Monday, December 08, 2014

testing the steel edge's sharpness...

One of the things that led me to Nääs, and made me know that I would find a treasure trove of Sloyd there, was that there were only two places in the world that had copies of Hand and Eye, a journal of Educational Sloyd and Kindergarten that was published in the late 1800s. I wanted to stick my nose in those journals and the only other place they were known to be found was in the British Library.

There are things that cannot be fully explained. For instance, what a craftsman learns by using his hands. And so perhaps poetry can come close. My new friend Barbara sent a poem by Harry Martinson, translated from Swedish Människans händer:
Human Hands

The hands’ experience is touch
their life among things is varied,
full of silent content.
They do not hear but are there in vibrations.
They do not see but know how it is in dark cellars.
When velvet is appraised they are there,
and whetstone and scythe blade they silently test.
They sense with light touch the steel edge’s sharpness.
How have they managed to gather all their subtle experiences
of wool and grit, of down and steel,
of smooth surface and of prickly globe thistle,
of silky talcum and of all types of flour.
Their register is unprecedented
from shiny silks to coarse sacks,
from coarse files and kitchen graters
to the smooth nails of newborns
and the sheen of touch on the blooms of everlastings.
They live in the country of sensation where touch is all
and where touching’s mystery raises its bridge between nerve and steel.
But in the butterfly’s dust they find their limit.
                                            --Harry Martinson
There are ways to test the sharpness of the steel's edge. Some will take the sharp blade and scalp hair from the arm. Some will test the blade on a thumbnail. If it digs rather than slides, it can be adjudged just sharp enough. If you look dead on at the tip, squint with eyes tight to overcome whether you have your glasses on or off, you can, on a dull knife, see a bit of light looking back. On a truly sharp knife, you'll see nothing but the cosmos reflected equally from both sides, left and right.

Early educators knew that the senses were key, that experience even for poets should come before words and that the partnership between hand and eye is essential. Students were not to be confined to death at desks, but were to be set free, under the guidance of the wise. Then folks came along, and decided education would be much better if they put a motor on it.

In school, I am getting ready for my first grade students to make tiny wooden Christmas trees, knowing that these trees are truly a symbol of much more that just the Christmas holiday season. The tree is a symbol of everlasting life and light in the darkness of the winter solstice.

Make, fix and create...

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