Thursday, March 07, 2013

Turning kids loose in the wood shop...

Boxes made of pin oak and maple.
We live in a time in which all our lives seem scripted by technology. The email messages come in and some must be answered. It is convenient in one sense. It is easier to respond to associates and friends via email than by hand written letter. It is amazing how quickly we've taken these technologies as a matter of course. We've grown dependent upon them. And one very strong solar flare could send us technologically back to the 1950's. The losses would be in the quadrillions of dollars and millions of lives. Much of what we would be required to do to survive is no longer within our narrowing skill set.

It was estimated some time ago in Australia that 80% of the jobs available when graduates enter the job market did not exist at the time of their birth. While this may seem absurd, when I was born, there were no jobs as computer programmers, accounting was done on adding machines, vast hordes of typists were part of every American corporation, and cars were assembled by men standing in line with wrenches.

We seem to be balanced on a crux. Behind us on the time line is half a billion years in the development of man, and less than 100 in which the greatest portion of humanity has been advanced much further than the stone age in comparison. Is this a precarious edge?

And so a reasonable question for those with educational concerns, and concerns for our own children is, "How can we prepare them for a future we cannot foresee?" I wave a win/win solution that applies whether we go on in our rapid state of technological advancement or if for circumstances beyond our control, things were to fall apart, thrusting us technologically back into the 1950s or before. Teach children their own hands-on creative capacities. Insist upon the development of their skills of all kinds. Even if we were to go on with all our high-tech devices, working with our own hands creating beautiful and useful objects provides a foundation for all else. Being in touch with human culture and the tools through which human culture arose in the first place, has no downside. In fact, it might provide a vector sense of where we are going next, how to get there and how to make meaningful lives as craftsmen and makers of beautiful things.

Yesterday, the first, second and third grade students were very pleased to have a free (creative) day. One decided she would make a baseball bat and discovered it was harder than she expected. So she shifted gears and made a vampire, too. It was a board with nails, so we had to use our imaginations. Another made tops (always a good fallback position when not feeling all that creative.) Still another made a civil war game and another a play place for her dolls. Children need time in school and out of school to engage their real world creative inclinations. And there is no better way to prepare them for the future, whatever that future might be than wood shop. My 7th, 8th and 9th grade students finished their outdoor 5 board benches, and so now they are in use. They are hoping to resume work on the lathe as their next project.

While some schools are cutting back on recess to make more time for test prep, and core curriculum, the smart folks in neuroscience say all that's going in the wrong direction. The physical body (including the hands) are not separate from the brain, but instead are inseparably bound in development through action. The connections in the brain grow in response to what we do, not what we know. This article on "skipping to school" tells the same story I've told so many other times in the blog, except that it makes better reference to experts. At Clear Spring School, success in reading seems to go hand-in-hand with success on the monkey bars, and my mother, as a kindergarten teacher was trained to recognize the ability to skip as an indicator of reading readiness. There is certainly time as a child grows and develops to engage them in making beautiful and useful things, and then by starting the reading when they are more ready, no time will go to waste and children will learn to love reading.

Want to know what I do when turned loose in my wood shop? I am working on boxes. In fact, if you look at he photo above, you can see a couple in process. To the box at left, I've added a drawer, taking advantage of the overall depth of the box to make it more useful for storing a small collection of things.

At my desk, I am organizing photos, and working on a chapter of my hands-on learning book to hand off to an agent. I also visited with a local luthier to work out minor problems I was having with the tuning of my box guitar. We made great progress and I learned to not glue the bridge in place, as it is nice to be able to move it around for best tuning.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. thought about you as we watched season 3 ep. 9 of "Breaking Bad". One of the main characters, an ex meth addict, talks in a rehab discussion group about his experience of finding pride in building and re-building a wooden box in shop class. spot on with your message until the end.