Thursday, January 15, 2015


No, I did not sneeze.
es·chew verb \e-ˈshü, i-; es-ˈchü, is-; also e-ˈskyü\ : to avoid (something) especially because you do not think it is right, proper, etc.

In our nearby town of Berryville, the school superintendent (Dr. Phil Clarke) is beginning to defy conventional authority, and is gathering a committee of teachers, parents, students, and concerned individuals to question the way schooling is done. In the local paper he described his own education and how ill prepared it left him for college. He was interested in science but was taught in a rote manner, that left him ill-equipped for the level of intellectual inquiry he faced upon arriving at college.

At some point, we need to find courage to damn the standards that bind most school administrators, teachers and students to failure in the education of our kids and proceed full steam ahead.

I want to thank Barbara for helping to shed some light on the subtitle of David J. Whittaker's book on Educational Sloyd, "Head and Hands in Harness." I had found the phrase awkward,and anachronistic. Barbara said in an email,
"My parents would always say to me that they had to "anspannen" me, in the extended sense of put me to work, more concretely to harness a horse: "spenne" N or "spænde" D, "anspannen" G, being to tauten or tighten, to brace, strain or tax. Also the noun a buckle: buckle down! "
And so we attempt to buckle or harness head to hands and hands to head, eschew the standards and proceed at a full gallop. Children are hard wired for learning. Give them something to do that interests them and watch them run. But, certainly, it is not actually as easy as that. As teachers, we'd best keep a light hand on the reins, but both hands, never-the-less. There is some quality to be derived relative to the quality of the tools of inquiry and craftsmanship that we place carefully in their hands. The following is from the notes at the back of Dr. Frank Wilson's book about the hands:
The human hand is little better endowed, in a purely material sense, than that of any generalised primate in whom the thumb is present and specialised. In this connection Wood Jones (1941) wrote : “We shall look in vain if we seek for movements that man can do and a monkey cannot, but we shall find much if we seek for purposive actions that man can do and a monkey cannot.” The heart of the matter lies in the term “ purposive actions,” for it is in the elaboration of the central nervous system and not in the specialisation of the hand that we find the basis of human skill.

So as a simple proposal, I ask that we eschew current standards and apply this one. "Ask our children to engage in purposive actions that man can do and a monkey cannot." (Watch the video to see how well monkeys can perform on iPads.)

In my own shop, I've been making a dedicated hinge slotting machine to cut grooves for barbed hinges. The start of it is shown in the photo above, and I guarantee that a monkey could not have conceived it.

Make, fix and create...

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