Tuesday, January 31, 2012

make it easy?

There is a delicate balance a teacher walks as lessons are planned and projects designed. In order for a child to grow, he or she must find success. That success gives the child some encouragement and inclination to proceed toward even greater success. But also, for a child to grow, he or she must be challenged by doing difficult things that risk failure. Mistakes are made. Otto Salomon had said that the value of the carpenter's work is in the object the carpenter makes, but the value of the student's work is in the student... in his or her intelligence and character derived from the effort to learn. That development of character and intelligence is directly the result of that delicate balance between success and failure. Often the greatest strength of character involves the willingness to engage and persistence toward success. A child with those character traits nailed, will inevitably find success.

If you've been a woodworker for as long as I have, you are aware of many of the things that can go wrong in the making of an object. And when you ask a child do the work, other things that you did not anticipate come into play, offering even greater obstacles to the child's success. For instance, a simple pull saw may operate differently in the hands of a child that in the hands of a trained craftsman. Just as there are things in the mind to learn there are actions in the body that must be refined in order to actually do any given thing. Successful cutting with a saw can also be dependent on strength... a thing often overlooked by adults with strong hands.

And so this is a challenge I wrestle with all the time. Do I set up jigs so the kid's work will be more successful with less effort, or do I avoid the jigs, make children more dependent on their own measurements, and allow them to learn from their own mistakes?

Australian shop teacher Richard Bazeley has been working on a jig (shown above) for cutting that will make things easier for children to hold their stock square and secure as it is cut. It can be adapted for either a pull saw or push variety and uses a cam to hold the material tight to the fence as it is cut. I have made earlier jigs that I have grown frustrated with, so I am looking for improvement. I think Richard is onto something. The test will come when children and saws put it to use. In an ideal world, students would have a sense of straight and square, but these things only come from attention and practice, making mistakes and through seeing the effects faulty attention and careless work.

Blog reader and children's woodworking author Jack McKee sent another technique for straight cutting shown in the photo below. He also suggests that readers visit Sherina Poorman's Build-it Bus. It is a great example of a church getting involved in our children's need for hands-on learning.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Strå, kvist, gren...

Straw, twig, branch...

These were among the materials that formed the foundation of human culture.

This morning I picked up an old notebook which I brought back from Sweden and in which I had written notes about a revolution in education based upon crafts. I had been looking for a notebook to keep at my bedside to record dreams, as part of an assignment for a Jung study group, but I put this one back on my desk as the notes seemed important enough to look at again.

These notes were jotted down as I was listening to a lecture by Lois Hetland, author of Studio Thinking. You might enjoy reading a bit from Lois Hetland direct, Why do we need the studio thinking framework anyway? Or you might enjoy reading one of my earlier posts, Arts and Smarts.

Today I had classes with the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students and high school. The elementary students worked on their sand boxes and the high school students made tools. A wood handled stone tool is shown above. Dax used raw hide strips they tanned themselves to make the leather wrap to attach the stone to wood.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

[sealed] No user service required...

Opening the case will void your warranty. If you've visited a Toyota dealer lately and looked under the hoods of various models, you will find fields of plastic sealing the motors from view except for places to check the fluid levels. Remember when you used to open the hood and check the belts and watch to see that everything worked? No more. So while it may seem we have the world at our fingertips, we are being trained in disengagement from direct, local, physical reality. The idea is that if things look very simple, we will assume that they are. The message is clear... Everything small and everything complex should be left to the professionals, for fear of our screwing something up.

Friendship box made  in OZ
Is that the world we want for our kids? We start them off as toddlers playing with high-tech wondrous devices, beyond their understanding but have forgotten the equally wondrous play with blocks. I am reminded of a woman who came up to me after I spoke about the Wisdom of the Hands at a conference. She had given woodworking tools to her grandson, but her daughter in law would not let them in the house. Her son, she said, would make a mess. And so she would rather make a mess of her child's mind than get sawdust on the rug.

Keeping our children entertained with digital devices is easier for parents to contend with than tools, easier than blocks. The messes made under glass will  never need to be cleaned up and put away. Cleanup's automatic when the device is turned off. But if we want our children to grow up to be more than just consumers of objects and information, slaves to economic conditions and the twisted notions of those who would control them. We must give them more--  real tools, real materials, real gardens to plant, real opportunities to directly explore physical reality,  if we want them to grow up with any real capabilities and self-confidence in the real world.

Richard Bazeley in Australia has made his own prototype of the friendship box for use with his students that is shown in the photo above. I like his lid keeper design, and that his nails were set and filled, giving a neater look overall. It makes a nice box (approved by Richard's teenage daughter). And it is nice to know that these friendship boxes will be made on the other side of the world from Eureka Springs. You could say that these are international friendship boxes, with the design having now traveled from one continent to another, engaging hands in shop classes in each. Richard used the technique of aligning the sharp edges of the nails cross grain, and was pleased to note that there were no splits, even in pine which is typically more brittle than the wood we've used at CSS.

On a related subject, the Arkansas remediation rate dropped from 52.5% in 2010 to 49.3% in 2011. That means that this last year, only 49.3% of students entering college in Arkansas were not ready for college. The remediation rate, even showing a slight improvement illustrates a glaring failure of our educational system, a waste of money, delayed entry into the job market, and is an embarrassment for our state. The train of thought was that by testing students and holding their teachers accountable for student success, students would end up with world class educations.  But the train of thought left the station without as many kids as we would have hoped. The truth is that world class education will only come when students are engaged hands-on. To state, "engaged hands-on" is a redundant notion. By keeping students' hands stilled and unexpressive of learning, we stifle engagement, nail shut the doors of student interest, and watch the eyes glaze over in boredom. Instead lets:

break, make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Click to view in larger size.
I am coining a new term that describes taking things apart to learn how they work. Dengineering  is short for de-engineering. The idea is not the same as reverse engineering where the intent is to copy the way things are made, but rather to simply learn.

Later when students have a background in the working of things, they can take what they've learned and actually make something. The idea comes from 4 things. As a kid, my father gave me things that had broken that I was allowed to take apart. Secondly professor Alex Slocum at MIT had mentioned in a conversation that "kids need to be breaking things." In other words, what good is an old iPad if you can't break it open and learn something from what's inside?

The third thing was that as I was headed to the recycling center, I wondered how to remove the battery from the cordless tooth brush that was no longer in use. I had to smash it with a hammer to get the battery out, but in the process found an intricate electric motor that would have completely fascinated me as a kid.

The fourth thing is rather disappointing. A friend in New England, who has had many years as a successful woodworking teacher was informed that the administration is closing her wood shop. She asked for ideas from the veterans in the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers, and dengineering is my proposal. Dengineering can be done on the smallest of budgets. The materials for dengineering are to be found in every household for free. Why throw away so much educational value.

The way dengineering would work is as follows. Students spend one semester taking things apart, learning why and how they are put together as they are. Make reports on what they've learned. They keep all the motors, diodes, chargers and the like, and then second semester, make something from what they've learned.

The idea is to get children to understand that every thing is of educational value. Even a thing as simple as a nail invites investigation and understanding. The idea that sometimes nails split the wood and sometimes do not invites close scrutiny. The illustration above should make my point, and also put the use of nails and the avoidance of splits within grasp, both intellectually and physically. And what good is intellect if it does not bring an understanding of reality and the capacity to do real things? And what good is information if you don't test it in your own hanDs? Take a nail, and observe its qualities. Check the markings I describe. Once trained to understand nails you can roll them in your fingers and feel the right orientation to drive them split free into wood. Your fingers will sense when the sharp edges are perpendicular to the direction of the grain, and you will marvel that you'd never noticed this before. A simple nail is symbolic of our relationship with technology. We take it for granted without fathoming its full depth and many implications.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Friendship box...

This drawing shows the most recent "friendship" box design at the Clear Spring School. If you can follow the steps described in yesterday's post, you can make these boxes with your child using materials ripped from common 2x4 lumber. Prepare the stock by resawing material 1/4 in. thick on the table saw and and cut the ends from 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. stock. Your student or child, using a hand saw and vise, can cut the front, back, bottom and top to length, and then nail the parts together using 3/4 in. #18 gauge nails. You will need a 1 1/2 in. long 1/4 in. dowel to attach the pivoting lid. Glue the dowel in the hole drilled into the end of the box and also glue the dowel to the keeper on top. The lid pivots on the dowel and is kept from coming off by the keeper which consists of a larger dowel or octagonal block cut to a 3/8 in. length.

This is a good project to follow the math facts box as the skills involved are similar though the project is slightly more complex.

Be careful not to glue the box permanently closed. Open and close the box as the glue sets to avoid having it get stuck.

The idea of the friendship box comes from the boxes that children at summer camps in the late 19th century would make and share in remembrance of the bonds formed among friends.

Make, fix and create...

math facts and more...

The Wisdom of the Hands project was not only designed to tell why children need to be engaged in hands-on learning, but also to mark a path forward to do it. When we started my program at the Clear Spring School, we wanted to demonstrate how the wood shop could be used to increase the viability and direct use of the hands throughout the learning experience and throughout school. So I have focused our efforts on making tools. The simple math facts box is a great organizational tool because it is not finished when it leaves wood shop, but is brought to completion when the students have filled the box and their minds with the important foundation for their advancement in math.

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher in Australia, asked for permission to use this project with his kids. All my readers are welcome to use what I publish here to enhance your own child's hands-on participation in woodworking and education. So, here are the instructions. You can click on the drawing above to access it in a larger size.

I often use common 2x4 lumber for many of the projects at Clear Spring School. It can be ripped to various sizes and thicknesses, and the math facts boxes are made with hemlock or fir pre-cut studs, as these can be purchased at a low price and fair quality. The nominal size of an American 2 x 4 is 1 1/2 in. thick x 3 1/2 in. wide. I suggest adapting the size to your own system of measure based on the materials you have available.

I first cut the 2x4 in half to make it manageable on the table saw and then rip 1/4 in. strips from it. Each math facts box will require 16 inches of this stock. Rip additional material from 2x4 stock to a 1 in square dimension. To cut down on the amount of sawing in the wood shop when the kids arrive and because cutting very small blocks is almost too difficult for them, I cut the end parts using the sled on the table saw to a length of 2 in. To start the project each child is given these two end pieces and one piece 1/4 in. thick x 1 1/2 in. wide x 16 in. long from which to cut the bottom and front and back parts.

Before the kids begin, it will help to have a finished model assembled and an extra set of parts cut so I can demonstrate how it goes together.

We have a variety of hand saws available at Clear Spring School. Lately, I've been experimenting with a hand-powered miter saw to see if the kids can use it to achieve square edges and more accurate dimensions on their cuts. But I am ready to give that saw up and settle for less accurate work. To help the kids with that saw requires me rather than the vise to hold the stock for each cut, and it takes away from their opportunity to make mistakes. So perhaps best is to use a ruler, square and pencil to measure and mark the parts for free-hand cutting with the wood secured in a vise. This project is a great opportunity to teach math concepts like square, the use of the ruler or tape measure, and accurate marking on wood. Having a sharp pencil is important as it has effect on the accuracy and thickness of the marked line.

After the parts are cut, the students use our large steel stamp letter set to stamp their names in the wood on the front side of what will become their math facts box. We use 3/4 in. long #18 nails to attach the sides and bottom to the two ends pieces. It is important to carefully align the edges of the front, back and bottom with the edges of the end pieces. Expect lots of bent nails. Expect some split wood. The nails must be driven away from the center of the end pieces so that when the holes are drilled for the pencil and scissors, they will not interfere and mess up the drill bit. You will note in the illustration that the holes are off center to avoid nails.

When the math facts box is assembled, the students take turns drilling the holes. I hold the math facts box in position on the drill press as the children drill these deep holes. Because of the depth I remind them when the bit should be lifted to remove sawdust that has filled the hole causing heat to build up. We use a 5/16 in. drill for the hole for pencils and 1/2 in. for scissors and each are drilled to a depth of 2 in.

Students in first, 2nd and 3rd grade love to personalize their math facts boxes using markers. As they grow, this part of the process becomes less important to them, as greater quality of workmanship becomes too important to hide behind color.

The students make their own cards and write the correct answer on the back. We put a divider card in place so that those facts that have been mastered can be put behind the divider at the back. The math facts boxes can also be used for other things like vocabulary words and facts related to other studies.

There is one little secret to nails that most of the finest carpenters will not know but that can keep you or your students from splitting wood. To make use of this secret requires close observation of each nail as it is positioned to drive into the wood. This secret is an unintended consequence of the way in which they are made, but can be used to your advantage. When nails are made, wire is pressed between two dies that form its head and point. The process leaves a small mark across the top of the head, and two sharp edges at the point on opposite sides and parallel to the mark on the head. These sharp edges when properly aligned cut into the grain, allow the nail to pierce the wood without splitting if the sharp edges are positioned at a 90 degree angle to the direction of the grain. If the nail is positioned so that these edges parallel the grain, the point of the nail works as a wedge splitting the wood. On very small nails like those used in this project, the line at the top, and the tiny edges require close scrutiny. The edges are also sharp enough that you can determine proper orientation by feel. But learning the value of close observation is one more thing that students can learn in wood shop. This can be presented as a lesson on the value of close observation. And students can test themselves to see if the lesson is true.

With the students' names stamped on the box, and it providing a place for other important tools of learning, the math facts box serves important organizational functions that make the children much more interested in making it than for math alone. They are excited to have a place for their tools, and loved this project.

On another subject, related of course is this from the New York Times: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad
There is indeed a moral dilemma as we contemplate turning the education of our children over to high tech devices. What depth of learning do we hope for them? What kinds of moral citizens do we hope to create through our process of education?

Seriously, make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finland, where every child matters...

This is another view of Finland Schools that is illuminating.

Make, fix and create...

iPhones and the challenge at hand...

Math facts box for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades
This article in the New York Times illustrates the challenge involved in restoring American manufacturing. Apple, America and the Squeezed Middle Class. The article questions whether or not the US will ever be able to compete successfully against China in the making of consumer electronics. Perhaps not. And perhaps never. But should we try to maintain our creative edge?

Nails bend. Getting them straight is not just a matter of luck.
I got a call yesterday from an editor at American TV news program, ABC Nightline, researching a story on the use of iPhones, iPads and similar devices by by toddlers. The editor was wanting someplace to go to get a clearer sense of why despite the obvious attraction of leaving your child occupied and entertained by these devices, they are not the best developmental tools for our children's growth. The cute photos showing children engaged with these devices tells an enchanting and deceptive tale of engagement. The statistics and correlations of that engagement... a wide range of undesirable symptoms in those children tells a more frightening tale. If you want more information do a bit of research on your own either in this blog or on google. Use the search term "screen time" in this blog (box at top left), or "screen time and kids" on google. We watch kids manipulating the devices and think, "Isn't she smart?" when the intelligence is really only built into the box and what we should be noticing is how the device so effectively distracts the child from real life, and from engagement in it.

Lev Grossman, writer for Time Magazine had called the woman who told him of the direct harm to his child, "Suzie Joykiller." She had shattered his illusions of all the wonderful things he hoped technology was doing for his child. What about hand and eye coordination? These high tech parents ask. Try scissors.

Progressive education really means growth from within the child toward the embrace of the world at large and all the learning available within that expanding, progressive relationship. It begins with the family, proceeds from the school, through the community and through the culture. It explains why children in the primary grades used to visit their local fire stations. It wasn't just for fun but to expand the child's conception of self.

Otto Salomon, one of the primary co-founders of Educational Sloyd described progressive education in his prescription, "Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract." Anyone watching a toddler with an iPhone will see that they are interested in it. The easy manipulation of images on the iPhone screen can be addictive and for some has become a thing better known than the real world that surrounds them. You can become lost in it, distracted by it. But it all misses being developmental on two fronts. It is not concrete, does not lead from the concrete to the abstract, but rather begins in abstraction and it does not lead from the easy to the more difficult except in the least concrete of terms. It fosters far too little responsive, creative engagement in either family or community and no actual creativity, that William James had referred to as "correlative expression."

Ed Tenner had written a piece for the New York Times, telling that laptops are not laps, and that children need the latter. I referred the editor from Nightline to friends at the Alliance for Childhood. If we want our children to be creative, leading our future in ways that restore success to our nation, progressive education, including such things as play with blocks, would be a good way to begin.

Today the first, 2nd and 3rd grade students at Clear Spring School used saws and hammers, real wood and nails to make desk accessories to hold a pencil, scissors and their math facts. It will make their study more interesting and help them to better organize their desks. The prototype is shown in the photo above. I have fun designing projects that build step by step on their skills, and seeing their pride in their finished work.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The following is from William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology.
"No reception without reaction, no impression without correlative expression,—this is the great maxim which the teacher ought never to forget.

An impression which simply flows in at the pupil's eyes or ears, and in no way modifies his active life, is an impression gone to waste. It is physiologically incomplete. It leaves no fruits behind it in the way of capacity acquired. Even as mere impression, it fails to produce its proper effect upon the memory; for, to remain fully among the acquisitions of this latter faculty, it must be wrought into the whole cycle of our operations. Its motor consequences are what clinch it. Some effect due to it in the way of an activity must return to the mind in the form of the sensation of having acted, and connect itself with the impression. The most durable impressions are those on account of which we speak or act, or else are inwardly convulsed."
I read an article on CNN about the educational success of iPads in schools, iPad a solid education tool, study reports. We know that computer technology is having a major impact on every facet of modern culture, and human life. And so the question becomes, how to connect that technology to actual usefulness, and what James referred to as "correlative expression." Correlation was the term educators once used for curriculum integration, where all things even subjects as diverse as literature and math are seen as connected and in relation to each other. Correlation is the process through which students see that all things are related, and that they are also connected, woven so to speak, into the fabric of community and the full breadth of human culture through meaningful service to others.

To put most simply, we learn best those things which we are able to put to use in our homes and in our communities through meaningful service to others. The iPad can be a successful tool in that endeavor, but we must not forget all the other tools necessary to make human correlative response something greater than fingers sliding effortlessly over glass.

Today in the CS wood shop, some of my 7th, 8th and 9th grade students worked on automata, and others worked on the development of old time woodworking hands skills. The plane being used in the image above is a new design bevel-up smoother made by Veritas. New also to our wood shop, I allowed my 7th, 8th and 9th graders to spend time sharpening them and learning how to plane wood flat and square on the edges. It's an exercise I did in 7th grade wood shop, except that I was not allowed to sharpen the plane irons before use. Woodworking is not simply learned in the head, but must be learned in the hands, eyes and body as well. In order to do hand-tool woodworking well, one must sense a relationship with gravitational forces, the angle of hand and wrist and be deeply engaged in observing the effects of one's labor. Some, having too little understanding of reality would consider it "noncognitive."

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 23, 2012

smart kids...

Learning is the most natural thing on earth. And yet we have difficulty getting children in schools to learn. How can that be? For the second time this week I quote Williams James from his book Talks to Teachers on Psychology because he hits the nail on its head:

"Constructiveness is another great instinctive tendency with which the schoolroom has to contract an alliance. Up to the eighth or ninth year of childhood one may say that the child does hardly anything else than handle objects, explore things with his hands, doing and undoing, setting up and knocking down, putting together and pulling apart; for, from the psychological point of view, construction and destruction are two names for the same manual activity. Both signify the production of change, and the working of effects, in outward things. The result of all this is that intimate familiarity with the physical environment, that acquaintance with the properties of material things, which is really the foundation of human consciousness. To the very last, in most of us, the conceptions of objects and their properties are limited to the notion of what we can do with them. A 'stick' means something we can lean upon or strike with; 'fire,' something to cook, or warm ourselves, or burn things up withal; 'string,' something with which to tie things together. For most people these objects have no other meaning. In geometry, the cylinder, circle, sphere, are defined as what you get by going through certain processes of construction, revolving a parallelogram upon one of its sides, etc. The more different kinds of things a child thus gets to know by treating and handling them, the more confident grows his sense of kinship with the world in which he lives. An unsympathetic adult will wonder at the fascinated hours which a child will spend in putting his blocks together and rearranging them. But the wise education takes the tide at the flood, and from the kindergarten upward devotes the first years of education to training in construction and to object-teaching. I need not recapitulate here what I said awhile back about the superiority of the objective and experimental methods. They occupy the pupil in a way most congruous with the spontaneous interests of his age. They absorb him, and leave impressions durable and profound. Compared with the youth taught by these methods, one brought up exclusively by books carries through life a certain remoteness from reality: he stands, as it were, out of the pale, and feels that he stands so; and often suffers a kind of melancholy from which he might have been rescued by a more real education.
Early educators from Comenius, to Francis Bacon, to Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Dewey, and Montessori, all held in common the understanding that the handling of objects, the examination of them through the senses, the making of things having useful beauty, were all essential to the processes of learning and growth. What more can I say? Education is not a matter of making kids smart... Kids are already moving on their own in that direction, and it is time to stop standing in their way, but rather make best use of their own natural inclinations. Today, one of my 6th grade students (a girl) said, "I wish I could always be in wood shop." I know just how she feels.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

estrangement from whole self...

Participants wore a bulky ski glove on one hand, with the other glove dangling from the same wrist, while arranging dominoes on a table. Right-handers who wore the glove on their right hand became functionally left-handed, causing them to make good-bad judgements like natural left-handers. (Credit: Image courtesy of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics)
Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.-- Carl Jung

Those who watch American politics have probably noticed that these may be among the most politically radicalized and contentious times in American history. The days leading up to the Civil War were worse, but parties described as being left and right seem to be firmly entrenched in their positions, and it may be hard to find middle ground as one party or the other is pushed to its extremes. You might find it interesting as I do that politics are framed as spatial positions left or right, rather than as particular ideas.

In boxing you put on gloves. In street fighting, you might take them off, but can wearing or not wearing a single glove effect the way we think, and how we process our ideas? In last night's reading, I found that it can, and I think you, too will find this article and research fascinating: A glove on your hand can change your mind.
Unconsciously, right-handers associate good with the right side of space and bad with the left. But this association can be rapidly changed, according to a study published online March 9, 2011 in Psychological Science, by MPI researcher Daniel Casasanto and Evangelia Chrysikou (University of Pennsylvania). Even a few minutes of using the left hand more fluently than the right can reverse right-handers' judgments of good and bad, making them think that the left is the 'right side' of space. Conceptions of good and bad are rooted in people's bodily experiences, and can change when patterns of bodily experience change.
Researcher Daniel Casasanto, had noticed that Right handers would choose products or make decisions based on what they saw presented from the rigth side, but that if their dominant hand was partially impaired by wearing a single ski glove, their choices changed.
To test this theory, Casasanto and colleagues studied how natural right-handers think about good and bad when their right hand is handicapped, either due to brain injury or something much less extreme: wearing a ski glove. Stroke patients completed a task that reveals implicit associations between space and goodness in healthy participants. Patients who had lost the use of their left hand showed the usual right-is-good pattern. But patients who lost the use of their right hand following damage to the left-hemisphere of the brain associated good with left, like natural left-handers.

The same pattern was found in healthy university students who performed a motor fluency task while wearing a bulky glove on either their left hand (which preserved their right-handedness) or on their right hand, which turned them temporarily into left-handers. After about 12 minutes of lopsided motor experience, the right-gloved participants' judgements on an unrelated task showed a good-is-left bias, like natural left-handers.
Those who are involved in crafts, therefore, using both the left and right hands may have some advantages in dealing with complex decision making in that they may be less impulsive and more deliberative rather than automatically resorting to stock decisions based on left or right handedness. It may be that the notion that so many early educators shared, that the use of crafts for all in education would help build students who were whole, balanced and "all-sided," would have led us away from the political dissension that dominates the news, and has crippled the response to our economic crisis.

I have been reading Jung's Red Book, which is profusely illustrated and written in careful calligraphy and  I had been led to this research by an interest in how the hands express the unconscious mind. Evidently they do, and they can. Carl Jung had said, "Hands, whose shape and function are  intimately connected with the psyche, might provide revealing, and therefor interpretable, expressions of psychological peculiarity, that is, of human character." He was referring to the study of psycho-chirology, an advanced form of palm-reading. He may have been a bit off in his speculation. But it seems that an examination of the hands and how they function in relation to human thought will be revealing.

I will be interviewed on EdTalk Radio this afternoon at 4:10 PM Central, or 10:10 PM GMT

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

creating a culture of learning...

Several years ago, Clear Spring School was approached by parents in a nearby city wanting to duplicate our school in their town, making the quality and character of our education more easily available to them. But how can someone duplicate a culture of learning?

Educational visitors hoping to learn something from Finland face the same dilemma. How can they take advantage of the Finnish success story? Is there some small thing that can be copied, or must the whole system be duplicated? That would seem an impossible task.

A friend Elliot Washor, co-founder with Dennis Littky of the Met School and Big Picture Schools sent me a book about the life and educational effects of Uno Cygnaeus published in English on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth. One cannot fully understand the success of Finnish schools without understanding the contributions of Uno Cygnaeus and those who influenced the development of his thoughts about education. If you are interested you may find some important insight in this book,  In the Spirit of Uno Cygnaeus--Pedagogical Questions of Today and Tomorrow.

The book was published by the University of Jyväskylä, the school Uno Cygnaeus established to educate teachers for his folk schools. One thing you will learn early on in the book was that Cygnaeus was regarded as a national hero, and that same sense of heroic regard for teachers was a thing that transferred and became part of the Finnish National Culture. You can see how far we've yet to go in American Educational reform. Cygnaeus also believed that ALL students should be exposed to the dignity and honor of honest labor.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Talks to Teachers on Psychology...

Tomorrow, I will have my third interview on EdTalkRadio, withPaul Preston. You can listen live at 2:10 PM Pacific Time, 4:10 PM Central, 5:10 PM Eastern, 10:10 PM GMT.

William James, one of the famous founders of modern psychology, was an advocate for manual arts in school for the following reasons:
Constructiveness is another great instinctive tendency with which the schoolroom has to contract an alliance. Up to the eighth or ninth year of childhood one may say that the child does hardly anything else than handle objects, explore things with his hands, doing and undoing, setting up and knocking down, putting together and pulling apart; for, from the psychological point of view, construction and destruction are two names for the same manual activity. Both signify the production of change, and the working of effects, in outward things. The result of all this is that intimate familiarity with the physical environment, that acquaintance with the properties of material things, which is really the foundation of human consciousness. To the very last, in most of us, the conceptions of objects and their properties are limited to the notion of what we can do with them. A 'stick' means something we can lean upon or strike with; 'fire,' something to cook, or warm ourselves, or burn things up withal; 'string,' something with which to tie things together. For most people these objects have no other meaning. In geometry, the cylinder, circle, sphere, are defined as what you get by going through certain processes of construction, revolving a parallelogram upon one of its sides, etc. The more different kinds of things a child thus gets to know by treating and handling them, the more confident grows his sense of kinship with the world in which he lives. An unsympathetic adult will wonder at the fascinated hours which a child will spend in putting his blocks together and rearranging them. But the wise education takes the tide at the flood, and from the kindergarten upward devotes the first years of education to training in construction and to object-teaching. I need not recapitulate here what I said awhile back about the superiority of the objective and experimental methods. They occupy the pupil in a way most congruous with the spontaneous interests of his age. They absorb him, and leave impressions durable and profound. Compared with the youth taught by these methods, one brought up exclusively by books carries through life a certain remoteness from reality: he stands, as it were, out of the pale, and feels that he stands so; and often suffers a kind of melancholy from which he might have been rescued by a more real education.
Some of my reader may recall that William James had written an endorsement of Educational Sloyd.

Today in the wood shop I will continue inlaying the lids for small boxes so they will be ready to hinge and assemble. In addition to Wm. James book, Talks to Teachers on Psychology,I am also reading Jung's Red Book. It was unpublished until recently, and was illustrated with Jung's small paintings, and was all hand written in calligraphy. It is a fascinating look at the intersection between speculative science and the arts. I suspect that Jung would have found interest in the wisdom of the hands. Can the hands be an access point for and examination of the unconscious? I think that is an area in which Wm. James and Jung would have found agreement.

Make, fix and create...

odds and ends...

Today we began firing high school student clay projects in a barrel filled with sawdust. The idea is to do a rather primitive wood firing. It is experimental. We will see what results when the fire cools, and will unpack the barrel on Monday. If it works, we may do more. I had been a professional potter years ago, and if it can be as easy as this, I may get back in again to make a few things for fun.

We started with a lining of dried grasses, then laid a 4 inch deep layer of sawdust at the bottom. Each pot was filled with sawdust and wrapped in magazine paper to impart coloring oxides, and common newspaper tied with string. We covered all with layers of deep sawdust. Then a blazing fire of scrap wood was built at the top of the barrel and when it had burned down sufficiently, the lid was placed on to slow the burn and assure a reduction environment.

Also today, we assembled the 4th, 5th and 6th grade fish mobile and hung it in their classroom today.
I was contacted by the ABC News program Nightline, wanting to know my opinion on toddlers being given iPads and iPhones and other technology to play with. My opinion was pretty well stated in an earlier post. 

Also, the following: You may have noticed that Sesame Street is trying to make a big change in their program design to lay greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. STEM. Our schools screwed up badly when they abandoned wood shops and finally people are starting to notice the mess educators and politicians have made of things by failing to teach real things hands-on.

I got an iPad for Christmas. It is a wonderful device. It is so well deigned and so easy to use. Right out of the box with no learning curve and no instruction. But if we are trading high tech for low tech in the education of our children we are making them consumers of technology rather than creative users and inventors of it.

As a nation, we became so worried about students getting their fair share of technology. Parents come to a state of urgency in buying what they think will be their children's glorious futures as technology users. When my daughter started school all parents were worried that if they didn't get computers in the home and in schools ASAP, their children would be left behind. One point that is missed is that computer technology is designed to make things easier and easier for everyone who owns the device or the program. That means that the thrust of things is to no longer need skill or expertise of any kind. That means that for many children, they will no longer have anything to offer of value as any Tom, Dick or Harry with the same devices will offer the same stuff created with less and less effort or skill.

On the other hand, learning to do things that are difficult and challenging offer a far greater sense of creativity, sense of self, sense of self-actualization, and sense of fulfillment.

I get kids in school that have never learned to use scissors. I have had first grade students disappointed in the wood shop because we didn't have computer games for them to play. But children learn to find joy in doing things that can be hard for them, that contain challenges and through which they can demonstrate skill and expertise. It is even more glorious for them when the things they have created are tangible evidence of learning.

I am fine with kids playing with their parents iPad and iPhones, as long as they are given a much healthier dose of real hands-on creativity using real tools. iPads are great entertainment if that's all we want to offer. It is interesting that Buckminster Fuller first began constructing forms based on the triangle when he was in Kindergarten. Being nearly blind, he was working with sticks and peas, and while the other children worked on rectilinear objects that made visual sense  to them, Fuller worked with triangles that had real strength. Frank Lloyd Wright laid down his architectural roots playing with blocks in Kindergarten.

So it would be tragic for our children and our culture to neglect all the other forms of creative technology that actually invite children to do real things, rather than merely participate in the entertainment that our devices so effortlessly provide. Let's not forget that saws, hammers, knitting needles and all other tools of craftsmanship are technology, too.

You might find it interesting that many of the most successful executives from Silicon Valley send their children to a Waldorf School where their exposure to high tech devices is restricted and object lessons in the use of real tools is assured.

My show at the Historic Arkansas Museum opened yesterday as shown in the photos at left and below.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today in the wood shop...

This article, Finland’s education system is tops: Here’s why presents a nice overview of Finnish schools, which should help us to understand the things they do differently from us, and may help us to examine those areas in which we could most easily change and do better. "Policy makers, educators, and the media can take a lesson from Finland." One simple thing is that while we start pushing reading in Kindergarten (age 5), they begin formal education in reading at age 7 which means that by the time their students are tested at age 15 in the international PISA study, they far surpass American students in 25% less time. That alone should be telling us something. That when children have a bit more unpressed time to be ready to read, it may come more easily for them. My mother, as a Kindergarten teacher was trained to observe whether or not a child could skip. Skipping indicated effective cross-lateral integration between the brain hemispheres. Pushing a child to read before readiness was not only considered to be wasted effort, but could also destroy the child's interest in reading. In Finland:
Formal reading instruction begins at age seven, when children enter the comprehensive school.
Parents, community, and the culture itself support reading.
Schools have aroused student interest in reading, and students are interested in and engaged in reading.
Students read highly diverse materials.
Finland has a comprehensive network of libraries, which have separate departments for children and youth.
One of the things you can see is the effective partnership between home, school and community that is often lacking in American education. Uno Cygnaeus and Otto Salomon, co-founders of the educational Sloyd movement made a particular point of creating a sense of partnership and shared responsibility between home and school. And sadly we got off on the wrong foot in American education. Cygnaeus was the founder of the Finnish Folk Schools in the 1860s. He built the Folk Schools on the Kindergarten model, and used educational Sloyd to extend the kindergarten teaching method into the upper grades. The things the students made were designed to be useful in the home, assuring that parents found ways to feel connected with and support what their children were learning in school.

Readers might also be interested in this article, 11 Surprising Things that Determine Your Success in School. If you are a regular reader in the blog, you will find that many of the surprising things are not all that surprising, but the article makes a neat package for sharing with those who have college bound children. Even a thing as simple as understanding the importance of a good night's sleep could could make a difference in a student's success.

I will spend the day today in my own wood shop, inlaying the lids for all the many boxes I have in production. Each year at this time, I anticipate sales for the coming year, and fill holes left in my inventory by the holiday season.

Part of the wonder of woodworking is the opportunity to take something with no readily apparent value and make something beautiful from it. The same principle applies to all of economics. Those who understand values that others may not perceive have the upper hand. The photo above is of spalted wood found at the roadside in Eureka Springs that will be sliced thin and used as inlay in the making of wooden boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Those first two years of school...

The first two years of school are absolutely critical to children's success. It is where they learn whether or not they like school, whether or not they are "smart" in school and whether or not they will find success within the school walls. Remember what I have mentioned before about children walking. Some walk as early as 7 or 8 months, and some not until a full year has passed. And yet we know that exactly when they walk is no exact determinant for future success. Parents are told not to worry. But as children grow, the window as to when each developmental marker takes place widens, not narrows, and so when children reach school age it is unreasonable to expect children to be reading ready at exactly the same time. In the US, students are pushed to begin reading in school at age 5, and in Finland, age 7, so by the time children are tested in the International PISA test they far surpass American students in 25% less time.

If that's the case, what are children to do in school, particularly in those important first years? The following is from Comenius (1592-1670), first great proponent of education:
"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them."
In other words, children's activities, their hands-on explorations, are a useful resources that educators should use, not waste, for in wasting their most natural inclinations, we damage them in ways only succeeding and preceding generations may understand. The impact of too-soon-forced academics has greater effect on boys and even greater effect on those boys from poor communities where parents have less time to reinforce important developmental values.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, first, 2nd and 3rd grade students continued making friendship boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I made a quick trip to the Historic Arkansas Museum this morning to deliver 16 small cabinets for my show beginning on Thursday. On the way down, I listened to a radio talk show from North Little Rock in which they were discussing the crisis in Little Rock Schools. It is difficult listening to a grandmother, Mary Jones, who knows by her study of statistics that one or more of her grandchildren will probably end up in jail having not been captured and turned into something more by an educational system that is failing far too many kids.

I wanted to call in and offer my simple formula for engagement. It may seem overly simplistic when the problems are so large, but to enable children to be creative and expressive, making things of useful beauty with their own hands can bring a 180° change in children's lives. But educators and politicians are so far out of touch, my offering is a direction that none consider. And so that is exactly why I keep making the same simple point again and again and again.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 16, 2012

moron NCLB...

The article on No Child Left Behind legislation in this week's Time Magazine is really quite good at describing its effects...
"Signed into law by George W. Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, No Child Left Behind was a long-awaited shift toward accountability, but despite its admirable intentions and the measurable gains it has produced in the past 10 years, the good no longer outweighs the bad. Teachers and administrators say NCLB sets impossibly high standards and has narrowed curriculums, forcing teachers to teach to the tests, and it has labeled far too many schools as "in need of improvement," creating a race to the bottom as states dumb down their standards to ensure that more of their schools meet NCLB's rigid benchmarks."
Any teacher can tell you that the NCLB legislation has had harsh impact on students and within each class. And you might enjoy reading an earlier post, that Children are not Clockwork. Some children begin walking as early as 7 or 8 months, and some begin as late as a year or more, and where a child lies in that window of development means almost nothing relative to the child's long range development. But lay on a grid, and put a child into classes where children are all tested and measured and expected to develop and mature at exactly the same pace, and you will have created an educational nightmare, imposing severe limitations for some children, leading them to assume that they are not and will not be capable in certain areas. Math and reading are examples.

We are now, in American Schools, pushing kindergarten students to read too soon and as a result make reading is a chore to be avoided instead of the pleasure of opening the whole world for each child's enthusiastic examination.

According to the Time magazine article, teachers complain that "NCLB has sucked the creativity out of their lesson plans" forcing them to teach only those things that will be on the state tests. As one eighth grade science teacher explained, "the worst thing is when students have questions and interests and I have to say, 'Put your hands down. We don't have time to talk about that.'"

I am once again reminded of this story about Pestalozzi:
Back in the late 1700’s a child in Pestalozzi’s school challenged his teacher, “You want me to learn the word ladder, but you show me a picture. Wouldn’t it be better to go look at the real ladder in the shed?” The teacher was frustrated by the child’s interruption and explained that he would rather not take the whole class outside the building just to look at a ladder. Later, the same child was shown the picture of a window and again interrupted the teacher. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk about the real window that is right there? We don’t even have to go outside to look at it!” The teacher asked Pestalozzi about the incident and was informed that the child was right. Whenever possible children should learn from the real world and the experiences it offers.
Learning is best when it comes first hand.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

3 Ds...

It appears likely at this point that No Child Left Behind legislation will soon be abandoned, itself left behind, as it seems to have garnered a "D" at best in our assessments of its results. Despite 10 years of effort, it did not live up to its lofty goal of improving education for our nation's students. According to some assessments it did the reverse of what was intended. We still have the same high drop out rate, and we still score significantly behind other nations in the international PISA tests.

The greatest problems in modern education can be summarized in the 3 Ds: disengagement, disinterest and disruption. Schools often fail to engage children's innate capacities for learning. In worst cases, students become disruptive of the educational interests and needs of others. At a very early age, children are instructed, "don't touch!" "Keep your hands to yourself!” But the hands and brain comprise an integrated learning/creating system that must be engaged in order to secure the passions and "heart" of our youth. It is the opportunity to be engaged through the hands that brings the seen and known to concrete reality in human experience. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. When the passions ARE engaged and supportive systems (teachers, community resources, technology etc) are in place, students find no mountain is too high, and no concept too complex to withstand the assault of their sustained interest and attention. You don’t have to take my word for this. You can see it in action, and while I can describe my own observations, I know that you, the reader of this material can reflect on times when your passions have been engaged in your own lives and your own learning has been at its height.

So what is the answer to the challenge of engaging the heart in education? Get real. Real life engages the intellect and the imagination. Crafts are an excellent way to bring the real world into the classroom. Real tools, real materials, real work, making real objects with real use. The purpose of the woodshop at Clear Spring is to help all the other subjects become real and engage the hearts and the passions or our students in education. You know what? It really works.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

No hands left behind...

Educational Psychologist David Henry Feldman had proposed a new metaphor for education which he called "the Child as Craftsman." The idea was that children hold the potential for excellence in craftsmanship as part of their innate developmental inclination. By neglecting that inner child of creativity that longs for the development and expression of skill, our children are diminished in nature and in character. Any artist or craftsman reading this blog would immediately understand what most educators seem to have overlooked. I urge all to remember sometime in the past in which we may have spent time striving to be good at something... hours at the free-throw line is just one example. The inclination and motivation to find some area in which a child is able to excel is universal.

The child as craftsman is an essential metaphor for understanding our way forward as American educators, parents, craftsmen and artists of all kinds. Becoming a nation of craftsmen requires that we begin to address the matter of craftsmanship with our children and in our schools and homes. This is not a new topic in the blog. I've written about Feldman many times before and of course I never wander far from the topic of craftsmanship. Use the search block at upper left and type in David Henry Feldman to read more.

Currently the No Child Left Behind Act sets standards for reading and math, but there are other important forms of assessment that David Henry Feldman laid out in two steps.
"The first is simply a restatement of the educational aim of engagement in a more precise form; to the extent that greater numbers of individuals find fields to pursue, find work that engages their energies and through which they derive satisfaction, education can be considered to be making progress."
One of the greatest failings of modern education is that of failure to engage, as children either sit bored and disinterested or become disruptive. Feldman's "second criterion of educational progress" follows from his thoughts about creativity. That if
"education is done well, creative contributions will tend to take care of themselves. In other words, an education which fosters sustained commitment, satisfaction and joy in accomplishment will naturally lead to occasions that require one to go beyond the limits of one's craft. To reach the limits and find yet another problem to be solved, a goal to be achieved, an idea to be expressed, a technique to be worked out--these are the conditions which favor creativity."
Feldman concludes:
"I submit that the twin signs of progress toward a fruitful education for the future are; (1) an increasing number of individuals engaged and committed to pursuit of mastery of their fields and (2) the number of novel, unprecedented, or unique contributions that occur in these fields."
This is not exactly measuring to see if students arise at some artificial minimalized standard of success, but rather an open ended model for assessment that recognizes with today's kids the sky's the limit.

I've spent the morning loading a trailer with small cabinets to deliver to the Historic Arkansas Museum for my show that opens next Friday. It feels great to have so much work safely packed and ready to travel.

Make, fix and create...

On becoming...

Becoming a nation of craftsmen will not happen overnight.  Craftsmen do not simply emerge from the woodwork. Instead, they are nourished, driven, lured, sustained and encouraged in their work by those who care about craftsmanship enough to participate in the growth of others. One could hardly stand in the midst of the beautiful work at Crystal Bridges Museum or in any of our other fine American arts museums and remain untouched by a sense of the beauty and craftsmanship witnessed within.

But how do we form those important bridges between our capacity to sense useful beauty and the duty of patronage through which those with resources encourage the growth of skill, character, intellect and economic resilience within their own communities?

I have a very good friend who might serve as an example. Paul Harvel is the director of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce. Each year he buys my work to give as Christmas gifts to his staff. It is a tradition he started over 15 years ago when he was director of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. His staff in Fort Smith and his former staff in Little Rock have collections of my work.  Can you see how a man or woman, even without being rich can make choices that encourage growth in others?

Ever true to his community, Paul told me that if he can't buy it in the state of Arkansas, he questions whether he needs it at all. And yet, Paul is not shy in the dance of globalization. He works tirelessly to bring manufacturing jobs to Arkansas.

Can you see how this process works? Even without being a craftsman, a person can nurture and sustain fine craftsmanship. Even without being rich, a man or woman can become a patron in the restoration of community. Each of us can play a part. Whether making beautiful and useful objects yourself or not, buy work from those whose works you admire, or from those young people in whom you see hope for our nation's future. It is a simple formula. And by buying workmanship close to home, you can witness the effects.

You might wonder how someone like Paul would come to have such a firm grip on the importance of American  craftsmanship. He had grown up an a farm and is currently restoring his father's tractor. After graduating from college, he became an industrial arts teacher. By having done some woodworking himself, he came to admire fine woodworking and to feel an affinity for it. Those simple things add up.

On another subject, Time Magazine this week has an article about the failure of the No Child Left Behind legislation as it faces its 10th anniversary. The original idea of NCLB was that the federal government would require schools to test children's performance in schools AND offer significant help in bringing ALL schools up to a uniform standard. The help never came. But the testing came on like gangbusters.  Schools began being punished for failure to meet standards. That led to a teach to the test fanaticism that pushed aside the arts, cut PE and kept students from participating in music. In the alternate universe where craftsmanship was perceived as having value, we would have been heading in the other direction, secure in the knowledge that what we do with our hands, whether in music, crafts, art, wood shop or laboratory science will stick with us the rest of our lives and build both character and intellect. But don't just take my word for it. Read the article and draw your own conclusions.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 13, 2012

In an alternate universe...

Here in the US there is a vast and growing gulf between rich and poor. According to one political party the rich are "job creators".  But then if that's the case, a significant part of the American social fabric has been failing at its job. Money itself knows no patriotism, no debt of loyalty nor sense of responsibility to nation nor community. And while we may celebrate money above all other things, there are values beyond money that in an alternate universe, we would consider as well.

Last night I joined members of the Eureka Springs UU church in serving dinner at ECHO, a volunteer healthcare organization designed to serve the poor and those many who cannot afford health care. Echo operates every 2nd and 4th Thursday night of the year. It is staffed by volunteers including many of the best health care workers in the community who use it as an opportunity to give something extra back and fulfill a sense of duty to the foundation of community. Would it not be wise, if all so gifted were to act on their own sense of responsibility to give back? It is claimed that the rich are holding back in the employment of the poor because we have not made things lucrative enough. But enough! Aren't there greater things at stake? And better examples of who and what we might become?

Sadly, a nation untrained in craftsmanship fails to perceive the uplifting social effects of craftsmanship.

Yesterday my daughter and I ate at the Oasis, a small restaurant in the heart of downtown Eureka Springs. There are those who walk in, and thinking themselves as having arrived in a 3rd world nation by mistake, will turn around and walk out. But the Oasis is actually one of the finest restaurants in the US in near perfect disguise. My daughter, having spent 4 years in New York will rank the Oasis as one of the top restaurants in her rather broad dining experience. But part of the appeal of the place is not just its food, but that it is at the heart of the community experience.

When we wander into the world without roots, we miss the depths. In my alternate proposed universe of community and craftsmanship, our eyes are opened to other things. Beyond money charted on spreadsheets, there are people putting people to work doing their finest.  I can hardly explain to those who have not lived in Eureka Springs or someplace like it, how being a part of such a place, being woven into the fabric of community, feels and what it means. I have been so lucky. And in these first days of 2012, I wish the same for you.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

true value, real cost...

I grew up in a house full of antiques. The bug for old things came from my Aunt Allene who had an appreciation for all things fine and all things old, but along with all the old things came an understanding that objects told the story of our civilization and of community. Even scratches and wear told the story of those who came before.

So while our neighbors were sometimes swapping out furniture for the latest style my sisters and I were learning a few things at greater depth, and holding a few fine old things dear.

Our consumer economy is based on planned obsolescence, on a rapid exchange of goods, all made by large manufacturers and sold for low prices. These objects, large and small are manufactured whereever they can find the cheapest labor in steady supply. These objects are kept until we are bored with their design, until their design is eclipsed by newer products or until the cheap and often toxic materials with which they are made lead to the decline of their usefulness.

Outside many of our major cities there are mountains made from these objects mixed with the trash of our civilization, and inside the cities and throughout the surrounding countryside are lives trashed by our failure to engage our citizenry in the values of fine craftsmanship.

And so there are true values, real costs, that are hidden below the surface of our understanding. Only those having been exposed to the making of beautiful and useful objects and knowing the transformation of self that occurs in being so engaged, would likely understand the intrinsic value of hand-crafted products and hand-crafted lives. But I will come to that in a minute.

The cost of the cheap objects that fill our lives is hidden from us. We do not readily perceive the effects of burning of fossil fuels in the making of these things, or transporting them from great distances to us. The long-term environmental impact is a cost not reflected in the purchase price of these goods. At the checkout counter we are not charged disposal costs as the accumulation of these objects spill from our homes to be gathered in huge landfills where they poison the earth and ground waters with the toxic content that seeps from them as they decay. Then there are opportunity costs to reckon in our equation. When objects are not made in our home communities, our citizens are too often left without meaningful work in lives that too often lack the dignity and self-respect that a life of craftsmanship would have conferred.

The true value of hand-crafted objects is that someone grew in their making. That growth involves both the intellect and character. As meaningful records of that growth,  these objects might become precious to us, kept as symbols of our highest aspirations, human attention to detail, and the quest for true beauty. So our simple choice is to continue as a nation of consumers as we are, or to become a nation of craftsmen. We can continue towards the decline of human culture or shift toward greater nobility.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

big things start small...

Today in the wood shop, CSS first, 2nd and 3rd grade students will be making friendship boxes. Friendship boxes were once a tradition in American summer camps as they could be traded among friends and kept as symbols of that friendship.

There are dangers in our failure to engage ALL students in fixing, making and the creative arts. When some children are raised with a sense of intellectual entitlement, believing that they are the chosen few intelligent enough to grasp what they themselves cannot truly grasp, and that others are deemed capable of lesser contributions and are thus of lesser worth, we have a situation that will not sustain a strong middle class. I want to remind my readers that democracy and the middle class arose in the first place through the guilds and fine craftsmanship.

Most of the early proponents of the manual arts believed that all students should be exposed to making real things from real materials because not only did real work create greater intellect, it also pushed all students toward the development of greater character. For instance there are specific things that one learns in the crafting of beautiful and useful objects. A person will learn that making real things is not as easy as one might think. Thus those expressing skills beyond reading and math might deserve dignity and respect within the school culture. Then those who are acquainted with the processes involved in the creating of beautiful and useful objects are more capable of envisioning industries or enterprises in which the growth of skilled labor could be encouraged in others. Once establishing a sense of empathy and alliance with those who have creative skills, they might be inclined to do so.

In the case of the average Harvard MBA, we would find someone good with numbers but willing to export jobs since those jobs are little more than an inconvenient commodity to be acquired at the cheapest price. He or she will probably not have any experience in personal creative enterprises with real materials or management of muscle or time. He or she will have been educated to extract profit with little respect for those with the creative capacity, skill of body or mind to complete tasks which the MBA had too little experience to imagine in the first place.

There are many who believe that the rich have the ideas to drive the economy, and those ideas and the capital they provide, if left unburdened by taxes or regulation will blossom into success and prosperity for all. That principle might actually work if all were trained to accept their role in fostering the growth of others in their communities, and were willing to take actual steps in their own lives to put people to work doing creative things. But it is not easy to do these things, and most in positions of ease will not be bothered to do so.

What if ALL were to engage in a complete and total revival of craftsmanship and to understand its value? That's a thing unlikely since most have never been taught to understand craftsmanship in the first place. Even the poor these days are too often left untrained. But just imagine communities of craftsmen making furniture, doing fine creative work, not to be bought from Tiffany's or Sotheby's but from real people?

OK, at this point in things I'm just dreaming. But big things start small. Friendship boxes are shown above and at left.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I have been reading Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman, and it points out that despite what we like to think about the brain, that our thoughts are in some way under control, the reverse happens to be true. Our brains are composed of competing systems. These systems compete for our attention, like the worst of rivals they argue with each other and the decisions that we make are not as rational as we would like to think. Incognito makes the point that our success as a species comes not from having a single voice in our heads, but from the diversity of voices, each seeking its own shift in our behavior. This was described by William James in Principles of Psychology (1890):
“We know what it is to get out of bed on a freezing morning in a room without a fire, and how the very vital principle within us protests against the idea… We think how late we shall be, how the duties of the day will suffer; we say, “I must get up, this is ignominious,” and so on.

But still the warm couch feels too delicious, and the cold outside too cruel, and resolution faints away and postpones itself again and again just as it seemed on the verge of the decisive act.

Now how do we ever get up under such circumstances? If I may generalize from my own experience, we more often than not get up without any struggle or decision at all. We suddenly find that we have got up. A fortunate lapse of consciousness occurs, we forget both the warmth and the cold; we fall into some reverie connected with the day’s life, in the course of which the idea flashes across us,

“Hello! I must lie here no longer” – an idea which at that lucky instant awakes no contradictory or paralyzing suggestions, and consequently produces immediately its appropriate motor effects. It was our acute consciousness of both the warmth and the cold during the period of struggle which paralyzed our activity. This case seems to me to contain in miniature form the data for an entire psychology of volition.”
Have you ever sat in class and felt the sudden impulse to get up and move around but were unable to do so? Welcome to the reality of humanity. We are complex creatures. Not only are we different in some ways from each other, we have that diversity within ourselves. And so it is ever so important that we cultivate the full range of our potentials, not just those that stimulate the intellect, but those that stimulate the emotions and physical capacities as well.

I can remember the day in 7th grade wood shop when I was using a coping saw to cut along meandering lines marked on wood that would become the sides of wall-hung book shelves. I noticed the saw beginning to wander from the line and looked over at my neighbor and saw that his was even worse. From those kinds of experience we learn things about ourselves, not just about the world that the teachers are held accountable to impart as "lessons." By doing real things, we learn about life, and our own varied and complex intersections with it. We may even learn that volition and consciousness are not what we have assumed them to be.

Today the 7th 8th and 9th grade students will be working on gears and mechanisms. Yesterday the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students made model sea life for a class mobile, and the high school students began making tools as an investigation of world history. wood shop offers the opportunity to explore other dimensions of learning that enhance both the mind and body and deeply engage the emotions. Children must come to terms with the full integration of self. In other words,

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 09, 2012

but who's hiring...

One of the candidates on the campaign trail in Hew Hampshire has persisted in making the claim that Blacks should just get jobs instead of relying on food stamps, but he is making the assumption that there are lots of jobs waiting and this matter of employment is simply a matter of will. Just in case he hadn't noticed, we have a tremendous employment problem in the US. Government employment has been steeply curtailed in order to reduce the budget. Manufacturing, though not as low as it was following the 2008 economic collapse when the American auto industry had to be bailed out is still in the pits compared to what it was before the Bush Republican years. So the idea that poor (of any color) can snap their fingers and get off assistance by accepting some waiting job is absurd.

The idea of the Reagan years was that money in the hands of the rich would trickle down to the poor and lift all boats as that money put people to work, and yet those rich, having little sense of social responsibility to the poor and working class, have not been engaged creatively in the economy to the degree of actually making jobs. The problem lies at least in part in our educational system in which education of the hands and education of the head alone have been isolated from each other and creative hand-work afforded less dignity. The situation allows for a huge number of students to pass through the system without ever understanding the intrinsic value of the goods and services provided for them. The system creates in those students a sense of entitlement and superiority.

In contrast, the idea presented by Educational Sloyd and many others in the early manual arts movement, was that through all students to being engaged in making useful and beautiful things, all would gain a greater sense of their intrinsic value and concurrently develop an appreciation of those who had crafted them. This is not quite the same idea as going to Tiffany's and buying expensive stuff that only a very few Americans can afford.

We have arrived at a time in American culture that was predicted by Mr. Charles B. Gilbert, Superintendent of the Newark, New Jersey Public Schools when he 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.
Unfortunately American schooling does little to create a sense of the dignity of craftsmanship. But there are answers to be found within. Craftsmanship is the foundation of human culture and of democracy. One cannot be a creative and successful craftsman without being intellectually engaged. One cannot be a craftsman without being true to particular values that uplift the community in which craftsmanship is nurtured and takes place. Unlike American politicians who spew small lies and exaggerations right and left with every breath, a craftsman must be true to his materials, his design and to himself.

It is truly time to take matters into our own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 07, 2012

How to bend a nail...

A person might not ever want to know how to deliberately bend a nail, but if he or she does know why they bend, bent nails can be more consciously avoided. I was intrigued by Joe Youcha's use of the hammer in a discussion of physics. So I did these three drawings to show how to bend a nail, or not.

The first drawing shows what could be described as an "angle of incidence". If a hammer strike is not dead on in the direction one intends the nail to travel into the wood, it presents a lateral force, bending the nail. The second drawing shows a glancing blow that is roughly equivalent to two cars striking head-on, but off center. A bent nail is the result. The third drawing shows the face of the hammer striking the nail at the correct angle and with the nail at the center of the hammer face where the greatest direct force is conveyed. Unless the nail hits a knot or is being driven into wood too hard for the use of nails, it should go in straight. Learning to hammer, is not just a matter of the physics of the hammer, it is also a matter requiring close observation of self. In driving a nail, a kid's posture makes a difference. Working on a low bench or even on the floor allows the hammer to have greater force. The smooth motion of the arms is required and so the physical parameters of self come into play. These come from analysis and experience but the analysis need not be verbal.

A person can learn to hammer nails successfully without ever coming to an elaborate mental and verbal analysis of the geometry or physics involved. In fact, millions of successful carpenters have been able to do so. On the other hand, one might know all the physics and geometry and more, and really know almost nothing about how to drive a nail. Can you see how there might be advantages to both knowing the physics and math and having real experience driving the nail? Unfortunately the education of American school children is aimed at the passive acquisition of knowledge, not toward the active expression of it.

I plan to use these drawings to help my first, second and third grade students understand why nails bend. If I can give them greater observational powers, they will become better craftsmen, but also better mathematicians and scientists at the same time.

Time Magazine this week has an article, The Reason for Recess about schools once again realizing that the body needs exercise for the proper functioning of the brain. This was an idea held by Otto Salomon in his teaching of Educational Sloyd, and I was surprised when I visited at Nääs, Sweden and learned the strong role of physical education in the methods prescribed there. According to the article in Time,
"Physical activity can improve blood flow to the brain, fueling memory, attention and creativity, which are essential to learning. And exercise releases hormones that can improve mood and suppress stress, which can help learning."
Salomon and others from progressive education believed that learning should be "all sided" in that it should engage the child's physical nature as well as his or her intellectual side.

Make, fix and create...