Friday, December 12, 2014

this day...

Today I have a photographer coming from the Historic Arkansas Museum. They are planning a show in 2015 of the works of those designated as "Arkansas Living Treasures," and the photographer will take a photo of me in my messy wood shop.

I received the first 12 pages translated from I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg, by N. Christian Jacobsen. I am blown away by the depth of it, so far. Not at all shy, he plunged right into the depths of what had been controversial, Otto Salomon's insistence that classroom teaching is ineffective. In the book, Jacobsen is attempting to explain the differences between Swedish Sloyd and the Danish version of it promoted by Aksel Mikkelsen.

Yesterday in our local newspaper the school superintendent of a neighboring community (Berryville, AR) noted that when he enters a classroom and finds the students listening passively, they are not being effectively taught. Do you think he's gotten the message from this blog? Yet, it is difficult to manage a classroom in the traditional sense where students are each doing different things. And if students are doing things as well as learning, they will not all be performing at the same level of skill or at the same level of interest, or at the same level of comprehension. Is that so difficult to understand?

 Jacobsen, in his book chose to plunge directly into a subject near and dear to Salomon's heart, so it is no surprise that he would be one of Salomon's favorite authors. Otto Salomon, who led the international movement in Educational Sloyd, made reference in letters to his discovery of the "Columbus egg." While some educators might be watching for a mystical philosopher's stone to bring pieces of the puzzle together, the "Columbus egg" has its roots in the practical rather than the mystical.

The original story of the Columbus egg was as follows: Many, many years ago, Christopher Columbus was sitting in a tavern with some other sea captains who where joking and making light of his discovery. “Anyone could have discovered that!” they said. “No big deal!" (The quotes here are not exact, as I don’t speak Portuguese or Italian.) Columbus grabbed an egg off the table and said, ”I can balance this egg on end.“ The other sea captains tried and then proclaimed, “Impossible!” "You are a fool!" they said. Columbus tapped the egg on its end, cracking it slightly and set it down, perfectly balanced. “That’s cheating!" The captains complained, “Anyone can do that!” “Yes," Columbus said, “now that I’ve shown you how.”

As explained to me by Hans Thorbjörnsson, Salomon's "Columbus egg" was not his discovery of the use of the model series, but rather the arrangement of exercises that provided the order in which models would be arranged and introduced. Each model required a range of skills and understanding in the use of various tools, and to learn and acquire those skills and understanding through the performance of exercises in an orderly manner related to the model series was the foundation of self-directed learning... Salomon's Columbus egg.

When I was a beginning woodworker, I knew that if I could successfully cut a few good joints, I was well on my way to being able to make anything I wanted. But of course, cutting the simplest of mortise and tenon joints was not as simple as it might appear. Cutting the mortise alone required handling of the chisel in a variety of distinct motions. It required the use of a mallet. It required close scrutiny and understanding of the material. But before one even started, it required understanding of measuring and marking tools, including a rule or tape measure, square and marking gauge. Salomon said "An exercise is the working (tooling?) of a material of a certain quality with a certain tool for a certain purpose."

He divided working of wood into 68 distinct operations, or exercises (övingar) that would be used in the making of models, and these exercises presented to the students in sequence was the foundation of the process, not the models themselves. Understanding the exercises would be required for teachers and educators in other countries and cultures to be able to develop new models as substitutes to meet the interests of their children, and the requirements of the Educational Sloyd method. What results is a complex matrix of skills, exercises and model series.

A simple model (a number of exercises)
And so while Salomon suggested that model series be adjusted in each country and community to meet the interests of each child, understanding enough of the underlying exercises to develop new models and to know where they fit into the model series was not as easy thing. For instance, I have been dancing at the edges of Educational Sloyd for years now, and in making a new model shown above, I find it challenging to figure out exactly where it would fit in. The complexity should explain a few things.

Many of those who attended summer classes at Nääs returned to their home countries determined to teach Sloyd. But the challenges of adapting model series to their own students led many of them to slavishly adhere to what they had learned to make in Sweden. As a result, Educational Sloyd was viewed by some as uncreative, and unAmerican. Even a thing as simple as the key holder shown above, the complexity of exercises and what must be learned are huge. For instance, in order for the tenon to be cut to fit, the wood must first be cut square on the end. Cutting square with a hand saw is not particularly easy. It requires learning about the square, the saw, about the material and about oneself. In my new model shown above, my next challenge would be to find where it would fits into a Nääs model series.

I can list the exercises used in its making and compare with the 68 exercises used in making the original model series in Sweden, and perhaps learn where it might fit in. This for me illustrated the difficulty of creating a model series.

As to how the key holder fits into my classes? Ozric said, "I want to make that!" Thus answering the first point of Educational Sloyd... Start with the interests of the child.

Make, fix and create...

No comments:

Post a Comment