Thursday, November 17, 2016

direct connection to the natural world.

University of Helsinki's secret museum of needlework
Yesterday after school I had an interview with the editor of one of our local news papers about my 40 years of woodworking in Eureka Springs which we will celebrate on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. The editor asked me a variety of questions and wanted to know what things I thought were important for her readers to know.

One thing that is crystal clear to me is that working with wood is a very special gift. You can go directly from what you find in nature to your own act of creating useful beauty, and do so in a manner through which the entire creative process is known and made clear.

There are some distinct differences between wood shop and the Maker movement's methodology of using pre-programmed digital devices. In the wood shop you are reliant on learning the simplest of technologies and can go entirely from rough wood to finished product. In a maker space, on the other hand, you are reliant primarily on technologies that most students may never understand and need not master.

The production strategies are abstract and complex, ignoring two principles from Educational Sloyd which had been formulated on careful observation of how we learn: Moving from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. How many students delve deeply enough into the workings of a laptop or desktop or iPhone to understand how it works? Even if a child is adept enough to do programming or understand programming, the abstraction of it, means that the basic understanding of the material world and particularly the world of nature are commonly ignored. The use of digital devices simply connects to the world of man, and the much needed connection between man and nature is neglected. The results may be that human beings, disconnected from nature, are prone to damage it through ignorance and neglect.

The preceding should not be considered an attack on the maker movement. Kids and adults need to be included in the creative process and having access to creative technologies of any kind beats having nothing. The point is that more basic tools and technologies give a better foundation for further unbound creativity.

I have been engaged in a conversation with Frank Wilson, author of the Hand, and Elliot Washor, co-founder of the Met Schools, about education in Finland. Elliot had been interviewed by Finnish broadcasters who themselves unfamiliar with their own educational traditions, were surprised by Elliot's familiarity with Sloyd... a thing that came from Frank having sent Elliot my articles about sloyd written from about 2006-2008, in which I described the use of the hands as the engagement and furtherance of mind. Those articles can be found in the resource file in the column of links at right "Doug Stowe's WOH articles and papers" and through this link.

The Finnish broadcasters not realizing the impact of their own traditional methods could be used as an illustration of tacit knowing. The Finnish school system was built upon the system of folk schools of Uno Cygnaeus, the inventor of sloyd. Naturally they would take all of that knowing for granted, as it would have moved over the last century and a half into a foundational subconscious knowledge base. There were several features built into Cygnaeus' folk school. One was the Kindergarten learning style promoted by Cygnaeus. Another was the purposeful integration between home and school through the making of useful objects. In order for any of this to be grasped, even by those brought up in Finnish schools, it's effect would need to be brought to their attention.

In Finland now, they’ve gotten away form the making of useful objects and are more interested now in expressing creativity through the tactile arts. But hidden away at the University of Helsinki, is a room unseen by all but a very few that is full of the finest tatting, and lacework done by students that you could find nowhere else in the world. Just because something has moved to the unconscious does not mean it is completely gone and with no effect.

One of my first graders yesterday made what he called "organic wood,"  simply a slender stick of pine with a nail driven all the way in at each end. Could I understand it? No, not in full. But what I did understand was a child working through his own creative process and attempting to come to a better understanding of the culture in which we live. He gave it to me as a gift that he knew I would treasure. That's wood shop for you.

Make, fix, create, and demonstrate for others the joy of learning likewise

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