Friday, November 16, 2012


It would be about time for folks at Harvard's Project Zero, the brainchild of Howard Gardner, to take an interest in the maker culture and in what making does to the mind and character of a child. They've done so in this article: Harvard Wants to Know: How Does the Act of Making Shape Kids’ Brains?

Harvard most often takes interest in things when they've been invented by Harvard, or when the overwhelming evidence sweeps their minds into a corner. Howard Gardner in Project Zero came up with the idea of multiple intelligences, which would have been a thing any machinist or wood worker would have understood beforehand, hands down, and could have told about if asked. Still the idea of multiple intelligences can help us to be more cognizant of the value of doing real things.

In the wood shop, a craftsman uses musical intelligence as he or she listens to the application of tool to wood, whether that tool is powered by hand or by the grid. The craftsman uses math, connection to culture, sense of partnership with others, sense of one's own body, and each and every known form of intellect specifically identified by Gardner, but without it having to be prescribed and identified. I think one term that Harvard would have trouble identifying would be the academic dumbass. We are diminished in character and in intellect when our hands are stilled. Put a man solely behind a desk, or at a lectern and without great effort to overcome his natural proclivities he will become out of touch.

One of the precepts of Educational Sloyd was the movement in learning from the concrete to the abstract. But reality does not lose its meaning for the intellect once it has escaped into abstraction. Like a humming bird returning to the feeder, an active mind returns again and again to what's happening in the real world. That is why students and professors at all levels and in all disciplines should be making things (even unrelated to their fields of study) and engaged in field work and application of what they are in the process of learning to real life.

Real life is not administered in doses, prescribed for specialties of learning and intelligence, as in Gardner's work. The failure of the multiple intelligences theory to be utilized in modern education results from the difficulty and complexity that each teacher faces in taking time to prescribe lessons personalized for the smarts of each child.

The next thing of course for Harvard might be for Howard Gardner to discover a new form of human intelligence we can call, Maker Smart. The only thing is, however, maker smarts is  not really a separate form any more than any of the others are, but rather, the summation of all other forms of human intelligence.

There is a simple solution to the problem of education and the recognition of all forms of human intellect. Ask our students and teachers to do real things. Making things in a wood shop may be the best place to start.

Yesterday as I was sanding boxes, my assistant noticed that I was like a small band of music, as the sanding block was applied to the wood in conscious, counted rhythmic strokes. By becoming aware of the sounds of woodworking, greater intelligence is applied. Interpersonal intelligence? Try working in a wood shop full of kids.

Today in my wood shop, I continue making 500 boxes. In the mail in the next few days I expect a contract to arrive for my 5th book on making beautiful boxes, and my head is already swimming with notions.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Hello,
    I attended a classical music concert on the Harvard campus last night, and the highlight of the evening was hearing a 17 year old virtuoso play a piano concerto with the symphony. My general impression is that world-class classical musicians seem to be a generally disciplined and intelligent group of people. Do you have any thoughts on how dedicating oneself to musicianship and the use of one's hands contributes to their development? One will never know how they would have developed with less hands-on learning.


  2. Hi Doug! I really appreciate your blog here (and also Saw Zen - such a profound connection you've made there!). As a father, I've seen how woodwork can make a difference in the spiritual and intellectual growth of children.

    You seem critical of Gardner's work, and of differentiated instruction. I'm curious, how do you solve the problem of students who are ahead of the curve by months or even years, or who take far less time to grasp concepts than their peers? Some of these kids, who would delight in learning if allowed to move at their own speed, instead learn to hate school. What do you have to change within education to do away with differentiated instruction?

  3. Steve and Alex, my prescription for education was used by Matt Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft as the introduction to Chapter one... "In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged." --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006

    In other words, make education real. There are a variety of ways to do it, including wood shop, music, physical education, writing of literature, field study, laboratory science, dissection in biology, internships and apprenticeships, that allow for self-differentiation among students which I will write about later in the blog.

    Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind was written over 30 years ago. And still no-one does much about it.

    Years ago, I took my sister's sewing machine apart and couldn't get it back together because I knew nothing about how the whole machine worked. (and I was only 5 years old at the time).

    Howard Gardner took things apart, in a fine academic fashion and left teachers wondering how to implement a multiple intelligences approach, a thing they were poorly equipped for because they had been promoted to their positions of authority without understanding how the whole thing works.

    I can go into that more deeply if you wish. But here it is in a nutshell. Teachers are drawn from among those who have academic intelligence, not maker intellect. (making music and art, same diff.)

    They're often good at writing paragraphs or working quadratic equations, but are given no experience in the world of making and engaging non-academic learners.

    I think Howard Gardner did a wonderful thing in describing how we are smart in a variety of ways. But what he did was not enough.

  4. So you're saying that education should always occur as an engagement in the physical world? I assume this is the approach that CSS takes? How does it work for students whose IQ is two standard deviations away from the mean? I can see where it might be more rewarding for your quick learners, but I can also see it being just as demanding of a teacher as differentiated instruction (a requirement in Missouri) is in mainstream education.

    It's an intriguing idea. I'd been reading your blog from the perspective of woodshop being what my kids would call a "special" - like their music class or going to the library, or their physical education class. It sounds like you're really describing an approach to the broader curriculum.

    Maybe I need to move my family to Eureka Springs!

  5. In my ideal world it would be the approach that Clear Spring School takes. We're not quite there yet, but we do have some promising programs that connect kids with reality.

    We have had students of all kinds and levels of measured intelligence who have thrived in the CSS atmosphere, and who would have suffered in more rigid environments. All kids are smart in various ways. At CSS the question is not how smart is your child? but how is your child smart? And kids learn each others strengths and weaknesses and how to bring out and encourage the best in each other.

  6. An additional note to Steve above...

    Years ago they determined that there is a relationship between instrumental music and success in mathematics. Of course one of the essential aspects of instrumental music is that it involves the hands. It should not be too great a leap to consider the hands as being the key to the relationship. The part of the brain that controls the fingers is also the part of the brain involved in counting. The intraparietal sulcus. Type that term in the search block at upper left and see what comes up.

  7. Music is inherently mathematical, scales and intervals and chords. Even the percussion stuff I do has a strong math element. And since I'm a hand drummer rather than a stick drummer, the hands are involved at a very basic level. But then, watching my younger son work as a chef is like watching a conductor lead an orchestra of ingredients to a triumphant coda, the plate getting to the table.