Wednesday, January 23, 2013


William Torey Harris
It is inevitable that if the wisdom of the hands idea becomes widespread, detractors will step forward to disparage all that I say. For folks would rather pay attention to statistics and their own particular bias than to what they can witness with an open mind and in their own hands. During the time in which Educational Sloyd was promoted throughout the world, it met with resistance from William Torrey Harris (among others) who said the following:
"The expression which we often hear used by the advocates of manual training—'put the whole boy to school,' states in a plain, forcible way the meaning of the phrase 'integral cultivation of all the faculties and all the aptitudes which make up the complete man.' It has been fashionable in education as treatises since the days of Pestalozzi to define the province of education as the "full and harmonious development of all our faculties.' This is, however, a survival of Rousseauism, and like all survivals from that source is very dangerous. It is of first importance to consider this definition in the light of psychology."
A pyramid box
But what Harris really means by psychology is revealed as distortion of his own fervent Christianity as he states further:
"For Christianity teaches that food, drink, raiment—or creature comforts of all sorts—yea, life itself is infinitely beneath consideration when weighted against the spiritual service of humanity. Bodily health and vigor, sound digestion, good sleep, keen sense-perception, are all good if rightly used, or subordinated to higher faculties; but to speak of them as forming a harmony with the higher is placing the soul and body on the same plane, and this is a fundamental error in educational psychology."
No doubt, Harris was a great man. He served as Secretary of Education under 4 presidents. Under his leadership, St. Louis schools became among the best in the nation. He was a prolific writer. But he also seemed to exhibit a dark view of mankind. In the Philosophy of Education (1906) he wrote:
"Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."
And in that same book, he wrote:
"The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places ... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."
Mummy inside Mayan Pyramid box
I wonder. Are schools the places in which the child's essential nature should meet with such distrust? Where teachers are not to be trusted with planning adventures for their most wonderful kids? Where children are presumed to be lacking is spirit and meaningful inclinations?

Bench made for office of CSS
Today I had the first, second and third grade students, and the middle school kids in wood shop. They hardly fit Harris' dark view of humanity. They are kind and creative and certainly not the automata Harris describes as the 99 percent.

But different schools aim for different results. Even William Torrey Harris would be enchanted if he were to visit Clear Spring School.
Make, fix and create...

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