Saturday, July 30, 2011

Learning from the real world

There are moments when art attains almost to the dignity of manual labor. ~ Oscar Wilde

I want to thank my box making students for a great week.

In Pestalozzi's school, in the early 1800s, a teacher showed his students a picture of a ladder as he was trying to get his students to learn the word. A student asked if wouldn't it be better to go out to the shed where there was a real ladder to examine. The teacher, impatient to proceed through the lesson, was bothered by the interruption. Later, when the teacher tried to teach the word window, the student insisted they should study the real window which could be examined without even leaving the room. Exasperated, the teacher asked Pestalozzi about the child's remarks. Pestalozzi said that the child was right. Whenever possible, lessons should be drawn from reality and the real world experiences offered rather than from pretense and artifice.

This week I told my students about my dog Tappy and her inexplicable powers of extrasensory discernment. As demonstrated by Tappy, the range of available data to be drawn from our actual physical surroundings is profound. These days we watch children and adults glued to their hand-held digital devices, walking through physical reality, missing most of what that reality offers in real world knowledge as they fail to attune their bodies, minds and emotions to the insights available to them.

An article in the Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid describes a narrowing of our range of perception as we become more attentive to what is offered on the internet and less attentive to so many other things. As we walk along, transfixed by our devices, we fail to learn from our surroundings and begin to resemble the zombies that our current media-crazed generation of youth loves so very much.

I have had woodworkers complain to me that I should be sticking to the subject of woodworking in the blog. All this talk about education bores them. And yet, those of us who actually engage in making real things, those of us who attempt to make things of useful beauty, also know the power of our making to transform. While educators are concerned with test scores and other disruptive statistical nonsense, we know that schools can be fundamentally reawakened by looking beyond the statistics to those activities that bring the power of learning to our own real hands. Whether we like it, or know it, or accept it or not, we are called to duty by experience as the front line in a revolution.
"Many, perhaps most, people never get an
opportunity to do dovetailing, but every
human being, man or woman, may acquire
from it the habit of doing well whatever
he/she is called upon to do."—Otto Salomon
Make, fix and create...


  1. Richard Bazeley4:04 AM

    There are plenty of blogs to learn about woodwork. This is the only blog, which I know, to learn about the importance of woodwork in education. This blog is making a unique and important contribution to the education debate and I only wish that more people would read it.

  2. Anonymous6:20 PM


    Not just the importance of woodworking in education, but also how that and other ways of working with our hands makes us more complete people. Tomorrow I will follow an electrician around my house watching him work. He's used to this by now, and jokes about how letting me watch will cost him future business. It won't.