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.


  1. Those who know this to be true are those who have recieved education through the use of their hands. I hope this movement progresses and lives far beyond our time. I believe in the power of hands on learning and the kids in classrooms all across America do as well. We need to trust those who care and who are devoted to the genuine purpose of education, not just those who have an impressive sounding job title.

    Your words bring courage to my hearfelt thoughts.

  2. Anonymous12:03 PM

    I know it's pretty radical, but one possible solution is to let teachers teach, and add the work of the hands to the mix.


  3. Mario, many hands make light work. Let teachers plan the lessons and students learn through the engagement of their hands. Can there be a formula more simple than that?

    Best is that we don't need some for-profit educational corporation selling the formula for big bucks, screwing our kids out of their birthrights.

  4. Common sense is pretty radical in the public school system.