understanding of the role of the hands in learning and thus re-energizing American education.


It may seem truly absurd and egotistical for a woodworker in Arkansas to make suggestions for such subversive change, but I am actually not alone in what I propose. Nearly all the great educators have led us by the hand to this point. You can find the seed of what I present in the writings of Dewey, Montesorri, Froebel, Pestalozzi, Cygnaeus, Comenius, and so many more including those who were the founders of the industrial arts movement in the US. And so, I am not alone but stand on the shoulders of giants. If you don't believe me, do your homework. Then put your children's hands to work. Devise motions, gestures and hand signs through which children can express their engagement. Encourage them to doodle and engage with manipulatory objects. Let them knit. Let them make cake. Let them eat it too. When administrators realize what you've done, you may be required to explain a few things. But the impact on student learning will be self-explanatory. When the administrators begin to understand the impact of the hands, we can then move toward what schools could have been in the first place, workshop-laboratories for the development of intellect, character and creativity.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, June 06, 2011

3rd grade brain development

A new study shows significant brain changes between 2nd and third grades. The researchers think it might be caused by school, but have found no cause and effect relationship. I would suggest that the changes including increased cross-lateralization (cross-talk between hemispheres) are the natural effects of the maturing brain, having little to do with school and more to do with normal brain development. It explains why Finnish schools would start certain educational endeavors like reading when the children have reached the point of development at which those particular lessons would be most effective rather than detrimental. Students pushed too early and too vigorously to read also learn to dislike and resist reading. (and math) Children are more likely to enjoy reading and math if they are allowed to mature first and read later.

It used to be that teachers were trained to watch for cross-lateral brain development in their students as a means for assessing reading readiness. Kindergarten teachers were trained to observe whether or not their students could skip, indicating that the two halves of the brain were becoming more closely integrated. The idea was that if you could skip, you were nearing the time in which you would be ready to read. When standardized testing became so dominant in American education, they stopped training teachers in the use of more direct tools of observation and stopped trusting teachers as being capable of assessment.

Make, fix and create.

what to do?

Just in case you don't have a shop with tools, or any tools at all, there are things you can do to energize your creative self and explore the feelings that arise as you develop skill. Frank Rosenow's sailor's classic, the Ditty Bag Book, a guide for sailors could serve as the starting point for personal transformation from idle consumer to skilled craftsman. I discovered this book through a recent review in Wooden Boat magazine.

Ditty Bags are small bags in which sailors keep their important small tools for sail mending and sewing related fixing and mending on the ship or boat. As you can see from the cover, ditty bags themselves were often opportunities for creative craftsmanship. This book, small enough to fit in a ditty bag, gives you all you need to know to make ditty bags of your own, and build the skills necessary to do innumerable wonderful things related to your boat. For instance, stitched-on leather chafing gear is far more beautiful and interesting than rubber hose. No boat? Why would you let that stop you? Make a bag first, and stitch your way toward having the skills and confidence necessary for building a boat later.

The Rebellion of an Innovation Mom is a Princeton professor's answer to Tiger Mothering. While our children are being over-scheduled, and literally driven from one parental imposed activity to another, free time is being recognized as essential to innovation.
Remember that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to follow their passions.

Can we really imagine kids who have done absolutely everything expected of them both in and out of school being willing to ignore their college courses and their parents’, teachers’, and coaches’ expectation to suddenly pursue their own path?
I always have interesting conversations with my teacher friends, and a party on the Osage Creek last night was an opportunity for a brief conversation with a friend who is working as a teacher's aide. She said that how things are not working is a common topic for conversation amongst teachers in our local public schools. But the teachers, she says are "jaded and philosophical" about it. "The pendulum swings," they say. "First, the administration pushes this way and then that." We know that many of the pushes made by administration are in response to governmental regulations and the latest fads among politicians. Teachers as a result, are beaten down and hesitant to try new things, only to face criticism and disciplinary action. Can it be any surprise that many choose to leave the teaching profession within three to five years?

There are interesting changes that can come best from below. Administrative discipline cannot stop teachers from adopting an interest in the strategic implementation of the hands. Subtle things can be done that quiet the mind, and engage students in the classroom, even if they require sneaking pipe cleaners and playdough and other kinds of ditty into student hands. Teachers, try it. If you get caught, explain it. If that doesn't work, send your administrator to me and I'll try to explain it for you.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

tough time for graduates

"Let the youth once learn to take a straight shaving off a plank, or draw a fine curve without faltering, or lay a brick level in its mortar, and he has learned a multitude of other matters which no lips of man could ever teach him." --John Ruskin, "Time and Tide", 1883

Over the last two decades, as public schools have become serious at measuring rather than providing for student success, they began dropping their woodworking programs as extraneous. Wood shop was no longer relevant. We had become a nation of sellers and consumers. We were taking a shellacking in industrial productivity in comparison to lesser nations and it was judged reasonable for us to surrender our industrial edge to countries where intelligent labor could be gotten at less cost. We, in turn, were to be a "service economy" in an "information age" and manufacturing was no longer a matter of our strategic concern. Besides, the skills and character that are acquired and expressed through the intelligent acts of making real things, don’t fit neatly on bubble tests, and are thus too hard to measure in a school culture obsessed with measurable "standards". Skill and integrity expressed in the making of real things won't fit neatly on spread sheets.

In the meantime, many of the finest independent schools in America have maintained their woodworking programs, and wouldn’t give them up for the world. Can it be that they know a few things that have been largely forgotten in public education?

This year, with high unemployment, it seems that 85% of new college graduates are headed home to live with Mom and Dad, while jobs in industry requiring engineering degrees and some technical skills are going unfilled. How can they hire someone for complex technical operations if they can’t read a tape measure, or drawing or do the most simple of calculations? If you've never made anything in your life and think that is the answer to all your problem solving concerns, to industry you need not apply.

Fareed Zacharia on CNN has a program on how to restore our American innovative edge. It just might be worth watching. If we are not a nation of makers, please don't expect us to be a nation of innovative idea makers, either. Here is a bit from Zacharia that you might be hoping for:
...if we are to get the U.S. back to work, we need perhaps even more urgently to rebuild American education, reform our training system, revive high-end manufacturing, focus on new growth industries and rebuild our infrastructure.
Today in my wood shop, I will be doing materials preparation to be ready to make small cabinets for a class with the Kansas City Woodworker’s Guild, June 17 and for the filming of my DVD Building Small Cabinets which will take place the following week in my wood shop. There is a lot of prep work to do in a short period of time. If I'm not here blogging, assume I'm busy in the wood shop. Go ahead on your own...

Make, fix and create, as though our human culture and national success depend upon it. (they do)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

More from Sir Charles Bell, 1833...

More from The hand, its mechanism and vital endowments as evincing design – Sir Charles Bell, 1833
It would appear that in modern times we know comparatively little of the pleasures arising from motion. The Greeks, and even the Romans, studied elegance of attitude and movement. Their apparel admitted of it, and their exercises and games must have led to it. Their dances were not the result of mere exuberance of spirits and activity; they studied harmony in the motion of the body and limbs, and majesty of gait. Their dances consisted more of the unfolding of the arms than of the play of the feet, ---"their arms sublime that floated on the air." Their Pyrrhic dances were elegant movements, joined to the attitudes of combat, and performed in correct coincidence with the expression of the music, The spectators in their theaters must have had very different associations from ours, to account for the national enthusiasm arising from music and their rage excited by a mere error in the time.

This reminds us that the divisions in music in some degree belong to the muscular sense. A man will put own his staff in regulated time, and the sound of his steps will fall into a measure, in his common walk. A boy striking the railing in mere wantonness, will do it with a regular succession of blows. This disposition of the muscular frame to put itself into motion with an accordance to time is the source of much that is pleasing in music, and aids the effect of melody. There is thus established the closest connection between the enjoyments of the sense of hearing and the exercise of the muscular sense.

"The hand is the instrument for perfecting the other senses and developing the endowments of the mind itself." -- Sir Charles Bell.

If we were to fully understand our children, would we have them sit at desks with their movements restrained, or would we set them at motion with their natural rhythms expressed?

In the meantime, we have a Republican presidential candidate willing to admit that man's activities may have "some effect" on global warming. We have such poor science literacy in the US that we have a large proportion of people in leadership positions in government who deny the validity of science. When schools and parents fail to engage children in making, those children have little skill or confidence in the direct observation upon which science is based. When science is taught in the same manner as religion, you can you see why some believe that belief in science is a choice unrelated to fact, and that they get to choose whatever is convenient. Please believe me when I tell you, that we have made a mess of things in more ways than one. Global warming damages our future, and the well being of every species on earth.

As Mitt Romney eases himself timidly into the issue he puts his candidacy at risk. I wish him luck. But the US cannot continue to be aligned with stupidity.

Mindless making is a waste, as is mind without the benefits derived from inquisitive hands. But when making is mindful, and when mind is applied hands-on to solving real problems, wisdom and compassion arise within the home, community and nation.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Sir Charles Bell

The following is from The hand, its mechanism and vital endowments as evincing designSir Charles Bell:
The property in the hand of ascertaining the distance, the size, the weight, the form, the hardness and softness, the roughness or smoothness of objects results from the combined perception--through the sensibility of the proper organ of touch and the motion of the arm, hand and fingers. But the motion of the fingers is especially necessary to the sense of touch; they bend, extend, or expand, moving in all directions like palpa, with the advantage of embracing the object, and feeling it on all its surfaces; sensible to its solidity and to its resistance when gasped; moving round it and gliding over its surface, and therefore, feeling every asperity, provided that vigorous circulation, and therefore, the healthful condition both of the mind and the body, shall result from muscular exertion and the alternation of activity and repose.

The pleasure which arises from the activity of the body is also attended by gratification from the exercise of a species of power--as in mere dexterity, successful pursuit in the field, or the accomplishment of some work of art. This activity is followed by weariness and a desire for rest, and although unattended with any describable pleasure or local sensation, there is diffused through every part of the frame, after fatigue and whilst the active powers are sinking into repose, a feeling almost voluptuous. To this succeeds the impatience of rest, and thus we are urged to the alternations which are necessary to health, and invited on from stage to stage of our existence.

We owe other enjoyments to the muscular sense. It would appear that in modern times we know comparatively little of the pleasures arising from motion.
Use your hands and mind their effects. They are cause for marvel. Make, fix and create.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

makers vs. dilettantes and bean counters...

Bob Lutz, former vice-chairman of General Motors has written a call to arms (and hands), in "Car Guys vs Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business," which goes on sale on June 9.
"Lutz tells of the battles he fought after joining GM in 2001 to steer the automaker away from over-reliance on data and back to its roots making well-designed, popular cars. More broadly, the book serves as a clarion call for all U.S. manufacturers to focus on their products rather than quarterly numerical targets. "We are no longer the richest, most all-powerful nation in the world, where we can afford to pay each other high salaries and high wages and high benefits and import $19 DVD players from China," Lutz said in an interview. "That is not going to work. We pay for it in IOUs called Treasury bills," he added. "Time is running out and the country is going to have to reestablish its industrial base."
It sounds like a good read about an asinine situation. In the meantime, there are a few of us makers left, though we have long felt as though we are an endangered species, and might be the last of our kind. Now the pendulum seems to be starting its swing in the opposite direction and noticed that with the exception of bombs and missles we no longer lead in the making of diddly squat. In the meantime, David Brooks at the New York Times has some ideas for the recent generation of college graduates, presented in an editorial Its Not About You... The idea Brooks offers is that while many commencement speakers are telling students to go out and find themselves, they should lose themselves  instead in efforts to tackle real problems...

Much of what we've done in the last generation has been to seek ease. Ease of use, comfort and security, when what we all need are challenges that cause us to transcend our own perceived limitations through the development of skill.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hand in mind, mind in hand...

It seems that life is experimental. On the more personal level, some live long, some die young. Some individuals are met with recognition and success, some struggle long years without either. On the broad cultural level, as we've become rather homogeneous in our addictions to technology, it seems that we keep moving in directions that have unpredictable outcomes. An example is that now medical scientists have reawakened their serious concerns about cell phones, and as my wife and I were talking this morning, we were thinking about our own limited use of them, and our children's much more active cell phone engagement. Do they cause cancer? I guess that is one of those things that we will certainly find out. We spend about half our time hoping that science can be wrong, or that we and our own children can in some way be lucky enough to escape scot free, what we seem to be doing to ourselves.

And what about the hands? The rise of machine tools and automation brought with it the idea that the things that fill our lives can be created without effort and at little cost. But are there no hidden prices that we must pay? If only life could be as simple as we might hope. And it is not. There are those unforeseen consequences that play havoc. They sneak up on us. Life, after all, is experimental.

But what if we were to engage our minds more handfully and our hands more mindfully? They are, after all, entwined throughout our development, as individuals and as a species. Felix Adler wrote in 1883 about his experiment at the Workingman's School in New York City:
"The salient feature of the new experiment is that it introduces what may be called the creative method into school education. The system of teaching by object lessons has long been familiar to educators. It is proposed to improve upon this system by giving lessons in the production of objects. The step forward taken by Pestalozzi, when he summoned teachers to desist from the vain work of teaching the names of things, and to lead their pupils rather to a first-hand observation of things, marked a new epoch in the science of pedagogy. At present, still another step must be taken, viz, from the mere observation to the production of things as a means of acquiring knowledge; and the taking of this step will mark another epoch in pedagogy. Froebel began to apply the principle of the creative method in his Kindergarten. But the kindergarten system covers only three years of the child's life; while, for the school age proper, no valuable and tangible formulation of the creative principle has yet been given...

I have thus far spoken only of the value of the creative method for the culture of the intellect. But we who desire an "all-sided" rather than a "one-sided" development of the child must take into account the aesthetic and moral nature as well; only by the harmonious culture of all three can the larger humanity be perfected; and the creative method must show itself capable of giving a powerful stimulus in all these different directions if it would vindicate its title to the high significance which we are inclined to ascribe to it."
I am reminded of a diver. If you plunge in head first from a great height and do not have your hands positioned to first break water, the impact is painful and damaging. But lead carefully with your hands as all great divers do, and you enter the water beautifully with little splash. So even in the physical realm, the hands are the partner of head. In education, hand and mind are intertwined, except that in our dangerous experiment in education we have forgotten to lead with the hands.

Go against the flow. Row against the falling tide.

Today I am finishing the small cherry glass front cabinet to send to Fine Woodworking and one of the last steps prior to installing the pull on the front is to install rare earth magnets in the door and side. In the photo at left you can see the simple method for aligning holes for rare earth magnets to fit. In the hole already drilled in the door is the dowel locator pin. In the cabinet side, you can see the mark made by the pin.

I drill that hole next, and then using one magnet to hold the other (so their attraction is maximized and not negated), I close the door forcing the second magnet into the hole drilled in cabinet side. The fit is tight, so no glue is required. And no other method will keep the poles of the magnets oriented in the right direction so they attract.

Make, fix and create.