Thursday, February 16, 2012

fear of hand tools...

Tim, a blog reader in France sent the following note:
I follow "Wisdom of the Hands" with interest via I don't always agree with everything you say -- I'm a software engineer, and am happy to get my 10-year old son involved with programming -- but that's OK. I thought you might be interested in a web page that contains several of the worst nuggets of advice ever, especially as it pertains to "wisdom of the hands." The link is I'm never sure if sites like this generate real content, or use some search algorithm to aggregate random material found elsewhere. The page is wrong on so many levels, but here are the gems that made me think of your blog:

"You should protect your eyes, even if jack plane isn't a power tool. Wood splinters might fly around when you use this and if it hits your eye, it might scar your eye and cause blindness."

"Wear safety gloves if necessary"

"Keep these items away from kids, and lock them up in closets so kids won't find them."

That last bit made me extremely angry.

In contrast, my son is doing an after-school workshop given by the Compagnons du Devoir here in Bordeaux, where we've lived for 9 years. Yesterday's activity was stone cutting. While we were hauling 15kg of project away, I casually asked him if they had worn safety goggles. Of course not, he said; he could really see no need for it. I mentioned that things would probably be different in the U.S., and then told him about that web page. He gave a very French snort of derision.
I am sorry if I gave Tim the impression that I would be against teaching a child how to program a computer. There is certainly nothing wrong with teaching a child coding on a computer if you have that capacity. Screens are disruptive of a child's learning if they are used only for passive, not active, responsive use. Getting into the ways the machines themselves function and learning to control that function at a deeper level is a far cry from passive use.

On the subject of what we find on the internet, the range is complete from idiocy to expertise. I find it curious that parents would be urged to lock up their tools, but these same parents will put text messaging devices into their child's hands, put the kid behind the wheel and launch them into a truly dangerous life. Also, I am reminded of an artist at a conference who came up to me after my address on the Wisdom of the Hands. She told me that 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. That reminds me of Bob Dylan, who when asked about his long hair at the time, replied, we all have hair the same length. Some have it growing on the inside where it fuzzies their thinking. In other words, she was willing to make a mess of her son's life in order to protect her carpet from sawdust. There is no cure for this disease but to do real things, with real tools and to share the joys of that process with kids. I am unaware of safety glasses having ever injured anyone, so I will not argue with that advice, but will allow that human beings can go to ridiculous extremes.

I am packed to leave for Des Moines, Iowa where I will teach box making for 3 days.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous12:33 PM

    It is not possible to child proof a workshop.

    Rule number one in my workshop, tools are not toys and they have to be taken care of so they work properly.

    Children are generally fearless when it comes to trying new things and that is a fantastic learning asset.

    If a parent does not know how to make things and use tools then they are frightened of tools and pass that fear on. Fear kills creativity.

    We need more family workshops, parents learning along with their children. The parents of the children I am teaching don't have the knowledge to pass on to their children. The grandparents who do have those skills don't live nearby.

  2. Have to wonder if the site your other reader found was humor. The flying splinters was one thing, but locking them where children can't reach them is way over the top.

  3. I'm the "Tim"... I don't think it is humor. On the other hand, I'm not completely convinced that it was written by a human. The combination of specific woodworking terminology -- "jack plane" -- with inappropriately generic terms -- "repair" -- is just bizarre. Actually, it was probably written at a penny a word by someone with no subject matter expertise, using Google liberally.

  4. Tim, I have run across offers to write drivel for the net, and readers should read Matt Crawford's account in Shop Class as Soulcraft of editing academic journal. Even peer reviewed journals are subject to the creation of drivel.

    It would take years to purge such nonsense from the web.


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