Friday, July 01, 2011

The relationship between hand, language and mind

Richard Bazeley, wood shop teacher in Australia, has been working with his school’s literacy program which is part an effort to "raise the literacy standards of the students so that they can cope better with schooling and improve their performance in the Federal literacy tests." He notes,
"We took the students into the school’s library for their reading session and I was surprised to see some of the students walking around as though they were lost. The librarian said that this is because many of them do not go to the library during normal class time as most of the research work they do for classes is done on computers in class rooms. For some of the students being in a library and reading a book is something they are not accustomed to doing."
Richard was also amazed at how some of the students in their 8th year of schooling still struggled to read the simplest of words.
"If a student is struggling with simple words how can they cope with the waves of text they receive on a daily basis in their regular classrooms? It is good to get out of the workshop and spend some time with these students doing other work, seeing what they have to deal with and what other learning skills they bring or don’t bring to the workshop."
I am interested in the relationship between the concrete and the abstract. It has been demonstrated that children who are encouraged to count on fingers at an early age, outgrow the need to count numbers on fingers earlier in their development, while those who do not count on fingers, or are discouraged from doing so, may never internalize counting skills. Just as with fingers and internalized counting skills, early educators observed that learning naturally moved from the concrete to the abstract. Charles H. Ham discussed the relationship between hand, mind and language skills in his book, Mind and Hand, as follows:
"It may be claimed that the power of speech depends almost entirely upon the endless succession of fresh objects presented to the mind by the hand. These form the subject as well as the occasion of speech. If the hand should cease to make new things, new words would cease to be required. The principle changes in language arise out of new discoveries in science and new inventions in art, each fresh discovery of science giving rise to many new things in art. Art and science react upon each other."

"If the hands should cease to labor in the arts, should cease to make things, should cease to plant and gather, the scope of speech would be still further restricted, would be confined to an expression of the wants of savages subsisting on the native fruits of field and forest. It comes to this, that progress can find expression only in the concrete."
This point should be made: that if we want children to read and gain in literacy, regardless of whether we want that reading to be in books, or through the internet, we need to give them cause to read. Making beautiful and useful objects should begin at a very early age if we want to give kids the physical and intellectual tools that they will need to master in order to find success.

Make, fix and create.

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