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.

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