Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lewis Terman

The history of standardized testing cannot be told without reference to Lewis Terman. He was the Stanford psychologist who drove the early development of the Stanford-Binet test. An article in the Stanford Alumni Magazine tells the story of Terman's advocacy of universal standardized testing in American education. It may not surprise readers to learn what Terman thought of Kindergarten as described in Parker and Temple's Unified Kindergarten and First-Grade Teaching, 1925.
The most abrupt break in the curriculum is that from the kindergarten to the first grade. At all other points every effort is made to bridge the gaps. The transition from first grade to the second, from fifth to sixth, etc. is almost imperceptible. Even the first year of high school is rapidly being integrated with the last year of the grammar school so as to give the child an unbroken educational path which he may traverse from the first grade to the university. The kindergarten alone holds aloof, worships at the shrine of a special methodological cult, and treats its children as belonging to a different order of human beings.

The tests of Dickson and Cuneo show how little justification there is for such an attitude. The fact that nearly a fourth of kindergarten children do not differ at all in mental ability from average first-grade children and that a fourth of first-grade children are on a par with the median kindergarten child, indicates that it would be well for the teachers of these two grades to come to some kind of understanding.
The kind of compromise educators have come to in this time in which Terman's envisioned universal application of standardized  testing as the driving force in education has come to full term, seems to be for Kindergartens to have had their special qualities squelched.

I think readers will be interested in learning more about Terman and the standardized testing movement. In his autobiography, Terman predicted, "That within a few score years school children from the kindergarten to the university will be subjected to several times as many hours of testing as would now be thought reasonable," and that certainly has come true. At one time, the flow of compromise between Kindergarten and the first grade was driven from the other direction, with kindergarten leading the way for educational reform. This was described by Miss Vandewalker as follows:
The primary teacher who visited a kindergarten could not fail to be impressed by the kindergartner's attitude toward her children -- by her cooperation with them in the spirit of comradeship and by her sympathetic insight into their interest and needs. She was impressed no less by the children's attitude toward their work, by the spontaneity of the interest, and by their delight in the use of the bright-colored material. The games were a revelation to her, since they showed that there could be freedom without disorder; the interest which the children took in the kindergarten songs made her own drill on scales and intervals seem little better than drudgery and the attractiveness of the kindergarten room gave her helpful suggestions concerning the value of beauty as a factor in education, In short, recognizing that there was possible an order of things very different from that to which she was accustomed, she determined to profit by the lesson. If the kindergarten procedure could be made so interesting, why not school procedure as well?
We know the pendulum swings back and forth between such extremes with education being driven by kindergarten on the one hand, and harsh means on the other... kindergarten when we come to our senses and remember that the world has need of poetry, music and the arts...

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

statistical error...

The image at left is a report card from the 1937 school year, and you can see that the teacher offered assessment on a variety of important aspects of growth. Click the image to see it in a larger size.

I just want to remind readers that long before standardized testing became such a strong focus among educational policy makers, teachers and schools were taking care of business, and taking care of the job of making sure that their children did not fall behind.

They did this by observing student participation in class. They had serious concerns for the growth of each child, even though, as today, they were often overloaded with too many children in each class.

I don't need to romanticize that era in American education. It can do so on its own. Things have changed in American education and many parents have found that things ain't too pretty. All children love learning. Many students learn to hate being schooled. Reading is one of the very best ways to learn in a broad area of subjects, but the first thing that many students learn in school is to hate reading, and that's where the whole of American education begins to break down. When students learn to despise reading the American educational solution is to force them to do more of it, when what they may need instead is a more relaxed approach that allows them to establish personal relevance. Give the something to do. Not something more just to read.

Policy makers are focused on making certain that they get the most bang for their bucks by using standardized testing to monitor and control teacher performance. Some would just as soon see public education on the rocks and have the education of children taken out of the hands of professional teachers, and placed in the realm of corporate profits. In either case, standardized testing is the tool of choice.

What you will find on the report card from 1937 are many of the things missing from the standardized testing scheme...  traits of citizenship: obedience, courtesy, industry, cooperation and independence. You will also notice a range of subjects that have been pushed aside from most schools due to the amount of time spent preparing for standardized tests. You'll find geography, civics, drawing, history, and music as a part of the teacher's concerns.

I spent the day Saturday at the Thea Show in Little Rock, and Thea is working to prove the value of the arts in schools. Unfortunately, these days the only approved measure of education has become the standardized test and Thea must prove itself and the value of the arts by raising test scores. Policy makers want uniformity of learning across the board, as though every child and every community could become cookie cut in conformity. Instead, we should be remembering the time in which teachers were trained and trusted to understand and care for the growth of children. We should remember the time in which a level of joy could be found in schooling. At that time students in school took wood shop and participated in the arts.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, April 28, 2014

new first grade?

Has Friedrich Froebel rolled over in his grave and gone down for the third time? Kindergarten was intended as a time of learning through play, but a recent study indicates that is no longer the case and becoming less so by the day. Shifting priorities built upon the standardized testing premises of No Child Left Behind, have made kindergarten teachers more accountable for teaching reading and math, but left schools clueless on the softer skills like learning from the observation of real life and learning to work cooperatively and in collaboration with other children. The new study is called, Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability

The assumption in the age of statistical error is that if something isn't "statistically valid" it has no scientific validity. That is like saying that wind observed and measured on the Beaufort Scale isn't valid because it wasn't stated in exact MPH... Or that a tree falling in the forest didn't make any noise unless there was someone there to put it on a spreadsheet. And yet, any person standing at a distance can see learning taking place or a leaf turning in the wind. The child's learning may be a bit less easy to discern than watching the wind pass through the trees. You can't see actual wind. You can't see actual learning that takes place inside a child's head. But if you are watching in either case you can witness the effects.

What has happened with an over emphasis on standardized testing is that the power to measure has been usurped by statisticians while parents and classroom teachers have been left holding the empty joyless bag of the policy maker's machinations. I have this image of a stodgy old educational statistician standing in the doorway of a progressive school in which all the children are actively engaged and enthusiastic about learning. He says,  "Tut, tut, What are their test scores? Are they really learning?"

My upper elementary school students played gaga at a small park in Missouri. One of the benefits of travel school is that our students go out into the real world and bring real things back. Gaga is a game like dodge ball, but far less hazardous to the kids as its played in a small court and the ball must remain low to only hit below the knees. It is just as much fun as dodge ball without risk of real injuries. The students were so excited by playing this wonderful game that they came home wanting to make a gaga court at Clear Spring School. We'll use wood shop time to make it.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

cold turkey...

My booth at the Thea Art Show.
There is no place like home and I'm glad to be back.

I spent the weekend with friends in Little Rock and exhibited and sold my work at the Thea Art Show in North Little Rock. It was nice to see friends and old acquaintances and to sell a bit of my work. I think some folks these days have a challenge getting their minds around the notion that people can make a living by doing work with their own hands.

I had a number of conversations with folks at the show about education. It seems that most are in agreement that we've gone off the deep end in standardized testing, but few have any ideas what we can do about it. I propose we cut the crap and go cold turkey. Teachers, students and parents have always had ways of assessing growth by simply watching children grow. And by excessively measuring all things, we've killed the joy in it.

Schools have marginalized teachers in that many are no longer trusted to write their own lesson plans or to evaluate student learning. Statisticians and policy makers stand upon a common field of control over education, while the last bit of spontaneous joy is wrenched from it.

Thea is an arts foundation that is working to return the arts to the center of education in Arkansas, and is partnering with the Walton Family Foundation to bring A+ Schools to an additional 10 schools in Arkansas. A+ tries to get the entire staff of a school to understand the role of the arts to elevate overall interest in learning. And the interest of the Walton Family Foundation in this case is that of using standardized tests to evaluate whether or not the arts actually work, and whether what anyone can see with his or her own eyes, can be statistically significant affirming what many of us already know by heart.

This, of course, should be a no brainer. Can you imagine a world without the arts, without woodworking, without poetry, without music, without theater? We CAN imagine living in a world in which the arts are not trusted to bring to children what they have always brought to humanity. It's what we've allowed to be done to education by politicians and  policy makers.

We are poised at the edge of Fine Arts Month in Eureka Springs. I am grateful to live in a small community in which the value of the arts is only questioned by morons.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, April 25, 2014

looking at real life...

Yesterday was a day for trying to get students to look at things and discover for themselves how they fit and how they work. As technology has become more complex and hidden under shiny sealed surfaces, we seem to have lost the natural curiosity about how things work. Students have given up observing, as "what's the use?" Three of my students wanted to make stilts like they had tried at a park while they were on their school trip. They knew what stilts were and how they worked, but not so much about how they were made. So I helped them design the blocks that mount to the sticks where you put your feet, but then how those blocks were to be positioned was a matter of serious consternation. "Use your imagination, play with them and analyze where you would stand and put your feet," I entreated. "Just tell me how they go," the students insisted.

It's not that I'm getting lazy. I want students to learn by looking at real life, and developing their own skills of observation and analysis. It would be wrong for students to become overly dependent on me. It's bad enough that dependence on digital devices is overriding observation and analysis of real life.

Another student was assembling her robot ramp walker, as she had missed last week."How does this go," she asked. "What do I do next?" I gave her the plans which clearly showed the order in which the various parts were to be assembled. She told me that she "can't work from paper." I told her that if she couldn't read plans on how to make things she would be limited in what she could make.
 "Just tell me what to do next," she insisted.
"Look at the drawing," I suggested. "It provides all the information you need on what to do next!"
She persisted,  "I'm a visual learner."
I parried, "A drawing on paper presents visual learning."
"No," she insisted. "I mean youtube."
Then she said, "This school is supposed to be 'hands-on learning' isn't it."

I put the paper in her hands and said, "Use your hands to do what the drawing says to do next!"

I was not the most patient teacher yesterday. In schooling we make the teacher the authority. It's a role that a good teacher attempts to resist. While students look to the teacher for the "right" answers,  let's remember that school is generally an artificial construct, and that students need to become proficient at observation, anaylysis and self-assessment in real life. They need to observe directly and with clarity what actually exists and act upon life with confidence that can only come by doing real things themselves and with as little teacherly intervention as is possible.

Today I'm packing up boxes in boxes and will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas to take part Saturday in the day long Thea Art Show in North Little Rock. Check the website for hours and location.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

the hands, control and control of the emotions...

6 crocheted balls in a wooden box.
My sister had told me earlier in the week that her 6th grade students in public school were incredibly mean to each other.  She said that they are constantly bickering. The students in her classes are those who have been identified as behind grade level in reading. In fact they've learned to hate reading, and my sister has the challenge of doing whatever she can to turn the tide.  Her job is the incredibly difficult one of fixing what has been broken and neglected in the early years of their schooling.

Yesterday my lower elementary class arrived in wood shop in a lather. One student was angry with the whole class, but most particularly with one other student who had been insensitive to him since pre-school. Schools used to offer time to students learning to get along with each other. Now, with extreme efforts to get kids reading early and before they are ready, we have sacrificed the time that would have helped kids to get along with each other, and put useless and destructive reading emphasis in its place.

The skills of navigating ones way through the conundrums of social interaction are the most valuable ones that students can acquire in school. At Clear Spring, when one student is emotionally distraught, we simply drop everything, and the class deals with it. We can do that, because we have small class sizes, and because we know that our students' social skills are far more important than the clock, and rigid adherence to lesson plans.

Normally in schools, when a student has an emotional "problem," he or she would be isolated from the group, and made to feel that he or she has a "problem." In our case, we use such opportunities to build cohesion within the group. Students have the chance to listen to each others' words and learn how to better get along with each other. And if students are helped to find the means to work things out, they will have greater trust in each other and a basis for collaboration.

The point is not to make everything easy for kids in an environment that is always emotionally safe, but rather to give them tools that will enable them to be emotionally secure where ever they go in life.

It was interesting that when the students managed to talk things through and enough calm had returned for the kids to get to work, (and as I reported in yesterday's post), the breakthrough of sincere apologies came when the aggrieved party was standing at the lathe, turning wood for the first time. There is a way that the hands soothe raw emotions just as sand paper can smooth rough wood.

A relationship exists between the control of the hands in making things, and the control of the emotions. Just think for a moment... feelings and feeling. We use the same language for each because they are very closely related, and when you purposefully leave the hands out of schooling, kids that dislike school and play power trips upon each other out of frustration can be the result. After all, as human beings, we love learning. That is innate. Being schooled is another matter entirely.

Today in both my upper elementary school classes, I tried to get the students to learn by looking around them more and at me less. I noticed that they are looking at me for whatever it is they need, whether its a tool or to describe the next step. My objective has become that of doing less as they learn more. As harsh as my attitude may have seemed to them, I've asked them to get better at solving their own problems.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ten rules for students and teachers

These 10 rules for students and teachers were written by Sister Corita Kent in 1968 and popularized by composer John Cage. If you are a human being and not a machine, you will know that you are both student and teacher rolled into one body, and these rules would work for you, too.
  • RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
  • RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
  • RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.
  • RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
  • RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
  • RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  • RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
  • RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
  • RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
  • RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.
  • HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.
I repeat rule six for added emphasis. "Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail, there's only make." Whether its music you make or poetry, or noise, or in the wood shop, something beautifully useful or just sawdust, you are thence an active participant in make and are shifted in nature from idleness to creativity.

Today in the wood shop, two of my lower elementary school students arrived angry with each other and so we spent the first few minutes of class as the children worked through the problem of hurt feelings and raw emotion. Finally, the boy whose feelings were hurt began work on the lathe for the first time. Gradually, his feelings of control as he applied the tool to the wood, began to work on his emotions, too. He looked up from his work and spoke across the room, "I'm sorry." The other boy said, "I'm sorry, too." The sincerity of the moment was palpable. It is truly amazing that when emotions take charge of the body, the engagement of the hands has the power to steer the emotions back into control. It was yet another profound expression of the wisdom of the hands.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!

I took part in the very first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 as it was celebrated on my college campus. Our gathering was very small and lasted only a few minutes, but I thought to myself, "finally." To celebrate the earth gave me hope. We celebrate nearly everything else (mostly money) and it seemed significant to celebrate the planet upon which our lives depend and that should no longer be simply taken for granted and used for our own personal monetary profit.

Up until the twentieth century, it seemed the abundance of the planet was such that we could take thoughtless advantage of it. We built ever more powerful machines to do so. And now we have learned that resources are limited, that all species suffer when we act thoughtlessly, and that our own future has been put in peril.

So we celebrate the earth in hopes that people will come to their senses in preservation of it.

On a related subject, I talked with my sister last night about her experience teaching reading in a public school. She mentioned how mean her kids are to each other, and that they've learned to despise reading. By the time students get in her class, it is almost too late for them and for the planet. How can one these days really understand their own responsibility to the planet if they are so ill equipped to get along with each other?

These are special kids. They've not been given the early parental support for reading pleasure. Then they are pushed into reading and pushed so hard as to become oppositional toward it and hateful of situations that force them to do it and have their intelligence and sense of self measured by it.

And where in the world is wood shop when we need it most? In wood shop we learn that what we do has real consequences. Children are given the opportunity for creative problems solving. They are able to express intelligences that they themselves can see and measure, and they find  pleasure in their being schooled and becoming educated. They find that when you can read plans, and then make things, even if it requires reading over and over again, you will have gained a mastery of reading that even those who read for pleasure may not get.

A comment below points to an article that proclaims "to hell with Earth Day, long live Arbor Day," but fails to note that one consciously evolved from the other. Let's celebrate both. Without trees the earth would be a barren place. With trees it has a chance of recovery.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, April 21, 2014

today in my wood shop...

I am at home today in my own wood shop, packing an order to ship and applying finish to boxes so they will be ready to sell in a weekend craft show. This time of year is incredibly busy for me, as I'm getting ready for the month long May Festival of the Arts, getting products sold, preparing for shows and finishing the school year.

This week our high school students are off on a week long trip to Chicago, and last week our middle school and upper elementary school students traveled around the state. Travel school is one of those special hands-on programs at Clear Spring that others could emulate if they knew the value of hands-on learning. It is, however, not a thing that can be arranged on a whim, and it takes a great deal of commitment on the part of the teaching staff to go into what is a 24/7 intensive learning situation.
Each box is unique.

Our kids, teachers and parents travel on the cheap, staying in church basements, and preparing some of their own food.
And of course everything must be planned well in advance, including what the students will study while on the road. For most, travel is a maturing experience.

The boxes I'm working on are some I started over a month ago that have texture-milk painted angular lift off lids. These also have secret compartments hidden by a lined false bottom.

Using two colors of milk paint, one over the other and then sanding though to the color beneath, creates an interesting effect.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

selling tools we don't need

As a woodworker, I am constantly bombarded by tool catalogs in the mail and offers online that sell new "must have" tools that promise the capacity (if purchased) to make my woodworking life easier, more efficient and my wood shop more cluttered. My shop, in full production can get cluttered on its own pretty fast without he purchase of new tools, and each time I succumb to the acquisition of a new tool, there is a serial effect. Everything in my small shop must be moved to accommodate. So most tool catalogs and emails go immediately into recycling or the trashcan and only rarely is a new tool actually required.

Some new tools are useful and beautifully made and are the kinds of things you would treasure and then pass down to a grandchild. But other than a few basics that are intended to last years and years, most of my tool needs can be met by things I make myself and then throw away or recycle in the scrap bin when their time of usefulness is past.

Woodworking is not the only field to be bombarded by new tools that promise to be better and faster and to make better cuts. Education is like that. Just as I've learned in my own shop to make my own jigs and simple tools that keep me from spending exorbitant sums and from waiting for the UPS truck to arrive, educators have the capacity to do without the latest standardized tests if only they were trusted and trained to use their own innate abilities to measure their own success. Parents, too, have the means to measure their children's success in school. As parents are their children's first teachers, they also should be trusted and trained to make meaningful assessments of growth.

I can look at my iPhone to see if its raining, but did you know that looking out the window or stepping out the front door gives me a better and more immediate grasp of the weather outside?

And did you know that a teacher looking up from her desk across a classroom and seeing hands raised to answer questions gives that teacher the capacity to assess her students' level of interest in the material and potential for success? If you are a parent, seeing your child arrive home from school excited about something they have learned tells you about your child's school and his or her success within it. If your student goes to school with knots in the stomach and arrives home in a state of angst, you are being providing insight that standardized testing will only tell too late to make a difference in your child's life.

As a national policy for "school improvement," we've put all our eggs in a standardized testing basket forced downward through a system of rewards and punishments to near disastrous effects... further removing teachers and parents from their traditional roles in measuring,  observing, and monitoring growth. These standardized tests have been sold to the public by a profit making industry. When I see all the latest tool catalogs, I know that the inventors of the new tools may claim having my happy and successful woodworking in mind, but I know that they plan to profit greatly by their sale. We have given American education over to educational tool hucksters selling standardized tests and coaching programs to help students pass them and it has given us no joy in the educational workshop.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

that settles it...

In my poll at right the vast majority chose the veneered box with the matching lid over the one that was purposefully mismatched. I should have known that would happen, and I believe you all with the exception of two brave souls gave the more conservative answer. I'll dial back my own adventurous creativity in the hopes that one or both boxes will sell.

Today I applied a second coat of Danish oil on boxes I am preparing to ship to Appalachian Spring on Monday.  And I am preparing additional boxes to sell at a show next weekend in Little Rock.

I am planning to help my high school students make a turned chalice on the lathe for their comparative religions class, and I spent most of today trimming new windows in the house. Because of the irregularities of stuccoed walls, I have to scribe each trim piece to fit and so I've been running back and forth from each window to the work shop, fine tuning each piece. Each piece of trim takes about 5 trips, but once each is completed it should last for 40 years or more. I wonder how many people still have the skills to do such things, or would take pleasure in it?

It seems that many people see understand the failure of Standardized testing to be an effective tool in school reform. There are obvious problems with it. But folks are reluctant to go cold turkey and get rid of the damn things. Some things are easy to measure and we devote school time to those things to the neglect of development in areas that are hard to measure. Standardized testing for reading and math doesn't address student development in the areas of collaboration and creative problem solving and those areas are also important to student success.

I am hoping to do an op ed on the subject of the Beaufort scale and how something like it could be useful to wrest assessment from the cold hands of the standardized testing industry. I can understand looking at your iPhone to learn what the weather is out of doors, but to wait until test scores are announced to get a handle on how well your child is doing in school and how well his or her school compares with other educational opportunities is plain stupid. To used standardized testing to try to guide school reform is even more so.

Today I also finished a small finger jointed box with tray as shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Signing and finishing...

I use  fine line Uniball black pen to sign the undersides of my boxes. Where there is enough room for it, I also write the names of the woods used, and with some of my inlaid boxes, that means writing the names of 5 or 6 different woods. My hand cramps after a time, so I try not to do too many at once. The identification of species of wood is one of the things that the buyers of my boxes appreciate. It also tells that I value the diversity of woods from our local forests.

Writing with legibility is a form of craftsmanship that's endangered in this age. People used to take pride in the form of their letters and the way they would flow from left to right across the page. But writing legibly takes practice, and if a thing takes practice, it also requires effort, an will likely be abandoned by kids who are taught to DO nothing in schooling but sit still and attempt to absorb lessons.

Now that my boxes are sanded, signing comes next. This exercise provides one more opportunity to check on surface quality before the Danish oil is applied.

Yesterday, a friend, Buz Peine came to school to do a demonstration for my high school students, and several students took the opportunity to try their hands at the lathe. Buz turned a green piece of black walnut into a lovely form. This type of turning frightens me just a bit for kids because for much of the turning, there is no clear edge to work the tool against and the gouge is cutting in empty space for about half the time or more during rotation. If you get your hand in the wrong place, you can get whacked hard. So great care is required.

In the photo at bottom is the lens for a pin hole camera. It needs to be tiny. The directions called for using a tin can. I had some copper pieces the right size. The directions call for piercing the tin can with a needle. Try it and see how that works for you. Since I really don't have the strength to poke a needle through the side of a tin can, I sharpened a nail, put the copper on an anvil, and struck the nail at the center of the copper with a hammer.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Down for the count.

Sanding, music, dance, math and the power of attention...

 This morning, I am sanding boxes, and am in the third course, having gone from the stationary belt sander to 120 grit and 180 grit sand papers on the orbital sander. I now have two grits 240 and 320 to go.

I have heard sanding referred to as a mindless exercise, but done well, it is not. Each edge and every flat plane requires scrutiny and multiple examinations during the progression from coarse to fine. It is a tactile as well as visual progression as tool markings and small abrasions from coarse sanding are eliminated by subsequent grits. The surface quality may seem OK until the final finish is applied, as sanding dust can obscure defects that may be revealed later, so there are no short-cuts to be taken if a high level of finish is expected. When a person knows that other craftsmen may examine the work and make judgements of craftsmanship and quality of character based on what they see, and touch and if you are one of those encumbered by self-respect, you begin to realize that the quest for improvements in craftsmanship can be relentless.

Counting helps to keep the mind engaged and to direct the course of sanding just as the count is important in music and ballet. The count one, two, three,  four is useful for more than just the waltz. It can help in controlling  the length of time the edge of a box is engaged on the surface of a power sander. Or it can count the number of strokes with a hand plane or sanding block to approach perfect uniformity. Counting engages the attention and helps direct the motions of the hands. It keeps the mind and body at a state of awareness and complete engagement.

In any case, while someone watching from outside might think that sanding is a mindless task, please let me assure you that sanding is no more mindless than ballet. And yet there are idiots afoot in the world that would assume ballet is mindless because it is based on extensive practice and control of the body.

And how are we to have successful education in the US while policy makers are focused exclusively on standardized tests to measure our effectiveness? Instead, we should be focused on the things that really count in the lives of kids... things that make schooling real. The arts, dance, music, wood shop, laboratory science and other things that allow children to express what they've learned and make it relevant to their own lives.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


"When something is palpable, you can touch or handle it, even though the word is often used to describe things that usually can't be handled or touched, such as emotions or sensations. You probably won't see palpable used to describe, say, an egg or a doorknob or a motorcycle. Palpable is usually reserved for situations in which something invisible becomes so intense that it feels as though it has substance or weight."
The word palpable comes from Latin palpare "touch gently, stroke." On the other hand, children who get their hands on electronic devices too soon are losing the capacity to do other things. Parents have been in a mad rush to get digital devices into their children's hands as early as possible due to concerns that they will be left out of the digital age. They've been made to feel guilty if they've been unable to afford these devices for their kids. Those children too soon given the powers of digital manipulation may be left out of real human creative capacity. Even the ability to play with blocks is being lost to a new generation of children that have been given early access to iPads and other touch screen devices. Can that be a good thing?

This article in the New York Times offers insight into building the moral character of the child. Raising a Moral Child.

Yesterday I began sanding a mountain of small boxes. As you can see in the photo there is a lot of sanding to do after the boxes are first assembled. I use the band saw to even the ends of the boxes with the angle of the lids, and then sand the ends flush on the top, bottom front and back of each box. After rough sanding on the stationary belt sander, I routed the edges, and front edge of the underside of the lid and I am now moving through grits on my inverted half sheet orbital sander, paying careful attention to each surface.

For just a moment, I want you to reflect on your own learning with the recognition that you are not unusual or outside the norm. You may have noticed that those things that you have use for are easy to learn and long remembered but those things that are no longer useful to you are quickly discarded. Those things that you have no use for are often difficult to learn, as your interest has not arisen to the point at which they matter to you. A wandering mind gathers no moss. So it is. The brain cleanses itself of useless clutter.

The Common Core Curriculum being foisted upon children in schooling throughout the US will likely not have the effect that is hoped for. While offered with the best of intentions, the Common Core trivializes and de-contextualizes learning, turning the schools into bastions of artificiality. Emphasis on the Common Core may raise standardized test scores in the short term and at the expense of other learning, but it will be on the order of miraculous for it to have any long term positive effect. The pendulum swings. joyless classrooms will prevail for only a short time before parents and students (the best and brightest of them) launch into full rebellion. That's when wood shop will pop in again. When students do real things in school: art, music, athletics, laboratory science and wood shop, they embrace learning and their enthusiasm is palpable. It can be felt.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

growth of mind...

When I first conceived forming a wood shop at the Clear Spring School, it was because woodworking in schools had become wrongfully understood to be irrelevant to education. Wood shops had closed in high schools all across the US and with the exception of a few Waldorf Schools, and a small number of independent schools on the east coast, woodworking in middle schools and elementary schools were a thing of the past.

In my own shop, woodworking appeared as a nexus, interconnecting all things. You cannot DO real things without trespassing beyond the bound of the artificially contrived disciplines. Just as you cannot do Chemistry without math. You cannot do woodworking without some observation of the basic laws of physics, and if you begin to extract one thing from the other for the sake of convenience of instruction, the relevance of all things is sacrificed on the altar of expedience.

Froebel had in mind the education of the whole child, and to meet that goal, he suggested that education must consider the interconnectedness of all things. The following is from H. Courtwright Bowen's book Froebel:
" the young child, as to primitive humanity, all knowledge does, as a matter of fact, come as one whole, and that the subdivision into subjects and departments is a very gradually evolved plan, for the most part wholly artificial, and only adopted for the sake of convenience. Moreover, the very nature of knowledge itself teaches the necessity for connectedness."
This "connectedness" is the object of the reintegration of woodworking into education. Woodworking offers the opportunity to test what is learned in other more artificially contrived learning within the school, making real and of real interest learning that may have remained lifeless to the interests of the child. Our schools suffer from artificiality and disconnection from real life, as we suffer from the delusion that schooling will provide the necessary tools for our kids to prosper when graduated from their confinement.

Today, our Clear Spring School Students are at Heifer International, participating in their Global Village. I will be in my wood shop making a small mountain of boxes from a huge number of carefully machined parts.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Make your soul grow...

Kurt Vonnegut's last writing assignment, written to a high school  in New York.

Make Your Soul Grow from Dogtooth Films on Vimeo.

What we need most now is the growth of the souls of educational policy makers so that they might see things as they truly are. Human beings are creative. We are expressive. Lacking interference by the humdrum, we follow leaps of learning into the making of useful beauty in the forms of music, art, and science. The only thing that can prevent those leaps appears to be the rigidity of our schooling.

There is a growing reaction to standardized testing and the core curriculum described in an article this week in Time Magazine. With all the pressures being put on children to all perform according to certain standards, when will children be exposed to great literature, the chance to write poetry, or to make a beautiful box?

For the coming months I'll be rooted in the subject of Kindergarten. I am starting on a new book, Making Kindergarten's Gifts, that I hope will stir young fathers and mothers and grandparents to take a greater interest in the progressive education of their own children.

When I went to Sweden and Otto Salomon's international school for teachers of Sloyd in 2006, one of the things that surprised me was the deep historic connection between Educational Sloyd and Kindergarten. The two movements were deeply entwined both in origins and philosophy. Both were firmly rooted in Froebel's thoughts. While the Russian system of manual training was concerned with giving students industrial and economic capacity (nothing wrong with that), Educational Sloyd was intended to grow the whole child, in physical strength, emotional balance, intellect and connectedness to greater purpose, and was intended as a continuation of Kindergarten methods throughout schooling.

The following is from Froebel's The Education of Man,
"Thus we find the human being, even in the earlier stages of boyhood fitted for the highest and most important business  of life--the fulfillment of his destiny and vocation, which is the representation (or outer active manifestation) of the divine nature within him. To lead this capability forward tot he acquirement of skill and certainly, to lift it into full consciousness, to give it insight and clearness, and to exalt it into a life of creative freedom by fitting stages of development and cultivation, is the business of the years which are not to follow. To demonstrating the ways and means for this, and of bringing them into the actual practice of life, a continuation of this treatise will be devoted, as will also the author's own life."
Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my upper elementary school students will be working on their robot ramp walkers. This is a testing time in which we will learn whether or not they will work. They can be frustrating to tune just right and I'm hoping there are no great disappointments.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The advantage of late blooming

Announcing a new poll at right. Below are two boxes made with a mix and match veneering technique. I found that I have a choice of mixing up the lids in the finished box as shown in the second photo below. I ask my readers to  choose which one you like. Both will have feet, pulls and hinges added later.

Everything these days seems to driven toward global competitiveness. It's not enough to play a beautiful piece of music and to have the sincere applause of your neighborhood and small community for having done so. Everything is held up to externalized standards. Folks are raised to have an expectation of broad impact, with little depth required. If there are late bloomers and early bloomers and if Justin Beiber is an example of the latter, let us each bloom only when we've developed some wits about us.

Number one as originally intended
Number two mixing veneers and lids
When schooling our children we feel compelled to compare them with national standards rather than simply encouraging them to grow in character and intellect under the watchful eyes of caring and compassionate adults. This too, is the result of a mass media culture, in which obsessive comparisons between things become more important than the things themselves. This applies to people, too.

Television producers have proposed a reality TV program for my small town of Eureka Springs. If you think of reality television, you will likely imagine participants back-biting each other on camera and competing in order to receive some prize and being voted off the show. I'm not sure if that's what the producers have in mind for Eureka Springs. I hope not. We don't vote folks off the program in Eureka. They plan to do the program here because of this town's reputation as being a place misfits fit. I hope they are not disappointed in the normality of this place.

It is more lovely than most can imagine being a part of a small thing. And most people don't set roots long enough to know what it is like to be a part of something larger than themselves for a very long time. And so while most in our culture are hungry for the next big thing that will sweep our nation and commandeer our attention for a short span, there is a great deal to be said for the Cal Ripkin effect. You stay with one team, show up each and every day to encourage your team mates, and in the steady humdrum duration of all things, you will have discovered yourself part of the fabric of community.

My father had a favorite poem that I rediscovered in a book of 100 poems for teachers of Industrial Arts. If your life's goal is to give rise to the persons around you and awaken them to their own creative power, your work will find fulfillment and it is why many people decide to teach, though too many these days disparage teaching and may have never known what it is like to be part of a community.
 "Isn't it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folk like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, and a book of rules.
And each must make 'ere life has flown,
A stumbling block or stepping stone."
--Author unknown
I want to invite you to attend the premier of the Living Treasure Film Series in Little Rock on May 28th. The video produced by the Department of Arkansas Heritage about my work will  have its first screening at this event.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Finally finishing an old box!
As I've been once again thinking of ways to return assessment to the hands of teachers, students and parents, and to extract assessment from the cold grasp of statisticians and from the lifeless realm of useless abstraction, the Beaufort scale again serves as a reminder of simplicity. Lets start with some basic assumptions.
  1. Learning is one of the most innate of human functions.
  2. Children have a natural curiosity about their world and how it works.
  3. Not all children have the same level of curiosity about each and every thing.
  4. All children are inclined to discover some way in which their own natural intellectual and physical capacities can be applied to the world at large, progressing outwardly from family and community.
With these basic assumptions in hand, let's visit the role of the teacher. If I compare the teacher to the sailing master on a wind borne vessel, the teacher is the master of the wind. He does not tell the wind which way to blow, but he knows the course the vessel must follow if it can, and he asks the crew to trim the sails in such a manner that that course can be met. Each member of the crew learns to anticipate which sailing order comes next and each member of the crew knows his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and understands the mission at hand because each has learned to feel a part of the vessel of learning. Students trust the ship, the sailing master and their fellows on the crew to carry them to their diverse homes.

The model in most schools is teacher as instructor, captain of the classroom, in charge of discipline, and in control of delivery of learning, as though the feelings and interests and the variability of curiosities and capacities of the crew do not matter. All must be taught the same things to meet the same standards. That which the curriculum demands be imparted will be without regard to the direction the wind is blowing, and without regard for the individual interests of each child. This idea of schooling is formulated in complete disregard for the four basic assumptions listed above.

If a child is empowered with a sense of confidence about his or her own learning, all a teacher needs to do is observe the child's position on the Beaufort scale of learning and to nudge in the right direction. The wise teacher observes that which is going on with the child and offers encouragement in the right time and  in the right direction. Then if the children are empowered to do real things. No one will need standardized testing to prove that they've learned to do real things.

The object here is to take advantage of real life that surrounds us.

There is a movement afoot to withhold children from schools on days in which standardized tests are to be administered. Standardized testing is a distraction from real learning. Policymakers are using standardized benchmark testing to take greater control over student learning. But the farther things go in that direction, the less responsive education becomes to the actual interests of the child...  interests that would be most easily restored and monitored by doing real things in nature, in the community, in science, in art, in music and in the wood shop.

In my own wood shop today I will be assembling and finishing boxes, including the one above that I started a number of years ago, and that served as a model in my book Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making. I've been given the nudge to finish it from sample hinges sent to me by Ian Hawthorne, box maker extraordinaire from the UK. You can view his work at Hawthorne Crafts.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, April 11, 2014

the displacement of expertise...

I have written about this subject before as it is one of those recurrent themes associated with schooling, and the measurement of school performance. At one time, teachers were trained as observers. They were to notice things about the kids that helped them to understand the child and what his or her learning interests and aptitudes offer growth. For instance, my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Mummert noted that I would be a good writer, though at the time I had no interest in it.

But the teacher's powers to observe can ring true and be played out in the life of the child.

Standardized testing on the other hand, places the observation and measure of student learning in the hands of statistical experts, who may actually know more about math than about children, and certainly more about the child as an abstraction rather than as real living children with interests and motivations of their own.

The odd thing is that a trained teacher can walk into a classroom and observe a few things, particularly if those things are outside the norm. For instance if all the children are taking part in an animated discussion or actively working on a project in collaboration with others. More normal in most classrooms would be for the vast majority of the students to sit sullenly at desks in the back of the classroom.

Our society has made an artificial construct of the learning adventure. And children know the difference between school based learning and real life.

I have in the past, proposed a Beaufort Scale of learning, in which a simple measure would displace our dependence on standardized testing (or any kind of artificial test at all) as our measures of school performance and student success. This scale is important for a variety of reasons. First, it would provide a simple means for students to gauge their own engagement in learning. Secondly, it would provide a frame of reference for parents through which to measure school performance and monitor their own decisions about schools. Third, it would provide the means for teachers to assess their own classroom performance, and effectiveness.

Where there's joy of learning, excellence follows.

We had a question come up this week with our ISACS visiting team. They could see the joy of learning. They saw clearly that we are hands-on and hearts engaged, from one end of the school to the other. But they asked, how do you measure and provide evidence beyond what we see in the classroom? If we begin to fathom the observable expression of joy in learning as one of those important markers of student success, you can see that assessment based on observable expression of joy might begin to actually mean something.

Today in my wood shop, I am once again trying to catch up on making boxes. I am nearing the point of hinging and assembly.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

progressive education

Yesterday, as I was taking one of our ISACS accreditation team to the airport, he said that Clear Spring School is the only truly progressive school he's visited, and that while many schools claim to be progressive, most are truly not. The word progressive should not be confused with the word progress. It is not something new. Progressive refers to the natural progression of child development, based on observations of a long line of educators from Froebel and Pestalozzi to Uno Cygnaeus, Otto Salomon, John Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick and others. First and foremost learning should arise from the interests of the child.... then as stated so well by educational sloyd, 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. Now, that's progressive and if schools were progressive, we would have progress. The video below is about a progressive school in 1939.

What follows are the seven principles of progressive education as described in the movement. Clear Spring School did not use these as a purposeful guide in developing its mission, but these principles as expressed here closely reflect our educational philosophy.
  1. Freedom to Develop Naturally: The conduct of the pupil should be governed by himself according to the social needs of his community, rather than by arbitrary laws. Full opportunity for initiative and self-expression should be provided, together with an environment rich in interesting material that is available for the free use of every pupil. 
  2. Interest, the Motive of all Work: Interest should be satisfied and developed through: (1) Direct and indirect contact with the world and its activities, and use of the experience thus gained. (2) Application of knowledge gained, and correlation between different subjects. (3) The consciousness of achievement. 
  3. The Teacher a Guide, not a Task-Master: It is essential that teachers should believe in the aims and general principles of Progressive Education and that they should have latitude for the development of initiative and originality. Progressive teachers will encourage the use of all the senses, training the pupils in both observation and judgment; and instead of hearing recitations only, will spend most of the time teaching how to use various sources of information, including life activities as well as books; how to reason about the information thus acquired; and how to express forcefully and logically the conclusions reached. Ideal teaching conditions demand that classes be small, especially in the elementary school years. 
  4.  Scientific Study of Pupil Development: School records should not be confined to the marks given by the teachers to show the advancement of the pupils in their study of subjects, but should also include both objective and subjective reports on those physical, mental, moral and social characteristics which affect both school and adult life, and which can be influenced by the school and at home. Such records should be used as a guide for the treatment of each pupil, and should also serve to focus the attention of the teacher on the all-important work of development rather than on simply teaching subject matter 
  5. Greater Attention to all that Affects the Child’s Physical Development: One of the first considerations of Progressive Education is the health of the pupils. Much more room in which to move about, better light and air, clean and well ventilated buildings, easier access to the out-of-doors and greater use of it, are all necessary. There should be frequent use of adequate playgrounds. The teachers should observe closely the physical condition of each pupil and, in co-operation with the home, make abounding health the first objective of childhood.
  6.  Co-Operation Between School & Home to Meet the Needs of Child-Life: The school should provide, with the home, as much as is possible of all that the natural interests and activities of the child demand, especially during the elementary school years. These conditions can come about only through intelligent co-operation between parents and teachers. 
  7. The Progressive School a Leader in Educational Movements: The Progressive School should be a leader in educational movements. It should be a laboratory where new ideas, if worthy, meet encouragement; where tradition alone does not rule, but the best of the past is leavened with the discoveries of today, and the result is freely added to the sum of educational knowledge.
Today in the wood shop, I'll be working on boxes. I have been way behind in filling orders and have a mountain of parts to assemble into small boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Yesterday in the woodshop...

I had 4 members of the ISACS review team in my wood shop yesterday at the same time 3 of my students were making toy trains. For some reason, the joy of being in the wood shop brought Santa to mind, and the students fell into a fantasy play as "elves" in which children all over the world were no longer believing, and it was their job to restore belief. The team members coming from an adult world, and trying to absorb it all at once, were left scratching their heads for a few moments as the children looked of into the distance, proclaiming "the lights are going  off!" or "The lights are coming back on!"  ...As they measured their effect. I tried to explain what was going on. What needed no explanation was that the kids were taking joy in their work and pleasure in their fantasy at the same time.

How can one explain the paradise of childhood? Or that children in 3rd grade may be working diligently and passionately to retain that which education at large would attempt to strip from their grasp?

One of our graduates who is now an honors student at the University of Arkansas had been an artist at a much earlier age. He had a passion for dinosaurs, and drew them with such proficiency and artistry, that even at the age of 4 and 5, adults marveled as he put pen to paper and various creatures emerged so effortlessly from his pen and from his imagination. His work was an expression of pure genius. When he was in first grade at public school, the teacher informed his mother during a conference, "I'm trying to break him of his habit of drawing dinosaurs all the time." She withdrew her son from public school.

Is the purpose of education to retain creativity and imagination, or to strip it from our kids? Some would choose one way, and some the other.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

day two

 We are on our second day of the ISACS accreditation team visit.  ISACS stands for the Independent Schools of the Central States, and it is the independent school association that Clear Spring School is a member of (in addition to the NAIS). Yesterday I had three of the team members visiting my school wood shop and today I may have 5 more. They are extremely busy while they are here for an intense two days, examining everything about our school from top to bottom and from one end to the other.

My program is a rare item in today's education... almost as rare as the sighting of an endangered species, as that's what woodworking education has become. I learned that one of the team members is from a school that has started a woodworking program based on my own, and another had woodworking much earlier in their school history, abandoned it decades ago and is now hoping to start over. Those are good signs.

The ISACS accreditation review is an important thing for an independent school. We invest heavily in review of what we do, with all eyes focused on improvement. Teachers always want to put their best feet forward, and while some in America think that teaching is a dumb-assed thing to do, and not  a measure of one's success, that was not always the case, and is not the case in all countires. In Finland, the top 30% of university graduates become teachers.

Here in the US, we invest so poorly in education, as though children do not matter. And that is the great shame of American education. It's an even greater shame for American society. We should be spending twice what we do and without reservation. We should give greater exposure to teaching, earlier in student's college days, thus giving them the spark for teaching... the inclination to teach, and we must, if nothing else, restore the dignity of the profession. That is done, not by measuring teacher performance through standardized testing, but by training teachers well, providing mentors for classroom support, and trusting teachers to take a more well rounded approach to assessment and planning. What I've just stated is the Finland model, and sadly, American educational policy makers have their own, more destructive approach to education.

Yesterday we started making robot walkers. The kids in all classes, including high school, fell in love with them. The level of enthusiasm for the project was palpable (A great hand word which means able to be felt or touched). And student interest can drive student success as no other single factor can.

One of my high school students has begun making a pinhole camera for use with 35 mm. film. Her passion is photography.  I helped by making a film winder on the lathe. I've become so excited about the pinhole camera that I'm following my student's example and making one for myself.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, April 07, 2014


Today at Clear Spring School, we have our ISACS accreditation team visiting. These educators from around the central US will be combing through our school from the top to the bottom and will be guests in the Clear Spring School wood shop. We have been preparing for this day for years, by carefully examining everything we do, and preparing self-study reports that serve the study team as the foundation for their visit.

These ISACS team members will observe our school, make commendations and recommendations and generally help us to become a better school and each of us become better teachers. Some readers may recall that I participated as a visiting ISACS team member two years ago. It is an enriching experience, seeing first hand how others approach classroom learning. The job of the visiting team is first to make certain that our school meets ISACS standards, and then to learn and grow from there as colleagues in education.

I am excited about the walking robot project that we will begin today. The robots require meeting measurable standards in how the parts are cut. Are the ends of each piece square? Are the holes marked and drilled in exactly the right place? In some things, you can get by with faulty workmanship, but if you are making a thing that is supposed to work, it makes sense to adhere to certain standards that are intrinsic to the object. Whether you are in school or out, making things of value and beauty and that actually work is a transforming experience.

I found this experiment in building your own tiny house to be encouraging. The tiny house maker concluded, "If you are open to making mistakes, you people, yeah, make, try, create..." It almost sounds like she's been reading this blog.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Robot ramp walkers

Glue and clamp the center divider
My Middle school students are studying physics, so last week we made airplanes that they will test in a competition this week. In wood shop tomorrow we will make robot ramp walkers thanks to a design by Roberto Lou Ma. The adjustable arms allow the user to fine tune the walker's motion, and when my students get finished, no doubt theirs will be more interesting and colorful than my own. The plans are simple. They require the preparation of stock and the ability to cut square and to accurate dimensions. The hardest part is turning the feet on the lathe. Roberto Lou Ma suggested a 7 in. radius for the feet, which are cut apart after turning. The body consists of two thin pieces of wood connected by a block at the center that also serves as a point to attach the axle.

The photo at the bottom shows all the parts laid out ready for assembly. You can find the plans for this robot walker  on the Automota Blog.
Shape the feet to a 7 in. radius.

Make, fix and create...
Nail the feet to the legs, drill all the holes and assemble.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

the educational value of place

An additional 40 boxes inlaid today.
I have written about the way our children play in the woods at Clear Spring School. It's not something we planned, but something that has been available to us and used by our teaching staff due to the location of our school. And yet, a woodland setting should be the desired location for every school. How can you learn about the world without learning about nature? And how can you be entrusted (as each child must be) to preserve the world, including its very nature without being offered a reasonable understanding of it?

Northern Woodlands Magazine has a new educational resource page that offers this about the educational value of place: The Power of Knowing Our Place.

I spent yesterday inlaying lids for boxes, business card holders, and pencil cups, and now must embark on the adventure of converting these rough inlaid pieces of wood into salable finished goods.

Do you wonder how to make an inlay pattern join with almost no visible seam at the center? Use a cut off sled as shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, April 04, 2014

done with the loop... back to boxmaking.

The use of a router table jointer fence to prepare inlay.
I am sending the loop back to Taunton Press today, as I've gone through the text, photos and illustrations a number of times now and am ready to turn it back in for the corrections to be made. In the meantime, I've been cleaning the school wood shop, getting ready for the visitors from ISACS who will be here Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for our accreditation review.

I am way behind in my own woodshop and yesterday I began inlaying business card holders, pencil cups and small boxes... products I've made and sold for years. My article on making a Silverware chest is ready now for publication in American Woodworker and I was sent a pdf of the article for review.

My readers might be interested in hearing an actual account of the first Kindergarten, from 1839, written by Col. Von Arnswald and shared in the Quarter Century Edition of the Paradise of Childhood, p.40, 1899.
"Arriving at the place," he writes, "I found my Middendorf seated by the pump in the market-place, surrounded by a crowd of little children. Going near them I saw that he was engaged in mending the jacket of a boy. By his side sat a little girl busy with thread and needle upon another piece of clothing; one boy had his feet in a bucket of water washing them carefully; other girls and boys were standing around attentively looking upon the strange pictures of real life before them and waiting for something to turn up to interest them personally. Our meeting was of the most cordial kind, but Middendorf did not interrupt the business in which he was engaged. 'Come, children,' he cried, 'let us go into the garden!' And with loud cries of joy the crowd of little men followed the splendid looking, tall man with willing feet, running all around him."

"The garden was not a garden, however, but a barn with a small room and an entrance hall. In the entrance Middendorf welcomed the children and played with them an all-round game, ending in he flight of the little ones into the room where everyone of them sat down in his place on the bench and took hold of his gift box. Then for half an hour they were all very busy with their blocks, and then the summons came, 'Come, children, let us spring and spring,' and when the game was finished they went away full of joy and life, every one passing by his dear friend and teacher and giving him his little hand for a grateful goodbye," And then the colonel adds; "I shall never forget this image of the first kindergarten, so lovable and cheerful. I preserved it all in my memory and used it all as a pattern, when in time I had occasion to establish an educational garden in my own home."
Yesterday I delivered six Froebel gifts number 3 to our Clear Spring Pre-School. Our teacher is trained in the Montessori approach, which is quite similar to Froebel's methods. The similarities and differences are described here: Comparison among Froebel, Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf-Steiner Methods – Part 1

My readers will also enjoy this: It's all in the hands, from Northern Woodlands. I am fascinated by hands, my own and others. Anaxagoras had said that Man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. An animal that has hands much more human-like than the raccoon's is the possum. It is nowhere near as smart as the raccoon, but still there may be some sense to Anaxagoras' thinking. We human learn best when our hands are engaged. By making things we learn about our material culture in greater depth and with greater enthusiasm than can be found in the laziness of books.

I suspect that raccoons will learn how to open barrel latches sooner rather than later. And once that knowledge gets passed on, rangers will have to lock up the garbage with combination locks.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bad Blankenburg and the naming of Kindergarten

In 1837, Friedrich Froebel, at the age of 55, invented Kindergarten. The life expectancy at that time in Europe was 30 to 40 years old. His first wife at that time was nearly an invalid and would die within two years. He was an old man. Up to that date, he had written a few books that had gone largely unnoticed. And so you would say that Friedrich Froebel was a late bloomer. The story of the naming of Kindergarten was told by his friend Barop as follows:
When Froebel came back from Berlin the idea of an institution for little children was fully formed in him. I rented him a locality in the neighboring Blankenburg. For a long time he could find no name for his cause. Middendorf and I were one day walking to Blankenburg with him over the Steiger Pass. He kept repeating, "Oh, if I could only find a name for my youngest child." Blankenburg lay at our feet and he walked moodily toward it. Suddenly his eyes grew wonderfully bright. The he shouted to the mountains so that it echoed to the four winds, 'Eureka, Kindergarten shall the institution be called.'"

This was literally a "mountain moment," in his life, a brief period of inspiration which counted for more than months of every-day existence. After finding the right name, Froebel determined to make an effort to put the whole establishment at Blankenburg on a satisfactory financial basis and include in it a training college in which women teachers should be shown how to deal with little children up to the age of seven.--Paradise of Childhood, Quarter Century Edition, p. 40, 1896
Can you see the irony? The invention of Kindergarten was a life's work. The naming of it only a moments inspiration, and now all we have left of it is the name devoid of its earlier meaning, as today's Kindergarten children are expected fill in bubbles on test forms instead of playing, learning to get along with each other while discovering their own creative and intellectual capacities.

 I am reminded of a poem by Alistair Reid, the O-filler, about a man caught in a library compulsively filling in O's. I heard the poet read it live while I was in college, and the futility it describes stuck with me to this day. Remember when typewriters would get dirty, and their O's would need to be cleaned of the excess ink that would dry and harden within them? A dirty typewriter left filled O's on the page.

When it comes to filling in bubbles with number 2 pencils, we can design machines for that. And instead we make machines of our kids. The current state of American kindergarten makes a mockery of Froebel's intention. We have classes named for his momentary inspiration but that are foreign to his life's work. Out of respect for Friedrich Froebel we need to change the name of Kindergarten. We can either call it grade zero, or attempt to return Kindergartens to what their inventor intended. Let the wonders of Kindergarten style learning lead us to a new revolution in education.

If calling Kindergarten grade zero, seems a bit harsh, we might take a cue for renaming kindergarten from the inaccuracies of machine translation. If you translate the following from German, "Kindergarten soll die Anstalt heißen!" using Google Translate, you get "Kindergarten shall be called prison!" I don't speak German, but I know that the Froebel Museum did not intend to equate Kindergarten with Prison when they placed this phrase on the lead page of their website.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

reading, making and cleaning.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, I used the making of trains in lower elementary as my excuse to play on the new Oneway lathes, turning boilers from hickory and ash. The lathes are a pleasure to use.

My apprentice Greg helped me to move things around the shop and to clean and get ready for our ISACS accreditation team visit next week. My lower elementary school students began making trains and one finished his dragon he had started last week. One of the best things about wood shop is the children rarely have any hesitation about learning when it comes to wood.

My middle school students worked on their hiking staffs and then helped to vacuum the wood shop. Between Greg's help in the morning and the students' help in the afternoon, I am in good shape.

I am also continuing to read through the loop of my 8th book, looking for small errors and things I can fix. I am on my third reading. Today I also took more box photos to use in a gallery at the end of the book.

Tomorrow I plan to spend in my shop to get an order ready for Appalachian Spring Galleries in Washington, DC.

My 6"x 48" belt sander motor had malfunctioned and the new motor arrived yesterday. It was not something I could fix myself, so I replaced it and I'm ready to make boxes again

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

bubbles on work sheets or real world Kindergarten?

It seems we have a choice. School boards, and policy makers are pushing things in the wrong direction. The choice is whether we confine children to chairs and have them fill up sheets of bubbles on standardized tests, or whether we invest in their safely doing real things.

It seems that others are also remembering what kindergarten was intended to be in the first place... a time of learning through play, not simply a time to get a leg up on standardized tests. This article in Yes Magazine helps to explain it. You can't bounce off walls if there are no walls.

Standardized tests were one of the dumbest inventions in education. While they might have some diagnostic value, they stand between the teacher and student, relieving the teacher of being fully engaged on a personal level, thus allowing the teacher to handle larger numbers of kids efficiently and at low cost. And we get what we pay for. Crappy education.

Play actually has value at all ages. Most adults find it the most effective way to inspire learning.

Our Clear Spring School campus has about 5 acres of woods that are used by the kids to build forts, run and let off steam. In the early fall, the woods are closed due to dangers from ticks and chiggers, but after the first frost, a school wide meeting is held and all the kids go over the rules. They have to respond to the bell. They have to be inclusive of others in their play, regardless of age. And so we are in the unique situation in which children of all ages play together. Even our high school students play with first graders and even our youngest have friends of all ages.

Some would say that kids playing in the woods is dangerous. We are lucky to live in a relatively safe environment. Some would say that kids playing in the woods is an avoidance of actual learning. Nothing could be further from the truth. Human culture must arise new with each generation. That means that kids need to be learning how to work together in social collaborations of their own choosing.

Parents and school administrators would like kids to be under direct parental control at all times. Finnish Neuro-physiologist Matti Bergstöm calls that the "white game." The black game is the game children make up for themselves, and they must be trusted to play that game in order to learn and grow and become invested in the advance of culture. And while the kids are in the woods, they discover things that few schools make any effort to teach... that we really do live in a real world that involves multi-sensory experience and learning.

It is a fraud for many kindergartens to call themselves "kindergartens." The name itself came from Friedrich Froebel and his educational methods. If there is no play in it, it should be named something else so as to stop deceiving, and so as to stop Froebel from spinning over and over in his grave.

Today I met with the donor of new lathes to the Wisdom of the Hands program and we spent some time assembling them, moving them into place and playing. How about turning stock and then carving a spiral pattern in it? Buzz made it seem easy.

Make, fix and create...