Thursday, January 07, 2016

thoreau on education

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School I had a remarkable day. Students made a buck saw of their own design from materials found in the woods and a section of old band saw blade. One make a knife ground from another piece of bandsaw blade, and my lower elementary school students made wooden Japanese style flip flops.  Other students worked on their box guitars. The last I saw Oen during the day he was running with shoes and socks off toward his parents car, wearing the wooden shoes he had made. He could not possibly be more pleased by with what he had accomplished.

The following is from Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond, one of the classics of American literature that is promoted for consumption by American high school students but ignored completely by educational policy makers.
The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful. "But," says one, "you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?" I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as mathematics. If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where anything is professed and practiced but the art of life; — to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month, — the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this, — or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rogers' penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers? – Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond.
And so what Thoreau is more than hinting at is that those, ALL THOSE, who are denied a hands-on education are denied learning in depth and the expenditure for that education is an enormous waste, not only for the students in their deprivation but for the culture at large.

I am talking with one of my publishers today about a short book on making cigar box guitars, and yesterday I began work on a "panjo" made from a bread pan acquired from our local thrift store.

Make, fix, create, and extend toward others the chance of learning likewise.

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