Saturday, January 19, 2013

not invented here...

One of the major problems faced by educational Sloyd in the US was the "not invented here," complex. There is some irony at work in this. Perhaps worst for Educational Sloyd, placing it at a competitive disadvantage was that it was widely promoted by a Swedish Jew, in contrast to the Russian System, which many Americans welcomed  and were willing to import lock, stock and barrel. But Americans seem to always think that what we do is automatically better or that if it is invented somewhere else, it won't be right until we've made it better. Calvin Woodward, one of the two "fathers of industrial arts" in the US, outlined his objections to Educational Sloyd as follows:
1. The manual training is limited to woodwork.
2 The pupils are taught and shown about their work separately; class instruction is not given, and the several pupils in the laboratory are doing very different things.
3. The things wrought are household furniture or implements and utensils to be carried home and used there. There appears to be no aim beyond making thrifty householders.
Each of these objections is a display of Woodward's ignorance of Sloyd. Benjamin Hoffman, Superintendent  of the Baron De Hirsch Fund Trade Schools in New York City answered these by noting first that Sloyd also involved metalworking, cardboard work and textiles. Secondly, he noted that there are no true glories in "class teaching". Students being held together as a class are bound to either boredom or abandonment. And anyone vaguely familiar with the aims and principles of educational Sloyd would know that it has a wide range of formative values for all scholars beyond making them "thrifty householders."

It is fascinating to read between the lines in The Eliot School Course or Manual Training in Jamaica Plain, Mass. published in July, 1892, and I invite you to read along. Eliot School along with all schools in Boston at the time were torn between the Sloyd method and the Russian method advocated by John Runkle at MIT and Calvin Woodward from Washington University, and in the Eliot School Course, one finds an effort to achieve reconciliation between the two. At Eliot School, they decided that Sloyd was for the younger kids and the Russian system for older children preparing to enter the trades. It seems to have been a reasonable compromise, but still one that overlooked many of the important values inherent in Educational Sloyd. None-the-less, what ended up being called the Boston Compromise and serving as a model for woodworking in schools throughout the US allowed administers to lay claim to having arrived at method uniquely American. It saddens me that so many of the important theoretical aspects of Sloyd were abandoned in all that. Stay tuned and I'll keep describing what we've missed, or you can read earlier posts like this...  Friday, November 04, 2011: day 3 -- class vs. individualized learning

Today in my wood shop, I'll be developing veneer patterns to apply to the tops of boxes.

Make, fix and create...

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