Sunday, September 23, 2012


Lest we get exclusively cerebral, it should be noted that researchers who were recently awarded the Ig Nobel Prize had measured brain waves in a dead salmon. How long the fish was dead, I cannot say, but does this tell us that the matter of our hands now dangling uselessly at the ends of flaccid wrists is no longer a problem in American culture?

As we wander around in real life (we have to have feet for this unless we are only wandering in mind alone), it is useful to have hands.

You may have thought I was getting away from what I had mentioned I would discuss: the principles and elements of design. Balance is an important principle of effective design and I again offer the box shown in the photo above as a concrete example for the examination of design. You will note that the hinges are not the same length, but rather one is cut short to fit the design already inherent in the material used in the top. If that wood were a kid, in most schools he or she would be thrown out. But balance is not the same thing as absolute symmetry. There is some symmetry in the piece. The pegs on the left and right are symmetrically placed. The knot (there is a corresponding one on the back) is offered as a focal point with roughly half of the box on each side. But balance is more than just symmetry and order. And too much symmetry and order arbitrarily imposed on craft work or education leads to some boring stuff. In art and craft some works are deliberately asymmetrical to create meaning. In any case, good design works with what's there inherent in the materials, and schools in America operate in too many cases, as though the children were made from particle board, without important qualities that make each child unique. And working successfully with unique materials requires the hands of an artist.

These days, balance seems to be a thing thrown out the window in too many schools. The balance between work and play is all in the wrong direction as schools cut recess and limit class engagement in the outside world. There is an essential interpretive understanding that takes place in the heart and mind of a successful teacher, that tells when it is time to take a break from lessons and that all kids must go outside and play. Balance is too often a thing taken out of the hands of teachers and put in the rule books reflecting school board decisions made at monthly meetings and unrelated to what actually transpires in the minds and hands of kids.

If we were to commonly understand teaching as an art and that the principles and elements of design DO apply to teachers' work, we would have far greater educational success. Working with children is akin to working with real wood. Just as a craftsman adapts his design to the material at hand, thus making the material far more beautiful and interesting, teachers should have the same opportunity to adapt lessons, curricula, and even schools themselves to allow the materials of their concern the opportunity to grow as creative, competent, compassionate and skilled human beings.

The Ig Nobel awards are given to those who do incredible seemingly senseless things. They might seem like a joke. A number of past Ig Nobel winners have gone on to win the real Nobel Award in their field. We don't always get where we are going most efficiently by taking a direct path, but rather by finding balance, having fun even at the expense of dead fish.

Make, fix and create, and do not forget the significance of having hands...

1 comment:

  1. I love the box, and it's a perfect example of design that fits the materials and produces something useful and interesting to look at.