Thursday, February 28, 2013


Galleons. Each is unique.
 I have a day planned of writing, to get chapter two organized, written and off to my editor for review. It is a cold morning, one in which it would be nice to curl in bed with a good book, but real life for most of us just doesn't work out that way. We have issues. First there's the ever present need for money. We don't get it for sitting around all day, and it's spent whether we do anything or not. Then there's the matter of self-esteem. Most human beings thrive on being important in someone else's life. We have longings that urge us to serve others in some way, to keep earning and re-earning our sense of self.

Then folks came along in American education and devised a system in which students sit around all day, in which teachers are to do most of the work (and be constantly measured for it), and in which pretense of self-esteem is offered but with the real stuff that must be earned nowhere in sight. You can call it "do nothing learning" if you like.

But the truth is that we don't learn very well that way. We learn best when our ideas are drawn from and measured against real life. The idea of modern American education, where a teacher stands at the head of the class and spews out information that is ungrounded in student experience is psychologically unhinged from how students actually learn.

Forgive me, I keep repeating myself. The message is simple. In learning we move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex,  and from the concrete to the abstract, and we do best when we create lessons starting from the interests of the child. The best way to do this  is through the strategic engagement of the hands. We learn most efficiently and to greatest lasting effect when our hands are engaged in learning.

The photos above are from yesterday's first, second and third grades class. The designs are by students. Each is unique, involving decisions that students made themselves. The wood shop is a surprisingly verbal environment as students explain in detail what they need next.

At 4 PM today the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students at Clear Spring School will present the bench they made at the APT meeting, and describe the manner in which it was designed and made. They are very proud of it and what they've done, and making a presentation to parents and teachers was their idea.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

child centered learning...

Sugatra Mitra was awarded the 2013 TED prize for his work in education. In his talk, Mitra points out that schooling as it exists now was created 300 years ago in the British Empire.
“The Victorians created a global computer made up of people. It’s called the bureaucratic administrative machine,” says Mitra, in the bold opening of his talk. “In order to keep that running, you need lots and lots of people. They must be identical to each other … So they created a system, called school, to make parts [for this human computer]. They must have good handwriting, they must be able to read, and they must be able to add, subtract and do division.”
But can the computer be enough? If the computer empowers you in the use of other tools, we are on the right track. If those other tools are forgotten, we are off track by miles.

What Mitra has discovered is what some few educators have long known since Comenius. Learning is a force within the human genome. It is the natural state of the child and left to their own devices, children will learn, and yet we put them in schools, where educators in a harsh environment demanding accountability, testing and standards, and lacking in creative resources and opportunities remove the life from learning.

The following is from
In the world of education reform, Mitra's work falls squarely on the side of the conversation--along with longtime TED Talk all-star Sir Ken Robinson--that says what schools need most is to enable new kinds of creativity and learner-centeredness, without trying to micromanage the outcomes. The move to create "maker spaces" in U.S. schools equipped with 3-D printers and the like is another example of this line of thinking, which stands in stark contrast to innovators like Sal Khan of Khan Academy, who focuses on enabling students to learn traditional subjects like math more quickly and efficiently, with outcomes measurable on standardized tests.
Remember when schools had wood shops and the necessity of learning by doing was known  and widely accepted by American educators?

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, first, second and third grade students finished their Spanish Galleon models, and the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students finished their bench for the office and assembled the 5 board benches for their back porch.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

woodworking at the heart of education...

When we started the Wisdom of the Hands program at the Clear Spring School, our original objective was to prove the value of hands-on learning and the relevance of wood working education which had been assumed irrelevant by most educators in the US. For years, wood shop programs had been dropping like flies. Now, as manufacturing and engineering seem to be on the rise in the American economy, the relevance of making things is being seen again as a possible engine to foster growth in the economy and bring students into the work place. It seems that just as in the 1870's some educators are realizing that you can't teach engineering and math effectively without the students ever having actually done anything beyond diddly squat.

Still a part of the message of Educational Sloyd is not widely understood. Educational Sloyd was not only a method of teaching wood working, but offered a theoretical framework as to how children learn, and how the heart can become engaged in learning. That framework with action being at the heart of learning can be broadly applied throughout schooling. (But don't hold your breath.)

Otto Salomon addressed the theories of learning in his daily lectures, delivered in four languages, Swedish, German, English and French. Salomon claimed his lectures in English were better toward the close of summer, for by that time he'd had more practice.

The formula is simple. The teachings and methods of Pestalozzi were at core in Otto Salomon's thoughts. Pestalozzi believed that "doing has a double function; by doing thought is expressed, and by doing thought is also gained and made clear." "Knowing and doing are so closely connected that if one ceases the other ceases with it."

You don't have to take my words, or Pestalozzi's words, for that which you can learn in your own hands. Imagine a box (or any other useful and beautiful object.) Then try to make one. You will find that your idea of the box or other object will develop and be refined as it is made. In other words, by doing, thought is made clear. Of course the same applies to writing, but not all students feel competent in that area. And if you really want students to be engaged in learning, you'll need to offer a wide variety of opportunities for them to emotionally and physically engage in real learning by doing real things.

Add caption
It is snowing here this morning. If this were a beautiful summer day in Sweden, in the late 19th century, Otto Salomon would take his lectures out of doors to this field where I was Hans Thorbjörnsson and Etsuo Yokoyama in May 2006.

Today I'm putting strings on my box guitar, still trying to stay at least a step ahead of my students. The most difficult thing that I anticipate for them will be the setting of the bridge and nut. The strings have to be the right height above the fret board in order to be relatively easy to touch to the frets to make cords and notes, but not so close to the frets that they buzz. That requires very accurate sawing to just the right depth, and it will take careful instruction with each student. Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 25, 2013

How smart are we?

Perhaps a better question would be, how are we smart? This short article about animal intelligence suggests that we've been underestimating the intelligence of other animals. We tend to be surprised when confronted with their intelligence, and the things they can actually do in the wild. They can't read or write words or numbers and thus are regarded as being dumb, whereas we've been the ones to make the biggest mess of things.

Pestalozzi warned of an education based too much on words, language and artificial understanding, and things became worse when we isolated the education of the head from that of the hand, left wissenschaft devoid of kenntnis. Pestalozzi used the term "Fertigkeiten" which for him meant the following:
(1) acts, actions; (2) powers of doing, skill, practical skill, technical skill; (3) practical ability, abilities, faculties, capacities...

He noted "We are far behind the greatest barbarians in the A B C of acts or actions (gymnastics} and their skill in striking and throwing," etc. " These contain the foundations of all possible actions on which human callings depend." (2) "The people do not enjoy in regard to culture in skill (technical education) one scrap of that public and universal help from government that each man needs. In no way do they enjoy the culture of those practical abilities" (3) "The abilities (capacities, talents, etc.) on the possession of which depend all the powers of knowing and doing (Konneri) that are required of an educated mind and noble heart, come as little of themselves as intelligence and knowledge."
Pestalozzi believed that "doing has a double function; by doing thought is expressed, and by doing thought is also gained and made clear." "Knowing and doing are so closely connected that if one ceases the other ceases with it."

Today on NPR, reporters talked about that crucial time between school and home in the afternoon in which proper diet and exercise go to hell for kids. Too many live in unsafe environments in which they do not get any exercise, and their after school nutrition consists of snack foods. One woman talked about her grandson who is short, but weighs over 300 lbs. "A sweet child," she said of her grandson, whose father had recently died of a heart attack at the age of 38. There is a high degree of stupidity at work in American education, and in American culture. Children need to be physically active in schools, and continue a high degree of physical activity when they arrive home.

Some would think that Pestalozzi's writings from the 18th century would be irrelevant today. But while our technology has advanced, we are the same human beings that evolved centuries ago. The teachings of Pestalozzi should be remembered, if for no other reason to remind us that little has really changed in American education. Perhaps in the big scheme of things, we can be pleased that education is no dumber than it once was.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students made more bluebird houses. They are tending the bluebird houses at the Corp of Engineers Park at Beaver Lake and found that even more are needing replacement. This batch will bring our total for the year to 8. The CSS high school students worked on their box guitars. They are excited to be nearing completion.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 24, 2013


3/4 in. narrow butt hinges illustrated in sketchup.
Writing how-to books is not just about writing. Unlike fiction, instructional material is based on having really done something. It requires the technological skill to communicate in a variety of ways, that then allows the readers to actually do what the writer has done. On my last book I was asked by my editor to do all my drawings in sketchup, so that dimensions for materials lists could be easily checked. This is all a bit more than the napkin sketches that I used for my first books and articles.

A thing as simple as a hinge can take time to illustrate. Fortunately, once I've illustrated a particular type of hinge, I can use it again and again in illustrations of other box designs. Now I've "made" hinges of two sizes and I've finally gotten the hang of how to do them more easily. I'm getting better at using skechup and I can still go to the wood shop and get away from this computer whenever I feel the need. Working within such a powerful program has certain constraints that must be mastered in order to work effectively.

Roger Guimps wrote of Pestalozzi's regard for intuition as described in his 10th letter in How Gertrude Teaches Her Children as follows:
" what Pestalozzi calls direct and experimental perception, whether in the domain of the physical or moral; intuitive ideas are those that result immediately from perceptions. All descriptions, explanations, and definitions are ineffectual upon the mind of the child if they do not rest upon already acquired ideas. This understood, we can in .a few lines give a resumé of this letter.

Intuition is the only basis of instruction, and for long it has been completely neglected in teaching. After the invention of printing the power and use of books were greatly exaggerated; the book was confounded with knowledge, and words with ideas.

In teaching, nothing but the book has been seen or employed (though now the computer and interenet are taking the place of books). In teaching the child to read, that is to say, to pronounce the articulate sound of the diverse assemblage of letters it was thought that the door to all knowledge was opened; we have only men of books, men of words, men of letters, in the narrowest and most material acceptation of the word: and an endless and unreasoning kind of talk has been created which deceives and stupifies with a 'deluge of words which correspond with no precise idea.

The same thing has occurred in the moral and religious 'development. After the Reformation, the mania for dogmatism was carried even into the teaching of little 'children so as to prepare them betimes for controversy. Instead of rousing and exercising in their hearts sentiments of faith, piety, and virtue, the first thing taught was a Catechism, that is a collection of abstract doctrines which could neither reach their mind nor their heart.

Here again it was words alone that were learnt.

This is how the school forsook nature, direct observation, the immediate impression of things and life, and practical and individual virtue."
Next come tuners, nut, bridge, strings and music (I hope)
Today in the wood shop I finished putting tiny pulls on my veneered boxes, and then applied finish to my box guitar, trying to stay at least one step ahead of my students.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 23, 2013


The man in the photo at left is my great uncle Charlie, shown in his retirement apartment at Friendship Haven in Ft. Dodge, Iowa in about 1950. Charles Richards, my grandfather's sister's husband was a retired Methodist minister, who found pleasure and contemplative value in carving wood. He also gave away many of his carvings to family members, so I grew up seeing his work in our home.

Today I'll be writing, finishing some sketchup illustrations of boxes on my computer and attempting to balance that with some time in the shop, attending to small details in making boxes. Hand work, offers a balance to more cerebral efforts. It offers contemplation.

Perhaps you are missing something. Would some kind of direct hands-on application of attention and skill bring some kind of reward to your life? Contemplation of the object as it is being made brings many rewards. Getting started can be simple. but I offer a word of warning. Wonderful work like that done by uncle Charlie with a stick and a knife does not happen overnight.  Your first efforts may look like crap. Part of the challenge is that the mind can race to other things. The hands and the work at hand require that one be present in the moment.

Most Christians and 12 steppers are familiar with the "serenity prayer" though most have forgotten that it was written by Reinhold Neibuhr, about the time my great uncle Charlie was carving the items shown. The prayer is  known in a much shortened version, but this is the complete prayer:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Most of us will not know in this life, whether or not there is a God or the life after death that my Uncle Charlie no doubt believed. But when we take matters into our own hands, "one moment at a time and accepting hardship as a pathway to peace," and engage in our own creative exercises, our own lives can be brought to a place of contemplation and sense of wholeness.  I suggest that we put aside those matters which are not yet revealed to us. That we engage directly in life using whatever tools and materials are available for our use, and engage in contemplation of reality as we can see it directly unfold in our own hands and their developing skill.

I sent my apprentice home yesterday afternoon with an extra copy of the latest Fine Woodworking, along with the warning, "Do not let all the fine work you see here, undermine your confidence." It takes time to develop skill. But the rewards are great.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 22, 2013


My new dovetail templates manufactured by Veritas
When I was a kid, I subscribed to Popular Science and imagined that when I grew up, I would become an inventor. With the arrival of the UPS truck, up our icy drive yesterday, I became one. When I wanted my kids at school to cut dovetails by hand, I needed simple dovetail marking templates, and chose to make them in the feminine form rather than the traditional masculine manner. I formed the negative shape of the pin and tail, rather than the positive one, in reverse of all the other dovetail templates on the market.

What I discovered in its use was a template that allowed easier measuring and marking.  Instead of spending so much time with tape measure and ruler laying out the sizes of the pins and tails, a central measured mark, visible through the opening of the template will suffice. The width of the pins and tails can be easily varied through the use of the built in scale by moving the template in precise measure to one side or the other of the marked line, and as a special bonus, the template itself serves as a square, removing the need for that one tool. This sweet device does it all. No need to set it down and reach for something else. As you can guess, I'm pretty excited about this. I can imagine these tools being in use throughout the world at some point in time, helping craftsmen to take greater pleasure in their work.

Like most tools that can do more than one thing, this one takes explanation. Manufactured by Lee Valley/Veritas Tools, these are the very first prototypes delivered to see that they've achieved what I had in mind. I will write instructions for their use.

I have also been busy with sketchup, drawing the boxes for the first three chapters of the new book.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

industrial arts and the redemption of the poor...

I seldom address the economic value of manual and industrial arts in the blog because those that's a given. You'd have to be dead-on plumb bob stupid to not know that when you put tools and the power of understanding in the hands of a man or woman, that he or she can become a contributing member of an economy.  Settlement schools like North Bennet St. in Boston and Hull House in Chicago were intended at first to accommodate the huge number of unskilled immigrants who required acculturation and skill in order to make their way in the American political, economic and social landscape.

 I've been concerned more about the benefits of manual arts training to all, as its general value as a tool in the development of character and intellect is the value most ignored. There's been a persistent conceptual divide in American education, with an upper crust or intellectual elite intended to receive academic training, while the rest were to get trained and acculturated for manual labor. And that great divide left the upper crust stupid and unskilled. Along with that divide came disparagement of skill, and the unreasonable elevation of academics as superior to all. But what is the value of knowledge if we can actually do nothing but twiddle thumbs. Fortunately, the American people have means to rise up despite our educational institutions. The persistent inclination to do and to make whether music or objects of useful beauty is endemic. Academics are not.

I got an inquiry from a person in India who is trying to establish programs for their poor, and wanted me to point out my own essays in the blog that best address the value of manual arts training for the poor. Some of the best writing on this subject was by Felix Adler, founder of the Workingman's School in New York City. Here in the blog you can find excerpts of Adler's writings on the subject having to do with both social classes, the rich and poor if you use the search block at upper left. Type in Adler and see what comes up. One of my essays concerning Adler is on the subject of Will. Adler believed that morality was less a matter of religious precept than one of action. He was an advocate of "unsectarian" education. The more modern term would be "non-sectarian". Many still believe that religion and religious dictate are our only sources of human morality.

Non-sectarian education has been important in the US, helping folks from nearly all cultures to find common ground. On the other hand, non-sectarian education is often viewed as lacking in moral commitment. Kids are often left on their own for moral guidance, as teachers feel constrained to keep out of the moral arena. And so we have schools in which bullying is commonplace and pop-culture is the primary guide to student behavior. According to Dr. Thomas Gordon in Teacher Effectiveness Training, many teachers are reluctant to enter the values or morals arena with their students. They may even be frightened to address moral concerns that may be related to sectarian values. "They prefer to leave these teachings to families, churches and other agencies".

Adler and others in the early days of manual arts education, recognized the value of craftsmanship as a moral force in education. You either do a job well, or not. If you perform carelessly, the results are obvious for all to see. Through craftsmanship a student is pushed toward caring and the expression of care. In academic subjects the results of work are abstract, often disconnected from direct relationship to the child's environment. Assessment of academic labor is vague, often discriminatory, and lacks clarity. What students may learn in academic pursuits is that they can lie and often get away with it. In any case, I urge those interested to read more of Adler, a bit of which follows:
"All that has been said thus far converges upon the point that has been in view from the beginning—the importance of manual training as an element in disciplining the will. Manual training fulfills the conditions I have just alluded to. It is interesting to the young, as history, geography, and arithmetic often are not. Precisely those pupils who take the least interest or show the least aptitude for literary study are often the most proficient in the workshop and the modeling-room. Nature has not left these neglected children without beautiful compensations. If they are deficient in intellectual power, they are all the more capable of being developed on their active side. Thus, manual training fulfills the one essential condition—it is interesting. It also fulfills the second."

"By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box. The first point to be gained is to attract the attention of the pupil to the task. A wooden box is interesting to a child, hence this first point will be gained. Lethargy is overcome, attention is aroused. Next, it is important to keep the attention fixed on the task: thus only can tenacity of purpose be cultivated. Manual training enables us to keep the attention of the child fixed upon the object of study, because the latter is concrete. Furthermore, the variety of occupations which enter into the- making of the box constantly refreshes this interest after it has once been started. The wood must be sawed to line. The boards must be carefully planed and smoothed. The joints must be accurately worked out and fitted. The lid must be attached with hinges. The box must be painted or varnished. Here is a sequence of means leading to an end, a series of operations all pointing to a final object to be gained, to be created. Again, each of these means becomes in turn and for the time being a secondary end; and the pupil thus learns, in an elementary way, the lesson of subordinating minor ends to a major end. And, when finally the task is done, when the box stands before the boy's eyes a complete whole, a serviceable thing, sightly to the eyes, well adapted to its uses, with what a glow of triumph does he contemplate his work! The pleasure of achievement now comes in to crown his labor; and this sense of achievement, in connection with the work done, leaves in his mind a pleasant after-taste, which will stimulate him to similar work in the future. The child that has once acquired, in connection with the making of a box, the habits just described, has begun to master the secret of a strong will, and will be able to apply the same habits in other directions and on other occasions."
The notion of cultivating a strong will  in students might not appeal to educators whose objective is to make students complaisant, and who think that some purpose might be achieved by making school boring and as much a test of the nerves as a test for the intellect. But in any case...

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spanish Galleons... And golden mean.

 Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, first, second and third grade students began making Spanish Galleons as part of their study of explorers and the discovery of the "new" world. The students first designed their hull shapes using paper and scissors and then cut the shapes with coping saws. Some students managed to add masts and superstructures.

Snow put an early end to today's lessons as school closed hours ahead of the normal time to allow parents to get their children home while the roads were still safe.  Jason sent a link to a  TED X talk by former teacher Tony Wagner, Play, Passion, Purpose. Wagner says that the world doesn't care about what we know, but does care about what we can do.

The maple box below is designed according to the golden mean, with the length equal to 1.618 times the height and depth (front to back). Viewed from the end the box appears square as the depth and height are equal.

And so, the question comes up, does this box have a particular beauty of proportion that cannot be seen in my other boxes? You can decide now if you like, or wait until it's been sanded and finished. Use the comment section below to share what you think.

My apprentice has been doing well. At his own inclination, he's working in threes. He made three benches, and is in the process of making three cutting boards, three stands for iPads, and is starting his second of three meditation benches.

The photo is of his first tool box. Not only is he showing signs of progress in his hand cut dovetails, he's also showing some Arkansas ingenuity. The tool box was left square at the top because he wants it to also serve as a bench or stand, when one may be necessary in his small shop. Realizing his shaped and tenoned handle wouldn't fit, he made a scarf joint without having seen one before and without knowing what it was to be called. He installed dowels in the ends and grooves in the tool tray so that it will lift in place, and can be carried without sliding. One of the hardest things for beginning woodworkers is to avoid self-recrimination when things go haywire. But when one knows that things nearly always go wrong in some way or another, and that all the best things started out as mistakes,  a different understanding of work becomes clear that allows for forgiveness, creativity and growth.

Jim Long in his much loved working garage.
On yet another subject, Mario informed me of the loss of his good friend, Jim Long, a tinkerer/fixer/craftsman I had featured as a bloke in shed/geezer in garage guest in the blog in February 2008. In tribute to Jim, I offer this link in remembrance.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

T. E. T.

Today at Clear Spring School teachers and staff met to go over Dr. Thomas Gordon's book, Teacher Effectiveness Training, as a continuation of our chapter-by-chapter professional development. Each of us had agreed to take on the instruction of the "class" in one chapter and to lead discussion. Mine was chapter X (number 10) which has to do with values collisions, where students and teachers have different values, making resolution of behavior issues much more challenging. This was my 3rd time to read T.E.T. and my wife and I had gone through Parent Effectiveness Training at Clear Spring School when my daughter was in pre-school. My first time to study T.E.T. was when working with emotionally disturbed children in Memphis in 1972.

Through much of today's training, and particularly with regards to values, I was reminded of what is currently going on in public education. The government rewards or punishes schools that don't meet the chosen standards. Teachers are stripped of autonomy and forced to adhere to teaching methodologies and curricula that force feeds some students and under nourishes others, all in the name of "good" education. Teacher Effectiveness Training, on the other hand, is based on sound psychological and therapeutic principles to lift schools out of the win/lose dynamic that shatters the lives and effectiveness of teachers, and damages students to the point that some don't even like learning.

I am not saying anything here in criticism of teachers. They do the best they can with what they are given. It's schools and the rigid structure of education and the short-sightedness of those who think that educational objectives can be met through power and disparagement that concern me. Those who think that hands-on learning is not for everyone and not an important value in education are dead wrong.

In other words,

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Harper High School shop class?

Harper High School in Chicago was featured on This American Life. It's not Newtown, CT. The children were not in elementary school and they were poor, not middle class, but in one year, last year, 29 current and former students were shot, which ought to be enough cause for outrage in America. This American Life visited Harper High "to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances."

Harper High, courtesy of Google images
As I am one who believes that we either engage the world passively, or actively, and in addition, if active, follow either creative or destructive inclinations, I wondered whether Harper High has a wood shop. Of course you cannot learn everything you might want to know from Google. The image above from earlier generations (and from Google) is not necessarily Harper High in Chicago. But it gives a glimpse of an earlier time in which high school students were creatively engaged and when they knew that when you make something useful and beautiful you've recast yourself in the image of the creator.

You will find nothing on Google about Harper High School wood shop,  shop classes, or industrial or manual arts. You will learn that the school is located on S. Wood St. and that's about as close as we get.  You will also find a photo (above) that shows where kids sit passively at desks, and you can probably remember what that's like, waiting for the bell so you can get out of that place.

When it comes to wood shop and the kinds of tools that form the cutting edge that divides creative inclinations from destructive acts, it seems that most schools including Harper High have given up the ghost.

Thomas Carlyle (1785-1891) said:
"Man is a tool using animal. He can use tools, can devise tools; with these the granite mountains melt in light dust before him; he kneads iron as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all!"
But schools, we create as sterile, "safe" environments within which children are isolated from their own creative capacities and around which in some cities children are too often shot or shot and killed. To ignore our human inclination to express ourselves through the use of tools is foolish. But which tools do we want to encourage, those that offer creative capacity, or those which present the specter of untimely death? If guns are merely tools, as some claim, let's at least not lie to ourselves about the death and destruction that they are intended to accomplish. And if there is indeed a choice over whether we are to be creatively engaged or destructively inclined, let's ask, "what is the consequence when no creative tools are ever placed in the hands of kids?"

Joe sent the following link to an op-ed in the New York Times, The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools. Unfortunately, the article never mentions exactly what that secret might be. Joe suggests it might the the hands. I think he may be right.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Islands of competence...

At dinner the other night, a friend, who is also a teacher mentioned a metaphor which I had not heard before, but that resonated with me, as I knew immediately what it meant. "Island of competence" is a term devised by Dr. Robert Brooks, who writes about resiliency, motivation and family relationships. In case the term does not immediately grab you as self-explanatory the way it did me, you can read just a bit more on Dr. Brook's site. Dr. Brooks wrote:
..."islands of competence" was not intended simply as a fanciful image but rather as a symbol of hope and respect, a reminder that all individuals have unique strengths and courage. If we can find and reinforce these areas of strength, we can create a powerful "ripple effect" in which children and adults may be more willing to venture forth and confront situations that have been problematic.

This metaphor influenced the questions I posed and the strategies I initiated in my clinical practice. For example, whenever I meet with parents, teachers, or other professionals to discuss children who are burdened with problems, I ask them to describe the child's islands of competence. Next, I ask how we might strengthen these islands and display them for others to see. I have witnessed the ways in which these questions can alter the mindset of adults as they shift their energy from "fixing deficits" to "identifying and reinforcing strengths."
Doing something well provides a foundation for doing other things well. Doing something well shifts one's sense of self. I purposefully repeat myself, Doing. (Can the fourth time, please be the charm?) Unfortunately in much of American education, activities are all too strongly focused on a narrow range of passive academic pursuits, avoiding the range of available islands of activity in which competence can be discovered.

Children need to dance, move their bodies, raise their voices in rhythm to music. Children need to do their writing in huge letters that set their whole bodies in motion. Children need to make useful, beautiful things that can last centuries and secure meaningful relationships between home, school, history, the natural environment and themselves. Children need to do real things that engage all their senses and provide islands of competence upon which to build their lives.

Much earlier in the blog, I had written about David Henry Feldman's metaphor, "The child as craftsman." It is worth reading again, as the metaphor is active along the same lines. One of the things that we learn whenever we are with kids is that they self-distribute, each deliberately seeking ways in which they can define themselves and express different skills in relationship to each other. This happens in classes and also in families. They want to demonstrate and prove to each other what they know and can do. And yet, we've created schooling in which children must be tested by others while we ignore their most natural inclination to test and measure themselves and to grow from what they have discovered as their own strengths.

When we devise education to be confined within narrow bounds, we limit the opportunity for children to discover their own islands of competence.

One of the things I like about the island metaphor is that islands are things that we "discover." After having discovered an island, we discover next that it is part of an archipelago. Then next, just as did Columbus, we discover whole continents of knowledge and skill, ripe for learning.

On the same subject, My wife and I watched a documentary last night on slam poetry in Chicago schools. Louder than a Bomb is both a documentary film, and an annual competition. Poetry can be an island. Listen and see what you think.

Islands of competence, can also apply within narrow bounds in a specific discipline like woodworking. For instance, look at what you are good at. What discrete activities within the discipline are you best at and take the greatest pleasure in? Do you like sawing? Do you like chiseling? Do you like planing or sanding things perfect to the touch? Use the self-confidence derived from that as the launching point in the conquest of your next island.

Today in the wood shop, I'll be fitting bottoms to boxes and making lids.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 15, 2013

woodworking 1, 2, 3, 4

Finger jointed boxes
My apprentice Greg, reground and sharpened a chisel last week and began hand-cutting dovetails. A few things become clear. Woodworking is not just about what's in your head. Getting your thoughts around a thing is not enough. Getting the hands to do what's in your head can be a challenge And so while I asked Greg to do what many more experienced woodworkers are reluctant to do (hand-cut dovetails), coming to terms with one's own hands, one's own body and one's own mind and spirit are best tackled hands and head-on at the same time.

The immediate lessons are these:
  1. Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn and how we react to mistakes is the shakeout point, determining who will advance in skill and contribution. The secret is to react favorably to our mistakes. Avoid self-recrimination as it is what slows the process of growth.
  2. Woodworking is not easy. It is easier for some than for others for a variety of reasons, but whether or not your soul and heart are in it for the long run, has mainly to do with whether or not you embrace the difficulties of it. Greg made one bench, then another which he thought he had screwed up, then another which expressed greater skill. The willingness to face difficulties with renewed spirit is essential to advancement. 
  3. You can buy your way into interesting woodworking, by purchasing tools that can do interesting things for you, even without skill, but truly, as they say in Zen, "Poverty is your greatest treasure. Never trade it for an easy life." When it comes to tools, particularly new tools, that have distinctive effect, you can rest assured that those with money will buy them and thence do work with them that too closely resembles all the work done by those who buy the same tools. Doing without all the tools you think you might need builds a stronger relationship with the tools you have, calling forth greater personal creativity to emerge from your relationship with them.
  4. There is a fourth lesson which has to do with childlike wonder and the spirit of forgiveness. By taking pleasure in the moment: the smooth shaving from the plane, the scent of wood arising from the saw, the motions of our own bodies as we shape wood, we have the capacity of entering the kingdom of heaven, finding great pleasure in our work that others will discover and take note.
For those lacking confidence to begin the craft, the website Top Reveal offers some simple DIY projects that might help.

Today in the wood shop, I am working on finger jointed boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

the angle at which one views an object

Golden mean detector wand. Click to view at larger size.
Today in my wood shop, I'm working on chapter three which illustrates proportion and scale from the principles and elements of design. I can never talk about proportion in a class of grownups without the Fibonacci sequence of numbers being brought into the discussion.

Variously called the "golden mean" the "golden rectangle", or the "golden ratio", Phi, Φ, is a ratio or proportion discovered by the ancient Greeks and applied to architecture and other man-made things, as it was assumed to impart a greater sense of beauty and harmony. The front-on view of the Parthenon is an illustration of the use of Phi. The actual proportion is 1: 1.61803... or 1+ the square root of 5 divided by 2, though most folks attempting to use it in real life simply multiply one side by 1.618 or 1.62 to get the length of the other.

Students want a magic bullet of design that will make their boxes perfectly proportioned. But what I've discovered is that good proportion is closer to hand than Phi. We have a tendency to superimpose the intellectual over the emotional and physical, in our effort to systematize and display intellectual prowess. But in designing boxes, there are other real concerns that come into play. Does it fit the object it was planned to hold? Can the hand fit within it to actually remove the objects it holds? Are the sides of the box thick enough for the hinges you plan to use? Will it fit on the desk without overpowering? Is it heavy or light? And, will it last?  If beauty could be reduced to a simple formula, would it require that we view the object from a particular vantage point? That particular dead on view in which we examine the Parthenon? And no other? What if the object is viewed from one corner or the other, and the ratio between length or width and height can no longer be so easily seen?

When I've taught furniture design I've passed out golden-mean-detector wands (as shown in the drawing above) for my students to use to observe reality straight on. The wand simply has a cut-out at the right proportion, 1/2 in. x .809 in. and you can hold it up to your eye and align the edges of the field of vision with the edges of the object you want to observe to see whether or not it was designed according to the golden mean. Most of the man-made beautiful things you will discover in the world were not. But that, in itself, should not discourage you from using every tool at your disposal. If you need to use Phi as a way of increasing your confidence in design, and it gets you into the wood shop, there's no harm in that.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

models and exercises

Click on this image to view in larger size.
The chart shown above is Salomon's list of 88 exercises used in creating a model series and a simple model might involve as many as a dozen exercises or more. As the models increased in difficulty and complexity new exercises requiring greater skill were introduced for the children to master.

 For instance, making model number 11, a Paper Knife, required exercises in this order: 5, 7, 12, 8, 9, 10, 20, 16, 6, 21, 13, 22, with the addition of new exercises 20, 21, and 22. I think this may illustrate the difficulty that Sloyd instructors faced in introducing new models to engage the learning interests of their own students.

On Monday, my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students made key holders in my experiment to find out what's required to create a new Sloyd model. The key holder involved a whole series of exercises, and to determine where that model would fit into the model series requires comparing those exercises with Salomon's list. For instance, to make the key holder required sawing off, squaring, gauging, sawing with tenon-saw, perpendicular chiselling,  and more. The Teacher's Guide to Educational Slöjd goes into greater depth in each exercise.

Each of these exercises can be more difficult or complex in some circumstances and applications than in others, and can be performed with greater skill and dexterity by some students than by others and even an experienced woodworker, misunderstand the actual operations that the words describe.

You can click on the image shown above to enlarge it for reading.

Today in the school wood shop, first, second and third grade students practiced their workmanship, and then made objects from their own imaginations. The 7th, 8th and 9th grade students finished their bench for the office and cut parts for two cedar 5 board benches for their back porch.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


explaining a few things... It's always about the hands.
My friends Murdo and Nancy have started a small video production company, and this morning we worked on a short demo that we can use in marketing. Murdo is making a demo reel for his business so others can see what he can do, and I volunteered to help. I will use the video he produces to further explain myself. The lines from the blog that particularly intrigued Nancy and that she wanted to feature in the video are "Make, fix and create... and as a studio potter, Nancy knows a bit about the hands. In fact most craftsmen and artists get exactly what I'm talking about and why, and understand that our children need to be educated as makers of beautiful and useful things.

In the meantime, my cordless  phone is on the fritz, and the system is far too complex for me to fix myself. For $10.00 and a two week wait, after sending them a copy of my original sales receipt, they will replace the base unit with one that may last just as long as the first. They couldn't handle the transaction over the phone at the time, however, because their computer system was down. I could just go to the local big box store, buy a replacement and get it over with, but then what can I do with the left over junk? The excess packaging bothers me. And is the whole thing worth the 40 minute round trip drive to the big box store?

Certainly, there are some wonderful things about technology. But if its intention was to make us feel empowered, 20 minutes on the phone attempting to find a solution to your most recent technological challenge will help to dispel that illusion. Remember when phones were made to last a lifetime? These days, it seems that we simply make room for them on our desks for a time before they move on to the landfill. So for now, a 30-yearold Ma Bell made-to-last-a-lifetime corded Princess style phone (off-white) has taken the place of the base unit and useless remotes, and it's become clear that the more technological devices we have in our homes, the greater the likelihood we'll face frustration from one or more things at any given time being on the fritz. Having to contend with that kind of frustration makes time in the wood shop, where we can screw up on our own and fix what we've messed up a time of greater joy than it would have been in a less technologically screwed up life.

This afternoon in the wood shop, I am attending to photographs and cutting parts for chapter 3 which will be an exploration of proportion. We are expecting snow.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 11, 2013

intuition and tact...

Installing frets...
Earlier in the blog I explored Otto Salomon's concept, "educational tact," which could be described as a heightened level of discernment closely related to intuition. Salomon believed that teaching at its best was an art and the exercise of "educational tact" was what made it so. Leonard J. Waks, in his essay on intuition wrote the following:
"Narrowing of the field of relevant educational values to explicit standards measured by standardized tests, and narrowing appropriate teacher behaviors to those explicated in curriculum guides and lesson plans... floods experienced teachers with verbal cues that overshadow their trained capacities. It blinds them to the circumstances at hand, strips them of their flexible control, nullifies their underlying vision of what is to be attained, and hence robs them of their sense of mastery. It makes them no more effective, and possibly less so, than novices. Because they need consciously to suppress their mastery, they are also robbed of the joys of teaching."
We can find this true in other fields as well. When folks are robbed of the opportunity to become deeply engaged in work, are held at the surface of things in a verbal morass and are not trusted to act creatively and responsibly at deeper levels of analysis and effect, self-esteems suffers and pleasure in workmanship is diminished.

The photo at left shows a ball chain used as a lid stay for a box lid. It presents and easy and inexpensive method to keep a lid from opening too far.

Today at Clear Spring School, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students learned to chisel mortises and cut simple tenons while making the new sloyd model I designed to help them gain those skills. The CSS high school students added frets to their box guitars. Can tuning pegs, bridges, nuts and strings be far behind?

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

experiential intuition...

It's proven that those things that are learned hands-on are learned more easily and to greater lasting effect than those things that have been simply learned though lecture or through books. In German they have two terms for the two different kinds of knowledge, kenntniss, and wissenschaft, with the latter term applied to books, lectures and second-hand learning.

And so why would this be? The answer I suggest is simple and falls in line with earlier progressive educators like Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon and Dewey. Learning through all the senses simultaneously, in close emulation of what one experiences in real life,  creates a matrix of sensory impressions, that while not so easily sorted out in the exact moment of learning, establishes a sense of reality about what one learns, making it more easily catalogued as an experience, and thus more easily accessible in long term memory, and thus forming a foundation for the type of intuition referred to by Einstein in an earlier post, Teaching Intuition.

The following is my quote at the beginning of chapter one of Matt Crawford's book, Shop Class as Soulcraft:
“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.”
You may have actually learned a bit yourself, either as teacher or student about how schools can alienate youth, presenting to them materials which have no relevance to their own lives, and that are to be as quickly forgotten as painfully learned. But when one learns by actual experience while flooded with sensory impressions of what one learns, boredom and alienation from school and learning are not a matter for concern.

One of the ways you can stop boredom in its tracks is the school wood shop. Making things engages all the senses and has the power to establish relevance for all the rest that we would like for children to learn.

The Marc Adams School of woodworking sold out all spaces in my June 10-14 class, Simply Beautiful Boxes, so we've added another week of box making class from May 28-June 2. Enrollment for this class will also be limited, and there are already a number of students signed up. The school website is not yet updated to allow students to enroll online, but if you are interested in learning box-making from me, at the finest woodworking facility in the US, keep check on next week or email Paula to get details on enrollment. Ask for box making and tell Paula that Doug Stowe suggested you sign up now before this class like the last gets sold out.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The exercise of intuition...

Machiche, lacewood and maple
While schools teach to the test, make the efficient inculcation of knowledge their first priority, they become as a direct consequence, lifeless places in which effective learning fails to take place.  Leonard J. Waks, in his paper, Intuition, Teaching and Learning without Thinking, describes the relationship between the use of intuition and feelings of emotional engagement in learning. The intuitional state is one Mihaly Csikszentmihaly descibed as “flow” or that athletes have described as being in the zone and
"is characterized by “emotional buoyancy” and “a heightened sense of mastery.”
"In short, intuition often has a zestful, “feels good” quality that contributes directly to the value of life! That it feels good, however, hardly can justify reliance upon it. That would require showing that intuition also has instrumental value, that (a) intuition is more efficient: that it can produce results similar to those produced by explicit rational procedures with less effort, or (b) that intuition is more effective: that it can (under certain conditions) produce even better results than explicit rational procedures."
Waks goes on in his essay to show that intuition does have instrumental value at all three points, a, b and c, and if you are in doubt, if you've not had intuitional experiences to enable you to understand on your own, I invite you to read Waks examples for yourself.  More testing, more control from the top equals substandard learning for all our kids, by robbing children of the experience of learning and equally robbing teachers of the full experience of teaching by marginalizing their own intuitional engagement.

As to the value of woodworking education in schools, the assumption too often made by academicians is that when one sees the hands at work, the mind is not. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The box shown above was made to illustrate the chapter on color in the chapter of my new book using box making to illustrate the principles and elements of design.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 08, 2013

Teaching intuition

fitting hinges... secrets described below...
If you were to ask any American educator, they would likely deny the possibility of teaching intuition. It is hard enough to define. What is it? How can one know something without being directly taught? How can one test for it? Pestalozzi regarded intuition as being the primary objective of education, and what he said in the early 1800s of the failure of European education could be applied to the modern American educational system of today:
"Europe with its system of popular teaching has fallen into error or rather it has lost its way. On one side it has risen to an immense height in the sciences and arts on the other it has lost the whole foundation of natural culture for the bulk of the people. No part of the world has risen so high, no part has sunk so low. Our continent resembles the great image mentioned by the prophet; its golden head touches the clouds but popular instruction which should bear this head is like the feet of clay.
"In Europe the culture of the people has become vain babbling as fatal to faith as to true knowledge; an instruction of mere words which contains a little dreaming and show which cannot give us the calm wisdom of faith, and love, but on the contrary leads to unbelief and superstition to selfishness and hardness. It is indisputable that the mania for words and books which has absorbed everything in our popular instruction has been carried so far that we cannot possibly remain long as we are.
"Everything convinces me that the only means of preserving us from remaining at a civil moral and religious dead level is to abandon the superficiality, the piecemeal, and infatuation of our popular instruction and to recognize intuition as the true foundation of knowledge."
Leonard J. Waks wrote an interesting article on the subject, Intuition, Teaching and Learning without Thinking. which begins as follows:
Albert Einstein once said that intuition is “the only truly valuable thing.” He explained that in science only “intuition resting on sympathetic understanding of experience” can apprehend the elementary laws of the universe. Even in everyday activities, however, he felt that people should emulate the instincts of animals by being “more intuitive – they should not be too conscious of what they are doing while they are doing it.” “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, while the rational mind is only its faithful servant,” he cautioned, “but our society honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
In about 1964 I was in K. Fred Curtis's biology class at Benson High School in Omaha, Nebraska and along with my classmates was administered a standardized test mid-year to determine how much I had learned in biology. The following week, Mr. Curtis announced in amazement that one of his students (who he later announced as me) had achieved the remarkable feat of being in the 99th percentile. K. Fred was sincerely amazed and pleased with himself at my score. If asked, I could have assured him that there was nothing on the test we had learned in Biology class that year. My answer for each question was selected based on outside-the-classroom experience. One can often intuit the "correct" answer to questions if one has actual experience upon which to guess.

And so here we come to the crux of the matter. You can call it the "provenance of experience" if you like. Just as one looks for evidence that is untainted in its handling or mishandling, or upon the history of artifacts as ascertaining the clear lineage of their origins, provenance of experience assures that what we know or can intuit is built upon a secure foundation. If you want to teach for the development of intuition you follow the theory of Educational Sloyd, a system of woodworking education that should by all rights serve as the model for the rest of education. Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. I wrote more on this here. It is not enough to know discrete bits of information. Knowledge and intuition hand-in-hand comprise a framework of interconnected experiences that lead one on a heuristic voyage of exploration, self-motivated, with or without engagement in formalized education.

In regard to yesterday's post on the Ikea effect, Out of the Box, are you one of those who choose to read instructions? Or are are you one who builds straight out of the box and has washers left over? For some, to assemble by the seat of the pants, arriving at less than perfect results is ever more satisfying, than being slave to the instructions. That too, has to do with intuition.

On still another matter, John Stewart interviewed education "reformer"Michelle Rhee on Monday night and told her that there has been no real innovation in education since John Dewey, who had in fact been influenced by Otto Salomon and Educational Sloyd.

The photo above shows the secret to fool-proof installation of hinges. First the hinge mortises must be accurately routed to house the hinge on three sides. Then a drilling guide is used to make absolutely certain that the screws go in exact position. I use a finishing nail as a drill bit. The nail works great and is well sized for the tiny brass screws. The screws should be lubricated to reduce friction as they enter the wood.

Make, fix and create... even if it first requires a trip to Ikea to do so.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

out of the box...

Imagine the feelings if you had REALLY made it yourself!
Researchers have described as the "Ikea effect," the feelings one can get from putting something together. You can listen to the story, Why You Love That Ikea Table, Even If It's Crooked, on NPR.  The story aired just as I was driving to school yesterday, so I asked my second and third grade students about it. A couple of them had no idea what Ikea was, but when I explained that the Ikea effect describes the feelings they have when they've made something, and the feelings they have for those specific objects they have made, they knew exactly what I was talking about. "I love the things I've made!" was the common response. The caption on the photo above on the NPR site was:
Building your own stuff boosts your feelings of pride and competence, and also signals to others that you are competent.
In comparison to those who really do make beautiful and useful things instead of from the box, the caption should be modified as follows: "In assembling this thing, I have proven (at least to myself) that I am not a complete klutz." The "Ikea effect" is just a catchy name given to a psychological phenomenon that applies to all kinds of accomplished or even pseudo-accomplished things. The name "derives from the love millions of Americans display toward their self-assembled furniture (or, dare we say it, their badly self-assembled furniture) from the do-it-yourself store with the Scandinavian name." Of course you can experience the Ikea effect from all kinds of minor accomplishments, or by doing even bigger things and feel even larger rewards and greater attachment to what you've done.

My apprentice has made more Shaker-style  benches following the design offered in Fine Woodworking. One of two he regarded as a failure because of a mistake that led him to adjust the design. But what he's done with hand tools easily surpasses the finest Ikea made boxed table or bench in the world. His work involved real materials, tools other than a screwdriver, and the chance to recover from his mistakes without having to call customer service. And then, after spending years as a carpenter, he learned yesterday to regrind and sharpen a chisel free hand. That's a skill that most carpenters no longer have.

Sadly, the naming of this phenomenon the "Ikea effect" will normalize the consumer relationship with boxed furniture, rather than reminding us that there are even greater rewards available in true craftsmanship, in which a solo craftsman has built something useful, beautiful and real from his or her OWN creative inclinations and skill.

Now why is it that in American education, folks fail to understand the child's ever-growing need to do things that are real and true to the child's creative spirit? In American schools we've settled for an education which allows kids to feel successful if they can say, "I'm not a complete klutz."

According to researchers, the "Ikea effect" also applies to ideas. Folks will defend their turf and feel a special relationship to their ideas, falling in love with those ideas even when they came from a box, and are later proved stupid and wrong. Hearing that, I felt a moment of self-doubt. Have I gone out on a limb? So yesterday I asked my 7th, 8th and 9th grade students about how they feel about hands-on learning. I asked them to explain if and why it works. They knew exactly what we are doing at Clear Spring School and why and assured me that yes, it works. The difference appears to be how they feel about learning, as hands-on  engages the heart, just as the researchers note in writing about the Ikea effect. Please believe me.  If you try it, you will see that hands-on learning surpasses all else hands down. And the ideas you will find here are ones you can test in your own hands. You need not take my word for that which, given the slightest of hints, you can discover for yourself.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


In school, I was one of those lucky ones who did well on standardized tests. It wasn't because I knew the answers.  I would simply look at the questions and guess, and so even today, a well developed sense of intuition may often serve students better than mountains of verbally derived information.
"Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference and/or the use of reason. The word 'intuition' comes from the Latin word 'intueri' which is usually translated as 'to look inside' or 'to contemplate'." Intuition provides us with beliefs that we cannot justify in every case. For this reason, it has been the subject of study in psychology, as well as a topic of interest in the supernatural. The 'right brain' is popularly associated with intuitive processes such as aesthetic abilities. Some scientists have contended that intuition is associated with innovation in scientific discovery.
How can we help students develop intuition? Most of education these days avoids it. For Pestalozzi, the development of intuition was essential and related to his concept Anschauung, which I discussed in a variety of earlier posts like this one, Trusting Children to Learn.

Carved pens.
 In any case, much of our children's success will be based on guesswork, theirs and our own. We prepare them for a future we can neither see nor fathom. And so intuition ought to be the gift we make our most sincere attempt to deliver.

7th, 8th and 9th grade bench with Elven Rune and turned legs.
My own thoughts on intuition are closely related to my thoughts on geometry. Two points form a straight line. If you know the order in which the points were formed a vector is perceived. To understand relationship from a starting point conveys a sense of where things are going and establishes the ability to intuit "correct" answers.

This is why in Educational Sloyd teachers were instructed to start with the interests of the child, move from the known to unknown, from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. That movement from the concrete to abstract is the domain of intuition, but the ability to intuit is not hanging out in empty space. It is built upon experience of concrete reality— As one can carefully construct during time in the wood shop.

In the Clear Spring School wood shop this morning the first, second and third grade students carved pens, and the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students worked toward finishing the bench for the office, and beginning 5 board benches for outside their classroom. As students used a Japanese Ryoba saw to cross-cut wide cedar boards, I realized that a man or woman from the Edo period could have walked in and known exactly what they were doing.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The mothers of Appenzell

Pestalozzi wrote that the mothers of Appenzell would hang colorful paper birds above their cradles to engage their child's attention. In that Pestalozzi discovered the fundamental principles of education. He wrote:
"To me the Appenzell bird, like the ox to the Egyptians, is a holy thing, and I have done everything to begin my instruction at the same point as the Appenzell woman. I go further. Neither at the first point, nor in the whole series of means of teaching, do I leave to chance what Nature, circumstance, or mother-love may present to the sense of the child before he can speak. I have done all I could to make it possible, by omitting accidental characteristics, to bring the essentials of knowledge gained by sense-impression to the child's senses before that age, and to make the conscious impressions he receives, unforgettable."
It could be said that the child's inclination to learn when released unconstrained is indomitable, and that we learn best when we are awake and all our senses are fully engaged. I was reminded of this yesterday when Ozric, standing at the lathe remarked, "This feels better than anything I've done in my whole life." The following is from Pestalozzi: His Aim and Work by Roger Guimps available free from Google Books:
"Pestalozzi remarks that it is the means a mother employs with her infant under the inspiration of instinct and love she shows nature to it she brings it near distant objects she brings to it those striking things that attract its gaze. She does this to quiet the child and distract it. She has no idea of instructing it and yet she in this way gives it the first and most indispensable elements of instruction. Why does not the art of teaching link on its processes to these simple and precious beginnings?"
The simple point is that anyone who has learned from a variety of situations, will recognize the truth. We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we are actually engaged in doing something.... as when the hands are brought into play.

Allan Breed wrote this month's Master Class in Fine Woodworking, April 2013, No. 232, "Customizing your Carving Tools" and he described having bought his teacher's tools after the man's death. He noted that "some were obviously ground for specific purposes, what purposes, I did not know, but one by one they revealed themselves over the years." Left to his own devices with these special tools, these small discoveries were more powerful than words could convey. The article shows, not just tells, how to modify common woodcarving tools to get uncommon results.

Adding reinforcing keys...
There is this idea that education (and learning) is about symbols, the letters and numbers whose manipulation enables one to perform on tests, standardized and otherwise. If that were truly and only the case, the tool customized to fit the hand and the task and the sensitivity in workmanship and beauty thus derived would never be. Real learning is about more than symbols. It must be about reality. In another word,  it must be real. Howard Gardner noted that we are intelligent in different ways and that education should be structured to allow for the variations in human intellect. Teachers have struggled through artificial constructs to utilize Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. But making things real, engaging all the senses as one can do in wood shop, making beautiful and useful objects is the answer most suitable and most effective for most kids.

Today in my wood shop, I began putting hinges on boxes. I also visit Clear Spring School  to talk to my fellow teaching staff about next projects.

Make, fix and create...