Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The power of attention...

walnut box
The following is from Benjamin Hoffman's book, The Sloyd System of Woodworking, which was based in part on Otto Salomon's lectures at Nääs in the 1880s.
"A teacher's work is useless if the child is inattentive. Many discussions have centered upon the time to be devoted to certain subjects, but the question as to how a subject can be taught so as to attract and fix the attention is worthy of greater consideration... In order to attract the attention, the chief thing necessary is to bring about a true and not a specious interest. The former consists in a desire to understand the subject for its own sake; the latter, for the sake of marks or rewards. In teaching theoretical subjects, it is at times very difficult to know whether the attention of a child is fixed or not. He may appear attentive, and yet his mind may be far away."

"In the manual work, the pupil's attention is attracted in three different directions—on what the teacher says, for the pupil soon finds that he cannot do his work without attending very closely to instruction; upon himself, for otherwise the child comes to grief with his tools; and upon the work engaged on, or he spoils it."
Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop I was attempting to explain to my students where to drill the holes for the tuning pegs in their guitar necks. I discovered that several of my high school students who had come more recently to Clear Spring School struggled to understand the tape measure. If they had learned fractions in school, it might have been how to add them and subtract them or even multiply them, but not where to find them on a rule or to understand how they might actually be useful in making something that required any degree of precision.

There is a rule, "use it or lose it," which recognizes that the brain and memory are constantly cleansed of information that's not readily apparent as being relevant to one's life. There is another rule that is reflected in the Sloyd principle, "move from the concrete to the abstract." It is easiest to learn those things that can be actually applied through the actions in one's own life. You can call it the rule of relevance. To learn fractions after you've already established a use for them makes sense. To learn useless bits of extraneous stuff does not. And so what I can add to Benjamin Hoffman's comments on attention is that the attention applied through the manual arts builds an understanding of relevance when one is faced with learning and paying attention to abstract and theoretical learning. Concrete experience in the manual arts adds to the student's ability to pay attention to abstract learning by establishing relevance.

One of the things that is happening in my work is that box making still becomes easier, even after all these years. I am making a series of walnut boxes with veneered tops similar to those I did for an article for Woodwork Magazine in 2006. To get this far (as shown above) took only a couple hours in the wood shop. Making over 800 boxes in the last 3 months of 2012 left me with new skills and simplified techniques which will be shared in my new book for Taunton Press in 2014.

Make, fix and create...

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