Sunday, January 29, 2017

changing the culture of schooling.

I spent several hours yesterday and the evening before with A+ Schools Fellows. These are the teachers and trainers that serve schools in implementing an arts first strategy. It is currently supported by Thea Foundation and others, with the idea of turning around schools in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states. I was invited to sit in with Arkansas Fellows so that I could learn what they do, how they do it, and so that I would consider either joining or helping in some way to add woodworking to their collection of available arts.

As we watched in a video on Friday night, everything starts with the question, why. Why is the word that contains a world of motivation,  and without the question why, teachers, schools and students are left at ground zero. Without connecting in some way with my student's own wonderings, their interests would wander instead of being applied.

It seems that teachers from way back, like Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel and others had wondered about why and how students learn, and then, based on personal observation, had determined that children learn best when doing real things. And yet when it comes to devising schools, instead of student needs, the needs of the administration come first. Education is turned over to middle management and the children suffer. In the meantime, learning is the most innate and natural part of being a human being. We must breathe, we must eat, we must drink, and we must learn. The question then becomes how. And of course that's where the arts come in.

For me,  the why, the impetus to make change in education stems from being told as a young man that my brains were in my hands. That arrested my attention, caused me to reflect, led me to frustration with how children's natural inclinations to learn are frustrated at nearly every turn.

And so, how do we make necessary change? It is a long process, but could be shortened by arriving at a common understanding: 
What we learn hands-on by doing real things engages the heart of the learner. What we've learned hands-on has sticking power that leads directly to growth, for teachers, schools, students, and even administrators.
Tomorrow I will resume a discussion of common tools. Richard Bazeley in Australia sent a photo of a "shaving pony" that clamps to a work bench so that it can be used as a shaving horse and put away when not in use.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.


  1. "And yet when it comes to devising schools, instead of student needs, the needs of the administration come first.."

    The NEA and teacher's unions should be abolished. Home school options, coops, and tutors should be encouraged. Competition can also drive excellence in education. Education degrees should be replaced with expertise in each given field - just look at the average high school teacher's background prior to the 1960's. They were commonly PhD's in classics, history, etc.

    BTW, the shaving pony is a wonderful idea. I found an old I-beam in Richmond, VA which was mounted on a stand that I then mounted a heavy vise for shaving spindles and windsor chair parts. I mounted wheels also so I could tilt and move the very heavy stand.

  2. William, I whole-heartedly disagree with you on your idea of abolishing the NEA and teacher's unions. Abolished by whom? Do you think the federal government should have the right to abolish what free men and women have established? My own experience of teachersunions, though limited, informs me that unions have long fought for smaller class sizes, better opportunities for more effective instruction while the ultra right has attempted to reduce their bargaining power and paint them as greedy.

    Better would be to give better training to teachers, better pay to teachers and greater trust to most of them to develop classroom strategies involving the use of the hands.They deserve our respect.

    The average high school teacher in the 60's did not have a PhD. Surely some few did.

    The shaving pony is a great idea, and one that I hope to persue.

  3. Doug, we will have to disagree on he subject of government education. It's a disaster, IMO.
    Have you seen the curriculum used in teacher education programs? We are shortchanging our kids. I have some yearbooks that I obtained when I lived in Pittsburgh form the 50's. I was astounded to see the high number of PhD's teaching high school. That led me to really look into things and try to figure out what happened.
    But, as I said, we must agree to disagree on this one.
    Enjoy much of what you post here.

    Wm. Brown
    Forest, VA

  4. William, I agree with you on the shortcomings of teacher education programs. Universities fill students with theory and abstraction for 3 1/2 years before they are allowed to face their first student in an actual classroom. Theory is best learned under all circumstances when it can be tested directly first hand under real circumstances, and we never outgrow our need for reality.

    It would be far better to begin incoming college freshmen on the journey of becoming teachers, so that they know what they are up against in the first place and so their teaching skills can grow in relation to their understanding.

    I also agree we are shortchanging the kids and the taxpayer. The successful model in Finland is to pay teachers well, give them a highly respected place in community and society, but first train them well, and then trust them to do their jobs. The result is that they do their jobs well.

    We do all four of those things wrong. Politicians and parents blame teachers routinely for the failure of kids that actually has much more to do with societal failings at large. For instance, the largest determining factor in a child's future success is the number of years that child lived in poverty.

    I appreciate the chance to have a reasoned dialog on one of the most important issues of our times.