Wednesday, August 31, 2011

even for the best and brightest...

When you realize that hands make us smarter, that they are the source of all human wisdom, that the hand and brain co-evolved as a behavioral system, that one without the other is diminished, that the former is not the boobie prize, but that both together are the team that leads all students toward best expression, maximum creativity, greatest intelligence, along with the maximum development of human character, you have suddenly grasped the small but significant key to the renewal of American education.

Put the hands to work in learning in EVERY class. Turn schools into learning-making laboratories. Restore the arts, music and woodshop  to their rightful place in our nation's schools.  The strategic implementation of the hands can make school more interesting to the kids, more fun and creative for teachers. Instead of having teachers' hands tied to set curriculum, set them free to share an enthusiasm for learning. Folks, this is not just about wood shop and the stupidity that erased it from most schools, but about the foolishness that left American educators thinking that the hands need not be present for the mind to win.

I am preparing for next week's classes at Clear Spring School. I have fun imagining projects and then watching the children grow. I received a bunch of saws and chisels from Lee Valley so that my middle school and high school students can begin making hand crafted wooden boxes. Dovetails will be cut. The high school students will be making easels for their art class. The first grade students will have their first chance to work with a saw and plane, making sloyd pencil sharpeners.

I will be having fun teaching others to love working with wood. The photos show two current projects in the works for CSS. I've been making an adaptation of the Hamilton style marking to use when the students cut dovetails, and I made a simple prototype musical instruments, which I call  a "frog box." The frog boxes are inspired by a musical instrument I brought back from Costa Rica in January. You rub a stick on the frog's back to make a frog sound. Put several to work and you have a chorus. Mine doesn't look much like a frog (the one I brought from Costa Rica does), but will be fun for the 4th 5th and sixth grade students to make. It is made from thin strips of scrap mahogany, and thin slices of 2x4, sawn vertical against the fence. The notched strip for rubbing is also made of scrap mahogany.

I will simply reiterate, the hands are tied in direct relationship to the growth of intellect, even for the best and brightest of our nation's kids.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hand skills are not the boobie prize...

I had heard that skilled hands are what God gives to those who are not given the gifts of intellect. Have YOU ever heard such nonsense? (It is a bit like thanking God for sparing you from the Hurricane that killed all your neighbors.) You can see this notion, one gift or the other paved in stone in American education, as children hit middle school and decisions are made as to whether they are to go on a college path or wander off a less distinct path toward the trades.

This mistaken notion is the result of a mistaken understanding of the close relationship between the brain and the hands. In essence, the hands and brain co-evolved as a behavioral system, according to Frank Wilson, MD in his book The Hand, How it use shapes the brain, language and human culture.   To waste that essential connection between the two is to lay waste economy and culture in future generations.

Odd, as I think of these things in the night there is a distinct clarity in how the story of the hands and mind can best be told. The words are there in my lucid dreaming, and yet when I get to the keyboard in the morning, they elude me, and I am left wandering and wondering how to state clearly and precisely that which should be obvious to all those of us who do anything beyond nose picking with our fingers and hands. The hands literally touch every facet of human existence. If we know something certain, and certainly we do, it is because the hands have tested it. If we live in a world of wonderful objects in homes that withstand wind and weather, human hands and mind working in harmony have made our lives so.

And so, based on one mistaken notion there are those who have become utterly convinced that their educational status conveys to them the privilege of doing little more than nose picking with their hands. The purpose of this blog is to inform them of what they have missed, and of giving greater voice to the hands that they may take their rightful place in American education and help us to thus avoid in the future the mess we are in now.

I am sorry the clarity of my lucid dreaming escapes me this morning on the keys. Thus my message is not full in this single post. But let me be perfectly clear. Skilled hands are no boobie prize, but the cultivated gift of an intelligent mind and vice-versa.

I was listening to Ali Velshi, CNN's financial correspondent talking about Wall Street on the Jon Stewart show. Velshi described Wall Street's rise and fall as a gigantic mood ring, telling more about the mood (these days anxiety) of investors than about the actual profits, losses and potentials of the companies represented on the exchange. Our economy has gotten so out of hand, our "experts" so out of touch that we are allowing them to control the welfare of our nation. While American people are losing their life savings, Wall Streeters are "in the swing of it" making money whether it swings one way or the other in response to the rise or fall of essentially unrelated indexes. What a perfect illustration of our current dilemma. Another perfect illustration is a banking proposal that millions of homes be destroyed to take them off the market and restore the value of other housing "stock," which is a term intended to make real people's homes seem unimportant, and the lives they've invested in their properties of no consequence.  Does that make you want to scream, or what? We have certainly become a nation of heartless nincompoops... at least in the financial sector.

Want to escape the stupidity and anxiety? Take your mind in hand. Settle your nerves. Make your investments close to home. Build a wood shop. Buy a tool. Start a garden. Cook dinner at home tonight. Your mind, heart, hands, economy, and our culture will show signs of improvement.

Today in the wood shop, I am preparing projects for school and making small sliding top boxes. You can see how the box is assembled in the photo at above. One end is mitered and the other is secured with a tenoned piece low enough for the sliding lid to pass over as the box is opened.

Make, fix and  create...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Baked Burritos.

Just in case you think the wisdom of the hands is only about woodworking, here's a recipe I've developed that might bring some pleasure to your kitchen. Sorry, I was too hungry to take photos, but on a plate with salad or sides, they are beautiful.

Use the large flour tortillas.
You will also need:

2 T olive oil
1/2 large onion
1 red pepper
1/2 t. cumin
2 T. chopped cilantro
1 pinch of black pepper
One 16 oz. can organic black beans
Brown rice
Monterrey Jack cheese
Optional, 1 small Jalapeno pepper

Start cooking 1 cup of brown rice. Cook until the rice is tender and all liquid is absorbed.
While rice is cooking chop onion and red pepper into small pieces
Put olive oil, cumin, onion, red pepper and jalapeno (if desired) in skillet and saute until veggies are soft.
Drain the beans, add them to the skillet and salt lightly. Cook until almost all liquid is gone, and add cilantro.

Preheat the oven to 375 and grate 8 oz. of Monterrey Jack cheese.
Spread olive oil lightly on cooking sheet and assemble the burritos.
Spread cheese, then a layer of rice and then beans.
Close ends of burritos and roll tight so the end is buried underneath.
Sprinkle the tops with remaining cheese and add a bit of salsa on top.

Bake until cheese is melted and tortilla just begins to crisp. 15 to 20 minutes.

For a great side dish, broil or grill thin slices of zucchini marinated in equal parts, tamari, olive oil and lime juice. Or serve with corn.

I hope this recipe is one that you will enjoy.

Make, fix (dinner) and create...

planet of the apes...

Chimps memorizing numbers. Can you do this?Now it gets a bit harder. Can you do this?Or this? Can you imagine schools in which children are taught by computers to do similar things? Some can.

Personally, I would prefer real teachers. Arthur C. Clarke said, "a teacher who can be replaced by a machine should be." Using the same logic, a mother who could be replaced by a nipple should be. But there is a lot more about education than delivery of information, and there is a lot more about being a mother than delivery of milk.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

the 800 lb. sore thumb in the room...

One of the difficult things to talk about in the Wisdom of the Hands is the 800 lb. sore thumb in the room. There are millions of people, college graduates and the recipients of advanced degrees in higher education, who feel justified in thinking themselves the best and brightest. They were recognized by their teachers their first days in school as the smartest and best. From that firm foundation they worked hard for their degrees and invested thousands of dollars to attain a particular standing in American society. For a woodworker in Arkansas, a man holding a hammer to suggest that all those best and brightest may not be as best and bright as they have assumed themselves to be could be interpreted as an insult of the highest order. And yet, when one begins to understand the role of the hands in the creation of intelligence, one cannot help but notice the opportunity cost of decisions that were made in American education, to isolate the education of the hand from that of the mind, to separate those who have academic ambitions requiring college from those presumed ill-suited for academic pursuits destined for the trades. In our system of American education we make no allowances for late blooming. The clock is always ticking on our education, though we know learning should last for a lifetime. Jonathan Baldwin Turner, father of our nation's land grant colleges, wrote of the hazards of a two-tiered society in his Griggsville Address, May 1850:
"...a classical teacher who has no original, spontaneous power of thought, and knows nothing but Latin and Greek, however perfectly, is enough to stultify a whole generation of boys and make them all pedantic fools like himself. The idea of infusing mind, or creating or even materially increasing it, by the daily inculcation of unintelligible words--all this awful wringing to get blood out of a turnip--will, at any rate, never succeed except in the hands of the eminently wise and prudent, who have had long experience in the process; the plain, blunt sense of the unsophisticated will never realize cost in the operation. There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what thy really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."

"The most natural and effective mental discipline possible for any man arises from setting him to earnest and constant thought about things he daily does, sees and handles, and all their connected relations and interests. The final object to be attained, with the industrial class, is to make them thinking laborers; while for the professional class we should desire to make laborious thinkers; the production of goods to feed and adorn the body being the final end of one class of pursuits, and the production of thought to do the same for the mind the end of the other. But neither mind nor body can feed on the offals of preceding generations. And this constantly recurring necessity of reproduction leaves an equally honorable, though somewhat different, career of labor and duty open to both, and, it is readily admitted, should and must vary their modes of education and preparation accordingly."
Later, Mr. Charles B. Gilbert, Superintendent of the Newark, New Jersey Public Schools spoke about the danger of sacrificing our democracy on the division between academic work and skilled hand work in the 1905 meeting of the Eastern Manual Training Association:
The great function of all public schools, afterall, is not to give specific knowledge or fit for specific things, but to train democratic citizens. The attitude of the teacher toward manual training has very much to do with the democracy of the teacher. Any sort of separation of children into classes intended to go for all time through their lives is exactly antagonistic to democracy--could not be more directly antagonistic; it is the antipode of democracy... What is the great foe of democracy at all times? It is the building up of walls--permanent walls--between classes; is it not? So long as wealth disappears with a single generation or two generations there is not any great danger; but when we get into the position--condition (If we ever do)--that many of the countries of the world are in; if a child is born with the feeling that he is born in a class--that there is a great gulf or a high wall between him and his neighbor who is born in a different class; then democracy is dead.
So help me with this if you like. We know that many people in education learn that whatever skills and intelligence they bring to the classroom are unwelcomed and unappreciated. They learn to be still, to undervalue their own intelligence, and lose confidence as learners, lose interest in learning. Others, gain a sense of superiority, and remaining unchallenged by the failure to attain real skills in the use of tools and real materials, do not arise to their full excitement of discovery, creativity and imagination, even while feeling themselves entitled as a part of a privileged elite.

Can you see the danger of this? It is the 800 lb. sore thumb in the room of American culture. It leaves some failing in confidence and others failing in creativity. Is it any wonder in the midst of all this that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both college dropouts? Fortunately the real world does capture a few of our best and brightest despite our system of education.

Superintendent Gilbert had stated in an earlier address to the Third Annual Conference of Teachers, New York City, (from the New york Times, May 30, 1897):
"The words 'manual training' do not express the meaning they were intended to convey. No satisfactory form of words brief and clear enough for general use, have yet been found to replace that now used. The idea of manual training, as understood in the schools, is to train the intellect and the hand together, each assisting in the development of all the best powers of the other."
That we have failed to understand this simple notion in modern schooling will be regarded as the greatest failing in American education.

Today I went to pick up a load of walnut lumber for making small boxes. Three hundred dollars worth of wood will make thousands of dollars worth of boxes, once I've put my hands (and mind) to work. I also acquired some mahogany lumber that will be used to make easels for the art teacher and students at CSS. I'll have my high school students make them once I've milled the stock to the proper size.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

box making extravaganza

It seems my face, hands, and jigs are all over the Fine Woodworking website these days. Check out the box making. One of things about box making is that you can use EVERY woodworking skill and technique, without investing as much in tools and by investing far less in materials. So what you could get from this in schools would be that every child regardless of academic objectives could have the opportunity to make something beautiful, useful and lasting from wood. A box. That could be the start of a revolution.

Think we ought to aim for that?

Jamie Oliver in his food revolution said that no child should graduate from high school without being able to prepare 10 healthy recipes. Most children can't prepare even one. I won't go so far as to say that each child must make 10 beautiful things, but will ask for at least one. But don't think for a minute that many schools will get it. They are under such pressure to meet other standards that ignore character and creativity.

So the revolution is up to you. Invite someone to your wood shop today. Share with them your excitement for creativity.

Ever wonder Why we use our fingers and toes to count? in addition to this article You can find a number of scholarly articles on this subject if you google the search terms intraparietal sulcus, fingers and math. The intraparietal sulcus is the part of the brain that controls finger sense and also basic math operations. We may also discover that the fingers are related to simple organization of steps of operation, giving us the capacity to anticipate or plan the outcome of a series of steps like those in the making of a box. My hopes are that research will be done in that area as well.

As is usual this time of year, I'm working on an award base for the Governor's Award for Quality which is awarded each year in a statewide competition. I make the wood portion and another Arkansas company finishes the award with a clear Lucite piece on top, engraved with the company name and embedded with a medallion for quality.

make, fix and create...

Friday, August 26, 2011

opening the doors of education...

Education in America has been limited by its academic perspective. Credentials are gathered by standing in line, going through motions, sitting still, doing abstract things unrelated to physical and social realities. Is it any wonder that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and so many other leaders in industry were college drop outs? Got a good idea? School might not be the best place for it, but if you are a solid learner, you can make use of anything. I read that Steve Jobs attended Reed College for a time before dropping out to do better things, like founding Apple Computer. While in school he only went to classes he was interested in. For example, he attended a class in calligraphy and others in philosophy. You can see his interest in calligraphy reflected in the desktop publishing revolution that Apple computers brought to the industry along with a huge collection of fonts to every home computer on the planet.

If we really wanted the American culture to blossom, and for our economy to surge into an American renewal, it would be by empowering the arts in school, so that children would be exposed to method as well as knowledge. We need to bring artists into schools, to teach things like calligraphy, book making, woodworking, gardening, much more music, cooking and the like, and we need to use those creative expressions as the foundation of all other subjects. Writing? Give the kids something to write about? Math? Give the kids real problems to figure out. Our students will arise to exceed our expectations.

I am still in my review of Aldous Huxley's writings, and have moved on to his essay, Heaven and Hell. In it he notes (as have others) that the only metaphors available to us for the exploration of abstract concepts (like heaven and hell) come from the concrete reality in which we live. This is the same point that George Lakoff makes in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. If we want children to be creative beyond their kindergarten years, we must give them the tools for it. Metaphors provide the basis of all human creativity, and those metaphors must of necessity be drawn from real tools, real processes, real understanding of concrete phenomenon.

When we understand the role the hands play in human development, in the growth of character, intelligence and creativity, we also understand the role of the arts and the necessity of bringing an increasing number of artists into schools and applying their hands in the education of our children. Of no surprise to my regular readers, understanding the role of the hands in education also provides a clear rationale for woodworking education. Woodworking in schools is still important despite the concerted effort of many school administrators to do away with it.

Today I am making a new size box to replace a "mini-box" I had made earlier in my career. It is scaled down in size and I hope it will be of interest to museum shops. It is shown in process in the photo above. I have also been having planning meetings with teaching staff at Clear Spring School to map out the use of the wood shop for the new school year. My article about making a sliding book rack can be found online at American Woodworker here.

The craftsman working with wood gives shape to the material, but also to him or her self. As we seek the ideals of craftsmanship, we shape ourselves in its image.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

doors of perception 2...

I have been continuing my reading of Huxley's Doors of Perception. I began reading it because there are interesting things to compare between our engagement in the expansive world of computer technology and the expansive views created by mescaline use. The computer screen itself is a door of perception that tends to draw us in and isolate us from other possible realms and potentials of perception. Huxley in his essay addresses education as follows:
"Literary or scientific, liberal or specialist, all our education is predominantly verbal and therefore fails to accomplish what it is supposed to do. Instead of transforming children into fully developed adults, it turns out students of the natural sciences who are are completely unaware of Nature as the primary fact of experience, it inflicts upon the world students of the humanities who know nothing of humanity, their own or anyone else's..."

"In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions. There is always money for, there are always doctorates in, the learned foolery of research into what, for scholars, is the all-important problem; Who influenced whom to say what when? Even in this age of technology the verbal humanities are honored. The non-verbal humanities, the arts of being directly aware of the given facts of our existence, are almost completely ignored. ...when it comes to finding out how you and I, our children and grandchildren, may become more perceptive, more intensely aware of inward and outward reality, more open to the Spirit, less apt, by psychological malpractices, to make ourselves physically ill, and more capable of controlling our own autonomic nervous system--when it comes to any form of non-verbal education... no really respectable person in any really respectable university or church will do anything about it."
There are ways to open doorways of perception without mescaline. Education in the arts is the key. Unlike drugs (and unlike addictive technologies), the arts alter perceptions in ways that lead to action, service, investigation, and offer results that enrich the lives of others in directly meaningful ways.

Make, fix and for God's sake, create...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

doors of perception...

In this blog for years now, I have been trying to make the point that when viewed from a hand-centric perspective life takes on new dimensions, leading us to make other choices, giving our lives greater meaning. And while most of the world is buying into a flat-screen approach, I am seeing a need for life and learning in the full round.

I have been reading Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception, which is a book from 1963 about his participating in research on the effects of mescaline, though it is actually about the arts and human consciousness. The title of the book comes from a William Blake quotation, "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."

Huxley quotes Cambridge philosopher Dr. C. D. Broad,
"The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful."

Of his experience on mescaline, Huxley wrote
"What the rest of us see only under the influences of mescalin, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all the time. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve of brain and ego, into his consciousness."
And so, I ask, what can the hands offer to our educational experience? Do we limit our children's educational experience to those things that are biologically or socially useful, or do we open the doors full width through the arts. Can hands make the experience of learning both more proficient and more profound? When we act upon the world, with real tools, and real hands, a full real world is discovered.

The image above is Botticelli's "Judith", one of many images that captured Huxley's attention during his mescaline experience. The work led him into the depths of the artist's exploration of drapery folds. Huxley states,
"Artists, it is obvious, have always loved drapery for its own sake--or rather for their own. When you paint or carve drapery, you are painting or carving forms which, for all practical purposes, are non-representational--the kind of unconditioned forms on which artists even in the mast naturalistic tradition like to let themselves go."
And so, can we create schooling in which students, like artists, let themselves go and enjoy learning for its own sake?

On a slightly divergent subject, I have a piece of work featured in this month's UU World Magazine,
as shown at left.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the hands as they touch...

Anyone who has been a child, or had a child, or known a lover, knows the power of their own hands to make and hold important connections. What we touch may be at first startling, hot or cold, may be splintered and rough, but the hands have their ways of making smooth, touching our deepest most reserved emotions and bringing comfort, not only to others but to ourselves as well. In medicine, in health and healing of all kinds, in giving comfort to those who suffer, the touch of the hands offers extension of self to other, moving disparate beings into oneness and harmony.

It is such a simple thing to begin using the tools we each have dangling at the ends of empty arms to create learning environments in which our own deepest inclinations and aspirations are drawn forth.

Teachers are all returning to classrooms at the end of a long hot summer. This week I'm meeting with the teachers at Clear Spring School to plan our wood shop projects. But even without a wood shop, there are ways to make lessons hands-on and more effective.

Bring objects into the classroom that engage and illustrate. During brief lectures on hinging boxes in my summer classes for adults, it was valuable to have actual examples of the hinges to pass around for close-to-eye hands-on examination. In examining box making techniques, it was so useful to have some of my actual boxes for students to examine the intended results. In a study of soil sciences in universities, wouldn't it be better to have bags of dirt for each student to hold and feel during the professor's lecture? Get down, get dirty, feel real stuff. It is better to be grossed out and make messes than remain untouched. Students of all ages and in all educational institutions need to engage their studies and their aspirations hands-on. And so why should the education of our children rely on lecture based studies, when they can be touched so much more deeply by the real world?

Richard Bazeley, blog reader and shop teacher extraordinaire from down under sent this link concerning the use of gesture to teach foreign languages. And so the evidence is there if any American educators choose to grasp hold of it and put it to use. The images above and below are some of Richard's 7th year students' creative work.

Hold hands for this one. Our children need greater engagement.
Make, fix, and  create...

Monday, August 22, 2011

timeline of American Crafts...

The American Crafts Council has created a 70 year timeline of American Crafts to celebrate their 70th year. If you are only interested in woodworking without all the other wonderful fine crafts, you will find George Nakashima, Sam Maloof, Art Carpenter, Tage Frid, Wendell Castell, Wharton Esherick, James Krenov and so many other woodworkers playing important roles in the American Crafts Movement. You will also see how closely American Crafts are tied to the development of our unique American culture.

Yesterday on our way back from Wisconsin we visited friends in St. Louis. Bob had formerly been in the financial services and computer industries, and found a more meaningful life as a contractor. Before that he had found fixing things around his home to be one of the most pleasurable of activities. His wife Julie had started a small landscaping business, and as that business grew to several employees, there were always a few things in homes and gardens that needed fixing or renovation. Bob took on these projects in his spare time while still working at the bank, and as his success and reputation as a carpenter grew, the banking fell to the wayside, and Bob never looked back. Now with two small businesses to manage, they have never been busier or happier in their lives.

One of the things you will find on the timeline is Tim Hardin's song, If I Were a Carpenter, which asked, "If I worked my hands in wood, would you still love me?" The song became a top 10 hit for Bobby Darin. That was the year I graduated from high school and some of us have found that making beautiful, useful things from real wood is not only a romantic notion. It provides a meaningful life.

On another subject, it seems high stakes testing invites high stakes cheating. Teachers and administrators in a variety of state doctored test scores to make their children appear to be performing better than they actually were. Now standardized testing advocate Michelle Rhee has come under even greater scrutiny in the New York Times. When things appear to be too good to be true, they often are.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In every nation

In the late 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, it was widely known throughout the world that children needed to be educated through their hands. The following was from Senator A. Corbon in France, 1879:
"It is high time to understand the indications furnished by the instinct of children and to give as soon as possible satisfaction to their two-fold need of working with the hands of knowing the reason of things; that is to say, it is time to bring about a veritable revolution in the manner of rearing youth. If one wishes to follow resolutely the course of nature and the clear indications furnished by the instinctive dispositions of children, if manual exercises are considered as essential, they should have a serious part in education commensurate with their importance. In the end, it will be found that it is possible to shorten the time of class work in order to give a sufficient amount of time to manual exercises; and that this will be done not only without injury to the intellectual development, but that on the contrary, it will promote it. In the first place, manual exercises are not carried on without awakening the intelligence, and still further, it is doing violence to the active nature of the children to confine them three hours in succession, twice a day, before the school desk. They submit, but with reluctance; they are subject to constraint; they are ill at ease physically and morally. They would certainly learn better in two hours if the third were given to manual exercises... It seems as if the aim were less to develop the intellectual capacity than to heap knowledge upon knowledge in the head of children at the risk of exhausting the intellectual force. This tendency is most injurious, but we hasten to say that already many important men, educational officials, have perceived that they were on a false path, and are showing themselves disposed to make a change. Whenever the conviction shall become general that it is absolutely necessary at every stage to train the physical capacity, the mental faculties, from that day the program of studies will be necessarily rearranged. Ability to use the hands is hardly less important to the sons of the middle class than to those of the working class... Even literary men themselves, and all men whose profession is purely intellectual, would be fortunate in many cases to find relaxation for the mind in manual exercises and in executing certain useful works. This is for all men a natural need. It must be satisfied, and the level of the general capacity will be made higher by so much.
I will remind that Senator A. Corbon was writing in 1879, and similar views were shared in every nation. We've had plenty of time to get things right in education, but did not. Let's take another shot at it.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

getting real

This morning, before leaving Madison for our trip back to Arkansas, we visited one of the world's finest farmer's markets, and it is one of the very right things about living in the USA. The Dane County Farmer's Market surrounds the Wisconsin State Capitol on four sides. Some of the farms represented have been farmed by the same family for over 150 years. And so I often need to remind myself that the wisdom of the hands is not just about woodworking but about all the many real things the hands touch and from which wisdom is really drawn.

I won't bore you with all the details, but will remind you to make fix, create and grow...

Photo of sunflower by Lucy Stowe.

Friday, August 19, 2011

unfolding part two

We are in Madison, Wisconsin and have helped our daughter get situated in her first apartment. I have been away teaching and traveling for nearly two weeks now, and I'm looking forward to getting back to school and my own woodshop.

Madison is a wonderful town. The campus is situated on an isthmus between two lakes. The land is level (compared to the Ozarks) and near perfect for biking. We were very pleased that my daughter was given a research assistantship to cover most of her costs.

Most of education is backward in that learning should progress from the concrete to the abstract (a principle of educational sloyd), not the other way around, and we would have students with far greater educational enthusiasm if universities did more early on to put feet on the ground and hands in the field for learning. It seems that when students finally reach graduate school and have dispensed with the abstract basic theoretical courses, they really begin to do the fun stuff, field work and research. A particularly odd thing is that practice teaching takes place after students have supposedly learned theory, rather than in the beginning when the practice would make the theories relevant to them.

Lucy got her interest in groundwater, pollution detection, clean water advocacy and soil science when she was in 7th grade and did an actual field study of springs as a science fair project, partially replicating a study I had been involved in nearly 25 years before.

Put feet on the ground, hands in the field, concerned with real community environmental situations and you begin to see unfolding of character and intelligence. Lucy's seventh grade science fair project led to her presenting her results to community leaders and hydrologists from the University of Arkansas, so you can see that she is well prepared for confident graduate school work at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Naturally, my wife and I are very proud of her accomplishments and the young scholar/scientist she has become. But the point of this post is not to brag but to illustrate the idea of unfolding. It doesn't happen at once. Unlike the wings of butterflies which unfold as an amazing matter of course, the full unfolding of human beings doesn't happen without help, without encouragement, and without support.

For all children and at all ages engagement in the real world of hands-on science should happen ASAP.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Community and child. This morning, (and all through the night) I had been thinking about school and community, and sometimes things are so much clearer in my lucid dreams than when I finally get to the keyboard and attempt to convey into words those notions that are swirling around my conscious mind. These are the parts from which I am attempting to develop a conceptual framework: Imagine a piece of paper, folded into a tight, tight wad. Or better yet, imagine a butterfly's wings tightly folded and furled. Still further, imagine a cartographer's maps, layered layer upon layer of thin parchment or vellum, each layer describing various components of geophysical, biological and cultural realities. Each layer as it is put in place or removed reveals greater depth. From these images, one can imagine a child unfolding toward full expression and competence as a human being within his or her community.

I am making an assumption. Each child is unique, with a set of gifts that interlock within the layers of community. The child's unique, creative and expressive nature is not a product of withdrawal from community, but is revealed through a purposeful engagement within it.

John Dewey wrote about the student, the school and society as seemingly separate things that must not be detached from one another, but rather deliberately and purposefully connected and entwined. Froebel approached this same notion though his concept gliedganzes or "member-whole".

As teachers, we are challenged to participate in a deliberate carefully conscious unfolding of wings in which the child's own creative powers are revealed as an expression of community. And so the challenge within schooling is to break down the walls isolating the children within classrooms to engage them purposefully and systematically within an ever expanding community.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today we drove through Illinois to my daughter's new apartment in Madison Wisconsin where she is starting grad school this fall. Along the way we stopped at Ikea in western Chicago and bought a desk which we assembled today after moving her things into a second story apartment. If you have never assembled something from Ikea, you could find it interesting. Two boxes contained over a dozen pre-finished softwood parts and a large bag of fasteners, drawer guides, screws and dowels. It is amazing how every part is machined to perfection, and it is also amazing that they have made the shipping and assembly of furniture almost fool proof provided you can follow instructions. No clamps or glue required.

The key is in the materials. If you wanted something done in real hardwoods, the price you pay will be much greater, and more expertise will be required in the design and assembly. The trade-off is that you can make more beautiful and lasting work. In fact, well crafted hardwood furniture will last over a hundred years if you care for it in the least, and furniture from Ikea will begin showing wear at a much earlier age. But it is so cheap you can afford to throw it away after a short time.

We missed moving day in Madison by just a week and if we had been here a few days earlier, we'd have found more cheap furniture than anyone could imagine placed at curbside as students swapped apartments. Ikea for free anyone? The price of Ikea makes it hard for a small town professional craftsman to compete. And we are in a mobile, throw-away culture and economy that may rub some the wrong way. As we drove through the upper midwest we saw huge plateaus built from solid waste. Land fills are distinct in shape, rising above the surrounding terrain a hundred and fifty feet or more, perfectly level on top and constructed layer upon layer of garbage and discarded objects from the past 50 years. It is all kind of shocking to consider and not the high point of our civilization.

One thing I enjoyed at Ikea was seeing so much Scandinavian design, and I was reminded of Educational Sloyd. No doubt there is a connection between the excellence of design and a long history of manual arts. But regardless of how cheap the Ikea, there are values other than money.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, August 15, 2011

fellow teachers...

I enjoy association with other teachers, and the teachers I meet at Marc Adams School often reinforce my own observations. My two fellow teachers this last week were John S. Morgan, And Greg Johnson. John teaches graphic design at Auburn and makes interesting hand-cranked automata which you can see in his website. Greg is a phenomenal furniture finisher who had worked for years with Wendell Castle. One of the things we discussed was the way technology is narrowing our focus onto screens leading us to effectively ignore those things that may be important going on around us. And so there is some irony in all our lives. We make use of technology, but attempt to center our lives in things that bring added richness and depth. In John's class, students made a variety of hand cranked mechanisms rooted in the same technologies that enabled coo coo clocks to keep time, and industrial machinery to perform complex processes. In Greg's class students learned a variety of furniture finishing techniques.
“… if we understand the past, we will be better able to continue a culture legacy of beautiful form and effective communication. If we ignore this legacy, we run the risk of becoming buried in a mindless morass of a commercialism whose mole-like vision ignores human values and needs as it burrows forward into darkness..”~Philip B. Meggs

Today we will be driving my daughter to grad school. In my absence,

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

a ministry of hands

Luke Townsley maintains a blog, unplugged shop, which many woodworkers use to keep track of all their favorite woodworking blogs (and become introduced to new ones as well). He participates each year in a Baptist mission in the Dominican Republic, and he asked the following:
Is there a benefit for manual training or hobbies for professions such as the ministry? I would suppose that doctors, lawyers, salesmen, and others would have a similar situation? Is this something that is too late to incorporate in college or even in post graduate courses or workshops?
There is a long standing tradition of hands-on service within most religious faiths and in the early Christian church Paul was a professional tent maker rather than a professional minister. I told about this in an earlier blog post, Isolation of the head from the hand in learning. Paul, unlike most Christian ministers of today, earned his keep through his trade, rather than by extracting a salary from the collection plate. Martin Luther believed that every man regardless of his occupation (including the ministry) should be equipped and trained in a trade. Within the Jewish tradition, it was believed that every man should be trained in a skilled trade. There are things we learn about life, and the challenges of life that require real effort to acquire a skilled relationship to physical reality. And so the engagement of the hands in service was not just about working at the "I have a hobby level," but a matter of even deeper concern. If the relationship between vocation and ministry interests you, you will find a great deal more discussion of the subject at the Domesticated Theology Blog.

I have a friend who retired from academia after spending over 30 years teaching philosophy at the University of Virginia. He served as an odd man out, knowing his views differed from those of others in his department due to his early summers working in construction and agriculture. His real world practical experience informed his views of nearly all other things. A practical man might wonder how one could become an effective philosopher without having first-hand commonplace experience in real life. That some are "purely academic" can explain a few things. Luke asks also about all those other occupations as well, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, etc. Is there any aspect of human life that the hands do not touch, that they do not shape, or that they would not have shaped had they been trained and encouraged to become skillfully engaged?

Is it too late for colleges and universities to come to an understanding of the importance of hands-on experiential learning? Fortunately, most students know that "purely academic learning" is not enough and that while they are ensconced within the walls of institutions there is a REAL world out there. After four or more years of classroom abstraction they crave engagement in it. That real world, hands-on should be brought within the school walls for more effective learning. Is it too late? We certainly hope not.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On my way home

I am on my way home to Arkansas following a great week of box making at Marc Adams School. There, the learning is relentless. Just as nearly all the students from MASW have wonderful things to say about the school, so too do those called upon to teach, and I cannot say quite enough about the experience. In addition to the students from this week's class who stayed over one more day to think inside the box, we were joined by additional students from past box making classes for this one day only event. I am honored by my students' sincere attention and by the opportunity to encourage them in their growth.

There are things within the creative act that touch upon and engage the most essential elements of our humanity.

Please make, fix and create... Our society, culture and economy demand these things of us.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day five

This is day 5 of box making at Marc Adams School. Many of my students will be joining me tomorrow for an additional class on designing interior spaces within boxes, making trays, dividers and drawers. Some of my students say they are already planning to be in next year's class. I am honored by their attention, their interest in my work, and by their creative efforts in their own.

Today we will finish making inlay, attend to details, clean up, and either go our separate ways, or prepare for tomorrow's class. Later in the day, I will share photos of boxes finished by the class.

Being in a motel room at night, I see more of the national news than usual. Talking heads all seem to be distorted in view. One would hope for more common sense. And it becomes distressing. We have a term for it, being "out of touch."

I, too, will be out of touch, away from the blog, as I teach tomorrow and then hit the road for Arkansas. You can see my students and their work in the photo below. The boxes shown are not all that were made, just the ones students thought were ready to show. If there is not enough here to read for the next few days as I teach and travel, use the search function at the top of the page, type in Sloyd and read from the start. Or better yet,

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

the doors of perception

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is - infinite” -- William Blake

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.” -- William Blake

Can holding your iPhone in your hand offer what Blake described? How long will your battery last?

I have told the story of my dog Tappy and her inexplicable capacity for knowing things recently in the blog. Through our attention to our technological devices, we narrow our range of immediate perception. Doctors rely more on devices and less on their natural senses.

It the Marc Adams learning laboratory/workshop this morning we will resume box making... our forth day. Most of my students are working on more than one box. Some are making several. Some are at work on one particular design. We are learning from each other. We are having fun. It is a multi-sensory learning experience. Where all the senses are fully engaged, a doorway of perception is created. The difference between a door and a window is that a door is for passing through and we are altered, made new by the experience.

You can see some of the results of our box making in the photos above and below. We have been opening the doors of perception in box making and design in this week's class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

day three

This was my third day of box making class at Marc Adams School, and we began cutting lids from bases, and are ready to install hinges. All the students are making boxes that have personalities reflecting their own decisions and course of growth. I presented a slide shows this afternoon describing how a variety of boxes are made, and each student now has a better grasp of what I am doing in the photos because they will each have had experience of their own in some of the same techniques to clarify and personalize what they see. Each photo I showed made connections within each student's personal experience. Several students have informed me that their lives and confidence in woodworking have been changed.

Education is about the process of connecting from the known to the unknown, making the leap from the concrete to the abstract. Photos from the day are above and below. As usual at Marc Adams School, I have amazing students. What you see in the photos affirms it.

Today, there was more unsettling financial news. People don't know what to do. We can find rationales for market behavior, but no clear understanding of what appears irrational economic behavior. There are answers for it all. Become more productive. Act creatively. When the bottom fell from the financial market during the latter days of the Bush Administration, I decided to use what I had available to me. I used old crappy figured woods stored in the barn to make tables and sold eleven of them, stepping from the known and predictable into the unknown and found myself supported. There is no guarantee that creative behavior will contend with difficult situations, but sitting still and allowing oneself to be resigned to failure is no solution in challenging times. We can wait for the market to return, or for leaders in DC to come to their senses, but it was through our own failures to be hands on engaged in managing our economy that got our nation into this desperate situation. Pull hands from pockets and...

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

day two

Today was day 2 of my box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I demonstrated making finger joints, putting a raised panel top on a box, and began demonstrating other techniques including keyed miter joints. Yesterday we talked about design, the range of techniques, and how forgiveness plays an important role in helping us learn and become creative. After a thorough study of the principles of tool safety and some demonstration to get the boxes rolling, it took the students only a few minutes to scratch their heads and begin work. As one student informed me, she had been in classes where everyone made the same thing, but after the class, leaving the influence of the teacher, no one had learned enough to do again what they had done. And so the whole process of learning is based on a dance like movement between the concrete and abstract, and the use of the hands to make clear what must happen in the mind for learning to become real and replicable.

As we were in class yesterday, the worldwide financial situation became deeply troubling. We will have leadership based on either rhetoric or reality, and it seems we have one when what is needed is the other. In order to have reality based leadership, we need reality based education and as we don't have it, we can expect to watch our culture and economy go to hell in a handbasket with leadership twiddling their thumbs and running off at the mouth, as that seems to be all they have been trained for and all that we've been trained to expect. When the members of congress are MBAs and not makers of real things, you can expect their notions to be; abstract and unfounded. God help us. We will each have to take matters into our own hands. Parents, grandparents, teach your children well.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Hanging on a teacher's every word...

This morning I began my box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. This is my 7th year or maybe 8th year of teaching here, and so it should be easy for me by now, except that I know what to expect. There is nothing undemanding or routine about teaching a classroom/laboratory filled with 18 students listening to your every word. And this, unfortunately is unusual in American education. My students come to my class with very clear objectives. They want to hone their woodworking skills and learn everything I can teach them about a subject that they know will enrich their lives in tangible and esoteric ways.

Teaching at MASW is a bit different from teaching a classroom of kids, some of whom have questions about why they are there and who may not see the relevance of what you are attempting to teach to their own lives.

I got up very early in anticipation of it all. Students who have clear demands and a vested interest call for a teacher to give his or her best. And so teaching is not a thing to be taken lightly. Having taught here before helps me to understand what is required, and also that I dare not be unprepared to give my best.

Standing before such a class is the most rewarding thing that a teacher can face. It is an honor. It is what each and every teacher should have to look forward to each day... a classroom filled with students who hang on his or her every word and who come to class filled with anticipation of personal growth. Believe it or not, we can create schools in which learning and teaching are loved, where classes are not mind numbing routine and students and teachers are fully engaged.

Update. We had a great start on a productive week. We talked about boxes, box making, wood and a wide range of techniques. We built our first sled, and with a bit of resawing and planing, students were able to cut their first perfect miter joints.

make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

serial effect...

Yesterday the U.S. government credit rating was downgraded, and now they are discussing the serial effect on banking and investment throughout the world. Here in the US we expect a rise in interest rates that will cost the poor more than we could at first imagine. One thing you learn from woodworking in the real world is that when you take a small shaving from a joint, it has effect on the integrity of whole piece for life. It may no longer fit. And so we learn simple lessons in the wood shop that can be applied in the larger field of life.

I drove through St. Louis yesterday on my way to Marc Adams school where my class in box making starts tomorrow. St. Louis was one of the early homes of manual training in public schools. In a statement of purpose for manual training in St. Louis 1879 it was noted:
"...nearly all our skilled workmen are imported. Our best machinists, miners, weavers, watchmakers, iron workers, draftsmen and artisans of every description, come from abroad; and this is not because our native-born are deficient in natural tact or ability, nor because they are above and beyond such occupations, but because they are without suitable means and opportunities for getting the proper training."
And so it was proposed that children would grow in intelligence, character and capacity through manual training in schools. 130 years later we're back where we started except that instead of importing workers, we export jobs. From the halls of congress to manufacturing and engineering, we turned management over to the MBAs. We allowed them to strip manual arts from schools. We allowed them to squeeze the profit from labor, leaving little of the dignity of American worker at hand.

And so what is the remedy? We claw our way back. Return to the basics of human productivity, and teach our children to be makers instead of idle consumers of imported stuff.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

London, 1910

Conclusions of the Government Board of Education on "Manual Instructions in Public Schools":
1. We consider that handwork should be regarded as an essential feature in the curriculum of every elementary school, and that all possible means should be adopted to encourage it, although we see difficulties in the way of its being made compulsory at present.
2. We consider that there should be a continuous and progressive course of handwork throughout the schools from the infants' state upwards, and that it should be regarded as a method rather than a separate subject of instruction.
3. Although we recognize that the majority of existing teachers have had no special training in handwork, we do not regard this as an argument for postponing the introduction of this form of work. We think, however, that it is eminently desirable that a knowledge of handwork principles should be an element in the training of all future teachers, and that increased facilities should be available for giving such instruction to existing teachers.
4. We consider that the ideal system is one in which all forms of handwork should be taught in the schools themselves by the ordinary teachers, and that in schools of sufficient size, a room should be set aside for this and kindred purposes. At the same time we fully appreciate the valuable work that is being done in the handicraft centers, though we are of opinion that more might be done to bring them into touch with the ordinary work of the schools.
The foregoing might as well have been written today, but of course, in today's high tech environment, there will be millions who would deny the value of hands-on experiential education. After all, isn't having your fingers on keyboards enough? Hang around while I attempt to explain a few things. Or better yet, take some time to explore your own hands-on learning. Make something and see what you learn from it. Attempt to create objects of lasting useful beauty and see if you discover any intelligence inherent in the process.

Today I am on my way to Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indiana where I'll hang out with my kind of people for a whole week making boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 05, 2011

the value of manual training

This is from Dr. Calvin Woodward, 1883:
"My own conclusion, based upon the observation of the influence of manual education for at least eight years, is that not only does our workshop not detract from the interest boys take in books, but it stimulates and increases it, directly or indirectly. In mathematics, physics, mechanics, and chemistry, the help is direct and positive. Note for instance, the mental arithmetic involved in the execution of a pattern from a working drawing. No one can learn from a book the true force of technical terms or definitions nor the properties of materials. The obscurities of the textbooks (often doubly obscure from the lack of proper training on the part of the author) vanish before the steady gaze of a boy whose hands and eyes have assisted in the building of mental images."
As one might guess, Dr. Woodward's ideas about manual training were challenged by others more conservative in their educational approach. As described by Charles A. Bennett, "Every address he made was watched by the opposition for unsound theories and overstatements of facts. Those who were open-minded and accepted his invitation to visit the school and see for themselves, were pleased with what they saw, while others picked at his every phrase that did not accord with their own theory or practice." One nit-picker claimed "whatever energy or strength was absorbed in manual training exercises with tools was just so much energy withdrawn from mental training." Another claimed, "There is no information stored up in the plow, hoe handle, steam engine, but there is information stored up in books." To which I would respond, that there is real information stored in every aspect of physical and cultural reality, if our hands and eyes are properly and scientifically attuned toward discovery and exploration. If the purpose of education is to create mindless drones, we've created the perfect system for it.

And so, at some point one can expect opposition to the idea of the Wisdom of the Hands to arise from ignorance and inexperience which grows in direct proportion to our neglect of our hands and our failure to accept lessons from our own personal experience as valid. The counterbalance to reshape human intelligence is at the ends of our arms as hands and fingers are set free to engage in direct learning. Watch, touch and learn.

Today I am gathering my thoughts, box examples, and tools for my trip to Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 04, 2011

beginnings of manual arts in US...

In 1868 Calvin Woodward was authorized to organize an engineering department for Washington University, and the story is told by Charles A. Bennet as follows:
As professor of mathematics in the University, he taught a class in applied mechanics. Because his students found difficulty in visualizing some of the forms under consideration, he asked them to work out the forms in wood. He arranged with the college carpenter, Noah Dean, a fine mechanic, to supervise them in this work. To Professor Woodward's surprise, he learned that the students didn't know how to do the simplest things with the woodworker's tools. He was surprised because he himself had used such tools from boyhood and so took it for granted that his students could do the same. The fact that they could not, presented to his alert mind a new problem. Instead of giving up his plan for helping the young men to visualize the fundamental mechanical forms, he proceeded to teach them how to use tools. Thus it was that Professor Woodward was first led to the teaching of shopwork without any direct or immediate trade or industrial motive, though that appeared soon after.
And so, if you can imagine the problems in Woodward's day, you can see the same problems today. Children are given a wide range of entertainment devices but little or no direct hands-on experience in the manipulation and use of real tools, leaving them unable to do diddly squat. If we wanted children to grow up to design things and make things, we have left them crippled intellectually instead. Some are saying the United States has seen better days. I can say that our children were better prepared for life when schools had woodshops and children were taught hands-on, and at this point in the widely proclaimed failure of American education it is best that we take matters into our own hands. Our current situation is very much like what Woodward faced in the 1870s.
...the acquisition of this desirable manual skill requires workshops and tools and teachers; and as such essentials are not in general to be had at home or at the common school, the work must be done at a polytechnic school. Hence, at the earliest possible moment, in the lowest class, students must enter the workshop.
That means establish model programs like the Wisdom of the Hands at CSS, clarify the rationale, and train teachers to offer hands-on learning to every child in every school in the US. Anything less would be a disappointment.

Make, fix and create...

With my daughter's furniture fixes complete, and my orders shipped, I turn my attention to being ready to teach next week at Marc Adams School.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

writing how-to

I am getting ready to teach at Marc Adams School of Woodworking this next week, and have a large number of things to do before I can leave on Saturday. Not much time to write, so I've pulled this from an earlier post. I am also shipping things to two galleries today, Appalachian Spring in Washington, DC and the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.

The How-to of How-to (and a bit of why-to thrown in for good measure)

We all know that life in the 21st century is busy. There are so many choices of entertainment and distraction that it is hard to get any work done. And of course there is the Internet, a powerful tool that provides a sense that the whole world is right at our fingertips. But when we go off line, the same drippy faucet is dripping its drip, the deck is in dire need of refinishing, and there are countless other things that need fixing or making or are just about to break. Gotta either hire a handyman or become one.

There are great writers that we all know and love who have the power to whisp us away through time and space, distracting us from concerns, and placing our consciousness outside our own bodies, into the lives of fictional  characters far removed from the real situations of our own lives. We welcome the relief from our own drippy faucets, and those are the writers who get the big bucks… the ones who entertain and distract. Their words carry us into feeling states from which we ultimately reawaken to lives unchanged.

How-to writers are a bit different. We write about small things that empower others to cope, to fix, and to make. We inspire readers to get up, put down their remotes, head for their basements and garages with eyes, hands and imaginations directed toward improvement, change, betterment and growth.

How-to really has to do with the hands, and here are three things that I’ve noticed. The first is that the use of the hands makes us smarter. This is an idea proven by modern research as well as being observed by scientists and educators as long as there has been science and education. You can even test it for yourself but (warning) it requires actually doing something.

Secondly, the use of the hands makes us feel better. You all remember Cinderella, the wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters, and you may recall in the Disney version, Cinderella sang joyously in the garden and kitchen as she served her unappreciative and demanding family. The simple untold story is that that is what happens when you are aligned through your hands with creative bounty of the universe. Neurohormones triggered by engagement in creative activities brings forth a sense of joy. That joy is noticed by others. It may make them jealous. It may make them suspicious you're on drugs.

You noticed that in the Cinderella story, there were magical things happening with fairy godmothers, pumpkins, mice and the like. We often use magical beings as a means through which to explain inexplicable phenomenon. The most important part of the Cinderella story is not something that is told in the story, but it is something you can discover for yourself, and I'm not just making it up. Check out Kelly Lambert's theory of "effort driven rewards," and you will find that joy arises from the simple tasks we might be twisted toward believing are beneath our dignity or beneath our intelligence. While the stepmother and stepsisters were poisoned by self-importance, Cinderella worked with her hands and expressed joy within herself and to those around her.

Here in Eureka Springs we live in a community of artists and craftsmen, and each and every one will tell you that they feel better when they are engaged in their work. But you won’t have to take their word for it. This is something you can test for yourself in the garden or in the kitchen, without loading up on new tools, or even having a wood shop.

Third, working with your hands puts you in touch with the vast expanse of history and human culture. Can you imagine what a visitor to a museum would think if they had never had a chance to make anything? Would they look at the real Mona Lisa and marvel at brush strokes made by the human hand? If they’ve never held a brush, have only engaged the world through a mouse and keyboard, will they have the power in their own souls to connect with the vast human legacy that only clicks-in when there is texture, the warmth of the human touch, and a sense of one’s own power to create?

How-to writers carry a great deal of power in our own hands. We, more than most, know the small wonders of our own creativity. We, more than most know the forces and means inherent in the human soul to improve the reality of the day to day and the here and now. So, I want to point out the value of who we are and what we really do. We empower. In the face of a consumer culture with the masses driven to consume we inform and instruct: how-to, why-to, encouraging others to build and make better. Perhaps some of us may feel compelled by the unrelenting forces of fantasy to write the great novel instead, but perhaps we should remember there is no more important calling for today’s age than that of the how-to writer.

So, how to get started?

Being a how-to writer is very much like being any other kind of writer except for two very important things. First is that you have to have some level of non-literary skill and direct experience in what you are writing about. You don’t have to be the very best in the world at something, but you do need to know the processes well enough to explain things clearly. Unlike the fiction writer who just makes stuff up, what you write will be tested in the hands of those who follow your instructions.

Secondly, The how-to author is required to be completely honest. Other writers, both fiction and non-fiction have the pleasure of making stuff up or distorting information to twist the readers opinions to their own perspective. But the lying how-to author gets himself and his or her readers in a peck of trouble and won’t last long in the market place.

The first thing the prospective how-to writer must do is begin watching and taking note of his or her own life. Every good writer uses personal experience to frame what he or she wants to share with others. This is like having an editor, except the editor is in your own head. And the editor will begin asking questions. Is this interesting? What story does it tell? And a good internal editor leads you into exploring more and more options in the ways through which things can be done.

I had an important realization that everything I do is narrative. In my case, I use a chisel to cut wood. The wood records the motions of the hand and arm, the shape and size of the chisel, the quality of its cutting edge and the amount of force applied. Once you come to the awareness that you, in everything you do, use a variety of tools and materials to tell the story your own life, then you find that it is easy to transition from narration in wood or whatever other material you've chosen, to documenting your work in photographs or video, and in written word.

Adding your own editorial component, you then ask, “Is what I do of compelling interest?” If you come up with the answer, “No.” Then it is time to make adjustments in what you make or even in how you live your life. In the selection of what to write about,  ask, "Is there anything particularly interesting about this process." If the answer is yes, then gather the materials and tools and begin work.

Sometimes I’ll clear a project first with an editor from one of the magazines I work with before I begin. I take photos of each and every step, and for me, the photography is crucial to keeping my narrative in order and reminding me of each step as I am writing so that nothing is overlooked. I use a digital camera on a tripod and use the self-timer to control the shutter. For very best lighting, I have the studio well lit with daylight fluorescent bulbs, so that wherever I am shooting, I don’t have to bother setting up lights or use the harsh glare of flash.

When the project is finished, I’m left with the finished object and take beauty shots of it that can be used either for the first page of the chapter, or the opening page of an article. Then I go through my photos and put them in step-by-step order, selecting the ones that best illustrate the processes used. When I’ve finished organizing the photos I write the main text and photo captions, and create a materials list and scrap art that will give the illustrator all the necessary information required to do drawings.

So how to get really started? Where can you test and develop your how-to writing skills? Fortunately these days, you don’t have to be discovered by a national magazine. There are on-line newsgroups and forums where you can share your tips and processes and practice your writing skills.

The temperature today in Eureka Springs has reached 106.3 108.7 110.7 in the shade. The all-time high for Eureka Springs is 111 degrees in 1954.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

hands are not only smart for woodworking

Blog reader Mario, in Buffalo, who is also an avid woodworker sent a link reminding that the wisdom of the hands is not just about woodworking. Garden Walk Buffalo draws huge crowds and much praise. Here in Arkansas we have severe drought which seems impossible after the spring rains that threatened to float everything away. So we water each night and hope for a summer rain storm to bring some relief. Despite what anti-science advisers proclaim, we ARE in the midst of global warming that will take a toll on American forests, and we should be doing much more about it. On the radio yesterday, I heard about the massive investment that China is making in science and engineering, while war spending and refusal to tax corporate profits and millionaires in the US are crippling our economy, and education. Teaching to the test insures that children have little interest in education and even less in science and engineering.

And so, yes, Mario. The hands are not only smart for wood working, but also for the garden and for music and medicine. They are also for scientific investigation, and for history, and geology, and everything human and everything humanly possible. We have made a mess of education in thinking that hands should be neatly folded on desks rather than unrestrained in learning, and we have made an even greater mess of American government and economy by allowing those with untrained hands to rise to positions of power and stupidity.

Today in the woodshop, I'll continue the restoration of my daughter's dresser, and continue oiling boxes to fill orders. The third challenge is to prepare for next week's classes at Marc Adam's School of Woodworking. I'll teach one week of "Simply Beautiful Box Making"  and then a one day class on designing the interiors for small boxes.

Monday, August 01, 2011

teach to value nature...

Pope Benedict has asked parents to take their children into nature to learn the value of the natural world. Pope Tells Parents, and Kids, Get Outside!
“I would like to recommend that during this time of vacation, you revivify your spirits by contemplating the splendors of Creation.”

“Parents,” he said, “teach your children to see nature, respect and protect it as a magnificent gift that presents to us the grandeur of the Creator!”
Pope Benedict also needs to tell parents to teach their children to make things rather than just allow their lives to be filled with things made for them. By becoming makers and creators, children are more clearly aligned with the beneficent powers of the universe that most religions identify as the Creator.

Today, I will attend registration day at the Clear Spring School, apply Danish oil to boxes so they can be shipped, and attempt a furniture repair on a dresser for my daughter's first apartment. Parts are missing that hold the mirror and must be remade.

Follow Benedict's advice on nature, and listen for more. He might be on a roll. If he is truly awakening to the needs of children, he will also tell you to:

Make, fix, and create...

The photos are of CSS 2nd and third grade students last fall on the Golden Trail at the Clear Spring School.

As you can see in the photo at left, I am beginning to make progress on the mirror attachment for the dresser my daughter and I are fixing up for her to take to grad school. The dresser is one that my mother had rescued from roadside disposal.  It's all a bit of play, shaping one side and then shaping the other to be just like it. I started out with a digital drawing to see how it might look, and as you can see, after cutting to shape, fitting to the back and routing edges, I am nearly ready to sand.

Yesterday I used an iron to reattach areas of veneer that were lifting. I will need to attach strips of hardwood to secure other areas where fragile veneers are missing or endangered. With a bit more work, it will be worth keeping.