Monday, November 30, 2015

on being led out part 2

We are in a wilderness of our own making in which the structures of society are rapidly removing agency, while we are operating under the illusion of free will. I hope that Matt Crawford's final chapter of his new book will help us whack through the thicket to some clear light.

In yesterday's post, I mentioned Crawford's books and the quote of mine which served him well as an entry point for his first book and concluding dialog for his third. In the third book, he was quite complimentary and called me a "first class thinker about education." But he also suggested in an offhand manner that the educational institutions that exist are working for some. Naturally a motorcycle mechanic with an advanced degree in Political Philosophy would see some merit in the status quo, even if he places his own thoughts at odds to it. I take a contrary view. First, I must assure my readers that I am pleased and flattered that he would spend as much of the reader's time in reflection on just a single quote from this blog, and at such important points in his books. And let me assure you that each of his books is a very worthwhile read.

On the other hand, the system of education based on students sitting confined to desks, at any level, pre-k through university is not working, and leaves even those successful in it and through it crippled in a variety of ways unless they are able to find some means through which to discover hands-on ways to bring balance to their learning processes.  Matt Crawford managed that by keeping motorcycles outside the city dump.  But it is my belief that since many students are not able to discover that balance on their own and have so few examples for it in their daily lives, it should be the job of education at all levels to insure learning at its best, which means in every case and for all students learning should become as much hands-on as educators are able to provide. It is absolutely true that for all students, what we learn hands-on is retained at a deeper level, for a longer period of time  and is therefore more likely to find use than those things that are learned without benefit of the whole body.

So first, let's explore why some student have apparent success in school, giving some the impression that the current methods work. Pierre Bourdieu, French philosopher and sociologist identified capital as being more than just money and financial resources. He identified the concept of social capital, which applies here in that social groups and particular families hold their young to varying standards and some work very hard to place their children at an advantage in schooling. The "Tiger Mother" is an example, and if you were the son or daughter of a second generation immigrant Asian mom, you might dare not perform at a high enough level in school to best your peers. And so even if the game is boring, or rigged, you play your heart out because it matters so much to Mom. The child of the upwardly mobile mom (or dad) will study harder, take learning more seriously, even when bored to tears, and will be provided a great deal of support within the home to make dead certain of success. This sociological principle also applies within the charter school movement in which rote memorization from the 19th century may be supercharged with hand clapping rhythmic response, but the real reason for success if it comes to that is that the students and their parents come to those schools with social capital focused on particular results. It does not hurt either that the efforts of those schools may be totally focused on getting high test scores and that important aspects of learning that are not on the test will be ignored to save time for those things that are.

But does schooling as a contrivance steeped in artificiality serve any students well? And what if we were to restore those areas of endeavor that brought life to schooling by doing real things? I can mention a few. The arts, music, wood shop, laboratory science and physical education. You can pretty much rely on the hands to give direction in this. And even where the hands have not been traditionally utilized to explore learning, as in history, literature and geography, they must be. Where the hands are engaged, hearts soon follow.

The great stupidity of modern education is that the hands are too often kept from doing real things.

Make, fix, create, and extend the notion,  please, that others may learn likewise.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Electronics and kids brains don't mix

Comedian Paula Poundstone wrote an essay for CBS News,  Electronics and kids' brains don't mix but the point she makes isn't funny. Digital media is now the perfect definition of a juggernaut, or it might be described as a tsunami with regard to the impact it's having on children's lives, but few seem to notice or consider what kids are missing. It's odd that the same parents who would protest if children were given Sloyd knives to work with in school, will give their children texting devices and launch them at high speed in cars they are barely mature enough to control. Who cares now if they can see over the steering wheel? Most tragically their eyes will be glued to the screen, whenever the device dings to tell them that someone else has posted something inane.

It is strange that people would so seriously engage their own children, putting them in situations of known risk, in a culture-wide experiment that promises estrangement from family and from the lessons that one can learn through the engagement in real life.

My thanks  to Mario for the link.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.

on being led out...

I contacted Matthew Crawford yesterday to thank him for keeping my thoughts alive in his latest book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. 

I asked him for the rights to quote rather extensively from his last chapter, and with that granted, I hope to explain a few things. He said in the final chapter, On Being led out, redux:
To reclaim the real, both in the way we encounter other people and in the way we encounter things, would have implications for education. They are crystalized in the following quote from Doug Stowe, a woodshop teacher and first-class thinker about education: “In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
He goes on to offer a minor caveat, saying. "I don’t think this is true for every student, but it is true of enough students that we ought to worry about it."

I can accept that there are some students that emerge from our current educational model as successful students and those particular students would consider the current model to be ideal, based on their success within it. I suggest that there are many successful students who for various reasons buy into the game of education, all the while knowing quite well that it's contrived, steeped in artificiality and abstraction like any other game. The children's game of Sorry comes to mind. If these particular children don't understand that the education game is rigged in their favor, they would have to be stupid indeed. And if education is a game then what is that telling students about real life and their responsibilities within it and their responsibilities to others less successful within it? Some seem to have difficulty reconciling the fact that some bright students successfully manipulate the education game to move on to Harvard and other top notch schools that provide the credentials for stellar careers and economic success, while others on the surface may appear to be more severely and outwardly wounded by the artificiality of schooling.  I contend that ALL students pay a tremendous toll for the artificiality of hands-off learning.

I can also see that this may take some serious explaining. But from my perspective, the damages of artificial learning environments apply to all students, and in particular unseen ways to those who are most successful within such schooling. As winners in a game stacked in their favor they may never be fully cognizant of the wounds they have received or that they may then inflict inadvertently on others. Hang in here with me, ask a few questions if you like.  Challenge me and see how well I can explain it.

Our Thanksgiving holiday is over, guests and family have gone home, and I'm making boxes in the wood shop. I have just a bit more text and a few photos to submit to the editor on my Froebel book, and one more chapter to finish in Tiny boxes.

On a different (but related) subject, I was disappointed when due to computer upgrades and software incompatibility, my Rosetta Stone program for learning Swedish would no longer work. Learning Swedish had been part of my journey into Educational Sloyd. A lovely replacement has emerged. It's better than my old Rosetta Stone and free for use on your smart phone or digital pad like object. Go to your app store and download duolingo. It offers most of the popular languages. It is free and based on a profit scheme that requires no advertising. It will allow you to advance steadily, will provide reminders and the opportunity to share your progress with friends. As I have been advancing through the basics, I am pleased to learn that I have remembered enough Swedish to make it fun, and I am learning things that Rosetta Stone never touched upon.

Make, fix, create and assist others to learn likewise.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Photo courtesy of Norm Brosterman
Peas-work, also called cork-work or “sticks and peas” was identified by some early authors as Froebel’s 19th gift in his invention of Kindergarten. It consisted of dried peas, softened in water before use, and pointed sticks or wires used to connect the peas into various structural forms. In the case of cork-work, small cubes or balls of cork were used in place of peas, but to the same effect. Peas-work could be viewed as a predecessor to Tinkertoys™.

As described by Norm Brosterman in Inventing Kindergarten, sticks and peas was particularly instrumental in Buckminster Fuller’s development of the geodesic dome. In Kindergarten, Fuller suffered from severe vision impairment and while the other students were making the kinds of rectilinear forms familiar to those who see, Fuller found inspiration in the triangular forms that gave greater strength. As Fuller described it years later,
“When the teacher told us to make structures, I tried to make something that would work. Pushing, then pulling, I found that the triangle held its shape when nothing else did…The teacher called all the other teachers in primary school to take a look at this triangular structure. I remember being surprised that they were surprised.” From the video “Buckminster Fuller: Thinking Out Loud,” Produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon (New York: Zeitgeist Films, 1996)
As described by Edward Weibé’s book The Paradise of Childhood,
“the material consists of pieces of wire of the thickness of a hair-pin, of various sizes in length, and pointed at the ends… As means of combination, as embodied points of junction, peas are used, soaked about twelve hours in water and dried one hour previous to being used. They are then just soft enough to allow the child to introduce the points of the wires into them and also hard enough to afford a sufficient hold to the latter.” Paradise of Childhood Quarter Century Edition, p. 264, Milton Bradley, Co., New York, 1896
The peas would then dry and harden again forming a lasting structure. For those wanting to experiment with peas-work, or to offer the benefits of peas-work to their children or students, dried peas softened in water, mini marshmallow bits, or cork balls can be used with toothpicks. In addition to making representations of concrete forms, sticks and peas can also be used to construct models of atoms and molecules in Chemistry. Styrofoam balls would also work, but I would avoid them as they are not likely to biodegrade before doing some damage to the environment.

Sticks and Peas was delineated by Weibé  as Froebel's 19th gift, and should be reserved for those students whose dexterity of hand and mind has been thoroughly developed by the earlier gifts. It requires a great deal of skill to manipulate the tiny balls and sticks into successful shapes.

Edward Weibé described one of the benefits of peas work in the greater permanence of the object created. As the child grows,
“It is no longer the incipient instinct of activity which governs the child, the instinct which prompted him apparently without aim, to destroy everything and to reconstruct in order to again destroy. A higher pleasure of production has taken its place not satisfied by mere doing, but requiring for his satisfaction also, delight in the created object––if even unconsciously––the delight of progress, which manifests itself in the production, and which can be observed only in and by the permanency of the object which enables us to compare it with objects previously produced.”
In this case, sticks and peas, Wiebé is describing what Froebel had called an “occupation.”

A reader from British Columbia alerted me that my quote from Matthew Crawford's first book, Shop Class as Soul Craft that was used as the opening to chapter one, was also explored thoroughly at the close of his new book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. The quote has now been used as the opening for one of his books and the closing of another, and I feel honored that my words have been used as bookends for this important point.
“In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
The basic assumption in schooling is that students are stupid and can be easily manipulated. The truth is that they are not. By the time they reach school age, they have already been deeply immersed in learning and have enough sense to distinguish between that which is contrived and wrongfully  presented in a game-like fashion, and relality. Some students are deeply engaged in playing the education game, and some are more resistant to it. But when ALL students are asked to do real things, like the creation of useful beauty, real, memorable and remarkable learning happens. It's why we need shop classes, music, the arts, laboratory science, physical education, hikes in the woods (along with serious classroom nature study), and to get kids out of the classroom doing real things.

The image used above is from Norm Brosterman's book, Inventing Kindergarten.

Make, fix, create, and incite others to learn likewise.

Friday, November 27, 2015

the universal man...

H. Courthope Bowen in his book Froebel and Self-Activity had suggested that the songs and games of Kindergarten should be adapted to better conform to the immediate lives of the children in the particular community. His idea was that since it was unlikely that Kindergarten children in an urban environment would ever encounter fishes living in a brook, that songs and fingerplay about fish should be abandoned to make room for others more relevant to the particular children involved. Susan Blow in her book Symbolic Education respectfully took an opposing position. There should be no child not taken to a brook and exposed to the wonders of nature where real fish might be observed.

I fall on Susan Blow's side in this minor dispute. If Kindergarten is to lead to an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, as Froebel intended, how can that be without the child's direct engagement in nature? Through planting gardens, tending the growth of plants, observing the wonders of nature and attending to the needs of small animals, children are awakened to a deeper relationship to life, and nurture their own sense of responsibility to life itself. There are universal principles having to do with nurturing children to become nurturing of all that surrounds them. This might not fit well with industries' demand for the industrialization of all things for the sake of their profits. But to a very large degree, survival of our species requires that we act with a high degree of sensitivity to what surrounds us.

In addition to celebrating Thanksgiving, I am attempting to illustrate Froebel's idea of occupations..I'll focus on just two examples as the book about making Froebel's Gifts should simply provide a starting point for parents hoping to take a greater role in assuring their child's full development. With the occupations, building upon the foundation provided by the gifts, the parents' role becomes simplified. Provide some simple tools and materials and back off while the child creates...

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn likewise.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

regard for the value of the student's work...

Yesterday one of my students added a leather handle to her bow. As she began personalizing it further by wood burning her design logo on the front side, she informed me that the bow was the most beautiful thing she'd made in wood shop and that she was more proud of it than of anything she'd made to date. I could tell by her enthusiasm when the project was first introduced that this would be the case.

Making things and then making one's own marks to further personalize the things one's made are natural to the learning process. When work matters to the student and the student takes the work seriously, the signs of that are the student's interest in making the work clearly reflect his or her own personality. With that in mind, I am careful to demonstrate on wood other than the piece upon which the student works.

For the sake of comparison, I am reminded of my time in high school freshman English class. My teacher would grade and correct my writing assignments, each written carefully in cursive, and return them to me emblazoned with her red ink pointing out the errors in punctuation, and with no comment as to the intelligence and originality of my thoughts. I did not realize that I was supposed to take her comments and redo the assignments with her corrections in place. In my mind, she had simply desecrated my work and insulted my intelligence. And having been insulted, I simply threw the papers away as I left class. At the end of the semester, Mrs. Adamson informed me that I was failing and would not pass if I did not return my corrected versions of the papers, all of which I had thrown away. My only choice was to redo all the assignments, and to go through the process of correction, ugly red ink and all. And the point here is that student work should be respected, though it routinely is not. If you don't get it, read yesterday's post, the property sense.

This being Thanksgiving Day in the US, I will be busy making pies and will spend just a bit of time with lessons for my great niece Olivia in wood shop. As she is in Kindergarten in Florida, and as kindergarten is no longer what it once was, I hope to experiment just a bit with paper weaving, and peaswork.

Counting blessings and feeling thankful are important elements in the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. And I have many things to be thankful for. Among these are the opportunity for creative endeavors and friends interested in sharing my journey. Happy Thanksgiving.  We've 29 making days before Christmas. Make this a giving season in which the greatest gift is to yourself: dexterity of mind and hand.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the gift of learning likewise.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

the property sense...

Yesterday my student who had broken two bows as they were being made came to wood shop  early to begin crafting his third. When students want to accomplish real things, they make time for it even when it means missing a part of their lunch hour recess. While he was at work on his bow, I made a very tiny bow and arrow inspired by the efforts of one of my students. My very tiny bow and arrow, as silly as it may seem, has inspired a number of students to ask if they can make one, too. The desire to possess interesting objects can lead students forward in learning skill.

In my home work shop, I finished a few boxes  and cut miters for nearly 30 more. What will I do with so many boxes? I find joy in the making of them and that should be reason enough to carry forth. I have the power to disperse them as I see fit.

Felix Adler suggested another reason to support manual arts training for all students:
"––namely, that it develops the property sense. What  after all, apart from artificial social convention is the foundation of the right of property? On what basis does it rest? I have a proprietary right to my own thoughts. I have a right to follow my tastes in the adornment of my person and my house. I have a right to the whole sphere of my individuality, my selfhood; and I have a right in things so far as I use them to express my personality. The child that has made a wooden box has put a part of himself into the making of that box––his thought, his patience, his skill, his toil––and therefore the child feels that that box is in a certain sense his own. And as only those who have the sense of ownership are likely to respect the right of ownership in others, we may by manual training cultivate the property sense of the child; and this, in the case of the delinquent child, it will be admitted, is no small advantage."–Felix Adler 1888
With the making of things comes the possession of the object made, and also the possession of the skill required in making it. Desire and anticipation of owning an object can lead students onward. As students apply themselves to skill building tasks with the intention of laying claim to objects desired, they also lay a strong claim upon aspects of self that will serve them well in all things.

Make, fix, create and assist others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What will we make today?

Last year my great niece Olivia visited here in Eureka Springs for Thanksgiving, and we did a few simple projects in the wood shop. We made tops and toy cars and so one of Olivia's first questions this year as they planned their trip was, "What will Uncle Doug have for me to make this year?"

Later in the day, we'll find out., but first I have pancakes to make.

This year Olivia is in Kindergarten in South Florida, and they will likely never consider woodworking as an activity in her school, so this is her chance. I brought home one of the kid sized benches from school and have plenty of tools and materials to keep her busy with a project each day. Last year she was shy about woodworking. This year she perks up when she hears the word woodshop.

As it is growing even less likely with each passing day that wood shops will return to education, the responsibility to preserve the hands-on intelligence of our nation falls in your hands and mine on a case by case basis. Let me tell you, that inviting a child to create under your own watchful eyes is not a burden but a joy.

I spent nearly two years trying to learn Swedish, when a toddler would have grasped as much of the the language I was able to absorb in a few days, so we know the learning capacity of a young mind and the impact of what they learn on who they are.  Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, 1902 as follows:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"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
Make, fix, create and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Monday, November 23, 2015

reduction of testing time...

Here in Arkansas, the change from PARCC to ACT Aspire testing programs this year is claimed to cut the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests in half according to a front page article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

What will likely not change, however, is the amount of time spent teaching to the test. If testing drives the standards, then the standards will be driving content. And student interest will fall by the wayside. I've included an interesting cartoon above that tells the story.

Some of the serial effect launched by the common core and PARCC testing, and ACT Aspire is that students have to be on computers to take the tests, and that is predicted to cost education more than 17 Billion dollars over the next 7 years.  According to an article in KQED:
Districts are scrambling to figure out how to improve, update, and add technology so students can actually take the new tests. Murfreesboro public schools in Tennessee, for example, borrowed $5.2 million to purchase laptops and iPads to prepare students for the new assessments.
If you buy a bandsaw or lathe, it will be useful to students 20 years down the road if cared for and maintained. With computers and programs for them, the investment is obsolete within three years, (whether you find sufficient and effective use for them or not) and school districts will be forced to launch a whole new dance to acquire funding for that. But what may interest readers is that the implementation of core curriculum and the testing for it, is actually forcing schools to join in the stampede to spend money on iPads and laptops. It is a vicious cycle. Students won't do well with the core testing if they are not proficient on the computer. So teaching to the test, and training in computer proficiency will dominate classroom learning.

The computer is seen by most educational policy makers as a magic silver bullet. that can be aimed at all the problems in education and child development. But screen time has long been understood by the American Council of Pediatrics at having detrimental developmental effects. The silver bullet of technology is experimental at best, but without the controls necessary to understand the outcome.

In the meantime, a few schools across the country are awakening to the importance of the hands. As is described here: How turning math into a maker workshop can bring calculations to life.

The point is that kids are inspired to learn when they are given the opportunity to do real things. As I was quoted in the first chapter of Matt Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft,
In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
How can you make certain your students are doing something real? Get their hands engaged in it.

Make, fix, create, and inspire others to learn likewise.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

sufficient interest...

Yesterday, in addition to cleaning in my office and finish room (the shop is still a disaster), I spent a bit of time trying to finish a few boxes that were made during my summer classes as demonstration pieces. They display a variety of joints and techniques, and as I get finish them  I can either sell them or give them to charity events.

A good question that educational policy makers could ask, is how do we create schooling in which the natural interests of the child are sufficiently captured, so that self-directed learning is engaged. Froebel had called that "self-activity." Just because a child is active does not mean that he is not learning. In fact, the child's activity suggests that learning is taking place.

In speaking of the delinquent or disadvantaged child and the more advantaged child as well, Felix Adler (1888) wrote on the integration of two important points:
First... History, geography, and arithmetic are not, as a rule, interesting to young children, especially to young children of the class with which we are now dealing.  These listless minds are not easily roused to an interest in abstractions. Secondly, it is a notorious fact that the intellectual culture, pure and simple, is quite consistent with weakness of the will. A person may have very high intellectual attainments, and yet be morally deficient. I need hardly warn my reflective hearers that, when emphasizing the importance for the will of intellectual culture, I had in mind the intellectual process as applied to acts. To cultivate the intellect in its own sphere of contemplation and abstractions, apart from action my leave the will precisely a feeble as it was before.

And now, all that has been said thus far converges upon the point that has been in view from the beginning––the importance of manual training as an element in disciplining the will. Manual training fulfills the conditions I have just alluded to. It is interesting to the young, as history, geography and arithmetic often are not. Precisely those pupils who take the least interest or show the least aptitude of literary study are often the most proficient in the workshop and modeling room.... Thus manual training fulfills the one essential condition––it is interesting. It also fulfills the second. By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box...
 Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

manual training and the poor...

The following is from Felix Adler, a small portion of an address to the National Conference of Charities and Correction at Buffalo, July 1888.
"By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box. The first point to be gained is to attract the attention of the pupil to the task. A wooden box is interesting to a child, hence this first point will be gained. Lethargy is overcome, attention is aroused. Next, it is important to keep the attention fixed on the task: thus only can tenacity of purpose be cultivated. Manual training enables us to keep the attention of the child fixed upon the object of study, because the latter is concrete. Furthermore, the variety of occupations which enter into the making of the box constantly refreshes this interest after it has once been started. The wood must be sawed to line. The boards must be carefully planed and smoothed. The joints must be accurately worked out and fitted. The lid must be attached with hinges. The box must be painted or varnished. Here is a sequence of means leading to an end, a series of operations all pointing to a final object to be gained, to be created. Again, each of these means becomes in turn and for the time being a secondary end; and the pupil thus learns, in an elementary way, the lesson of subordinating minor ends to a major end. And, when finally the task is done, when the box stands before the boy's eyes a complete whole, a serviceable thing, sightly to the eyes, well adapted to its uses, with what a glow of triumph does he contemplate his work! The pleasure of achievement now comes in to crown his labor; and this sense of achievement, in connection with the work done, leaves in his mind a pleasant after-taste, which will stimulate him to similar work in the future. The child that has once acquired, in connection with the making of a box, the habits just described, has begun to master the secret of a strong will, and will be able to apply the same habits in other directions and on other occasions."
The point that Adler was attempting to make was that part of the problem for the poor and for the juvenile delinquent was insufficient development of will. But then the development of will might offer challenges to the powers that be in that strength of mind would lead to demand for change. Here in the US, it seems policy makers would rather incarcerate young men than train them to do useful things. That may sound like a harsh thing to say, but it is true, as evidenced by the elimination of manual arts training in schools throughout the US.

Today I hope to gain some quality time in the wood shop, and plan to renew a proposal for an article about my simple router table. The table itself was featured in "Methods of Work" in Fine Woodworking years ago, but the addition of various fences and a new, simple means of providing zero clearance to the bit makes it worth another look.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.

Friday, November 20, 2015

stopping the school to prison pipeline...

Asking the right questions ... The US Department of Education is using google hangouts to address the problem of school discipline. Way too many children are suspended from school and these kids are disproportionately from particular social groups that also are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers. The pattern is well established. Kids perform poorly in school, are suspended and left on the streets where they get in trouble, are then thrown into the juvenile court system for a time, and as they reach prison age without maturing beyond petty criminal and gang activities, end up in prison.

I am curious of course, as I listen, whether or not policy makers will ever get around to the important question about capturing student interest, and the challenge of maintaining discipline in overly large classes, classes that should not be so large in the first place. We know that in small classes, teachers have a better capacity to address student needs.

The way this fits the school to prison pipeline is that too many children are simply suspended as a part of the discipline protocol, and by being pushed from schooling, the issues are compounded.

One good question that was asked the panel had to do with students questioning authority. The questioner was not specific whether he was asking about school authority or authority in general.  The question threw the panel for  a moment or two. But should questioning authority whether it's the school's authority in question or the standard assumptions of society not be an important part of the student's school experience? I would hope that students challenge, and challenge again.

The wood shop offers an important opportunity for kids. My standard response when kids ask, "Can I do this?" is "Try it, See how it works." It's not my job to prove my own authority, but to encourage children to test on their own. The important thing is not to give students a standardized view of reality, but to help them to use their own minds and hearts to test physical and social realities. Woodworking is a bit different from courses in which children are captive in desks, afraid to move without launching a discipline protocol.

A friend asked me about the effectiveness of woodworking in the education of the delinquent or disadvantaged child. It is not a thing I discuss much here, because in truth, woodworking is relevant to all children in their development as responsible adults for the many reasons I routinely discuss. But if educational policy makers were interested in breaking the school to prison pipeline, they might consider wood shop, and giving students something to do that would fully capture their interests and attention.

Yesterday one of my students broke his second bow, due to it having been weakened in one spot near the handle due to a design choice. He had broken one earlier due to a defect in the material. So it was extremely discouraging for him to have had two failures. I offered my own bow that I had done as a demo for him to complete as a replacement for his own. He thanked me, but insisted that he wants to start another and to work on his own to make it more perfect. This is a student that I've had in wood shop since he was in first grade. He was a reluctant student at first and wanted nothing to do with real tools, so it is pleasant for me to observe his maturity and interest.

Marc Adams School of Woodworking has announced its classes for the coming year, with a process for signing up. My own classes are sometimes filled early in the enrollment process so adult students hoping to take one should apply soon.

On an unrelated issue, SWEPCO in their haste to build an extra high voltage transmission line through my home town of Eureka Springs, that they claimed was to serve us  by providing 8 times the currently available power, but was really to provide them with a power transmission corridor to sell wind power to the East Coast, had piecemealed the project. They divided it into smaller chunks,  hoping to get approval for a distasteful project and built the first portion of the power line, doing unnecessary damage to properties to the west.

One litigant filed an appeal to SWEPCO's court settlement on his property, and was awarded over 917,000 dollars in damages. Yesterday the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the jury's decision. After the way that SWEPCO lied to us and to the Arkansas Public Service Commission and after our long fight to stop them from building their unnecessary and destructive power line through our county, it is gratifying to see SWEPCO facing at least a small measure of justice. As I've mentioned before, if the corporation was a person, it would be ashamed of itself. If one were to assess corporations the way psychologists assess and diagnose patients, SWEPCO's corporate behavior in this issue would be found to exhibit a pathological Anti-Social Personality Disorder.

Make, fix, create, and enable others to learn likewise.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

the necessity of creativity...

With my book on tiny boxes nearly complete, I returned my attention to making Froebel's Gifts by writing an essay on occupations to submit to my editor.

Engagement in Froebel's occupations gave the student the opportunity to test material properties and test the dexterity of both mind and hands in the creative process. Creativity offers students a means to test what they have been told been taught, to engage in direct problem solving, and to directly observe and measure their own competence. Schools without the creative use of the hands are a waste of mind.

Yesterday in wood shop my students tested their bows and arrows, turned gavels on the lathe and made toys. Oen made a toy grapple on a string and as I left school he was attempting to capture the climbing gym.

The image above is a proposed cover for my new book.

Make, fix, create, and find it imperative that others learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The impact of Kindergarten...

Phildelphis World Exposition's Kindergarten class, 1876.
I had such a good day at school today, and plan to have just as good a day tomorrow. The kids are so much fun and show such enthusiasm for woodworking when they are challenged to do meaningful work.  This afternoon, when they saw that I was in the shop during lunch hour, they started filtering in early to work on their bows and arrows, and to hang out with the wonderful smell of wood. I'd been cutting cherry, so the odor of that wood was dominant in a room already smelling of sawn ash and planed pine. I'm reminded that manual arts in school was intended by some to extend the Kindergarten method into the upper grades, so it can be added to the long list of effects that Kindergarten had on education at large. The following is Nina C. Vandewalker's description of the impact of Kindergarten written in 1907.
“The kindergarten movement is one of the most significant movements in American education. In the fifty or more years that have passed since the first kindergarten was opened in the United States education has been transformed, and the kindergarten has been one of the agencies in the transformation. Although it came to this country when the educational ideal was still in the process of transformation, its aims and methods differed too radically from the prevailing ones to meet with immediate acceptance. The kindergarten is, however, the educational expression of the principles upon which American institutions are based, and as such it could not but live and grow upon American soil, if not in the school system, then out of it. Trusting to its inherent truth to win recognition and influence, it started on its educational mission as an independent institution, the embodiment of a new educational ideal. Its exponents proclaimed a new gospel — that of man as a creative being, and education as a process of self-expression. They substituted activity for the prevailing repression, and insisted upon the child's right to himself and to happiness during the educational process. They emphasized the importance of early childhood, and made the ideal mother the standard for the teacher. They recognized the value of beauty as a factor in education, and by means of music, plants, and pictures in the kindergarten they revealed the barrenness of the old-time schoolroom. By their sympathetic interpretation of childhood, their exaltation of motherhood, their enthusiasm for humanity, and their intense moral earnestness they carried conviction to the educational world. The kindergarten so won its way to the hearts of the people that the school at last opened its doors and bade it welcome. It has become the symbol of the new education.”
You can see That American education was headed in the right direction for a short time, then disrupted. In the meantime, "disruptive technology" has been presumed by those selling it to have only positive effect, and so anything that presents any consistency or constancy in human culture appears to be fair game for purposeful disruption. Whatever it is, disrupt it and see what happens. They used to say that if its not broken, don't fix it. Now the idea promulgated by avid technologians is break so it needs fixn' in the technologian manner. If schools buy into the technological fix, they must buy new equipment and software every three years to sustain it. But a good bandsaw, or lathe can last 20 years in a school setting, and kids can actually learn about 3 times as much about themselves in half the time by using one. How many kids these days are engaged in making useful beauty?  Too few.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn likewise.

for years now...

On last Friday, my 4th, 5th, and sixth grade students poked a hole in the theoretical underpinnings of my program. Part of the theory of my Wisdom of the Hands program was to enrich their studies by doing projects that were integrated with their classroom studies. For instance, if they were studying dinosaurs, we made model dinosaurs in wood shop. It seemed to me when we began the Wisdom of the Hands program in 2001 that we needed to prove the value of woodworking to staff and administration. So we developed projects to build culture and relationship within the school.

One day last week, my students were unsettled and the lesson I had prepared for them was not a thing that they were at all interested in. They were reading a book about the voyage of Christopher Columbus and I had thought a model and models of the Santa Maria would interest them. Only one student expressed interest, and the others were strongly disinterested. Their classroom teacher heard how noisy they were as they were goofing off. I challenged them at the end of class, telling them that I felt frustrated when they were not interested in learning what I had prepared for them... That I had spent most of my life developing skills, and that my own sense of fulfillment came from passing along what I had worked hard to learn.

So, I struggled in the night before yesterday's class, wondering how to get my students more deeply engaged. But their classroom teacher had raised the same question with them at the close of school on Friday. They told her that they wanted to do projects, not based on the ideal of integration, but of clear service and of meaning to others. It was interesting that I had arrived at the same conclusion during the night.

Yesterday we started two projects. The kids will be making toys for the next month to give to children at the local food bank. Select students will be working on turned projects on the lathe to be given as special gifts from the school. So instead of children goofing off, all were deeply engaged in their work.

Having a project that the children have chosen can make all the difference in the world. And an interesting thing to note, is that integration between classes, though an ideal in that it leads to collaboration between teachers and culture within the school, is not a necessity. Children, left to their own imaginations and intelligence can see the interconnectedness between areas of study, or are capable of making those discoveries on their own.

So, while school administrators all over the world, are embracing iPads as the essential tool, kids, when given the opportunity to do real things that are of meaning to others, will make the better choice.

Make, fix, create, and assist others to learn likewise.

Monday, November 16, 2015


They say its your birthday, it's my birthday, too, yeah. Thus sayeth the Beatles and the world rocked anew. If you have the right rhythm, are loud enough, have clever lyrics, and kids can dance to it, changes can come dramatically in a single night. Other, more meaningful things, can take a bit longer and still surprise you in how quickly they have come to pass.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I thought I was going to simply celebrate by doing chores. Instead, when we went to the UU church, some of the members were telling me about seeing me on TV...  several times, in fact. They were impressed by the short video done by the Historic Arkansas Museum and being shown on Arkansas Public Television in a series showing the skills and talents of Arkansas. Many of my readers may have seen this before: Wisdom of the Hands by filmaker Gabe Gentry. In any case, being on public television so many times has made me just a bit famous around here, and some of my students, too, have seen themselves on the little screen that's no longer so small in some homes as it once was.

Yesterday evening, we attended a celebration for volunteers at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and I learned about half-way through, why my wife wanted me to wear something other than blue jeans and old shirt. They had chosen to honor the three "founders" of the organization, Eleanor Lux, Mary Springer and me, by placing a bronze plaque on the original building we bought about a dozen years ago, and that is now called the "founders place." It is amazing to look back, and see that some small gestures at bringing people together around a good idea, can lead to such things. If you want to see that something can start out small and have a significant impact on the lives of others, ESSA is a good place to visit either in person or online. The Eureka Springs School of the Arts is that kind of place.

Robert Browning had said  "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what is a heaven for?" And that describes having had a simple notion shared with a few friends, about starting a school for the arts. For some of our students, to have become engaged in personal creativity for the first time, is their entry to heaven. Why else would some call God, the "creator."

A friend on Saturday noted that she's turned 75 and is taking the time to enjoy each moment in the awareness that she may not have that many years left. Time appears to move more slowly and deliberately when we are very young, everything is new to us, and now to us, and we could take nothing for granted.

Now, having been honored while still alive (a thing that does not happen often), I can get back to teaching, box making and my written works.

Make, fix, create and extend the opportunity for others to learn likewise.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

an experiment

Yesterday I began making sides for boxes to go with top panels I had veneered as demonstrations in a box making class this summer. I decided to finish the insides of these boxes before the parts are cut by brushing on a water based polyurethane while still in board form. I have a friend in South Florida who uses a spray lacquer finish on the inside of boxes before the parts are cut but I have been wanting to test and use finishes that are less harmful to the environment.

In any case, the experiment seems to be a success, and the walnut finished to a rich brown color in two coats. The finish was easy to apply, and brushed on smoothly after a light sanding between coats. The great thing was that there was almost no odor during application, and there will be no odor on the inside of the box. Now I can begin cutting the parts to size, mitering the corners and making the cuts for the top panel and bottom to fit.

The exterior of the box will be finished after assembly following my usual techniques.

The following is from Felix Adler:
...there are influences in manual training...which are favorable to a virtuous disposition. Squareness in things is not without relation to squareness in action and in thinking. A child that has learned to be exact––that is, truthful––in his work will be predisposed to be scrupulous and truthful in his speech, in his thought, in his acts.

I need not speak of the value of manual training to the artisan class... I need not speak of the value of manual training to the future surgeon, dentist, scientist, and to ll those who require deftness of hand in the pursuit of their vocations. But I do wish to speak of the value of manual training to the future lawyer and clergyman, and to all those who will perhaps never be called upon to labor with their hands. Precisely because they will not labor with their hands is manual training so important for them––in the interest of an all-round culture––in order that they not be entirely crippled on one side of their nature.
All around the world, we have whole cultures that have been crippled on their creative side. Take the great city of Paris for example. There you will find both the crowning achievements of human culture and the arts, and huge areas of poverty, that have become the breeding grounds of terroristic behavior.

Perhaps we should recommence a world-wide experiment before it's too late.
Let manual training... be introduced into the common schools; let the son of he rich man learn, side by side with the son of the poor man, to labor with his hands; let him thus practically learn to respect labor; let him learn to understand what the dignity of manual labor really means, and the two classes of society, united at the root, will never thereafter entirely grow asunder. – Felix Adler, 1888
Last night I watched the Democratic presidential debate, and one of the issues was whether or not public college should be made free. My own preference would be that ALL students be trained in the skilled use of their hands and that technical training be made free. For many students college is not the best course. As pointed out by the moderator in the debate, only about 65 percent of students attending public colleges graduate, and the question must be asked whether the states and federal government should be required to pay for such waste.  Graduating from college might be more assured if education at the lower levels were made more effective by being hands-on. Here in Arkansas, the latest round of PARCC testing revealed that 65 percent of graduates require remediation in college, meaning that those students will have to pay additional fees and waste time learning what they should have learned in high school. Could that be related in some way to the low rate of graduation from public colleges? Perhaps too many students weren't fully prepared in the first place. And if both colleges and lower level education were to pay attention to the theory of Educational Sloyd, concrete testing of abstract ideas would come into play, early and throughout and thereby maintain the interest and engagement of each student. One of the problems inherent in the modern university is that only a few particularly advanced students are selected for concrete engagement in laboratories and research, when all students need to be similarly engaged in real work.

In the meantime, this week's Dunesbury cartoon in the Sunday paper raises the question, "If enough people believe something, does that make it true." As more and more people get their ideas online rather than from real life, and as long as colleges and universities remain mired in lecture based abstraction, we can count on such stupidity continuing to rise at an alarming rate.

Make, fix, create and demand that others learn likewise.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


When George W. Bush and his administration formulated their response to the attacks on 9/11/2001 it appeared to me that he was dead wrong. But as he led our nation hell bent into war, I prayed that I instead could possibly be wrong about my assessment of appropriate response. Naturally ,and unfortunately I was not. We can see what self-righteous anger unleashes upon the world. Tit for tat responses, and the injustices such endless escalations unleash, never lead to good things. Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who "believed that philosophy was a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline." His sayings were recorded in the Enchiridion, or "handbook."
Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried. – Epictetus
There are laws of action and and inevitable response. In wood shop, as you get near the end of the cut with a hand saw, that's not the time to hurry and force your way through. It's time to hold back and cut slowly and with special deliberation. If you force the cut in haste, the wood will break and splinter in a ragged fashion that can't be fixed. There are lessons and wisdom be gained from the hands and through working with them.

Pay particular attention to the fact that we have two of them. They illustrate that we have a choice in how we respond to any given situation...  Grasping the issue by the one hand (and handle) or the other. For example, when the right hand guides the saw, the left hand steadies the wood, and in times of crisis and extreme uncertainty, the careful engagement of the left hand is necessary to bring stability and certainty before the right hand delivers its response. In the wood shop, would you start sawing before you have steadied the workpiece? uAll of human behavior is based on this model. And so when we act impulsively, as our nation did Bush and Cheney's bidding in response to the 9/11/2001 attack, we (and others) suffer ongoing consequences.

Following years of American bombings in Syria, and over a decade of bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq, it appears we have radicalized a generation of individuals who see themselves at war against western civilization. What happened last night in Paris has been happening in Syria and Iraq every day and night for years now as innocent lives are lost. It is sad as we witness the terror attack in Paris and as we observe the inevitable aftermath, that we are mired in this state of confusion resulting from the continuing stupidity of tit for tat response. Epictetus offered this advice:
28. If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?
What has been identified as an ISIS attack on Paris was more than a verbal attack, but the same wisdom of Epictetus applies. There is a Chinese saying that if you face evil, rather than confronting it directly and becoming mired in it, simply proceed to do the good. Telling someone that simple truth while their blood is boiling in anger may be to no great effect. We witnessed it ourselves in the US following 9/11/2001. But prayers for wisdom are called for at this time, and there is no better place to be on a stormy day than in the wood shop.

Froebel had suggested leading the child to understand the interconnectedness of all things. When you are in the wood shop and aligned through your creativity with the universe, your power to be of good effect is greater than you might imagine.

Make, fix, create and help others to learn likewise.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Heavens to Betsy, selling on Etsy.

I have had an Etsy sales site since 2008 but have neglected to keep it stocked with boxes. So yesterday afternoon and evening, I began putting work up for sale on the site.

I hope my readers enjoy seeing some of what I've been up to, and if you are up for some holiday shopping and would prefer to buy work from someone real, that you know, and whose actual hands were involved in the making of it, my Etsy store is the place to go.

One thing I learned early  as a craftsman was that I have to sell work in order to make more. Buying a home, raising a daughter and sending her off to college required that I sell lots of work over the years. In other words, fine workmanship is always a partnership opportunity. Those who buy work enable it to go forth. I have a few more items to post on Etsy for sale today, and also plan to take boxes to galleries in my long neglected marketing of my work.

According to the ideal offered by Educational Sloyd, teaching all children the basics of craftsmanship will not make tradesmen from all students (regardless of how many parents fear that might be the case) but would give all a sense of the dignity and purpose of craftsmanship. Adults may not work with wood, but if they had the opportunity to learn woodworking or any other craft, they would have a sense of appreciation for craftsmanship and would support it's growth in their communities.

Each person these days has a choice. Buy perfect machine made stuff and fill your lives with the meaninglessness of it. Or use your resources to learn and grow and encourage others in their growth. Educational Sloyd was based on an understanding of the value of workmanship. The diligent worker made things, refined his character, and built his community at the very same time. Diligent consumers did very much the same thing as they advanced the principles and dignity of craftsmanship in their own communities.

Make, fix, create and share with others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I had a frustrating time yesterday with my middle school students in that they wanted to goof off and were not at all interested in the project I had in mind. I explained that their goofing off was unacceptable to me... That I had invested many years learning a skill and that I feel a level of satisfaction when I am assured that I am imparting some of that skill to them, and feel dissatisfied when they use shop time to goof off. In other words, I'll have to tighten up, and give them less autonomy in wood shop, but do so in a way that does not damage their creative spirits.

Part of the problem yesterday may have been the dramatic change in the weather that had been predicted. We were supposed to have high winds, and rain but received only a brief shower. Still, as any teacher can tell you, children are responsive in mood and attitude and readiness to work to things outside the classroom and wood shop.

In the meantime, I'm gradually attempting to get my own shop life back in order. My projects for the tiny box book are now complete. Fall production of boxes is nearly complete. With the exception of putting new base moldings down around some walls, my part of the kitchen remodel is nearly complete. The shop is a mess. And so reorganization of the wood shop, putting things back in their usual places, and a thorough clean-up is called for. I have plans for new boxes in the works, and had proposed a new book, Making Small Tables for All Occasions, that I hoped will be approved by my publisher. Unfortunately I learned today that books for finer furnishings are not selling, whereas a book about making furniture from old pallets is selling like hotcakes.

Go figure. When my daughter was in grad school in Madison they had “Hippy Christmas” when students moved between apartments and left things at curbside to be picked up by other students moving in. The timing of hippy Christmas had to do with the expiration dates of leases on apartments. The pallet lumber furniture idea would be a great way to make presents for Hippy Christmas. You can have fun making it and then walk away from it at the end of your lease. But it illustrates the direction of things. Who wants to invest in craftsmanship as that takes time? And who understands the intrinsic rewards that come from doing something quite well?

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the capacity to learn likewise.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

more on quality school...

The idea of quality school should be built within existing schooling rather than become a thing apart. There is already too much separation going on in American schooling. It serves more as a sieve for some than a source of enlightenment. It filters out from advancement, those whose academic interests have not matured at the decided pace.

I was curious during the last week as I observed the kitchen countertop installers and appliance installer at work. They came without the needed tools to do their jobs. The appliance installer needed shims to raise the dishwasher to its necessary height to align with the cabinets. One team of countertop installers came with a saber saw, but I had to stop that as he was cutting the hole for the sink in the wrong place. The other team of countertop installers came without a scroll saw and had to borrow mine. And so what can one say about professionals who cannot do the jobs at hand? Had I not had shim stock, and had the installer not known my interest in craftsmanship, the dishwasher would have been installed too low to fit with the surrounding cabinets. "That's as good as I can do, he would have said." Had I not had a scroll saw, the installation of the countertop would have been done with a tiny vibrating saw that filled the house with smoke. And again, I'm not finding fault with the installers, but with their situations and the educational system which separates and sorts without unearthing real value. The following is from Felix Adler, 1892 writing on the influence of manual arts training:
I …wish to speak of the value of manual training to the future lawyer and clergyman, and to all those who will perhaps never be called upon to labor with their hands. Precisely because they will not labor with their hands is manual training so important for them--in the interest of an all-round culture-in order that they may not be entirely crippled on one side of their nature. The Greek legend says that the giant Antaeus was invincible so long as his feet were planted on the solid earth. We need to have a care that our civilization shall remain planted on the solid earth. There is danger lest it may be developed too much into the air-that we may become too much separated from those primal sources of strength from which mankind has always drawn its vitality. The English nobility have deliberately adopted hunting as their favorite pastime. They follow as a matter of physical exercise, in order to keep up their physical strength, a pursuit, which the savage man followed from necessity. The introduction of athletics in colleges is a move in the same direction. But it is not sufficient to maintain our physical strength, our brute strength, the strength of limb and muscle. We must also preserve that spiritualized strength which we call skill –– the tool-using faculty, the power of impressing on matter the stamp of mind. And the more machinery takes the place of human labor, the more necessary will it be to resort to manual training as a means of keeping up skill, precisely as we have resorted to athletics as a means of keeping up strength.

There is one word more I have to say in closing. Twenty-five years ago, as the recent memories of Gettysburg recall to us, we fought to keep this people a united nation. Then was State arrayed against State. Today class is beginning to be arrayed against class. The danger is not yet imminent, but it is sufficiently great to give us thought. The chief source of the danger, I think, lies in this, that the two classes of society have become so widely separated by difference of interests and pursuits that they no longer fully understand one another, and misunderstanding is the fruitful source of hatred and dissension. This must not continue. The manual laborer must have time and opportunity for intellectual improvement. The intellectual classes, on the other hand, must learn manual labor; and this they can best do in early youth, in the school, before the differentiation of pursuits has yet begun. Our common schools are rightly so named. The justification of their support by the State is not, I think, as is sometimes argued, that the State should give a sufficient education to each voter to enable him at least to read the ballot which he deposits. This is but a poor equipment for citizenship at best. The justification for the existence of our common schools lies rather in the bond of common feeling which they create between the different classes of society. And it is this bond of common feeling woven in childhood that has kept and must keep us a united people. Let manual training, therefore be introduced into the common schools; let the son of the rich man learn, side by side with the son of the poor man, to labor with his hands; let him thus practically learn to respect labor; let him learn to understand what the dignity of manual labor really means, and the two classes of society, united at the root, will never thereafter entirely grow asunder.
Quality school is proposed as a corrective to the lack of interest in craftsmanship, but also that the whole of human culture may be energized and restored to health.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Quality school part 3

Yesterday as I was adding doors to a book case I made years ago to turn it into a pantry for our kitchen, I worked through most of the day, only to discover that the geometry for the way the doors would open would not work. In the practice of craftsmanship one is often doing something for the first time, or something not done in awhile and there may be a learning curve that requires making mistakes and correcting them. In this case, I had to move the hinges to the other side of one door, and that meant that there are now wooden plates covering the holes that were drilled for Blum hinges on the wrong side. But quality school conveys the realization that real people make mistakes, and that willingness to try new things is part of the territory. In any case, I now have the new pantry almost complete, as you can see in the photo above. It was dispiriting to grasp my mistake. I dreamed in the night about possible solutions. I found the correct solution in the morning, and in no time at all, had made the fix, and arrived at a better regard for myself. In the meantime, the plumber and kitchen appliance installer did their work in making our new kitchen usable at last.

My wife paid me an interesting compliment on the completion of the pantry project. She said that very few people in the world could do what I had just done, and perhaps fewer would even want to. It was a complex project converting a book case to have doors attached. The original structure was not intended for doors, so small blocks had to be installed to carry the weight of hinges, and spaces for each to fit had to be carefully routed in place. That required the making of specialized routing templates. I make no claims as to the perfection of craftsmanship involved. But those who have had the opportunity to work in an experimental manner may have two distinct qualities lacking in those who have not. They will likely have an appreciation for those things that are done well. And they may also have a appreciation for sincere effort to offer quality, even when that effort may go awry. We all know that human beings make mistakes. It's not perfect craftsmanship we expect, but that the effort to achieve quality work be sincere. Carelessness and mindless labor does not work well for anyone. The true purpose of pursuit of quality is not to be found in the elusive perfect object, but in the development of the individual. And the purpose of quality school would be to teach the kinds of caring that we lack in the current economy and culture.

This shallow pantry will be the perfect place to store canned goods and food stuffs. Unlike normal kitchen cabinets, it is shallow enough that things will not get lost in it. Need that jar of spaghetti sauce? We won't be on our hands and knees looking for it anymore. The door panels are made from a sheet of corrugated aluminum that comes backed by a Formica-like material.

Part of what prevents the evolution of craftsmanship, and hence the evolution of quality is the fear that is built into our current system by the industrialized mentality that rules it all. The assumption is that time is money and that jobs should be quickly done, so workers are encouraged to cut corners, or take things for granted, leading to costly mistakes and a lack of satisfaction in the workplace. The more drastic effect is in the diminishing of the spirit of the individuals involved.

On a related subject, my very good friend William Symes (Bill) has published a major book on Psychotherapy. The book is 400+ pages and intended as a guide for psychotherapists. It also offers nuggets of insight that will be useful and inspirational to others. I'll mention the full title so you will see how it fits with the  purpose of this blog: Mastering the Art of Psychotherapy––the Principles of Effective Psychological Change: Challenging the Boundaries of Self-Expression. The book is not much about crafts or craftsmanship per se. But it is about bringing the experiential self and expressive self into alignment. Friedrich Froebel would have loved it. We are made powerful when we act in harmony with the innermost self and with a sense of the inter-connectedness of all things. We are also made good when we act in better alignment with the healthy self that had been previously battered down by the damaging circumstances of our early lives.

Underlying Bill's method is a healthy regard for the goodness of man and mankind...  Every child wants to do good, and stand out from his or her peers by doing good things in service of others. Children will choose (if given a chance) the opportunity to do so. Craftsmanship, and the pursuit of quality, whether in woodworking or psychotherapy are about the liberation of the individuals to express themselves fully and creatively and to be actively alive to life with all its ups downs and wonders.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.

Monday, November 09, 2015

quality school 2...

I return to classes at Clear Spring School this afternoon, but have taken the morning off to be present for the installation of our kitchen appliances, and to be available as the plumber contends with the nest of plumbing under the kitchen sink. This day marks the day in which we return to having a real kitchen, and the end to the camp kitchen set up in my office.

I realize that I am not alone in being disappointed in the common level of craftsmanship in America. Industries often hire from outside the US because Americans had become convinced by educational policy makers that all children must go to college, whether they have an interest in academic subjects or not. A few years back the superintendent of Rogers Arkansas Public Schools had informed all her teachers at the beginning of the school year, that "they were failing every student who did not go on to get a 4 year college degree." This was based on the hype about the earnings differential between college graduates and those students who ended their educational careers at high school or less.

But as I mentioned yesterday, quality school is not just for those students who would become craftsmen in the traditional sense. Quality, what it is and how to get it or assess it applies to everything, whether you are a maker yourself, or simply a consumer who might use purchasing power to build the lives and careers of others.
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labour at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work.”–– Otto Salomon
Salomon also noted that the value of the carpenter's work is in the object, but the value of the student's work is in the student. What great benefit is accrued to the individuals within our civilization through the effortless production of vast quantities of meaningless stuff? And so a quality school would not just be about teaching a few folks to become better craftsman. It should be universal. There should be a quality school within each and every school on the planet, in which students might learn to apply hand and mind in the execution of difficult work.

The photo above is of the bench room where I teach creative box making and other classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. You can find out about the classes I'll teach next summer at Enrollment for next summer's classes will start soon, and because my classes are often sold out sign up soon as possible if you are interested.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

quality school...

My wife and I have been undergoing a voluntary kitchen remodel over the last few months. It all started with planning, visits with architects, an engineer, and a kitchen designer. Six weeks ago the very serious work began with demolition of our existing kitchen while we were waiting for the kitchen cabinets to arrive, and as we were making necessary adjustments to plumbing and electrical.

We've been preparing meals in my office with a hotplate, toaster oven and crockpot, and doing dishes in the bathroom sink. So none of this has been easy.

This last week was a hard one, as we narrowed down choices of backsplash, and contended with a kitchen counter top that had the sink hole cut in the wrong place, and had to be redone.

This has been frustrating to me. As a craftsman, I attempt to uphold certain standards in my own work, and as a consumer of craftsmanship performed by others, I have been alerted to the amount of difficulty and cost that would be avoided if people paid greater attention to what they did, and if they were to have greater interest in craftsmanship as a way of life in pursuit of intrinsic values. I am not writing to place blame on those craftsmen with whom we have dealt. Our local electrician and local carpenter and local painters and plumber in our own small community have been great. But assumption in the world at the moment is that if the customer doesn't notice, then all things are great.

As a more egregious example, the installers came to put our new counter top in place. Without measuring, the installer took the stainless steel sink, traced around it and began cutting the sink base for it to fit.  Out of curiosity I walked outside with my tape measure and checked the distance from the sink hole cut in the counter top to the end where it would fit the wall, and determined that the sink would not fit without a near complete destruction of the sink base.  I stopped the installer, and asked, "don't you think you should measure before you cut?" And so after measuring, and checking and rechecking and calls to the fabrication plant, and the boss, we determined that the whole thing had to be done again. I was left with the notion that had I not interfered, the whole sink base would have been destroyed before the mistake was noticed and had I not been home, the counter top, would have been installed whether it was rightly done or not. There is a hurry and an impatience about how things are done, and there is a great need in the world at large for education in the application of mind that would lead to an overall honing of craftsmanship and its application. The cost of incompetence is enormous.

Earlier, when the cabinet installers were finishing their work, they asked us to go through and write a list of things that needed to be fixed. A person trained in craftsmanship, and experienced in the intrinsic rewards of craftsmanship and the application of hand and mind would not need a list, and the standards for completion would not be so limited by a customer's often low standards.

But why should industry pay for what the customer is unlikely to notice and call out? And why should industry pay for a higher level of craftsmanship when most customers are ill equipped to serve immediately as quality inspectors and may feel awkward about doing so? There are intrinsic values in doing a job well, and when workers are not granted those rewards and are not trained to receive those rewards, costly mistakes happen, and employee turnover can be disastrous. Imagine a situation in which craftsmanship is continuously discovered by a client, instead of reminders of inattention and lack.

This overall problem is not confined to kitchen cabinet installation. A good friend is facing cancer treatment starting on Monday. And the depth of engagement and delivery of service by specialists of all kinds, including in the medical profession, is affected by the power to observe critically, to think outside the box, and to uphold the kinds of intrinsic standards that a person learns effectively through the exercise of craftsmanship. I hope and pray that my friend's life is in good hands.

Several years ago I was approached by the county in which I live, concerning a building they owned and grant funding that might be available to start a vocational training program. From their end, they were trying to get money from the state and federal government. From my end, I had to ask, "trained to do what?"

If the idea is simply to teach a few kids to hammer nails, and go from that into employment as carpenters, that might be a good thing. But best would be an intensive program that would give students the tools to reach for quality in their own workmanship, and to apply hand and mind in ways unfamiliar to them, and to seek the rewards of craftsmanship, that can actually be applied to all fields of endeavor.

So what would a quality school be like? First, it would have inspirational teachers, willing to uphold high standards of workmanship. Secondly, it would introduce students to the intrinsic rewards of meeting high standards. Third, it would sell the concept, that attainment of quality is its own reward.

The idea is that craftsmanship and the application of craftsmanship is transforming in that it enhances one's ability to observe and make decisions based on both intrinsic and extrinsic values. And that the values learned through craftsmanship are universal in that those very same values apply to all human endeavors.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.