Saturday, May 31, 2014

hand planes and more...

In its Arkansas Living Treasures mini-documentary series, the Historic Arkansas Museum has released this video about my good friend Larry Williams. Please click on it to see it at full width. My own video is available through a link below. I think you will find each documentary to be interesting.

The Perfect Plane from Nathan Willis on Vimeo.

Mini documentaries about the Arkansas Living Treasures.

My own, produced by Gabe Gentry is called Wisdom of the Hands.

On another subject, I have been reading more about the life of Froebel. One can wonder how he made all his gifts intended for Kindergarten and there are few references concerning Friedrich Froebel the craftsman, but it was really quite simple and described in the Paradise of Childhood, Quarter Century Edition:
Regarding the German kindergartens of the present day about all that needs to be said here is that they are found in all the large cities, with occasionally one in the smaller places. On this point Hermann Poesche, the compiler of Froebel's Letters, published in 1887, writes : "The Kindergarten Factory, as Froebel established it in Blankenburg, after his creative spirit, is now at work, at least in a merely imitative fashion, in almost every large town in Germany; and what Froebel's assistants had with great pains to produce with the labor of their hands is now made easily and in large quantities by machinery and then sold in the ordinary mercantile way."
It was also noted that the Baroness B. Von Marenholtz-Bulow "cherished many things that Froebel had made with his knife while developing his gifts." And there we are given insight into the directness through which the gifts were originally created. "The tablets of the Seventh Gift were his latest work and much experimented upon; and these experimented tablets she kept and showed with deep interest." In this, we learn that Froebel's gifts were made using simple technology and the skills of his own hands. We also learn that Froebel was active in crafting and creating his gifts up to the last years of his life. The Baroness first met Froebel in his 68th year and he died at the age of 70.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 30, 2014

like kids playing in mud

Dirty Work: Arkansas's Knife Heritage from Bowie to Rambo from Arkansas Made on Vimeo.
Watch for Jerry Fiske in this. He was named a National Living Treasure by the University of North Carolina,and is the person who pushed the idea of the Arkansas Living Treasures program.

Make, fix and create...


Use a guide for your saw cuts so they fall in the right place
What would Friedrich Froebel do?  

Yesterday, I was planning to photograph the making of the box for gift number one. I realized that Froebel would have been working under certain constraints. In 1837, he would not have had a table saw, for instance. He may have been able to crochet the balls, as he had for years engaged his students in such work and most certainly, his wife would have had that skill. But woodworking as it is done in America these days, is complex and involves a number of tools intended to make skill less necessary. For instance, a table saw can cut a groove with almost no effort or skill.

Reposition the guide for cutting the opposite side of the groove.
Using simple saws, hand planes, and shooting board, a person can make a nail-together box, but what about cutting grooves for a sliding lid? I thought about grooving planes, but those can be expensive and it is difficult to hold material  for that operation. I made a simple grooving plane, that mounts in the vise, but most of my readers will be put off if they think that making such a complicated thing must come first.

Use a 1/8 in. chisel to remove material between saw cuts.
So here is my simple technique, based on asking the question, wwffd? What would Friedrich Froebel do? Lacking modern tools and equipment, how would he have cut a groove?

My answer is simple. Begin with a saw and a guide clamped in place. Cut to depth (it need not be precise). Then move the guide over to widen the groove. Finally, use a 1/8 in. chisel to remove the stock between the two saw cuts.

I didn't have a 1/8 in chisel at school so I made this one myself.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 29, 2014


I attended the premier showing of mini documentaries about the Arkansas Living Treasures last night, and I'll post a link in a day or so, so that others can enjoy these short videos. Twelve folks have been named Arkansas Living Treasures since the program was started, and one is no longer living. All eleven of us were present and posed for the photo. The oldest are Violet Hensley, fiddle maker, and Dallas Bump, chair maker. Among them are my friends, Larry Williams, plane maker, Leon Neihues, basket maker, Jim Larkin, potter, Peter Lippincott, potter, and Robyn Horn, wood sculptor.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

this day.

Today, we take my daughter to the airport for her first steps in becoming a teacher in the NYC Public Schools. She like many is interested in what the common core will do to the American classroom, and much of her early training so far has had to do with the implementation of the core. It is a big deal in American schools, with a huge push behind it by large corporations that want to use the efficiencies of high technology to accelerate and measure student learning. But so far the common core's a bust. And no amount of pushing the core on new teachers will fix what's wrong with using standardized testing to force school reform.

Many educators have started out convinced that common core is a good idea and that it will drive education forward.I beleive there are problems in pushing a rope. Children can be led to learning, but develop resistance to being schooled.

Put a child in the wood shop, on the other hand, give him or her the tools of making and learning, and you will find that they discover enthusiasms of their own

My film premier is tonight. The photos are from yesterday's class.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

simple box

Today was my last day of wood working classes at Clear Spring for the school year, with the exception of my ESSA class for adults in July. Students were very excited to be in class.

Tomorrow I will take my daughter to her plane for New York and then go to Little Rock for the premier showing of the mini documentary films about the Arkansas Living Treasures. I look forward to meeting those ALTs who are not already good friends. We all have our love of crafts in common.

I made this plan above for my student Noah, who has tried on his own for the last couple weeks to make a box. I used sketchup to do the drawing, and used its cut list utility to prepare a cutting list that he could follow if he was interested. Naturally, when a teacher is ready for one thing, the student asks another. He chose instead to make a gavel using the lathe. At some point, and with Noah's natural sense of social justice, he would be a good judge if he decided to become one, and the gavel  that he made himself in 8th grade wood shop may come in handy at that time.

I will miss these kids over the summer months, but when I see them at the grocery store, they come running. Can anything be better than to teach?

I use the same size box to hold Froebel Gift number 1 consisting of small crocheted balls in the primary and secondary colors. It has been said that few examples of Froebel Gift number 1 have survived due to the balls being great cat toys.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 26, 2014

wish not for an easy life...

My daughter Lucy was awarded her Masters in Environmental Science in December and has now been awarded a position in the NYC Teaching Fellows. The program offers training and the opportunity to teach in New York City Schools and requires that "fellows" pursue a master's degree in education at the same time. Her training will begin next week. And in the fall, if all goes well, she will be teaching chemistry in a New York City public school.

I would like all Americans to reflect on the role of teachers in today's society. Teaching is a way to make a difference in people's lives. It is a role that has been disparaged by some, marginalized by others, and grossly misunderstood by policy makers who would prefer that the profession of teaching be standardized and have its artistry removed.

The NYC Teaching Fellows is really a great program for those who want to make a direct difference in the lives of others. One of its advantages is that students teach and go to school at the same time, so they are put into direct contact with mentors and peers in a situation in which they find support. In fact, (and as I've said before in the blog) teacher education should be flipped, so that prospective teachers get classroom experience concurrent with the study of history and pedagogy in stead of having student teaching come at the end of the educational process. The idea is that we best learn abstract theories when we can concurrently tie them directly to concrete teaching experience, and it is a model upon which every educational experience should be based.

The riches one can gain are clearly of this world, but not for the pocket. I am lucky in my own teaching to be in a unique situation in a lovely small school, a model for what other schools might become. It takes a huge amount of courage to do what my daughter is preparing to do. Urban public schools offer a gigantic challenge in America, while policy makers would prefer to marginalize their efforts and buy them on the cheap.

But we must not wish for an easy life for ourselves or our kids. Growth comes not from having things handed to us but from reaching beyond our own capabilities. And in this blog, we honor those who choose to make a difference in the most noble of professions.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 25, 2014

film series

wooden box camera
The Arkansas Historic Museum is hosting a premier showing of their mini documentary films featuring the Arkansas Living Treasures on this coming Wednesday night, May 28 at Ron Robinson Theater, 100 Market Ave. in Little Rock. The Arkansas Living Treasures Film Series, There will be a reception for craftsmen and guests at 5:30 with the screening of eleven short features beginning at 6:30. It's Free. One of the short features is about my work, and personal friends of mine are also living treasures, so it will be a nice time to hang out with friends. Join us.

If we don't take a hand in the making and growing of things and the creation of music or poetry, and the passing on of these gifts, we have shirked our responsibility to humanity. These simple things, making, growing, writing, and performing can serve as the foundation of a meaningful education.

Children, given their druthers would rather be engaged in self-directed learning than to sit idle as we have them do in school. Minds must wander, cycling between the known and unknown in order to organize information into useful, and meaningful form. When the schooling is not of direct interest to the child, or when schooling does not touch upon personal experience, and has no direct use, the student's mind wanders and does not come back. But engage a child in the real rhythms of life, making, growing, and performing; he or she will be attentive in school and  the teacher's time and the school districts dollars will not be squandered in meaningless procedures.

It is a simple thing. One has to be intellectually present for effective and efficient learning to take place. Engage students' hands in crafting objects of useful beauty and they must be. Their hands will call their minds and hearts to a state of attention and engagement.

I've completed a sketchup illustration of a wooden pinhole camera as shown in the drawing above.

Make, fix and create...

“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.”― Pete Seeger

Saturday, May 24, 2014

jewelry at ESSA

World renown jeweler Bob Ebendorf has been teaching at ESSA this weekend, and as we've been friends for a very long time, I went out to visit his class. Bob was in the midst of a critique at the close of class, a debriefing of sorts, offering his insight and encouragement to each student. Each had broken new ground.

The point wasn't to evaluate their work per se, according to some contrived standard but for each to assess their own growth during the class. After all, the important thing is not the product but the growth, and the value of the student work is not in the object made, but in the student as he or she grows in both character and intellect.

Another friend, DJ was assisting Bob with his class, and I was pleased to learn that this blog has been helpful to her in putting to words an understanding of her work. She's become an enthusiast for educational sloyd, and it always a pleasure to meet young people that have taken an interest in such things.

I have been working on a sketchup illustration of the pinhole box camera, and working out some of the details that would make it easier for box makers to make. And I've been cleaning the school wood shop for ESSA classes and preparing to wrap up my school year with Clear Spring School.

My own wood shop is a total mess, and will also take time to put back in shape. Each tool has a place where it normally resides, so I begin by putting tools back in place.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 23, 2014

celebration of the child

I will have my elementary school and middle school age students in the wood shop on Tuesday to finish projects and help clean to be ready for this summer's woodworking classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Yesterday we had our annual "Celebration of the Child" and high school graduation. In the Celebration of the Child, the various classes perform skits and each child's strengths of character and advancement in learning are acknowledged.

In our high school graduation, because there are only 6 students, each was valedictorian and each presented a short speech acknowledging what they had learned during their time at Clear Spring School. Sam, for instance, noted that he had been in wood shop every Wednesday for 11 years.

The point of wood shop in the Wisdom of the Hands program is not to make professional tradesmen of our youth. The point is that engagement in creative craftsmanship builds character and understanding, and that those things that are learned hands-on, are learned more thoroughly and to greater lasting effect. Skill and development of skill must become as much a part of schooling as the acquisition of knowledge if we want schooling to be both cost effective and meaningful in children's lives, to their families and community.

Each of our children know that they will make a difference in the world because they are already making a difference in our own community.

Richard Bazeley in Australia sent the photo above of his 7th year students human figures. I like the way these turned out. Some of my own student's work can be found here.

The wooden figures in the photo below are puppets made by my first, second and third grade students for their puppet theater and were described in an earlier post.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

vacuum letterpress...

What you see in the image at left is one of my first attempts to do vacuum letter press printing. A friend supplied the letters and ink, and the idea is to find a way to do letterpress without a mechanical press. If this works, it will be much easier for letterpress printing enthusiasts to do large work without having a large press. You can imagine letter press printing as large as a sheet of plywood, driven by a simple vacuum pump.

My friend's verdict on this sample is that I used too much ink. Not having done letterpress before, I face a learning curve in getting the ink applied in the proper thickness. I also am in need of a better brayer for applying ink uniformly to the letters. The brayer is used to apply ink evenly to a flat surface and then reapply it to the letters. There are a number of additional issues to work out, including how letters can be held in a unit and properly referenced on the paper as it is placed in the vacuum press.

I've done an internet search for vacuum letterpress and find nothing, so this may be a technique I've invented... unless it is a problematic approach abandoned as fruitless by other craftsmen. But if it works, it might enable craftsmen to experiment with letterpress, without the mechanical press.

Five years ago, presses could be had for hauling them off. Now, with a resurgence of interest, presses have become impossible to find without spending $15,000 or more.

Today in the CSS wood shop, my junior woodturners from the 3rd grade had a busy day.

Also, the premier of my Arkansas Living Treasure video has been announced in Little Rock for Wednesday, May 28.

Make, fix and create...

finished camera...

Yesterday one of my seniors finished her pin hole camera. I've had this theory that no student should graduate from high school without making something useful and beautiful and that would last a lifetime as a remembrance of learning. My student said of this small useful box, "It's something I'll keep my whole life."

It is fascinating to read about Freidrich Froebel on the world wide web. for instance I read a comparison between Maria Montessori and Froebel that compared them as though they were contemporaries with competing methods, instead of one being the foundation upon which all later early childhood models of education were built.

A key to understanding the relationship between them comes when one sees images of the two educators side by side. Froebel is always shown in hand-drawn illustrations while Montessori, who was born 18 years after Froebel's death was shown in innumerable photographs throughout her life. Photography was far from commonplace during Froebel's life.

The pinhole camera at left is made for 35 mm. film cartridges for ease of loading and developing.

In the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I have just a few more classes for the school year and will be devoting my time to getting the shop ready for classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Friedrich Froebel, woodworker...

Yesterday I made Friedrich Froebel's gift number 2 which consists of a sphere, a cylinder, and a cube. If you were to go to Froebel's gravesite, you would find these three geometric solids stacked in granite as his grave monument and a symbol of his having been the inventor of Kindergarten. What some may not know of him was that he was a relatively skilled craftsman as well as an educator.

References of his being involved in crafts from various biographies discussed the making of nets from string as early as 1808 and in 1817 his students worked with wooden blocks of his design that he made for student learning. Earlier he had been a forester's apprentice and would have thus become knowledgeable of forest crafts, including the use of a spring pole lathe, as was likely used in forming the sphere and cylinder of gift number 2. He would have had some knowledge in the use of saws and cutting boxes for making wooden cubes, perfectly square on all sides from having observed waldhandwerkers or what the English would call "bodgers" on innumerable occasions. He would have known what few teachers know to this day... how to sharpen and use the tools of the craftsman to beautiful and lasting effect.

Even with a deluxe Oneway® lathe, it is not easy making a near perfect sphere. It takes practice. My own technique is to make a quarter circle template that I can use to check progress as I gradually cut away that which is not spherical. The cylinder is easier, as initially forming one is the first step upon which nearly all turned objects depend.

As I make Froebel's gifts, I am reminded that while  kindergartners in the US were buying their gifts from Milton Bradley®, Froebel had shaped the beginnings of Kindergarten in his own hands.

There are advantages in making your own instructional materials. Just as cutting firewood warms you twice, to have made the objects of your own child's learning is a warming experience. You gain skill, a love and a grasp for the work and for the craftsmanship, and are changed in character and temperament at the same time preparing for your child's intellectual growth. Whether you are a parent or grandparent or a teacher, what could possibly be better than that?

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 19, 2014

using all one's senses...

I got an email from a reader who asked my advice on cutting mitered corners for boxes. He said he often gets confused when cutting miters and wondered whether he should simply go back to butt joints that he found easier to cut, but less attractive in the finished box. Mis-cuts are common, and when making rectilinear boxes, parts can get confusing and its easy to make the wrong cut. I have practiced a lot, and so when I demonstrate either live, or in my DVD, I make it look easy.

I have a new technique that I've demonstrated to a few students that make the whole process easier and that I'll introduce in my new book that will come out in September, but in the meantime, there are simple things that any woodworker can do to improve cutting miters.

Froebel's second gift
Einstein had said that his pencil and he were smarter than he was. We make a tragic mistake in thinking that human intelligence exists in the brain and not in our hands. Just as the pencil can be used to offload calculations, the other sense can be used to offload much of the burden of cognitive activity.

I teach my students to cut grain-matched mitered corners on boxes and find that it can help if we use all our senses at the same time. For instance, first sand what will become the inside of the box. Then clearly mark in pencil what will become the outside of the box. The smooth surface on one side in relation to the rough on the other will help serve as a reminder of what comes next. When I demonstrate making a box, I say out loud, "face side down" as I make my first mitered cut, reminding myself and my students that the first cut must be made with the outside of the box side down flat on the sled. Then as I flip the stock over and put that fresh cut miter against the stop block to cut the miter at the other end, I can see the markings on the outside of the part, can feel the rougher surface of it, and say to myself if alone, or to others if not, "face side up". This mantra may help others to keep things straight. To say out loud, and in order, "face side up," then "face side down," brings auditory intelligence into the process.

We make the assumption that thinking and keeping our thoughts straight is an inside the head thing. That has never been the case, except in academia and the halls of government, and we can see the sorry place that's led us.  The assumption that thinking and intelligence happen in the brain, rather than in the hands is a grave error. My reader had made the even more tragic assumption that he was mentally impaired or in some way deficient because he was having trouble with miters.

gavels turned in 4th and 5th grade
It is best for woodworkers to pull out all the stops. Use your your voice in the process, carefully mark the locations for your cuts, sand what will be the inside of the box, and do whatever sensory thing you can to prepare your stock, your hands and your mind for successful woodworking.

I had a great weekend in Des Moines, made a number of new friends, made it back to Arkansas in time to participate in Books-in-Bloom, and have classes today at Clear Spring School.

It's interesting, that when you have good teachers , the best way to get rid of them is to reduce their budgets to zip, give them more students than they can handle, and then ask them to do impossible things. For instance, our public school music teacher had his budget reduced from $14,000 to zip, was told that inaddition to offering classes to all students in middle and high school, we was to create mandatory solo performance opportunities for each child and that each child would be required to sight read music. I know professional musicians who can't sight read music, and that is not an easy thing for all students to accomplish. Demanding that your teacher meets that standard is a great way to assure his or her failure on the job.

I am sick and tired of such stupidity. Forgive me for venting. But in order to learn from the real world you must be engaged in it. The artificiality of public education and the pettiness of some of its participants as they try to adhere to absurd standards is the true source of American schooling not meeting international standards. Put wood shops and music back in schools, recognize that what we learn hands-on by doing real things is education that sticks like glue and shapes the character of the child at the same time.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 16, 2014

weekend with wood, day one...

Today I'm in Des Moines, Iowa and had three classes at Meridith Publishing Headquarters. The event "Weekend with Wood," is sold out with a wait list. It is a unique event in that classes are held at their expansive headquarters rather than in a convention hall, so when I build sleds for box making, they will fit the saws that the staff uses when they do photography for their own articles. My kid's work bench and a display of my boxes are set up in studio A where they do filming.

My first class was woodworking with kids, and then in the afternoon, I had a class on designing boxes, and another one called "box making 101." Other noted woodworking teachers, including Marc Adams from Marc Adams School of Woodworking will be offering other classes on a variety of subjects related to woodworking.

In the meantime, my work is also set up for sale tonight at the Lux Weaving Studio in Eureka Springs. The White St. Art Walk is tonight.

It was a great day. The photo above is of my box making 101 students. A full class.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

digital divide

digital (adj.) Look up digital at 1650s, "pertaining to fingers," from Latin digitalis, from digitus (see digit). Meaning "using numerical digits" (numbers) is from 1938, especially of computers after c.1945; in reference to recording or broadcasting, from 1960. Related: Digitize.

So there we have it. The digital divide. We've thrust ourselves in one new direction  with the year 1938 being the dividing line between reality and fantasy... with a change of meaning of the word "digital". Actually, this dividing line was first described by E. M. Forster in the Machine Stops, 1909, a must read for anyone on the internet that might also have some vague concerns about some reality and real skills they might be missing out on. (This is becoming less likely each day, as folks can barely pull their eyes off their iPhones or set them down long enough to pick up a real tool.)

Photo by Greg Goodman
Folks have had grave concerns about their children being caught on the wrong side of the digital divide, and thus not acquiring digital skills. But the failure in the acquisition of digital skills of the real kind is real. Children who are being raised with iPads are failing to learn how to play with blocks, and are thus impaired in their discovery of the interrelationship between all true things.

Maslow had said (a rough quote) that if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. If your only tool is an iPad, then every problem will appear digital, easily manipulated by the swipe of a fingertip, but will children be left with the capacity to act upon the real world? Educators in the UK believe they will not. For children and particularly infants and toddlers, screen time should be severely restricted. Children must have more creative forms of expression provided, and wi-fi should be disabled at night. Children should be given real tools that allow them to create objects of useful beauty that they may share with their families, friends and communities. We must not abandon them to the wrong side of the digital divide.

The real digital divide is that few children in schools are being given the opportunity to discover the real world, and some are being held back by their parents over-reliance on digital devices to entertain and distract their children from real learning.
"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards. The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand." — Sir James Crichton-Browne, 1902

Today I'm driving to Des Moines to take part in Weekend with Wood.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Individualized interest and instruction...

Today, I am preparing for my 5 two hour classes in Des Moines on Friday and Saturday at Weekend with Wood.

I've been reading a book by Mrs. Horace (Mary) Mann and her sister Elizabeth Peabody. Some readers may recognize the name Horace Mann as being one of the pioneers in educational theory. Schools in some cities are named after him, but as with most things educational these days, there may be very little in the school that would reflect Mann's educational ideals. Only those who are truly interested in Kindergarten will recognize the names of the two sisters who played such an instrumental role in bringing Kindergarten to American attention. But these names were important and American education would have been a far harsher landscape without the humanizing and spiritualizing influence of Friedrich Froebel.

Among his contributions were the recognition of the value of music and play and the use of building blocks and other constructive gifts. His Kindergarten method had profound influence in the manual arts movement, and he recognized the potential of young women as professional teachers. But his success around the world came because of supporters who recognized the power of loving relationships in the education of their kids.

Today in the CSS wood shop, my 3rd grade students went to work on the lathe. I offered them "free day," and turning on the lathe was what they chose. The lathe is their new favorite tool and when they finished one turning to their satisfaction, they asked to do another. When doin greal things, individualized instruction is required.They were full of compliments for each other. Like, "That's awesome, Ana!"

As at Clear Spring School, Weekend with Wood will be full of choices, with participants choosing what aspects of woodworking they most want to learn. We learn best when we have chosen an area of learning that fits our interests, and when the teacher is able to make a personal offering to each student.

I have a Clear Spring kid's workbench in the back of the truck and I'm loading books and boxes and various tools needed to teach 3 distinct classes, two of which will be repeated on a second day.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

the power of discrimination and artistry.

I am preparing for Weekend with Wood in Des Moines on Friday. I will be teaching 5 classes over the two days I'll be in Des Moines and so I have lots to prepare before I leave on Thursday. I am also wrapping up my school year, helping my high school students to finish boxes, and beginning work on my book, "Making Kindergarten's Gifts." And of course, the real gift is what the child discovers within his or her own creative capacities. As I've mentioned so many times before, the purpose of educational sloyd was to put in place the Kindergarten method in the upper grades so that children throughout their schooling had the capacity to both learn and express learning in a tangible manner, learning real things from real life. The following is from Mrs. Horace Mann, in her guide to Kindergarten and the Moral Force of Infancy.
“For there is nothing merely mechanical and imitative in true Kindergarten culture: the child acts "from within outwards" in every thing it does, however seemingly trifling; and, if we use the word artist in its most general sense, becomes an artist from the beginning. Thus is prevented that too common divorce between the powers of thinking and acting, whose harmony ensures ability in a strict proportion to intellectual capacity. Consciousness of aim, and enjoyment of success, at every step develop new ideas and power, and fulfill that law of nature by which thought tends to rush into act instantly, as in childish play. Nothing is more melancholy in experience than to see people drifting instead of living; but this general failure of human life is owing to the fact, that the unassisted child is baffled in its will and balked of its desires, by a want of that steadiness of aim, perseverance, and knowledge of how to adapt means to ends, which adult sympathy and wisdom should supply; and from want of which it loses the original harmony of its being in the process of its growth. Kindergarten culture is the adult mind entering into the child's world, and appreciating nature's intention as displayed in every impulse of spontaneous life; and so directing it that the joy of success may be ensured at every step, and artistic things be actually produced, which gives the self-reliance and conscious intelligence that ought to discriminate human power from blind force.”--Elizabeth P. Peabody and Mary Mann, “Guide to the Kindergarten and Intermediate Class and Moral Culture of Infancy.”
Anyone who wonders about the moral force of childhood, should watch children at play. For instance, when at play in the Gaga court, our students at Clear Spring School don't need parents or teachers to tell them when they're out. When the rules of the game are clear, the children abide by them. As you can see in the photo above, the students took part in building he Gaga court, and so they take the play in it very seriously.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 12, 2014

The early days of K...

American education is commonly divided and described as follows... pre-K, K-12, and university. Pre-K refers to the time period in which education is optional, most often dependent on the needs of the mother. K-12 refers to the time starting with Kindergarten and proceeding through the grades 1-12, including elementary, middle and high school. One would get the impression that K-12 is intended to be a progression expressed as a lump sum.

So where did the magical K dividing line come into the picture? Now as educators are wondering whether Kindergarten is the new first grade, what's the big whoop? What was so special about Kindergarten? For that, it's worth looking back. Kindergarten's real purpose has been forgotten along with its origins, and before we turn K into the new first grade, we should fully understand what it was for in the first place. As Kindergarten fell into the hands of educational policy makers and administrators it was shifted off its original mission of transforming the whole of how we learn. And if we were to learn that, it could once again offer educational renewal at all levels, pre-K through university and beyond. Kindergartens began in the US as early as the 1850s, but the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition provided the opportunity for Kindergartners to show off their system of education to a nation hungry for reform. Nina C. Vandewalker described this in her book, The Kindergarten in American Education, 1908:
The Exposition kindergarten was conducted in an annex to the Woman's Pavilion, by Miss Ruth Burritt of Wisconsin, who had had several years of experience as a primary teacher before she became a kindergartner, and whose manner and insight were such as to gain adherents for the new cause. The enclosure for visitors was always crowded, many of the on-lookers being "hewers of wood and drawers of water, who were attracted by the sweet singing and were spellbound by the lovely spectacle." Thousands thronged to see the new educational departure, and many remained hours afterwards to ask questions.

The Exposition marked an epoch in the advancement of the kindergarten movement, as it marked an epoch in the history of elementary education. The ready acceptance of the kindergarten after the Philadelphia Exposition did not imply a recognition of its pedagogical value alone; in fact it is worthy of note that many of the kindergartens established at this period were philanthropic in their ultimate purpose. As the rapid growth of cities and the increasing immigration was fast developing the slum with its attendant evils, people were beginning to realize that some antidote must be found. The value of the kindergarten as a child-saving agency was at once recognized, and churches and philanthropic societies took up the movement.

The first charity kindergarten was opened in 1870 in the village of College Point, N.Y.; others were opened the same year in Cleveland, Ohio, and Florence, Mass. In speaking of this phase of kindergarten work in the Report of the Commissioner of Education, Miss Laura Fisher says : — "Centering among, and concerning itself with, the children of the poor, and having for its aim the elevation of the home, it was natural that the kindergarten as a philanthropic movement should win great and early favor. The mere fact that the children of the slums were kept off the streets, and that they were made clean and happy by kind and motherly young women; that the child thus being cared for enabled the mother to go about her work in or outside the home — all this appealed to the heart of America, and America gave freely to make these kindergartens possible. Churches established kindergartens, individuals endowed kindergartens, and associations were organized for the spread and support of kindergartens in nearly every large city."
Now as Kindergarten's name has grown meaningless, as Froebel is nearly forgotten and as K has become just a letter grade for what comes before first, and as educational policy makers attempt to impose new schemes for control of learning, the Kindergarten movement recognized the important role of mothers as the child's first teacher, and chose to empower them through music, through play, through exploratory devices that helped children to come to terms with their own creative capacities, and prepare them for lifelong learning.

Among the hewers of wood at the Exposition in 1876 was Frank Lloyd Wright's mother, Anna. As a teacher herself, she was captivated by the method and purchased Froebel blocks for her son. Here is what Frank Lloyd Wright remembered in his autobiography: "For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top ... and played ... with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks ... All are in my fingers to this day ..."

Today we finished the Gaga court. You can see that kids of all ages can play in the same court at the same time, including both elementary and high school students. Double click on the video to see it on youtube in wide screen.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

getting real at the university level...

Crematory urn boxes
The University of Arkansas is graduating students this week. At this point in the graduation game, the U of A is batting 60%, meaning that if a student enters as a freshman, he or she has a 60% probability of reaching graduation within 6 years. The cost of two extra years and the societal cost of not graduating the 40% who have made a significant investment of time and financial resources to their university education, are a black mark on our national system of colleges and universities. Other schools are facing the same dilemma. For example, the University of Indiana, among the top 75 in college rankings, has a 4 year graduation rate of 55%.

To be clear and fair, I am aware that many students in state universities are working their way through college, and that many have jobs and responsibilities that delay graduation.

The U of A has announced a new program intended to boost graduation rates, though it may not be in their best financial interests to do so. If they can keep graduation spaced out to 6 years, that means additional revenue in the form of tuition, and larger class sizes due to students taking extra classes as they switch majors over the generally expected 6 year term.

In any case, we should be watchful of higher education being operated as a racket. We've got administrators throughout education insisting that all students should go to college, but there is a need that higher education get real, just as we must return the hands to learning in the lower schools in order that instruction be to lasting effect.

I will repeat the simplicity of educational Sloyd theory. 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 hard thing for university administrators to understand after being immersed in endless abstraction is that students need to be engaged in the concrete. Concrete experience forms the touchstone of real learning. Students studying to become teachers should be in the classroom as teachers from day one. Students involved in the study of chemistry, should be involved in real laboratory experiments that have relevance to society and science from day one. Most often students are introduced to various subject areas through artifice. Can it be any great surprise that students may flounder on their way to the graduation procession? Is it any wonder that many of those who do graduate, even within the expected four years, thence choose careers far from their selected disciplines?

Don't expect many changes and improvements to take place. From a moral standpoint, students encumbered with huge debt at the end of 6 years may be of concern to some. From an economic standpoint, the bottom line of school funding, students wasting time in school, spending extra time in classes and extra big bucks for an additional 2 years is no big whoop. They fill classes. And there are others clamoring to take their places at each desk.

You may have heard of flipping classes. That's where students do all their academic style learning out of class and then spend class time doing real things of greater significance than just listening to lectures. It presents a great opportunity for professors to stop repetition of boring lectures and to put the real learning in the hands of kids. I suggest flipping the whole dang university to get the best results. Where students are busy doing real things they have the greatest potential to put the theoretical and abstract into relevance and perspective, and thus find real impetus for subsequent learning.

Readers may find it absurd for a woodworker to make proposals for a complete revolution in university education. But I feel like the child at the sidelines of the emperor's butt naked parade. The man has no clothes, and it seems I'm one of those honest enough to say so.

Today in the wood shop, I'll be applying finish to small products, preparing for my classes at Weekend with Wood in Des Moines and attaching lift tabs to the crematory urn boxes that I started last week.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

trivializing the educational experience...

It is less important to have the right answer, than to have asked the right questions. Children left to their own devices are alive with interest and curiosity, and schools have a way of dulling that interest by trivializing the learning process. Schooling is made trivial by its artificiality. Children know that lessons are contrived according to adult expectations and to meet artificial standards of knowledge, not skill and ability. Even when lessons are devised to take multiple intelligences and individuality of learning style into consideration, the teacher is put into a position of making stuff up. And most kids are smarter than schools are willing to give them credit for.

The simple solution, of course, is for kids to do real things in compliance with their own interests, and in service to their families and communities. That's where wood shop falls into the picture. By doing real things, students gain greater sense of self, and learn the interrelationship between all things, including physics and math. When children do real things, the feedback doesn't wait until its test time, and children don't necessarily need adults to assess their growing success.

In the interest of building a Beaufort Scale of educational assessment, we can begin with what its like when a student is faced with an unstimulating and artificial learning environment. Where do they sit when what the teacher is asking them to learn can be deemed irrelevant and uninteresting? Might they not sit at the back of the class so that they can either sleep and explore their own notions or observe others in the classroom setting? If you remember that the Beaufort Scale was based on direct observation of real things, are there not real things that a teacher can observe that would make a direct impact on his or her success?

One of my daughter's teachers in public high school had observed that those sitting in the front row at the beginning of the year were the ones most likely to succeed with A's at the end of the semester. Second row was for B's. He invited students to be aware of the relationship of classroom seating with school performance, and to choose their level of participation and seating accordingly. In any case, where students choose to sit in class, offers the teacher information. On the Beaufort scale, he or she might be hoping for the gentle flutter of a leaf in a very slight breeze.

When we were building the Gaga court last week, the student interest was palpable. We will finish it on Monday, and the students will have plenty of chance to play in it before the end of the school year.

Today, my small town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas is in the statewide news. On Friday, a judge overthrew a ban on gay marriage. Eureka Springs courthouse is one of the only ones in the state open to provide marriage licenses on Saturdays, thanks to our large wedding industry. A rogue deputy county clerk decided that giving marriage licenses to gay couples is against her religion, so she forced the courthouse to close rather than provide licenses. In any case, and however one feels about the issue, there is an interesting news story playing out in my home town, while in the meantime, 32 schools statewide are being challenged by the board of education for failing to meet "standards."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 09, 2014


As Mario suggested in a comment below, the challenging thing in making crematory urn boxes is that people come in different sizes and leave differing amounts of ash. There is no one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to boxes for containing human remains.

In May, 2012 I wrote an article for the Fine Woodworking Website that describes an earlier engagement in making a crematory urn box, that can be read here.
If you can make a box, you can make a crematory urn box, and the instructions on the Fine Woodworking site will help with your box making even if you are not needing a box of this kind.

I did the vacuum lamination of the top of the boxes yesterday, as shown in the photos. I will add small lift tabs to the ends of the boxes to make them easier to handle, and these boxes are rabbeted for a 1/4 in. thick Baltic birch bottom to seal the ashes in place from underneath. If the ashes are in a sealed container, 9 in. x 6 in. x 3 in. it will fit right inside. If the ashes are loose, the bottom of the box should be sealed with construction adhesive.

Today, I'll be cleaning my wood shop and beginning to set up for the White Street Art Walk next Friday Night.

In National Geographic magazine, I was reading about an observatory built to explore the boundaries and origins of the universe. It seems that immediately before the moment of the "big bang" all the contents of the universe fit "in an unimaginably hot, dense point, a billionth the size of a nuclear particle." In post Newtonian physics, we've learned that not all is what it may appear. The contents of a man or woman's body can be reduced to ashes and placed in a box. Each and all things are held in relationship with each and every other thing. The size of our bodies, the size of our estates, and the size of our reputations are not what matter in the long term. What are cosmic profiles? What are the breadths and depths of our relationships? Who do we touch and for what reasons? Is it to empower others? If so there is no end of it.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Am Wood...

My article about making a silver ware chest came out in American Woodworker Magazine, arriving in yesterday's mail.

Today in my own woodshop, I'm making crematory urn boxes using vacuum veneering to cover the top panels.  A friend of mine passed away and I have another friend that has been wanting me to make one for a friend of hers. I have this idea that I'll keep a box or two on hand, as I've had a number of opportunities in the last few years to supply them to friends.

Last month's Woodshop News had an article about the growing market for crematory urns made of wood, and how much better can it be to have one made by a friend, than one commercially made?

I made banding strips to surround the veneer, and mitered the corners using a sled on the table saw, as shown in the photos above and below.

Today in the school wood shop, high school students will be completing boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

heavy metal

We had the heavy metals building opening and ribbon cutting last night at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. We had music, wine, snacks, and a demonstration of our coal forge with blacksmith Bob Patrick making a decorative metal trivet. I can see the potential for making interesting tools and I hope at some point to use the equipment to forge a block knife.

I was lucky to have been one of the three founders of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and it is exciting to see it having grown to the point at which its importance is well accepted by our community. The building was designed by architect and ESSA board member, David McKee.

It is true that one person can help in the shaping of a community and have lasting impact. The school of the arts has become a place where people can invest in making the world a better place for each other.

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

students at work...

I went by school this morning to deliver green walnut carving blanks and knives to the Clear Spring School teachers to take on the annual elementary school spring camping trip. The students, their teachers and parent volunteers will be camping on the Buffalo National River for two nights. The three days are filled with educational activities planned by the teaching staff, and one part that is always included is knife work. I prepared the carving blanks and sharpened the knives so that they will be ready.

When I arrived on campus, two of the 5th grade girls were busy with shovels and a wheel barrow as they waited for other students to arrive. It was an activity they selected for themselves. They were removing gravel from the inside of the Gaga court and spreading it under other play structures. Inside the Gaga court, the play surface should be packed earth rather than gravel so that the ball gives a good bounce. It is natural for children to be busy if they are given something to do that interests them... That's a simple factor too often overlooked in primary education.

Children get a kick out of doing real things, and the further we estrange schooling from reality , the greater the likelihood we will leave children behind in their learning. The simple rule stated in educational Sloyd was that learning should move from the concrete to the abstract, but not as a permanent thing. We need to continuously anchor all learning in reality that can be tested and measured, and monitor it through means that the children can see growth for themselves.

As the girls shoveled and raked, they could clearly see the task at hand, and they were determined that their time not be wasted. And it would be wise for educators to learn from Comenius' observations upon which modern pedagogy were originally based. Friedrich Frobel called such activities "self-activity", which implies that it is self-directed and self-initiated. Gaga court plans.
Our Clear Spring School students chose to make a 6 sided court, as that was what they were first introduced to. But an internet search shows that they can be 8 sided, and configured in a variety of sizes. To add just a bit of room, our students planned to make their court out of 8 foot and 10 foot 2 x 4s, with four walls being comprised of 8 foot material and two opposing walls made from ten footers. To be certain this size court would be sufficient for play and to be sure it was not too large for our playground, they marked it out with stakes first.

Here’s what you will need to make a court like ours.

6 pieces of ½ in. steel rebar 30 inches long
35 treated 2 x 4s 8 ft.
15 treated 2 x 4s 10 ft.
2 treated 2 x 6s 8 ft.
2 treated 2 x 6s 10 ft.

Prepare the stock for assembly as follows:
Drill 9/16 in. diameter holes at each end of 30 2 x 4’s 8 ft. Measure for both holes from the same end with one at 2 in. and the other at the 94 in. mark.

Next, drill holes of the same size at each end of the 10 ft. stock. Again, measure both holes from the same end, with one at the 2 in. mark and the other centered at 118 in.

Assemble the first layer as follows: Use the ½ in. rebar to connect joints, forming a 6 sided shape, with two 10 ft. 2 x 4s opposite each other. It is important that the frame members criss-cross log cabin style with both ends either up or down, and not with one end up and the other down.

When the six corners are connected, measure from corner to corner across the ends of the 10 foot sections. Adjust the positions of each until the measurement from one pair of corners is the same as the measurement between the other pair. When you get the court squared up in this manner, pound the rebar into the ground about 2-3 inches. This will hold the corners in position as you add 2 x 4s to the stack on each side.

Layer the additional 2 x 4s in place, until you’ve reached a height of 7 and 8 2 x 4s on adjoining sides. You will notice that 3 of the sides are lower than the other three. This is so we can add bench seating on 3 sides, using 2 x 6 treated lumber. We're also adding 2 x 4 blocking at the center of each side between layers to give extra strength. The material list above includes 5 2 x 4s to cut into blocking material.
Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 05, 2014

trusting the value of interest and experience...

I had a small dilemma today at school in that the upper elementary school students wanted to build a Gaga court and, had clearly in mind how they wanted to do it. The school maintenance man,  the head of school, and I, having put our heads together and having more experience in making things, had planned a slightly different approach. We started the day with a discussion to persuade them to consider our approach, which involved building with layered 2 x 4s stacked log cabin style and secured at the corners with 1/2 in. steel rebar.

Three of the girls from the class had never been to the lumber yard before, so I chose them to be my helpers in picking up the materials.

One thing I quickly learned was that all the 2 x 4's we carried home from the lumber yard were not exactly the same length, so in drilling them on the drill press, I had to measure both holes from one end and drill without using a stop. Once I had that sink in, we proceeded with building the court and were finished with the basic construction in about 3 hours, including the time spent at the lumber yard.  Because both ends of the 2 x 4s had to be lowered onto the pins at the same time, to keep from binding, this was a good team building exercise.

This building technique allowed us to build the court without a post hole digger and without use of a skill saw. I did use a drill press to drill the holes where the 2 x 4s connect at the corners, but that could have been done with a hand held drill. This project was also a great demonstration of math principles and geometry. In order to square and align the court, we had to measure caddy-corner between the pieces of 1/2 in. rebar. If you try this, be careful in your measurements and use a 9/16 in. drill so that the holes are not too tight.

The kids are so excited about this project. They had to yield to our expertise in the making of it, but almost all the labor was theirs, including shoveling gravel from the court. We will add blocking to strengthen the sides and add 2 x 6s as seats on 3 sides  to complete the project.

Our gaga court was inspired by school travel. The kids, having played Gaga on their spring trip, wanted to come home and make their own court. The money used came from the Silver Tea, an annual charitable giving event sponsored by Saint James Episcopal Women.

This may be the first Gaga court in Arkansas. The game has all the fun of dodgeball, but all the action takes place below the knees, so there are no face shots that injure the kids. This project was owned by the kids from day one, and their enthusiasm was palpable. This project fit the first premise of educational sloyd... Start with the interests of the child.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 04, 2014


This interesting paper Six reasons to reject the Common Core for grades K-3 should be read by every American educator and by every parent. What the common core policy makers did was decide what they wanted high school graduates to know and then built a set of steps and expectations downward from there, without really understanding the principles of child development.

An example of stupidity with regards to reading is as follows. In Finland, students begin reading at an age equivalent to our 3rd grade. By the time their students and our students are tested in the PISA study at age 15, their students far surpass our students in reading in 30 percent less time. Do the math. By the time Finnish kids have reached the age 15, they've been taught reading in school for 7 years. Our own students have been under pressure to read for 10, and it's not working for us.

Children can learn much more from their play and self-directed activity than they do when forced to sit still in classrooms. Let a child's curiosity catch fire when they've fallen into a love affair with reading, and exacting stair steps from high school to pre-school are not required. Introduce reading at the right time, when the child is most developmentally prepared for it, and we will be less likely to have children hate reading and despise schooling.

Forty-four of 50 states made the decision to adopt common core standards without consulting leading authorities in early childhood development.

This is May Fine Arts month in Eureka Springs, and there are gallery openings and exhibits happening all over town. In addition to finishing my school year at Clear Spring, I am preparing for the White St. Art Walk on May 16, even though I will be out of town to attend the Weekend With Wood Magazine in Des Moines on that day.  At Weekend with Wood, I'll teach box making, box design and woodworking with kids.

Schooling throughout the US fails to take into consideration how we learn  best. When we learn hands-on, by doing real things, we learn more quickly, more thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect. This same thing applies to teaching, and we are due for a revolution in teacher education. That revolution would put aspiring teachers directly into the classroom concurrent with them being mentored in classroom management and instructed in the history and methodology of education.

The photo above is of an early Kindergarten in Kansas, 1893. Topeka Kansas had a large influx of former slaves following the Civil War, and one of the means used by area churches to acculturate new families was through establishing a kindergarten and mothers meetings like in the photo in yesterday's  post.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Mothers meetings...

 "Come let us live with our children."
Kindergarten as it was introduced to the world and to the North American continent during the late 1880's was far more than what could become the "new first grade", and it is shame that the name Kindergarten is so misapplied, as kindergartens are often devoid of much of Froebel's original thought.  The name "grade zero" might better fit what policy makers have in mind or the whole sequence of grades could be renumbered from one to the lucky number 13 when kids graduate and get to do things in the real world (or delay their stay in academia for a few more years).

Friedrich Froebel had recognized the potential of young mothers being empowered in a more formal sense as their child's first teachers. Those who really understood Kindergarten, knew also the importance of organizing young mothers to fulfill their rightful role. Mothers meetings were an important part of the kindergarten movement, and the photos in this post are from the the Kansas Historical Foundation at the end of the 19th century.

The greatest potential for educational reform in the US will likely have little to do with what comes out of the Department of Education in Washington, DC, but will instead come if young mothers seize their rightful role.

The Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas, founded the first black kindergarten west of the Mississippi River and the young mothers of that Kindergarten are shown above. Note the Froebel quote carved in the stone arch of the Central Congregational Church.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 02, 2014

development and schooling.

I have been reading the Parker and Temple book on the "Unification of Kindergarten and First Grade." They noted some positive things that came from the kindergarten movement, but mocked  the cult-like adoration of "Frobellian philosophy." They noted the fact that standardized testing of children indicates that they don't all mature in intellectual capacity at the same rate, and promote that notion as the primary basis for unifying kindergarten and the first grade.

These days, the question is asked over and over, "Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" I heard advertising on the radio yesterday for an NPR segment asking that question, and it is not a new one. Parker and Temple noted in 1925 in reference to unifying the two,
"...each of these had its strong point; the first grade emphasized the essential social skills, the tools of civilization (meaning reading), while the kindergarten emphasized the recreational and social possibilities found in children's expressive activities and their playful imitation of domestic and community activities. The unified program unites these two lines. It carries the playful study of social life up into the first grade, introduces playful methods of studying the essential social skills, and introduces kindergarten children of adequate mental age to reading , the most characteristic of the subjects of the old-fashioned first grade."
I have an all day meeting to attend, but for those interested in further reading, I recommend three earlier posts, Children are not clockwork, Class teaching vs. individual teaching, part one, and part two. Schools attempt to clump children in large groupings of varying capacity. Some are bored. Some are in over their heads. That is the same ineffective approach , used seamlessly through high school and college. Even students preparing to become teachers don't get their hands on real learning until their near graduation.

The problem won't be fixed by making kindergarten the new first grade. We would be more honest with ourselves and each other if we were to stop calling kindergarten by the name that Froebel gave it and call it grade zero instead. To use the name kindergarten for classes vacant in the application of his genius is an insult to his legacy and to those who were successful for a time in reshaping education.

Make, fix, play, learn and create...

Thursday, May 01, 2014

the contents of children's minds.

In the1880s G. Stanley Hall became interested in what first grade children knew and hired a team of kindergarten teachers to take them one at a time and question them about their knowledge of the world. The chart above tells the percentages of kids who did not know some of the objects named. In a way, this was a precursor to the man on the street interviews on late night TV in which Americans routinely demonstrate their stupidity about geography by not knowing certain places with which anyone having a modicum of curiosity about events in the real world would have looked for on a map.

Certainly, there are lots of things that kids need not know. Knowing the names of things certainly helps to add content to a child's first efforts to read and adds to a child's power to converse. It may be staggering that some children have learned to have so little curiosity about the world they inhabit, but we must not assume that simply because a thing cannot be named, its use cannot be understood. And I think it likely that if you were to assess the naming knowledge of adults these days, an even larger number than the children of the 1880s would be unable to distinguish between a maple and an oak.

Last night, I went to a panel discussion at Crystal Bridges Museum at which a friend of mine showed images of her work along with a panel of other artists. Museums are largely organized around the principle of assessing work and presenting it based upon the verbal explanation of it and the success of the artists and curators of rationalizing its purpose.  It is certainly not enough to just do the work and let it stand on its own merits. Too much artistic success in this day and age is derived solely on the basis of having contrived sufficient explanation of the work to awe and intellectually overwhelm the non-artists engaging with it. Oscar Wilde said that the ugliest things are made in the attempts to create beauty, and the most beautiful made in the effort to create something useful. While that generalization does not hold up in all cases, when you make something useful, less explanation is required and first grade children will likely know what it is used for, even if they don't as yet have a name to apply to it.

A member of our ISACS accreditation team had noted that Clear Spring School is unique in that skills and "ability to DO" take a more formal role in school life than simply knowing. Knowing how to DO is often the key to successful learning and sustained interest in learning. If what you do in school is to sit idly taking notes so that what the teacher has said can be dutifully recorded and regurgitated at test time, then you are likely in a common American High School, and getting ready to do the same thing in college. In that kind of setting, our minds fade in and out of attention just as mine did during last night's forum. The only way to assess learning under that kind of situation is through something equally contrived solely for the purpose of assessment, like a pop quiz, an essay question, or a standardized test. A school for doing prepares a student for real life because it engages the student in doing real things, and not everything falls into the pattern where it can be easily stated and thus verbally expressed.

And what about life, and the natural curiosity that comes from doing REAL things? I have a simple theory that doing real things draws your direct engagement in understanding and this is true whether or not it leads to knowing the names of things, and their verbal explanations.  If you have done something real, then you can assess for yourself the success of your engagement in the doing of it. Others, too can see, or even feel the success of your work, but only if they themselves have been engaged in doing real things. So in a doing school, adult assessment and standardized testing may be useful, but only as confirmation of what children and parents can already see for themselves.

My middle school students are each making a staff shaped from a pine sapling gathered from a thicket behind the wood shop building. Each is adorning his or her staff with a piece of totem wood or carved emblem representing their honorary membership in a Cherokee clan. They've been working in a social setting, so they can talk as they whittle the bark away and smooth their work. One can imagine that if they were real Cherokee, they would be working in  a similar fashion, social and collaborative and with joyful enthusiasm.

This afternoon, my high school students will be working to finish their boxes.

Make, fix and create...