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...


  1. On a somewhat related note, human temperament is a study that fascinates me.

    On the one hand, just by understanding a person's temperament, one can know a wealth of things about them and their aptitudes and yet, at the same time, two people of the same temperament can be radically different. So different, in fact as to appear nothing alike.

  2. Luke, everything is so fascinating. Like how can a dog's DNA encode particular behaviors. Aptitude and attitude are matters of both nature and nurture. One thing that I know about the hands is that we will always be drawn to use them in some creative enterprise. It is encoded in our development, and now the only real challenge is to get parents and educators acquainted with the obvious.

  3. Anonymous4:51 AM

    Imagine! Education with a context! You're doing a great thing at CSS.