Friday, January 31, 2014


Fine Woodworking just published its new bookazine on making boxes. The projects are drawn from a book by Strother Purdy and my own Basic Box Making. Check out this link which offers free shipping if ordered before February 13, 2014  from the Taunton Store.

In the meantime, I've been busy going over edits from my new book, making certain that meanings haven't been changed as chapters have passed through the copy editing process. I've also been working on the AEP/SWEPCO powerline issue in preparation for a public meeting we held last night and spending a bit of therapeutic time in the woodshop. The photo below shows the making of secret compartments in the base of a box.

The value of the carpenter's work is in the usefulness and beauty of the object made. The value of the student's work is in the student, and it exists as a measure of his or her growth, not only as a craftsman, but as a human being.

Make, fix, create... teach others to do the same and engage their own creative capacities.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

William James...

We get one view of things if we are detached from every day reality and yet another if our paths meander between encounters with natural processes and materials. There is importance to be found in the human attempt to make objects of useful beauty. William James wrote the following in 1899:
“I already said something of this in speaking of the constructive impulse, and I must not repeat myself. Moreover, you fully realize, I am sure, how important for life,—for the moral tone of life, quite apart from definite practical pursuits,—is this sense of readiness for emergencies which a man gains through early familiarity and acquaintance with the world of material things. To have grown up on a farm, to have haunted a carpenter's and blacksmith's shop, to have handled horses and cows and boats and guns, and to have ideas and abilities connected with such objects are an inestimable part of youthful acquisition. After adolescence it is rare to be able to get into familiar touch with any of these primitive things. The instinctive propensions have faded, and the habits are hard to acquire.

"Accordingly, one of the best fruits of the 'child-study' movement has been to reinstate all these activities to their proper place in a sound system of education. Feed the growing human being, feed him with the sort of experience for which from year to year he shows a natural craving, and he will develop in adult life a sounder sort of mental tissue, even though he may seem to be 'wasting' a great deal of his growing time, in the eyes of those for whom the only channels of learning are books and verbally communicated information.”-- William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals
This may sound like the same old ten penny nail driven home to the same joint. So perhaps my readers would get bored with what I have to say. Like James I repeat myself. You need not read every post to get the message. It would be far better for my readers to put time in on more creative enterprises. If you are past adolescence, put yourself in relationship with primitive things in an examination of real life and bring your children and grandchildren along with. Later in the book, William James discussed a concept he called "fogyism". We turn into old fogys before our time, and in James interpretation it comes around age 25. Certainly, anything that William James expressed would be regarded as coming from an old fogy, and anything I say at this point would be regarded in the same way.

Those who have been educated only from books and media are prone to examine the world and come to an understanding of it only through the means most familiar and comfortable to them. James explained this as a matter of apperception. We see apperception at work when we read only bits and pieces of information in a string of text and assume its meaning from only a small part of it, based on our previous encounters with similar things. It is extremely hard to break old habits and see the world as it  really is, and in its full blazing glory.

Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon and William James each believed that the education of the child should begin with the engagement of the senses. The use of the senses was to lay a foundation for the child's inquiry into the workings of real life. That power to perceive directly from a thorough examination of reality, rather than by endless re-interpretation of second and third hand interpretation, gives a child a direct link to his or her own creative powers.

On a slightly different subject we are grooming our children for the death of our planet by failing to engage them in fixing things. We deny their natural powers and inclinations when we surround them with things that they can't make, and could never fix. We inform them that things that have been made only have value while new, by providing an endless stream of new and ever more useless stuff. is offering a solution. The organization recognizes that recycling should be the last resort, and is not an answer to what ails our planet or our communities.

Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

let us live with our children...

Froebel's most famous quote, "Let us live with our children," has been variously misunderstood. One can say, "Let us live for our children," which suggests a slavish arrangement in which the child is king of the household and develops a sense of entitlement. The adoration expressed for children who are wanted and loved is not a bad thing. Children thrive upon love. And yet children will also need to be groomed for disappointment, as in real life, others won't be as slavish in their devotions. They must learn to be resilient under difficult and unexpected circumstances, and be able to work cooperatively with others.

Post modern education sets children apart from real life into circumstances contrived to impart specifically prescribed things. Reading is one. Math is another. Science or religion another. Art and PE are thrown in as escapes from more rigorous academic, abstract learning. But when Froebel said what he said and that he is most famous for saying, was that what he had in mind?

To live with is a two way street. It means bringing children into our activities and entering into theirs, not as a detachment in form from real life, but as a part of life itself. One of the ways to bring real life into a classroom is through the use of real tools and real materials and making real object that have use in the child's life and in the home. Kindergarten made use of real life by the introduction of gifts and occupations that were intended to help the child's understanding of real life. Educational Sloyd built upon that.
“The sensational curiosity of childhood is appealed to more particularly by certain determinate kinds of objects. Material things, things that move, living things, human actions and accounts of human action, will win the attention better than anything that is more abstract. Here again comes in the advantage of the object-teaching and manual training methods. The pupil's attention is spontaneously held by any problem that involves the presentation of a new material object or of an activity on any one's part. The teacher's earliest appeals, therefore, must be through objects shown or acts performed or described. Theoretic curiosity, curiosity about the rational relations between things, can hardly be said to awake at all until adolescence is reached.” -- William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals.
Much of what troubles post modern education is its artificiality. Even the pretense that it is all engineered as a benefit for our children is a distortion of the facts. I believe that what Froebel had in mind was to fix what became missing in his own life at the death of his mother. It was not for children to be set aside in the pretense of education, but to be included, taken along with, lived with and loved.

Yesterday in my wood shop, I began shaping the undersides of boxes by using a template to guide the cut. The template is easy to construct and this is a technique I'll use this next month in an article for American Woodworker.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my lower elementary school students will be finishing their t-rex dinosaur models.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

at work doing something you love...

I heard this morning from David J. Whittaker, author of a new book that will be of interest to Sloyders, The International Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd. Whittaker had gone to Finland in the 1950s to teach English and he became interested in the Finnish School system, Uno Cygnaeus, Otto Salomon and the international distribution of the Sloyd model of learning. Over the many years since, he wrote his Masters Thesis on the subject of Sloyd and found himself in conversations with Sloyders throughout the world. He's written a number of other books over his long career as a college professor. I'm grateful he's returned to his early roots in Sloyd as I believe his new book will be useful to those of us who believe in hands-on learning, and I will be writing more about it in the coming days.

Yesterday in the CSS wood shop, I had some young wood turners on my hands. I also developed a new way of preparing turning blanks from either round or square stock. Some readers will know that in order to safely turn spindles on the lathe between centers, an "X" cut in the end will help the drive center to have a good grip. The photo above shows how this "X" can be cut on the tablesaw.

The following is from Kindergarten in a Nutshell, by Nora Archibald Smith, 1899:
Moral Bearing of the Occupations:
But let us talk together of the moral bearing of the occupations; let us note the perseverance, the neatness, the orderliness of each small worker; let us observe how careful and economical he is in the use of all material; let us admire his long-continued patience in the face of difficulties, his self-restraint when failure makes fresh efforts necessary. In order to witness all these things in a majority of the children, one must, it is true, visit a really good kindergarten; but what then? Is not the ideal that for which we are all striving? Would it be of any value to describe to you what is less than the best?
One of the teachers tasks in post modern education is to assess children's learning to measure their success or failure and to require them to perform according to certain standards, so their learning can be placed into spreadsheets and their schools be held accountable, as though their lessons are little more than dollars and cents. It is amazing how in wood shop, when things fail on the lathe, how quickly children recover and ask, "can I please try again?" Or completing a turning to their satisfaction, they ask, "May I please do another?" How quickly they return to their labors when they are at work doing something they love! Can you compare that with other forms of schooling? Lifelong learning requires children to learn to assess their own work, not to externalized standards imposed by others but through discoveries in their own relationship to resources, materials and to each other. When we find ourselves doing things we love, that are inspired by our own inclinations, assessment takes care of itself.

Option 4, Maple and Walnut
Just in case you missed it, the poll at upper left is over and the winner is, "option 4." It was a squeaker, with option 3 coming in a close second. Wouldn't you know, the lids that are hardest to make are the ones we like best?

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to join you.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

rock county page two...

Assuming we've swept SWEPCO's proposal off the rug, and we can get back to normal life around here, (There will be appeals going on, possibly for years, until AEP finally cries "Uncle" and pulls the plug), there will likely be those who wonder how we did what no one believed possible... A small group of citizen's stopping a huge multi-billion dollar corporation in its tracks. (Our fingers are still crossed.)

SWEPCO coming to Northwest Arkansas with its huge power transmission plans was a the perfect storm... On the one hand we had a utility company that had been allowed in the past to do whatever it wanted, with only marginal supervision from the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Then we have a small community of folks who came here for the beauty and thence stayed for the loving support of a nurturing group of folks who had also made tremendous sacrifices to be here for the beauty and found therefore, a great deal in common with each other. With hands held and arms locked against the SWEPCO invasion, we presented a united front.

Last night I attended the awards ceremony for the new first annual Eureka Springs Indy Film Festival. I sat behind students from school. To my left were friends. On the stage were people I've known for years. Many of the films were created by people I know. And so you can see that when it comes to community, we are woven together like linsey woolsey, a peasant cloth made from linen and wool.

When someone asks how you can stop a power company from damaging your community, there are certain procedures to follow, in a certain order, but there are other things that must be done first in order to be in a cohesive community in which common folk give full support to each other.

Last night at the Indy Film Fest, the staff presented a film trailer for a feature length film that will be released in May, called Eureka, The Art of Being. It is about my small town of 2000, with well over 300 artists. You'll notice that I'm in it.
EUREKA! The Art of Being (Trailer) from Quiet Center Films on Vimeo.
Please click to see widescreen on the Vimeo site. This short trailer may help to explain how and why a small community rose up against AEP/SWEPCO and mobilized in a united fashion to stop a power line from being built, but it also may help some to imagine the kinds of communities that can be built in the most unexpected places.

So what does it take to become a member of a close-knit or closely woven community? A friend Virginia, had told me many years ago about homesteading in Gilbert, Arkansas in the 1940s. Virginia had grown up in the south from a fine family, and moved to Gilbert, Arkansas, a town on the Buffalo River of less than 100 folks. They bought a small cabin and 40 acres of land.

After they got settled, Virginia and her husband began noticing that things were missing. So she asked one of her neighbors about it. The neighbor carefully explained the community rules. When someone new came to town everything they brought with them belonged to their new neighbors. Everything they did and earned while there would be their own.

My readers may shocked at what seems to be a strange story. In reflection on it, you may discover  that the cost of really belonging to a community is steep. You have to give yourself fully to it, not holding back from your engagement in it if you want to fit in.

Linsey-woolsey is a coarse pioneer cloth woven with linen and wool, the linen forming the warp and the wool the weft or woof. The linen makes the cloth strong and lasting, the wool makes it warm, but because it was usually made from local fibers and dyed with available vegetable dyes, it was looked down upon by those engaged only in new stuff. Now however, a cloth object of linsey-woolsey may have immense historic value. One unique aspect of linsey-wooley is that it can be repaired through felting. Felting is the process through which felt is made, by intertwining wool fibers by poking with short barbed needles which force the kinky fibers of wool into a tight interlocking mass.

I have given some thought to the meaning of living in a small town. Linsey-woolsey is a term that applies. When first arriving in a new place you rest upon the surface of community like a patch. After some long years, provided you are wool and have some personal warmth, you become woven in, felted into the warp and weft. Your integration in to community may take a bit of poking with sharp needles.

Time if you give it and let it has a way of removing your coarse edges and working you into the depth of the cloth.

As a culture, we are buzzing like electrons, skipping from one orbit to the next, and I would like to offer to my readers a strange notion. We live in a facebook, blogger age in which we can befriend or be befriended by others who will always remain unknown to us. It demands nothing of us but high speed internet and a device of some kind. But there is a real world out there where encounters can run deep.

Rock County is a linsey-woolsey kind of place. And my wish is that we may each find it.

Yesterday I got a copy of British Woodworking Magazine in the mail which includes my review of Peter Korn's new book Why we make things, and why it matters. The list of contents on the cover of the magazine states, "Doug Stowe asks why we make." And of course this question need not be raised among artists and woodworkers unless they are frustrated with the stupidity of the general public and would like to extend the enjoyment of materials and processes to others... It's also a question we ask if  care about the planet, our children--their character and intelligence--and our own humanity.

On yet another subject, the summer class catalog from the Eureka Springs School of the Arts is on line and you can now register for my class, woodworking with hand tools.

Today in the wood shop, I'm making some lift lid boxes with secret compartments for sale through local galleries and the Crystal Bridges Museum Store. I'll also prep stock for students to making boxes.
Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

rock county almanac...

In our local power line debacle it appears that at least for now we have AEP/SWEPCO on the run. The Judge approved only the portion of the power line that would be in Arkansas, and the power company would have to run through regulatory hurdles in Missouri that they are admittedly unprepared for. They are not licensed to do business in Missouri. They cannot possibly catch Missouri residents unprepared for battle, and due to the work of our small environmental organization Save the Ozarks, we managed to make certain that residents of Missouri are well informed. We are preparing for appeal of the ruling anyway because the judge would let stand the slip-shod way in which such issues are addressed in Arkansas. The cozy relationship between the power companies and the regulatory agency spells possible disaster for citizenry and the environment.

With some citizens finally being confident that we can really achieve what everyone told us we could not... stop a power company hungry for power transmission profits from destroying our homes and properties... we have been asked if we will write a basic guide so that others can do what we appear to have done.
Note to readers: The game isn't over. AEP/SWEPCO is one of those profitable companies that is not dependent on the good will of customers for its success. It may appeal the judge's ruling and use one of the routes that the judge denied, or the commission itself may overrule the judge, choose its own solution and allow the power company to go with its original plans. We are not happy dancing down Spring St. That would be premature.
So, I am beginning to call this guide, Rock County Almanac, in homage to Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, 1949, that had such a profound effect on the environmental movement. Whether or not this leads to something more, and whether or not AEP/SWEPCO is actually defeated, or just quietly engineering its next monstrous case of malfeasance, the Rock County Almanac is rooted in the karst terrane and limestone rocks of the Ozarks. Here, the underlying rock layers are pitted and scoured like Swiss cheese. The soil is thin over the chert and limestone. Water that can rarely be depended on is forced out from between rock layers as springs, some large and some scarcely a trickle. And hard scrabble farmers having given up on corn and cows simply farm the rocks that keep springing up in their pastures and sell them for building walls and patios for the rich and near famous.

An early Arkansas writer, John Gould Fletcher, had written to my artist friends Louis and Elsie Freund in the 1950s that there was wasn't much happening in Eureka Springs, but it sure was laid out pretty, and so with tourism, pretty became our only cash crop. As one local had said in our public hearing over the SWEPCO debacle, "You can't eat pretty, but here, without pretty, we don't eat."

And so there is something remarkable and poetic about the beauty of place, and those that gather for the sake of that beauty. When we are connected with each other out of concern for beauty, and unleash our own powers of poetry, we are far stronger than some would expect. Not being the idiot locals AEP/SWEPCO seem to have been prepared for, folks read the environmental impact statement, sorted through it with their fine toothed combs, adopted a tone of moral outrage and nailed SWEPCO on very real charges of attempting to simply crank their massive power line past what they thought were defenseless hill folks.

As I say, it is an interesting case built upon the Swiss cheese of our karst terrane, and the challenges folks found in crafting successful lives in rock county. We've become hard as the rocks ourselves when someone wants to mess with the beauty of this place.

Today in the kitchen I'm steaming tamales. In the wood shop, I'll be cleaning, beginning work on an article for American Woodworker and preparing stock for making boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Making Froebel's gifts...

A new history of Sloyd has been published by David J. Whitaker. The International Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd: Head and Hands in Harness.
I've read snippets of it as a eBook and it appears well researched and well written. I hope it serves to awaken some to the rich history of progressive education.

I have continued my own small research into the interconnection between Froebel's Kindergarten and the development of Manual and Industrial Arts training in the US. And part of my research is to explore means through which we can renew a revolution in educational methods that was abandoned as we became so enamored with statistical methods and forgot to consider the needs of the whole child. There is a difference between measuring children and observing them,  or learning from them and Kindergarten methods and manual arts training were based on observations of how children actually grow and learn.

Certainly, in the very early days as Froebel explored his educational gifts, there were no commercially made block sets available so he or his associates did exactly what I'm doing... making sets on their own. In the midst of the 19th century, woodworking skills would be commonplace and widely enjoyed... a situation quite unlike today.

In the interest of my own exploration, I've made Froebel's gift number 3 in two sizes. One size consists of blocks 1 1/2 in. in each dimension, designed for those parents with children under the age of 3 whose children might be left in unobserved play. The smaller 1 in. blocks associated with the original Froebel Kindergartens are slightly larger than what the Consumer Products Safety Administration would consider a choking hazzard, so both sizes should be safe in any case.  None of the blocks were not intended to be more junk dumped into a toy chest as would be the case today, but instead be used in interactive play between the child and the adult kindergartner.

Not knowing about Kindergarten methods, but having grown up as the son of a Kindergarten teacher, my wife and I made my daughter Lucy a play table where we would work together with modeling clay, finger paints, scissors, paper and string. My wife and I had great fun making the table and matching chairs that are now in the attic waiting for a next generation. We have wonderful memories of being fully present and attentive as our daughter engaged in her own creative explorations.

The idea of these gifts is not that they serve as idle amusements to occupy the child and allow the parent or teacher to be distracted from their duty, but rather to engage both parent and child. These are simple gifts that you can make yourself... and by doing so, you have given a gift to yourself, too, in that you will have awakened to the pleasure of your own craftsmanship.

The idea of "progressive education" is one that is often misunderstood. What does progressive mean? Some have had the idea that it means something new, and represents progress, but instead, the idea means that the child is led through a natural process of development, based on observation of how children actually learn and grow. Educational Sloyd described this process as: 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. The job of the teacher was not only to administer lessons, but to carefully observe the child's growth, to assess the child's interests, and to make certain that the child's most natural inclinations to learn were continuously and progressively engaged. To go back to that would be real progress, and nothing new, given the rich history of progressive education.

Make, fix and create... set an example for others to follow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

nothing new here...

Display of Kindergarten labors, Boston, 1893
In our day and age, everything is driven by newness. New ideas, new solutions to age-old problems, as though we are in a new age and nothing from before 2013 actually matters. But when it comes to learning, we've got the same old kids. The basic human nature remains unchanged. Boys will run around if given a chance. They want to do things just as they did in the time of Martin Luther and Comenius. Girls, too, are much more inclined to an active life than one in which their full powers are kept idle. The following is from “Report of the Commission appointed to investigate the existing systems of manual training and industrial education,” 1893, and illustrating the roots of the manual training/industrial arts movement in Kindergarten methodology.

“The educational theory sought to be realized through manual training is no new theory, nor is it now for the first time engaging general attention. It has been a theme with educational writers from Luther and Comenius down to the present time, and there are to be found in the books frequent passages which recognize the value of manual work in the education of youth, — even of youth whose situations in after life would preclude their using their acquired skill for industrial ends. Thus has the learning of trades been prescribed in the education of princes. Rousseau would have Emile learn a trade, that his pupil might acquire a more valid title of nobility than any he might inherit from ancestors. Pestalozzi resorted to manual training with the vagabond children he collected in his schools, believing it to be one important means of educating the poorer classes. Locke, in writing of the education of gentlemen's sons, pointed out some practical advantages to be gained from manual work by boys passing through the usual course of book instruction; the chief of which were the promotion of bodily health by physical exercise and the mental relaxation brought about by change of “his surroundings, and leading him ultimately to clear knowledge and conscious efficiency in all relations of life...

“For this purpose all ranges of thought and feeling were to be opened, and all impulses to activity brought under the intelligent and orderly control of the will. Even the spontaneous play of childhood might under proper guidance accomplish definite educational results. Hence the kindergarten, the games and occupations of which early brought the child into intelligent sympathy with the busy human life going on around him. Later came positive instruction in the occupations of the household, the garden or the field, and in the trades of the workshops. The instructor in these things might be either the parent or the school teacher, and the place might be at home or in school; but in either case the process and the result were to be counted as educational, no less than were the study and mastery of book knowledge to be so counted. And the reason, stated in Froebel's words, was that "lessons through and by work, through and from life, are by far the most impressive and intelligible, and most continuously and intensely progressive both in themselves and in their effect on the learner. Notwithstanding this, children — mankind, indeed — are at present too much and too variously concerned “with aimless and purposeless pursuits, and too little with work. Children and parents consider the activity of actual work so much to their disadvantage, and so unimportant for their future conditions in life, that educational institutions should make it one of their most constant endeavors to dispel this delusion. The domestic and scholastic education of our time leads children to indolence and laziness; a vast amount of human power remains undeveloped and is lost. It would be a most wholesome arrangement in schools to establish actual working hours similar to existing study hours; and it will surely come to this.”
And so in this age, I foolishly offer perspectives from the past. Human beings were once and foremost a tribe of makers. We did stuff other than twiddling on iPhones. We made beautiful and useful things that found service in our homes, and added to the quality of lives lived by others. Craftsmanship was a means through which we expressed care for each other, and pride in our own accomplishments. And we gained intelligence through the process of making things.

Make, fix and create and encourage others to do so, too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

joyous purposeful activity

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my first second and third grade students will continue making dinosaurs. the following is from the Normal Child and Primary Education by Arnold Gesell Beatrice Chandler Gesell, 1912
Joyous, purposeful activity is the secret of honest living. Little children come to the school with a gift for being busy. The business of the schools is to transform this tendency into purposeful work. Children are not inherently idle or lazy. Idleness and laziness are the scars left by hours of joyless, distasteful work. So long as work is defined as an unwelcome task, so long will idleness increase. School work need not be irksome in order to be profitable, but should be the wholesome expression of changing tastes and increasing power.
We do have joyless, distasteful work that must be done in our society and people do it because they hope to earn escape from it, either for themselves or for their children. But if all work were to be afforded a sense of dignity, rewarded by the appreciation of others and granted a living wage, we would all be the better for it.

Today we were joined in the CSS wood shop by Jennifer Jackson, a reporter from the  Carroll County News and Lovely County Citizen for an article that will come out next week.

With AEP/SWEPCO back on the main burner, I have a letter submitted to one paper and a guest editorial for another. In relation to hands-on learning, it amazes me that what is so obvious to some is so out of touch for others.

Make, fix and create, and share your passion for doing so.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

what we'd largely forgotten...

Young women of all social classes learned to cook.
The following is from the documents of the Boston School Committee investigating the value of manual arts, 1898:
One of the great perils of this nation, as of all others, is in the class distinctions between the rich and the poor, and the barriers that grow up between them. A part of this difficulty, unconsciously perhaps, has arisen from the fact that many have grown up to despise those who labor with their hands. But manual training is the antidote of all this. When the cultivated teacher is seen dressed in the garb of the toiler, and when all pupils, rich and poor, work with their hands together, labor is honored and ennobled, and false conceptions are corrected before they become fixed. I believe it is not too much to claim that this whole plan of manual training, as it has now been introduced, is a new bond, drawing closer together the various classes in the city we love to call our own, and is helping towards that higher citizenship without which no republic is safe.

And sew their own clothing, and develop aesthetic sense.
We are once again in a time period in which the gulf between the rich and poor has widened enormously, and many in the upper classes being estranged from the value of hands on learning seem to think this is all natural and good. To be of some real service to humanity is the true source of nobility. And it is a shame such nobility is not a subject in school. Nobility need not be taught as a grand concept  but in the simple things... offering some small skilled service to others. Making a small thing invested with useful beauty might be a place to begin.

On another subject, I received a cover image (not final) for a new Fine Woodworking "bookazine" that will be coming out in the  spring featuring 5 of my box designs.

Look for this on the checkout isle at Lowes, Home Depot, and Mennards, and in your favorite book stores.

Make, fix, create... encourage others to join you in these things.

Monday, January 20, 2014

school reform that would work...

Boston kindergarten class with Froebel's gift number 3
The following is from the Boston Annual School Report, 1891:
(d.) MANUAL TRAINING IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOLS. In the year 1891 instruction was given to all the Primary teachers throughout the city in clay modelling, paper-cutting, etc. The value of this teaching is apparent in the work that is now done throughout the city by the little children. The clay modelling, paper folding and cutting, appeals to the imagination of the children and cultivates the love of the beautiful; it also develops manual skill and inventive power, teaching form, proportion, and exactness, as well as dexterity in the use of the fingers.
Can you imagine the investment required if we were to train every primary school teachers throughout the US in their proper role as teachers at the beginning level of manual arts training? It would be less than the billions being wasted now on educational reform. The report goes further and as follows:
In concluding this part of our report, we wish to emphasize again the importance of this new education which is educating the hand and the eye and the mind together. We are beginning to see more and more that thinking begins with things. There are some who may still believe that the outlay for shops and for these special teachers is unnecessary, and that the whole thing is a caprice of the hour. But the number of such is very few, and they show that they have given the matter but superficial thought. The little time that it has been tested in our schools has already shown its value. Nothing else has such power to soften, refine, and humanize rude girls and boys, to lead them to respect others, and to bring out those qualities which will lead them in turn to be respected. In the early spring of this year a class of boys was brought for the first time into one of our shops. They were from homes in one of the worst sections of our city, and for a lesson or two seemed almost ungovernable. But in less than three months these rude boys became so fascinated with their work, that, compelled to be left largely to themselves one day on account of the illness of a teacher, they excited the admiration and comment of some educators who unexpectedly called, because of their ceaseless attention to the work in hand. These few weeks had changed the wild boys of the street into those that were courteous and respectful and eager for advancement. Its value as a disciplinary as well as an educational force has not been overestimated.
Mind and hand, both engaged in learning.
It is highly unlikely that educators of today would see the possibilities here. The wall that academia has built in the exclusion of the hand as the primary instrument of learning... the failure within academia to recognize that the human hand leads, directs and corrects the brain in its exploration and engagement in learning, is a deep subject with deep sociological roots having to do with class and the disparagement of class. It is unlikely that educators of today, steeped as they are in standardized testing will leap to an understanding that the manual arts (which we've too long denigrated and sought to eliminate from schooling) could offer a means for the educational advancement of all. The failure to understand the power of the hand is the true source of failure in American schooling. I know that there are many who don't see a crisis at hand in American education. Well, welcome to Newark.

Make, fix, create, and help others to do so.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

the sources of nobility...

Today at the UU Fellowship of Eureka Springs, our guest speaker from the University of Arkansas spoke about the barriers and challenges of social class in the US. At one time, manual arts training classes were understood to have as part of their purpose, removal of class barriers by giving students from all walks of life, a sense of the dignity of all labor and an understanding of what it took to become skilled, intelligent and proficient at what would have been commonly thought of in disparaging terms by the upper class. The great idiocy of the current age in American education is that administrators and teachers no longer seem to have any concerns for those who have really built this nation through skilled hands. It's not that they are necessarily heartless for those trapped in the lower classes, but rather, being out of touch with their own hands, they seem convinced that all must be pushed toward college. Not a bad idea, but by insisting on abstract academics rather than hands-on learning, they push kids away from learning and schooling in the first place. The following is from the 1893 “Report of the Commission appointed to investigate the existing systems of manual training and industrial education.”
“The educational theory sought to be realized through manual training is no new theory, nor is it now for the first time engaging general attention. It has been a theme with educational writers from Luther and Comenius down to the present time, and there are to be found in the books frequent passages which recognize the value of manual work in the education of youth, — even of youth whose situations in after life would preclude their using their acquired skill for industrial ends. Thus has the learning of trades been prescribed in the education of princes. Rousseau would have Emile learn a trade, that his pupil might acquire a more valid title of nobility than any he might inherit from ancestors.”
The interesting thing is that children of all social classes find greater enthusiasm for learning when they do real things. And it is the great stupidity of American education that we warehouse children, all the while neglecting the development of their critical thinking skills. Those skills come when students are asked to do real things.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others be educated to do so.

learning from something more than books...

Books and the internet are powerful learning tools (both are better for learning than teaching and there is a difference), and yet we have real life as an alternative for those who may show signs of greater interest in reality and doing real stuff. For example, Robert H. Richards was one of the first 6 students to attend MIT and his story is told in a small booklet called The Eliot School Course of Manual Training published in Jamaica Plain, Mass. July 1892.

After struggling with reading his whole life, he wrote a glowing report in the slender booklet of what it was like for him to attend MIT and learn from real things. When he began at MIT books suddenly made sense to him, for they connected with things that he had a direct interest in because he was engaged in doing real things. His brief account is worth reading, and also explains his view on the integration of educational Sloyd and the Russian system of manual arts training which came to be known as the Boston Compromise. Children from the ages 10-12 would learn educational Sloyd and older students would follow the Russian system. This became a model that many schools followed throughout the US until administrators became overwrought with reading and math and failed to realize the value of manual arts training in the development of character and intellect or its role in making reading and math interesting to kids.

Robert Hallowell Richards who could not be made to read in his early days went on to write a four volume treatise Ore Dressing, the general index of which can be found here.

Teachers (and others) should check out the ruler game. It is fun to play and offers levels for all ages. My students first come to Clear Spring knowing nothing about measuring and little about fractions. The ruler game states simply,
"Why Learn to Read a Ruler? Reading a ruler is a valuable skill that you will likely use on your job, in your hobbies, and in your personal every day life. Without measuring devices like rulers (and people who can read them) we would still be living in caves."
Wood shop can help with rulers and fractions, and this simple game may help with wood shop, particularly if used in connection with real measuring tools, and not left as a game. With just a bit of practice on the game, I had reached a score of 4500 at level 10, but a friend reminded me that I'd only been practicing for 40 years.

Make, fix, create, and teach others to do likewise.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

honest at the very least...

Check out the new poll at right on the lid designs featured below.

Last night I read the Judge's ruling on the power line case that continues to threaten my community, and one thing that she mentioned was that an environmental impact statement prepared for the Arkansas Public Service Commission needs not be as thorough as one done for the Federal Government to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). That may be the case. Perhaps it needs not be as thorough, but should it be honest at the very least?

The preparer of the EIS for this project testified at hearing that he had purposefully deleted his own serious concerns for endangered species and the National Military Park at Pea Ridge from the report. For instance, even mention of Bald Eagle nesting sites was stricken from the 120 page report. Deliberately not mentioning certain things provided a means of purposefully underplaying detrimental impacts from various routes. There is a difference between being honest though less than thorough  and using a purposeful lack of thoroughness as a means of deceit. The EIS offered by AEP/SWEPCO fit the latter category and it was a shame that the judge failed to understand the difference.

option 1
option 2
option 3
option 4
When we read the Environmental Impact Statement prepared in their effort to force a power line through our community, we knew they were lying to us and to the commission. We now have to appeal. Even though the state of Missouri stands between AEP/SWEPCO and completion of their machinations, the APSC must come to terms with the dishonesty through which power companies have gotten their way in the past. So while I wish my work in opposition to the power line had come to a joyful conclusion yesterday, it did not, and I'm once again up too early in the morning, addressing concerns I would rather not be required to consider... like the fundamental dishonesty of American corporations like AEP/SWEPCO that claims integrity in all its dealings with local communities as one of its corporate values. Now, instead of just lying to us, they will also have to lie to the citizens of Missouri if they want to build their power line.

As you can see in the photo above, there is a fundamental honesty required in working with real wood. If you want to put in a dowel, you've got to drill the hole first.

Today in the wood shop, I'll apply and oil finish to the various lids to the box, and the box itself so they can be shipped to Wood on Monday. I will also spend some time doing necessary cleaning in preparation for the next project. Tell me please, which one do you like? Use the poll in the column at right to vote on your selected lid.

Make, fix and create... Teach others to do likewise.

Friday, January 17, 2014

raising an army of mothers...

a box for Wood Magazine
It is interesting that when men and women have spent a lifetime on the planet and then pass away, their lives are distilled into a few catch phases (if they are lucky enough for that), Bartleby's at best and most of what they've contributed will be reduced to nothing more than a dusting of their intent, if that. So it was with Friedrich Froebel. Having discovered the role of mothers as the child's first teacher by watching young mothers engaged with their kids, he proposed Kindergarten as a way to formalize that relationship and give young mothers greater power and purpose in their work. Kindergarten was to last from the period of 3 months to 8 years of age. A whole planet full of young mothers were set to work, many of them becoming professional "Kindergartners" empowered with Froebel's gifts and music to raise or help raise intelligent, caring and compassionate kids. But Kindergarten was reduced as a concept to just a beginning year of formal schooling. It was not at all what Froebel had in mind. The gifts became ritualistic devices for 5 year old children to manipulate in school, and were later abandoned. Kindergartens today in the US are not even a shadow of what Froebel had in mind. Forget play. These days the standard practice is to force readiness for reading and math in a Machiavellian race, push comes to shoving our children into a future that we can only imagine, but that they must face and that we leave them unprepared for.

Schooling has always been at cross purposes. On the one hand, politicians and administrators would like children to be easy and inexpensive to manage. The management of kids is not the same thing as educating and empowering them. My own community has been described as the place where the misfits fit. Folks come here having re-imagined themselves. And we are not ready to surrender to the humdrum of the status quo, the beauty of this place.

Today the administrative law judge ruled in favor of the power company, AEP/SWEPCO and oh, what power they have. But the ruling was not a complete approval of their preferred route. While the power line would run through our community, a large portion of the route approved by the judge would skirt the state of Arkansas by passing into Missouri, a state in which the power company is not licensed to operate in the first place. In addition, the selected route would require Missouri regulatory approval, which would mean a lengthy process, asking the state of Missouri to approve a power line that would be of no use to Missouri residents. For the Missouri Public Service Commission to approve a super highway of electric power through some of the most pristine forests in their state, with no on or off ramps to serve Missouri residents would be stupid on their part.

Kindergartens were thought to be such a serious danger by the Kaiser, that he attempted to shut down Froebel's Kindergartens as a danger to the state. And today, too, progressive education in which children are empowered as critical thinkers is a danger to the machinations of the status quo.

Throughout the AEP/SWEPCO powerline debacle, I've witnessed the machinations of power at work. A small community stood up against that power and was partially successful. In the wood shop, I have the capacity to take matters and material into my own hands. From this small island, I hope to launch a movement in which young mothers will take on the mission that Froebel had imagined for them, and in which young fathers, wanting to give their children their best launch into the future will encourage them as makers. Making Froebel's gifts for your child, will make a maker of you, too.  And there is danger in that. When a major corporation like AEP/SWEPCO wants to run an unwarranted extra high voltage power line too near your own home, and knowing your own creative power, you might feel inclined to say no.

Carl Sagan was critical of our nation's schools for failing to give students opportunities to develop critical thinking skills. He believed that there was method to their madness, in that those with critical thinking skills offer a threat to the status quo, being less complaisant and more manageable by corporate concerns. How do you develop critical thinking skills if you were of a mind to overthrow the status quo? Try wood shop... making beautiful and useful things that last generations.

I've been sanding a box and 4 lids so that they can be finished tomorrow and sent to Wood Magazine for their article on various lift lid designs.

Make, fix, create...  and teach others to do likewise even if they thence become threats to the status quo.

today is the day....

The Arkansas Public Service Commission Administrative Law Judge is given up 60 days following the close of the hearing to give her decision, so today is the day she must rule whether or not to approve the AEP/SWEPCO application to build a highly destructive extra high voltage 345 kV power line through my small community. I became involved when I was informed that one of their proposed routes would clear cut my 11 acres from one end to the other and leave land barren in perpetuity of natural forest growth, 75 feet from my deck. How could I not be disgusted? And being trained in my own creative capacities, how could I not act? Do you know how it feels to love something and have someone take it away for no reason but their own greed?

Corporations in America will let nothing stand in the way of their profits, and judges, too, can be swayed by the pressures to act against the best interests of citizens of their states. So we rose up as a community to defend ourselves, raised and spent a huge amount of money to stop SWEPCO, and have all been spending sleepless nights concerned that the judge might still find some loop hole that allows her to rule against us.

My fingers will be crossed throughout the day until I hear one way or the other. If she decides against AEP/SWEPCO I'll be jubilant. Our whole community will erupt in celebration. If she decides against us, we will be working on appeal. No company can be allowed to do to us what they are trying to do.

Yesterday in the wood  shop, I made a stationary plane that mounts in a vise and cuts grooves for sliding lids in Froebel gift boxes. It didn't work as well as I hoped until I began using a push stick to push the wood through the cut.

Today I will be finishing lids and a box for an article in Wood Magazine. I decided to put a concealed compartment in the base of the box.

The photo at the top shows the various layers used to make a stationary plane. The photo immediately above shows the results of the cut.

Make, fix, create... teach others to do likewise...

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Making a wooden  t-rex for the study of dinosaurs
Yesterday my first, second and third grade students began making dinosaurs. On Monday and Wednesday I began administering a vocabulary test/scavenger hunt in the wood shop to grades 4 through 9. The idea is that I want students to use tool words when telling me their ideas and proposed problems solutions. It is quite common for teachers to assign vocabulary words and ask students to go to their dictionaries, learn what they mean and how to spell them. My goal is much simpler and more direct than that. I want them to speak clearly and informatively when in the wood shop. And they know that I'm not asking for something with an abstract purpose, but for something that has direct use.

The students made a game of it, and had fun. I have two full pages of tools in two columns and check lines alongside each. The idea is that when a student identifies a tool, proves to me that he or she can tell what its for and finds it on the sheet, I mark my initials alongside. We will do this at least one or two more class periods. Whatever a child decides to do in his or her adult life, unique vocabulary will be required for that field. And practice in the assimilation of vocabulary is a reasonable exercise that extends the range of wood shop and shows its usefulness in the development of verbal skills and understanding.

On another subject, I've begun making a stationary plane for making grooves in box sides for the sliding lids of Froebel Gift Boxes. I ground the blade from tool steel and will make the body of the plane today in the wood shop. This particular plane is one that will be mounted in the vise and instead of taking the plane to the wood, the wood will be passed over the plane.

We just have today or tomorrow for the APSC judge to offer her ruling in the AEP/SWEPCO application to run an unnecessary, unwanted and overly destructive power line through my local community. Our fingers are crossed that the case will be over this week. If she rules in favor of the power company, we will be working immediately on an appeal and the whole thing will go on for months when I would much rather be in the wood shop.

Make, fix, create... and teach others to do likewise.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Here in the blog, I tend to write about the same things over and over. My writing can be compared to that of a striker on a soccer team. Each day I'm on the same field, trying to get the same ball past the guards into the very same net and to lure a few more players onto the field.

Scientists at Harvard have been doing some experiments with a drug intended for bipolar disorder in which they've used it to make the brain more plastic for learning. Some things like language, music, and intuitive modeling capacity are better learned when the brain is in a more plastic state. This research using a drug called valproate shows that at unknown risk, we can stop a train long past the developmental station and stick on a new passenger, but wouldn't it be better to take advantage of the child's natural developmental processes? The drug has been used to give some adults perfect pitch, a thing that usually comes only after intensive engagement in music prior to age six. Spatial sense is yet another one of those things that needs to be developed in child's early life if it is to be available for success in math, and the arts. Froebel's gifts are useful in developing spatial sense, and woodworking in schools was originally intended to take Kindergarten methods to the next level.

Rather than simply repeat myself, I will ask you to revisit this earlier post about the window of develpment for hand skills.

Today in the CSS wood shop, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students will begin making dinosaurs. Here again I'm repeating myself. The students shown with their dinosaurs are now seniors in high school.

Make fix and create... teach others to do so.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

putting your toys away...

Putting your toys away should be as easy and fun as getting them out in the first place, and I can imagine the challenge that Froebel felt with his first experimentation with blocks in the classroom. He was living in a wretched hut that had been a hen house, and his students playing with hand crafted blocks would spend hours in construction of castles and the like. "Time to put the blocks away, kids" would be the most dreaded call. The drawing above shows Froebel's 3rd gift and its contents.  To get the blocks out of the box, the student would turn the box upside down on the table top and slide the lid out of the way, allowing the blocks to fall slide onto the table top. When the box was carefully lifted away, a perfect cube would remain. The child would play with the blocks and when play was complete, she or he would arrange the blocks back into a cube. To put the blocks away, the child would cover the cube with the box and slide it off the kindergarten table onto the lid, then turn the box over and slide the lid in place. The same technique was used with the more complicated sets.

In the late 1800's and early 20th Century, Milton Bradley and a variety of other companies in the US and Europe supplied Froebel's gifts in machine crafted boxes. I am convinced that when Froebel proposed such gifts for the use in a teaching relationship between young mothers and their infants, the boxes and blocks were most likely not made with fancy machine tools, but rather by young fathers crafting educational materials for their own children by firelight. And so, the gifts may be serviceable in a number of directions, luring young fathers to make, luring young mothers to teach, and luring infants to explore their own creative capacities.

Nowadays, parents just occupy their kids on digital devices. They can be turned off, so I guess that's an advantage of sorts.

I showed my high school class Froebel's third gift, my latest box project. When my exchange student David began building with the blocks from inside, I asked, "Did you play with blocks as a child?" "No, just video games." He answered. And so it goes all over the world. Parents are convinced that by giving their children expensive technology instead of toys, they've delivered their best.

But there are things that children get from handling real things and our children are left short handed if they don't have the opportunity to learn from engagement in real materials in solid form.

I want to introduce my readers to Mag Ruffman, She offers some free instructional videos for woodworking with kids and may help parents to understand that they don't have to be expert woodworkers before introducing their own children to creative woodwork. We can all learn together in this creative process, and it truly is past time for us to take the education of our children into our own hands.  Mag works with Lowe's Canada to offer Family Fun Projects.

A gift need not be perfectly crafted to be useful or beautiful
Today in my wood shop, I'll be finishing photos for an article in Wood Magazine, and begin work on an article for American Woodworker. I also need to make boxes to fill holes in my inventory left by sales during the holiday season.

Make, fix and create... teach others to do likewise.

Monday, January 13, 2014

values and craftsmanship...

From the Children's Library of Work and Play, Carpentry and Woodwork
A genuine craftsman
You don't have to preach honesty to men with a creative purpose. Let a human being throw the energies of his soul into the making of something, and the instinct of workmanship will take care of his honesty. A genuine craftsman will not adulterate his product. The reason isn't because duty says he shouldn't but because passion says he couldn't. -- Walter Lippman
Sometime in the next 5 days, Judge Connie Griffin will announce her decision on whether or not AEP/SWEPCO will be allowed to build a massive high voltage power line through my community. I first want to thank her for the gracious manner in which she has addressed each of us and made certain that we've felt we were being heard. We know that it will, however, come down to a matter of law. The state law proclaims the importance of our small local communities, and that the economic, environmental, cultural and historic resources of our small local communities must be considered. AEP/SWEPCO ignored the serious concerns of our local community in its environmental impact statement on the project has been proclaimed faulty by agencies of both the state and Federal Governments. These agencies include the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Department of Arkansas Tourism, The National Park Service, and the US Army Corp of Engineers.

AEP/SWEPCO seeks is the right to take through eminent domain, properties owned and cared for by individual citizens of Arkansas which should only be allowed when the greater needs of the citizens of Arkansas cannot be met through other means. In this particular case, the need for this power line has not been proved. In fact, what has been proven is that the power line is not necessary, despite SWEPCOs multitudinous verbal fabrications to the contrary. When completed with a second 345 kV circuit, it would supply over 8 times the amount of power currently in use in this county while they claimed it was only for our reliability. Demand for electric power in the US has declined for the third year in a row, even as the US has clawed its way out of recession. Distributed power generation from the installation of solar panels threatens the basic business model upon which AEP/SWEPCO plans to pay for this power line.

If this power line goes through, citizens of Arkansas will be left holding the bag, with an electric distribution network none of us can afford. By now, I'm certain Judge Connie Griffin will be carefully composing her text. I hope the APSC and the power company have learned a few things from this case. Those of us in opposition to it certainly have. What we have here in the beauty of our forests and meadows, rivers and streams of Northwest Arkansas must not be taken for granted. There are those who have yet to awaken to the beauty we have here. In the meantime, my fingers are crossed that Judge Griffin rules against SWEPCO in this case.

I know that some might consider this case to be off subject for this blog about hands-on learning. The way I see it is that learning lessons hands-on in early life, increases sensitivities of all kinds in later life. The planning staff at AEP/SWEPCO has been completely out of touch. Where was Froebel's Kindergarten when they needed it most?

The following is:
The Sacredness of Work
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their paces, laying them regular.
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers--Paeans and praises to Him!
-- Walt Whitman
Froebel's 3rd gift.
You will notice that without an understanding of the vocabulary of woodworking, Whitman's poem would be meaningless. Today in the CSS wood shop, the upper elementary school kids worked on their woodworking vocabulary. They also turned on the lathe and worked on independent projects.

I began making boxes for Froebel's 3rd Gift, as an exercise in my own hand work, that can be used by our pre-school and kindergarten students.

My High School students and I have begun a class in  box making.

Make, fix and create… teach others to do so, too.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


The following is from The normal child and primary education by Arnold Gesell and Beatrice Chandler Gesell, 1912 and from a chapter called "Handwork."
In school work the children need evidences of fruitful effort. They must struggle some time before they can feel their progress in reading and writing, but in handwork they can fairly possess success. They feel the uplift of immediate achievement, of personal power. Originality of expression is the aim of handwork, but originality is not ready-made. It is the result of experience and an accompanying increase of technique. There should be as definite a relation between the demand and supply of technique in handwork as there is between the demand and supply of any commodity. The demand for technique should grow out of the use of a variety of suggestive material. Material which suggests or hints a process will make a demand upon originality and call for technique. Handwork may not be judged by the technical results obtained, but by the knowledge the child has gained of the uses and the possibilities of material.

Handwork belongs to the realm of art. It is intimate and personal in character and is a question of individual adjustment. It demands a creative atmosphere and does not thrive under the strict silence of the ordinary school period. Joyous human relations must surround the work done with the hands. The children should be allowed and encouraged to share their work with one another; to compare, discuss, and lend a hand. It is the child who is permitted to whirl the finished article in the air and invite admiration of it who will feel the glow of creativity. The child who follows the solemn dictation of his teacher and then silently puts his work away has no consciousness of victory. He will never know the joy of the true craftsman. If some freedom is allowed during this period, many boys and girls will receive the first commendation of their playmates through a bit of skillful handwork. This glow of success will be a revelation. This concrete evidence of power will awaken new energy which will flow over into other lines of effort.

What is the moral reaction from work with things? The child's ideas, thoughts, become tangibly visible. Suppose all thought took visible form, would it not startle some of us to look up and see the distorted figure of our habitual thoughts? Handwork must be true and clean to be worth while. A lie in the concrete cannot be hidden; it carries its results with it. The child who works with his hands must think, deliberate, and stand by his conclusions. Exclusively intellectual effort is subjective and incomplete, and may become selfish in its motive, but work with the hands is altruistic, objective, and humanizing.

Do not give the children a lot of characterless objects to make. The standard of handwork should be use or beauty, or both. Keep the work close to the lives of the little people. Let them make wagons, jumping jacks, paper dolls, boats, and engines. Such effort will do more to establish honest regard for property than all the sermons you can deliver. Possessions, accompanied by a sense of the labor involved in the making, will open a new page of ethics to the small boy or girl. The child who makes coat hangers, tags, holders for rubbers, pencil boxes, etc. is protecting his neighbor's property as well as his own. He is learning self-respect and independence by supplying his own wants by the work of his hands.
This is the week we will learn the decision from the administrative law judge on the SWEPCO power line proposal that would needlessly and recklessly damage our landscape, our ecology and cultural heritage. Her decision must be announced on or before January 17. We know that much of the nation is out of touch and careless about such things as beauty, and the environment, so in this case, it could go either way. The commission can choose to ignore state law and allow the power line to proceed, or it can stand up for the citizens in small local communities and stop it in its tracks. Our fingers are crossed.

This is also the week that Clear Spring students will return to the wood shop after the extended holiday break resulting from the worst bout of snow and cold in recent memory in the Ozarks. I plan to launch my high school students into box making and my upper elementary school students into making Froebel's Gift number 3 and exploring the vocabulary of the wood shop.

Make, fix and create... and teach others to do the same

Saturday, January 11, 2014

beyond words...

We have poetry because words can at best only wrestle with reality... not grasp it by the throat and force it to the ground as can the hands. Words adjoined without rhythm to convey the warmth of human emotion are simply technical jargon, devoid of feeling. The following (something more) is from the Normal Child and Primary Education, Arnold Gesell and Beatrice Chandler Gesell, 1912:
There are tactile-ethical values in nature study and handwork: the tactile attitudes of tenderness and protection which a boy feels for fragile birds' eggs carefully stored, perhaps with a caress, in cotton; the perfect polishing of a wood surface; the respect for the fiber and individual resistant qualities of material; the rounding of edges and corners for comfort and beauty; the obedience to lines, drawings, and so forth; the accuracy and truthfulness in fitting edges; the general submission to the laws of nature whenever a piece of raw material is attacked. We can suggest rather than demonstrate the important bearings of all this.

See how a child will stroke a smooth surface with half awesome delight. What does it mean? It means that life is more than words. In due time, of course, the child should be able to speak and spell a declarative sentence, stating that the sensation felt exquisite. Sometime he may even discuss whether "rapturous" is a better adjective. But, after all, the adjective is but a tag or a symbol. The sensation itself is unutterable. Character is made up of attitudes, appreciations; and verbal images, although very essential to abstract thinking, are idle and void unless they are born of concrete contact.
And thus was discussed the nature of real schooling, based upon actual observations of how children learn and grow, and upon our own human natures and the rhythms of real life. Can folks not see the difference between what is proposed and the artificial realities in which we try to engage kids.
The photo at the top is intended to illustrate the principle of proportion, showing the relationship between the size of the intended contents and the proportions of the box. As you can see in the photo at left, I'm working on my last lid for an article on making lift off lids, giving readers 4 distinct choices. Words can only say what words can say. Can you see that words and images are more powerful than words alone, and that perhaps words and actual experiences are more powerful still? But that's not where things are going in American education.

Make, fix and create... And teach others to do so.

If his oportunities are good...

The play equipment at left doesn't look like much more than a dangerous pile of junk... but what fun could be had upon it! The photo is from Jean Lee Hunt's Catalog of Play Equipment. Hunt mentioned in her book that children living in the countryside had imaginative play opportunities that children in the cities did not have and play equipment like that shown in her  book was proposed to make up for that serious deficiency.

At  one time educators talked about the ways that the hands effected learning. Now they talk about their iPads and their hopes that technology will do what teachers in schools are not afforded the opportunity to do... engage children more deeply in learning.  But the hands now neglected and ignored have always had the power to engage children in deep learning. The following is from The Normal Child and Primary Education.
When compared with sight and hearing, touch has been called an unintellectual sense; but such a statement is seriously misleading. The most fundamental data for our perception of distance, direction, size, and form come through the feel gate. Only handling and manual activity can put vividness and content into the perceptions of the outside world. The child must begin in very infancy its acquaintance with the resistance and construction qualities of paper, sand, cloth, wood, etc. By gradual stages he gets farther and farther into the heart of things, and learns the essentials of what engineers call the materials of construction. If his opportunities are good, he will by tools learn the individuality of various woods, cardboard, leather, wire, fibers, clay, glass, stone, wool, cotton, and by dabbling acquire enough about every art to give him an appreciative apperception for everything that man has made. Our point is that he cannot get this appreciation by mere reading or listening or even observation. His skin and tendons and muscles must be stimulated before he gets the kernel of reality in any physical thing. For this reason much of the object teaching in the schools is not nearly so effective as is often fondly believed. It is only eye-deep, and what children need is the opportunity to handle and stroke. A picture is better than a word, a stuffed bird better than a picture of one, but nothing can take the place of putting a little live creature into the palms, where fifty thousand touch bulbs will tingle with the fluffiness of the feathers. Such a contact experience will establish a warm, tactile sympathy for the object, beside which a mere visual impression, however definite, is feeble and anesthetic. The do-not-touch principle, at school, home, and expositions, is unfortunately limiting.

There is a whole group of biological reasons why touch is of all the senses the most fundamental, not only for the development of intellectual perception but also for the growth of our aesthetic, emotional nature. Touch is chronologically first in the history of mind. With the possible exception of hunger, it is the most ancient of all experiences. There were touch sensations in the primordial sea where the earliest life began. There were touch sensations in the mud and on the land billions of years before the continents took their present shape and before man appeared upon the face of these continents. Touch is most intimately associated with the fundamental instincts of workmanship, hunger, sex, curiosity, fighting, and sympathy. Moreover, it is most vague, diffuse, and general in character. All these reasons combine to make it the most profoundly and massively emotional of all the senses, especially in childhood, when its ancestral values tend once more to emerge from the deep levels of the nervous system.
I have mentioned before that we talk about our emotions using the same words that we use when we talk about our sense of touch. We feel things, and the depth our engagement and the depth of our feelings are approached in the same manner, through connections made through our hands.

The crochet ball in the photo above was made by our middle school teacher at Clear Spring School. I've wondered how to make such things as part of my interest in Froebel's kindergarten, and I've learned that those who do crochet, are often itching for new projects to test their abilities and interests. They are just like woodworkers except that they don't need wood shops.

Yesterday I spent the whole day going over edits of my new book and taking photos to illustrate various concepts in box design for the 8 design sidebars in the book.

Make, fix and create...