Tuesday, November 03, 2015

fixin' it...

Chico Bon Bon. The Monkey with a Tool Belt
I am interested in fixing things, making things, and exercising personal creativity, so while I normally stay away from politics in the blog, this subject hits close to home.

Jeb Bush has claimed his ability to fix things with his new campaign slogan and twitter feed, #Jebcanfix it,  So it might seem natural for me to declare my support for Jeb! But it must  have been an exciting day around the Bush campaign as folks on Twitter noted the various things Jeb had fixed in the past. For instance, as governor of Florida, he and his secretary of state Katherine Harris disenfranchised black voters to fix the election of his brother George W. Bush, and we all know now how well that turned out.

If the past is any indication of how and what Jeb would fix, his campaign should close its doors asap. As governor of Florida, he was a leader in the standardized testing movement. He and his family have major investments in the corporations that sell the tests. In Florida, one school district gave more than 160 tests in the last year. Just think of how much they would have learned if all those children had spent time in wood shop instead?

Fixing things is cool, particularly if you actually have the skills to do real things. But the kind of fixing that Bush has in mind does not involve wrenches or any real tools. Bob the Builder, he's not. He could learn a few things from Chico Bon Bon, the Monkey with a Tool Belt. There are about 4 different books about Chico, by author/illustrator Chris Monroe. In each book, Chico demonstrates his intelligence and compassion solving problems to help his friends and neighbors. So, if we were forced to choose between Jeb! and Chico Bon Bon, my advice is to go with the monkey. #Chico Bon Bon for President.

Testing might not have been such a bad thing, but for the unforeseen consequences of throwing money at schools or denying it, based on performance as measured by standardized tests. Local school districts and state school boards are hungry for money and have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice children to get it. The impact of Federal dollars is nothing new. In fact, the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917  as described in Charles A. Bennet's History of Manual and Industrial Arts Training led directly to the demise of Educational Sloyd in the US. While the Smith-Hughes act, brought federal money into vocational education and was regarded as a huge triumph by some, it also spelled the end for those idealistic and progressive American educators whose understanding of the connection between the hand and brain had drawn them to conclude that manual training was necessary for all. In essence, the Smith-Hughes Act solidified in law the class structure that plagues us to this day. I think you will find in the sad resignation of Bennett's closing remarks, the disappointment he felt. For Bennett, the most interesting part of the history of Manual and Industrial Education ended with the passing of Smith-Hughes and the eclipse of Educational Sloyd:
The signing of the Smith-Hughes act, thereby creating a federal directing and reimbursing law with reference to certain types of vocational education, was the beginning of a new era in manual and industrial education in the United States and therefore the end of the era concerning which this book was written. Throughout the years of effort to obtain the law, there were three constantly recurring and conflicting interests that had to be harmonized or at least propitiated. One was between the manufacturer and the labor union - each wished to regulate vocational training in order to control the labor market. Then there was the conflict of ideals between those who sought more practical education in the public schools and those who feared that vocational training would lower the standard of cultural education. And finally, when the need for vocational training was admitted, some believed that it could be effective only when separated from the public-school work of general education; while others insisted on the unity of control in public education and saw no good reason for a dual system. The law passed was probably the best compromise that could have been obtained at that time.
Today I will be working in my own shop, and have simply written again to remind my readers that the best education and the one to greatest lasting effect comes when the hands are purposely engaged in learning. If you want to fix your own life, make something. If you want to fix education, teach children to make.

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


  1. I presented our vision for an Indiana Advanced Manufacturing Certification (IAM-Cert) credential to about 25 students at Atterbury Job Corps (http://atterbury.jobcorps.gov/about.aspx) on Thursday.

    Young men and women enrolled there are learning trades at this residential facility in central Indiana constructed as an internment camp during World War II and repurposed to offer vocational training to students for whom 'regular school' didn't work.

    Construction & building trades at Atterbury are promoted as a pathway to secure employment, good wages and a higher quality of life.

    It is ironic that very few students today are encouraged to pursue a career in Manual and Industrial Arts when the pride and satisfaction of making things so obviously leads to a 'virtuous cycle' of learning and improving one's skill and value.

    I found Doug's post today recounting a key turning point in the evolution of our current education system very interesting; particularly with respect to the political compromises between the two powerful forces of industry and labor.

    Today, the education industry, supported by a $73B federal DOE budget, and state budgets which in Indiana account for 63% of state spending, represent a third powerful constituency. Nobody should be surprised that it has incredible influence over policy.

    How then did Industry, Labor and Education allow the state of our schools to veer so far from what works? Was it complicity or incompetence? Selfishness or a simple misunderstanding?

    More importantly, how can we change the status quo? I'd like to help.

  2. I've been studying the near death of the manual arts training movement for a long time now. Charles A. Bennet's books on the subject are useful, but how many people want to read through 5 hundred years of pedagogy in two thick volumes? One problem I'm finding is that folks are reluctant to find solutions from the past. But without an understanding of the values and difficulties a movement faced in the past, it is difficult to build a case for it... particularly in light of the investment that industries are willing to make to reshape things in their own corporate image. For instance a Walmart exec. would try to use teachers as check out clerks. In the meantime, educators at large know very little about the history of education and even less about the manual arts training movement and how it fit in or what it's original purpose was.

    So, what happened and how do we fix it? One of the points of educational Sloyd was to emphasize the importance, dignity and value of all labor. Unfortunately education policy makers as far back as the beginnings of public education saw no problems in a two tier approach, one education for the elite, and another for the working class. Then when many governmental policy makers decided that we could no longer compete industrially with China, the only solution that seemed to make sense to educational policy makers was to send all kids to college. That of course was absurd. And of course industry didn't care a whit about manual arts training as they were shedding capacity in the US as fast as possible to take advantage of lower production costs overseas.

    Add to this the fact that most educational policy makers are drawn from the educational elite... those who were successful in by-the-book schooling, ending up with PhD's and thus saw no problems with the status quo.
    Those educators and policy makers would rather buy into some form of new technology than admit to themselves and others that they'd completely overlooked the value of what worked for over 100 years.

    As you probably noticed, I write on this subject nearly every day but that I also lack the credentials that educational policy makers would demand in order to take what I offer in a serious manner. It might prove embarrassing for them to listen and accept that there are some simple universals they've overlooked... the hands.

    And yet, there is research to back up my position.