Friday, June 30, 2017

The fifth day.

My week of box making at ESSA is nearly complete. My students have each made a number of boxes with the exception of one who is laboring to complete a box of particularly complex design and special purpose. All of my students have been assisting each other, and the level of encouragement each has for each other is high.

Today we will complete boxes. I'll do more demonstrations. I've a short list of things to share with my students, and at some time in the afternoon, we will part, journey in different directions and hope that we meet again.

There is a discussion within theoretical physics that particularly interests me. It has been theorized and tested that if two particles are introduced to each other, they can be placed at the farthest parts of the known universe, with a vast, nearly infinite distance between, and what is done to one will affect and effect the other. That defies the every day logic of humanity. We think that we are separate from each other, and alone.

Instead, we are each a part of a vast interconnected web of life. Just as an artist will look at both the shape of the object, and the space (and relationship) between objects, we have a choice of seeing ourselves as separate or connected, and it is important that we hold both views. In our very special class, we have become connected in kindness.

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

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Studio stroll

Every Thursday at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, while classes are in session we have a "studio stroll," in which members of the community are invited to visit the studios and see what the students have made and what they have learned.

Let this serve as your invitation to attend this afternoon from 4-5:30. Snacks will be served.

Yesterday, Peter Korn called from the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. His school in Rockport, Maine is planning to begin educating woodworking teachers in 2018, and Peter wanted my advice on who to contact to bring a fresh student body to support the growing need for wood working teachers in schools. I have been associated with the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers since its inception and alerted him to that organization as a possible resource. It seems that our nation has begun to reawaken to the need for Career and Technical Education and the insistence that "All kids must go to college," is nearly dead. Now there is a desperate need for teachers trained in the manual and industrial arts. The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship will be attempting to help.

Overly simplistic mantras like "All kids must go to college," miss the point. Not all students are ready for academic work at the same time. Few students fit a tight developmental timeline and even those students benefit from the opportunity to do real things. Rigid and unresponsive schooling fails to take student readiness into consideration. Manual arts, music, the arts, laboratory science, field trips, and the like prepare students for life.

In wood shop, you do not just learn how to do things, you construct frameworks for better understanding of the world and of yourself. The new movement for industrial arts appears to be just like the last, driven by economic concerns rather than being motivated by an understanding of the broad effects of hands on learning. So it would be good if we helped educational policy makers to understand the theory and purposes of Educational Sloyd.

Join us at the Studio stroll and see real learning and growth in action.

Make, fix, create, and discover the joy of assisting others to love learning likewise.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's Wednesday, time for hinges...

My students at ESSA have boxes underway. Yesterday I demonstrated how to cut miter key slots, so some of them have done that and will be ready to cut lids from the bodies of their boxes just after I will have demonstrated the same thing. There are so many things to learn, but as each student is making their own boxes incorporating some of their own ideas and ideals, lots of learning is taking place. Today I am ready to demonstrate putting hinges on boxes, and will also demonstrate the Infinity Dovetail Spline Jig that I described in a recent Fine Woodworking  product review.

A couple of my students and I were talking yesterday afternoon how important it is that we be allowed to make mistakes, and that in today's ultra scrutinized corporate and educational environments the value of mistakes is not recognized at full value.

From the standpoint of iPhone seven, six was a loser,. From that same vantage point, the biggest Apple fiasco of all, the Newton, a product that seemed to have launched the whole personal digital assistant movement, was an abysmal flop.

Worst, is that children not having done real things in school or in life, and having been brought up on digital devices do not seem to have the resilience and willingness to do difficult and demanding things. Self-esteem that has not been hammered on the anvil of real work, and tested against real failure is a hollow thing.

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A simple transformation of self

Yesterday we began box making in the new ESSA wood studio and as we were making our morning introductions, I was reminded that we were all there for specific reasons that had a bit to do with boxes, and a bit more to do with transformation and refinement of self.

We all have taken on challenges of growth that are broken down into joints, and hinges, and decorative techniques and the like, but these  simple terms we use as handles to explain the abstract complexity of the human condition. I am grateful to share a journey with some wonderful new friends. I could not have fallen in with a better bunch.

The shop naturally has a few glitches. The jointer loaded up with shavings and had to be cleaned out. The band saws needed tuning. The blade that came on one saw needed to be replaced. Students were put in the position of helping each other, and each pitched in to assist. In the meantime, students have interesting boxes in the works, and have been preparing stock to make even more. Today will be more of the same. I plan to get students started making finger joints, and add other techniques to the process.

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

ESSA box making

Today my ESSA box making will begin. Months of preparation have gone into this day. A couple years ago I sketched out a basic floor plan taking into account the placement of tools, lathes, and work benches. Those sketches went to the architect, etc. etc.

The building was built, tools ordered and put in place, jigs were made, and with some supplied from my own shop we will have nine students for the next 5 days making boxes. Some of the students are old friends, and others will be new friends, starting today. Any any case,  there will be more to share during the week.

Make, fix, create, and help others to understand the necessity of learning likewise.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


It will take months to get the ESSA wood studio into its final form. We still have machinery arriving. Storage shelves must be built. And general organizing must be done.

Yesterday I assembled small  pieces of PVC pipe, nesting one inside the other to connect the compound miter saw to a dust collector. I was thinking at first I would have to craft a special part from wood to connect the 1 1/2 in. outlet port on the compound miter saw to fit the 2 1/2 in. dust collector hose, or order something and wait for UPS.

Instead, I found the solution right at hand. I took two pieces of electrical conduit of two different sizes and carefully fitted one to the other and then to the dust collector hose. It is gratifying when the immediacy of observation and imagination replace waiting for the arrival of the UPS truck. Best of all was that my solution used pipe left over from making tool holders for the lathe room. If not for my use of them they would have been thrown out, and my solution required less time than searching google for the right part.

 I also finished sleds for the table saws but for the first cut which will be made when my students are in the shop on Monday morning. The rack my volunteers and I made for pipe clamps works just as I intended.

Today I'll continue organizing the shop. What I do in preparation for Monday's class will serve other instructors as well in the finished shop.

Make, fix, create, and increase the odds that others love learning likewise.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

a free book? I'd like friends to win. offers a free excerpt of my new book Tiny Boxes, and you can sign up for a chance to win a copy by using the rafflecopter link at the end of their blog post.

The excerpt describes how to put a lift tab in a pen box as shown in the photo. The tab presents an elegant way to open a box. The same technique is useful for other design boxes as well.

Good luck! I hope that one of my readers wins.  Two copies of the book will be given away.

Richard Bazeley in Australia sent a link to a wonderful free woodworking resource online. It was once well known that woodworking was a form of child's play. This book is based on Froebel's Kindergarten philosophy that recognizes the value of play. Play in the wood shop is suitable for adults as well.

A reader noted that the same problems I've discussed in the blog concerning reading also apply to math. Children having been forced into abstract instruction in mathematics before they are ready feel inept and tune out for the balance of their schooling. Woodworking is an activity that builds math readiness, but it seems our educational policy makers are inept and have tuned out. If we want our children to be smart and have the fine character associated with craftsmanship, we'll need to take matters into our own hands.

In Steven Palmer's beginning woodworker's class at ESSA this week, the students were delighted with what they had learned and with what they had made. The new wood studio (with the exception of a few small equipment glitches) was enjoyed by all.

Today I'll begin setting up the ESSA wood studio for my own class beginning on Monday.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, June 23, 2017

the problems educational policy makers do not want to fix.

The problem is cheaping out. The wealthy will pay huge amounts to send their own children to schools where the student-teacher ratio is more favorable, and their children can associate with their own kind.

They choose to cheap out when it comes to the education of others. We could as an alternative, invest more in raising families out of poverty and reduce class size across the board. Instead, educational policy makers put their energies and billions into useless schemes that do nothing to advance American education. We had "No Child Left Behind." That left millions behind. We had "Race to the Top." That never reached it on any level. Now we have "Every Student Succeeds," for whatever good that does us.Through a system of vouchers the current administration plans to turn American education into a cash cow for it wealthy clients.

In August 5 through 6, the Froebel Society will hold their annual conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will not be able to attend, but there should be a big buzz to the conference this year due to screenings of material from the documentary film project The History of Kindergarten. A huge amount of useful information will be presented for educators who want to make use of the child's natural capacity to learn by doing real things.

I will remind my readers again that the original idea behind Educational Sloyd was that manual arts would provide Kindergarten style learning to the upper grades. It was discovered also that manual arts are useful in the lower grades, and for all students.

When I visited the University of Helsinki in 2008, I got bored with the conference I was attending and wandered into the University wood shop where students working on their masters degrees in primary education were learning to teach wood working to children as young as Kindergarten and first grade. In the US, masters degree students would be learning how to force reading on the very young.

You can't push a rope. You can pull one. But when push comes to shove as it does in forcing a kid to read, jamming the words in before the child is developmentally ready to read is not only a waste of time, it shatters the child's self-esteem and kills the child's enthusiasm for school. It can take years for a child to recover from such abuse. Woodworking can be a way for a student to discover he or she is smart, even when the reading regimen suggests otherwise.

Forgive me, if there are times when I feel like screaming. The photo above is of children saluting the founder of Kindergarten. But who will celebrate the educators of today? To give children something to celebrate will require a revolution.

My thanks to Scott Bultman for having sent me some newly available images of Kindergarten. I love the oversized Froebel balls hanging from the ceiling, a salute to gift number one.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

size matters.

Last Saturday in a discussion of public school, one of my students started to place blame for the problems in public education on teachers. There may indeed be teachers who are burned out. There may indeed be people teaching who are frustrated with the profession. There may indeed be teachers who were poorly trained. There may indeed be teachers who are less qualified. But the vast majority have good intentions and apply themselves diligently in circumstances that are far less than ideal. They are expected to overcome systemic obstacles that are insurmountable.

The two primary obstacles that children face in education are well documented. The first is that the number of years children face living in poverty is a primary determinant of their educational success. Help to lift children out of poverty and educational attainment will rise.

The second is that too many children in a class tie the teacher's hands. Class size matters. When my mother was a kindergarten teacher in the Omaha Public Schools, she would feel greatly relieved at the beginning of the year if her class was as small as 25. Her classes had been as large as thirty, and she knew the difference that 5 extra students could make. It was not just that an extra five students made more work for her. It was that the extra five students diminished her capacity as a teacher and diminished the amount of attention she could give each one and the families from which they came.

This is not rocket science, or the theory of relativity. This is something that's easy to understand if you've been given the blessings of both mind and heart. Some educational policy makers have not received those gifts.

Today one of my blog readers will be making a presentation in Indiana on the necessity of Career and Technical Education (CTE). He will use some photos from Clear Spring School to make his point. My point in that is that every child should receive it. They should each become makers in their own right. What we do with our hands informs the mind and determines its character. If we want our world to be a better place, we must empower our children (all of them) to create.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

advocating for smaller class sizes

At the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA) today,  Woodworker Steven Palmer will begin a class with six students. I'll check in during the day to take photos and to deliver pipes for pipe clamps. Yesterday I got the dust collection system assembled just in time for the launch of today's class. For the balance of the week I'll prepare for my box making class at ESSA that begins Monday, and clean my own wood shop to prepare for an article for Woodcraft Magazine.

Fine tuning of the new studios will take months, as we need to develop storage for tools and supplies, and we will still have new equipment arriving over the coming month.

Anyone who thinks class size does not matter in education is a nincompoop. Divide the teacher's attention by one more student and the time he or she has available to others is diminished. Does it require a brain to know that? Can we not see that for a teacher to have 12-15 students in a class might be just enough?

At Marc Adams School of Woodworking I had 18 students and 3 assistants, making certain that each student got the attention required for safe work. Careful supervision and instruction are particularly required when students are doing real things as they (in a real world) should be expected to do. If you want to know more about class size, go to Class Size Matters, where they've collected enough research to convince even the most reluctant of educational policy makers that class size matters (but experience observing the long history of educational policy makers suggests that will not be the case).
"Reducing class size is among an even smaller number of education reforms that have been shown to narrow the achievement gap. Its benefits are particularly pronounced for lower-income students and children of color, who experience two to three times the gains from smaller classes.

"Smaller classes have also been found to have a positive impact on school climate, student socio-emotional growth, safety and suspension rates, parent engagement, and teacher attrition, especially in schools with large numbers of disadvantaged children."
The new Federal legislation on education (ESSA) Every Student Succeeds Act, has the same nickname as our local school of the arts. Not to worry. The way federal education legislation comes and goes, it won't be around long enough to compete for the use of the name. In fact, for states to use Federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act to reduce class sizes, will require evidence of positive effect. The whole of Federal education policy is so closely tied to standardized testing one must wonder if its a plot. We had no child left behind. Then we had "the race for the top." Now we have Every Student Succeeds, and that will not be the end of federal foolishness.

In the meantime, teachers all know that class size matters. Parents should be brought up to speed on the notion, and schools should be required to stop cheaping out.  We should invest in education like our future depends on it. In actual fact, it does.

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


An example of student creativity.
I will resume getting the new ESSA wood shop ready for classes today following my week at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. To get the dust collection set up in the machine room is my primary objective. I also need to make sleds and router tables, and begin arranging some of the new tools that have been ordered.

Getting all arranged in the classrooms will take time.

I have had students ask where else I'll be teaching this summer. My weeks at ESSA are June 26-30 and July 24-28. On August 7 through 11 I'll be teaching box making at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, Connecticut. For readers on the East Coast, there are still openings in the Connecticut Class. Join me there if you can. Each student will gain confidence in creativity and technical expertise.

Reports are that our first woodturning class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts was a great success. Our next scheduled class in the lathe studio will be a class by nationally known woodturner Judy Ditmer. Class enrollment is limited at 8 students guaranteeing the instructor's personal attention to student growth.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Oh, if this was but a game, we could clear the board and carefully place the pieces and start over. But it is not. Educational policy makers and politicians have made such a mess of American education. Ideas and patterns have become deeply entrenched, and the politicians keep hammering away at it, most often from the wrong direction.

I am intrigued that as toddlers, some will begin walking as early as 10 months, and others as late as 13 and pediatricians tell their parents, not to worry. We know that to walk requires the development of two things, (not necessarily separate things) the brain and the body. Not all children develop at the same pace. But when it comes to reading, parents and teachers are programmed to panic if their children are not at their proposed "level" when they're in first grade. The stupidity of that is enormous and destructive. Not only do schools then have reading experts to apply special attention to those kids who do not measure up, some children learn to hate reading and form a resistance to it.

Do we think that children past the age of 5 no longer have variations in the rates at which their minds and bodies mature? Or do we know enough about the variables of human development to understand that developmental ranges widen rather than narrow and that academic success may be denied to many children simply because the pressures of their schooling denied them the gift of receiving the right stimulation at the right time? I suggest that we ease up on the early years (and all the years), allow children to play more in school, feature things for them to do and allow academic success to come in its own time. Let's allow for the late bloomers.

I watched 60 minutes last night and they featured a chess program in Franklin County, Mississippi in which the game of chess has been introduced to elementary school children as a means of assisting their academic success. The program is remarkable. Chess has transformed much more than school. Many of the children play the game on and out of school, and have been made aware of their intelligence. Many now want to go to college, an idea that would never have occurred to them in the past.

The point is that there are very many wonderful things to do in school other than fill out worksheets. The children in Franklin County, Mississippi are going home with chess, not homework, and because of their enthusiasm for it, get much more than homework worksheets could provide.

There are any number of ways that schooling can take advantage of real life to capture the child's attention and interest. Music is one, making useful beauty another. How about dance? It appears that chess is another. Are our children not worthy of the investment?

Make, fix, create and offer others the opportunity to love learning likewise.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

heading home

Today I'm driving home to Arkansas, following a great class on making Froebel's gifts. We made gifts 3 and 4 in addition to viewing a video trailer on the History of Kindergarten documentary film and going through my slide lecture on the subject. We also made miter boxes for the students to take home so they can make more.

The History of Kindergarten documentary extended trailer can be viewed through this link:  and features students at the Clear Spring School doing woodworking.

I am tired after 6 days of class. During class I am busy moving at every moment from 8 AM to 6 PM to make sure my students needs are met. But that's what teachers do... Make certain each students needs and interests are met.

Educational policy makers on the other hand, seem to have other interests at heart. These are apparently, to keep kids off the streets, and efficiently managed at minimal expense regardless of the damage inflicted on the individual child. If a child can't sit still in a classroom of kids, use drugs. But that same child, given a hammer and saw will make useful beauty to serve family, community and self.

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

by this time

By this time on Saturday afternoon, I'll be loading up to travel back to Arkansas following 6 days of class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. In the meantime, fidget spinners seem to have risen to the top of the charts and now sharply fallen as far as their  popularity is concerned.

They were claimed to be a cure for what ails you. Attention deficit disorder? Spin the thing and avoid the rising costs of ritalin. I suspect that if we had children in schools doing real things in service to family and community, we would need neither. Ritalin and other drugs are given to kids to get them to sit still for passive learning, but children as observed by Comenius in the 17th century were as follows:
"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them."
The great stupidity of education in the US is that educational policy makers refuse to accept the theories of the father of modern pedagogy, Comenius. The foundation of Comenius' thought was based on observation of real children and how they learn primarily through the senses. All of them.
"The ground of this business is, that sensual (sensuous) objects be rightly presented to the senses for fear that they not be received. I say, and say it again aloud, that this is the foundation of all the rest; because we can neither act nor speak wisely, unless we first rightly understand all the things which are to be done and whereof we have to speak. Now there is nothing in the understanding which was not before in the senses. And therefore to exercise the senses well about the right perceiving of the differences of things will be to lay the grounds for wisdom and all wise discourse, and all discreet actions in one's course of life, which, because it is commonly neglected in schools, and the things that are to be learned are offered to scholars without their being understood or being rightly presented to the senses, it cometh to pass that the work of teaching and learning goeth heavily onward and offereth little benefit."
I spent the day today talking about students about the potential of woodworking education to transform the education in this land. I thank the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and my students for allowing me to do so.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

day five, box making at MASW

This photo of my class shows evidence of learning ready for the journey home. These are not all the boxes made during the week, as two students were required to leave early and others chose to only put some of their boxes on display.

I am grateful for the experience of watching my students grow. It seems that my students set a record for the number of boxes made. They also came up with some interesting designs.

Tomorrow I have a class on making the gifts of early childhood. Then home to Arkansas!

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

End of day 4...MASW

We have had a great week at Marc Adams School. I have 17 students, most of whom registered on the first hours of registration back in November. I would have had 18 except that one student had to withdraw at the last minute.

It is a pleasure to be so much in demand, and to be so appreciated for what I can share with others. At dinner tonight, one of my students asked about the difference between teaching kids and teaching them.

All of us learn best the same way, through play, but adults at Marc Adams School of Woodworking are more attentive than most because they've chosen to be there, and have signed up for classes due to their specific interests.

All have made a significant investment in being there, and will let little learning  go to waste. Children in school often do not have such well defined interests in what they are to be taught.

So that was the reason that in Educational Sloyd, teachers were to start with the interests of the child and build carefully from there.

Today I demonstrated how to install hinges, and how to rout large finger joints. I assisted students in problem solving and design. I also enjoyed witnessing my students' growth expressed through many well made boxes.

I have one more day of box making class and then will teach a special one day class on making Froebel's gifts, before heading back to Arkansas on Saturday evening.

Make, fix, create and guide others to love learning likewise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

At the end of day three box making

My adult students have been doing well with their box making. Most have unusual boxes of their own design, as well as boxes like the ones I often make on my own. One student is attempting to learn to cut dovetails by hand.

Today I demonstrated hinge installation, and making mitered finger joints. I also assisted my students with troubleshooting, design questions, and attempted to offer encouragement when things were not going quite right.

As all my students know, there are many ways that box making can go wrong. But if it was too easy, it would not be so fulfilling.

Today I began ordering a few things for the new wood studio at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. It will take a period of time to get all things up and running the way we want.

I have heard from two educators in the last two days. One is using my books and DVD to teach box making. Another,  in Vancouver, BC has started a program in which he invited a first nations woodcarver to build a tool box with his kids. The lovely box with carving tools is shown in the photo above.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

end of day two MASW

I have completed my second day of teaching box making at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. One of my students told me that he's already learned enough to cover the cost of the week full of instruction. The rest of the week will be fun for us all. All of my students have at least one interesting box in the works and some are making several.

So far, I've demonstrated finger joints, hidden spline joints, and keyed miter joints. Students have learned how to make floating panel lids, lift off lid, sliding lids and tomorrow we will begin using hinges.

It's fun. I'm making new friends and selling a few books. It is energizing. If I were at home doing nothing, I'd be tired by now.

I had a conversation with a friend who has taught science to middle school students for 28 years. In comparing his students today and those of the past, he said that students seem to take far greater prodding than in the past and are too often unwilling to invest time in doing anything that appears difficult to them. That's a tragic state.

We grow in character by doing things that are difficult for us. Digital technology is continuously made easier and easier, and gives the appearance of being both powerful and creative. But the creativity is in the program and not in the child. The power is in the device, and fingers sliding over glass are left with too little capacity to do real things. This is not my appeal to do away with digital technology. It is my sincere request that we put real tools in the hands of  both children and adults that they may create useful beauty.

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

a long day...

I've finished my first day of teaching at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I gave demonstrations in cutting mitered corners, fitting floating panel lids, gave personal box making advice to a number of students and covered the basic principles and elements of design. Tomorrow I'll teach how to cut finger joints. The students have all been planing wood, resawing on the bandsaw and a few of them have already cut mitered corners. There are so many aspects to consider.

My class is a bit unusual in that the object is not for all of us to make the same box, but for each of us to make boxes that fulfill our own creative inclinations. This approach leads to some head scratching, but also leads to more effective learning.

I was too busy to take photos, but will try tomorrow. Come back to see more.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017


I've arrived in Indiana for my 6 days of classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The school has been busy over the winter months with a major expansion, including a new kitchen, lunch room, dedicated lathe room and technology center. The state of the art technology center will allow students to use laser cutters, plasma cutters, CNC routing, and laser engraving, all controlled wirelessly from computers. This is the world's largest woodworking school. With their staff and teachers, the best. Continuous growth over the last 22 years will keep the school at the top, and a destination for woodworkers for years to come.

As you know, I have also been involved in my local community in a more personal endeavor at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA). I remind myself that with the current state of affairs, the arts crafts need all the help they can get. So whether a school is large or small, the need is there. I hope to enlist new teachers and build our program at ESSA. The object is not to compete, but to offer much needed healing to a fractured culture. The arts bring us together, and help us to stick like glue to purposes that are transcendental.

Make some thing useful and beautiful and you've changed the world for the better.

Become a maker of useful beauty, and you've transformed your self.

The photo is of the new addition at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Tomorrow my box making class will begin.

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

packed and ready for MASW

I have my box making supplies packed and ready for Marc Adams School of Woodworking and I leave today. Being prepared to be away from home for a week is one thing. Being prepared to teach for six days another. At some point during the summer, I may regret being so heavily booked. In addition to classes, I have articles to write for Fine Woodworking and Woodwork magazine. The secret of course is to do but one thing at a time and transition swiftly between endeavors.

I also need to begin ordering additional tools and supplies for the new wood shop at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

As I travel today, I cannot help but be aware of the fact that our country seems to be coming unglued. We have a president who lies routinely and with ease to foreign leaders, to the press, to his family and even to himself, and his presidency seems to have fallen into complete disarray. He's being faced by public servants who hold tightly to the truth.

In the meantime, the United States has been made the laughing stock for the world, and world leaders have had to distance themselves from the erratic, egotistical fool Americans elected through the interference of a foreign power. In 2015, a Russian cyber warfare expert had told their Federal Assembly that they had a new tool to use against the US that would put our nations on a point of parity just as things had been during the height of the cold war. It appears to have worked, but only to a point. An intelligent free press is protection for Democracy.

We will get through the crisis and will be made wiser by it, and I'm reminded that when we are faced by obstacles that seem far greater than our capacity to fix, we may yet move forward by simply doing good things.

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

even to stand slack jawed, open mouthed and dumfounded.

William James had come up with the maxims, “No reception without reaction” and “No impression without expression” in his discourse supporting the manual arts in school. Even for a child to stand stack jawed, open mouthed and dumfounded indicates some level of response. But then I'm not sure that's what William James had in mind.

Today I hope to get the bandsaws wired and ready at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and begin installing the pipes and hoses for the dust collection. I will also pack my truck for travel to Marc Adams School of Woodworking for six days of making boxes.

I searched through my files of photos for one that shows students in a classroom. You may not need one to be reminded of what it's like. Kids slouch at desks, bored and disinterested as if they've already seen it all. To sit bored and unresponsive is great preparation for a life of idle consumption of products and ideas. Being bored and unresponsive in the classroom trains students to do nothing about the stupidity and insensitivity  encroaching on our humanity.  Assured that students (and adults) will not rise up in response, corporations that care nothing for the environment, can trash it and leave what had been communities as wasteland.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Sympathetic and intelligent appreciation of each child.

I am turning my attention back to the ESSA wood studio, as items have been arriving that are needed to further prepare for coming classes. Today I'll be making sleds, and push sticks and cutting floor mats to appropriate size. The following is from Junius L. Meriam's book Child Life and Curriculum.
“Sympathetic and intelligent appreciation of the boy and girl; the contrast between intense activity out of school and comparative inactivity within the school; the contrast between the viewpoints of child and adult, — these considerations suggest an approach to conception of the purpose of elementary education. It is this: Let us for the time forget that we have studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and others of the traditional subjects. Let us set aside the notion that we adults have attained to our present stage of development by virtue of our study of these traditional subjects. Let us not feel certain that our pupils can develop only by the course we have taken.”

“Statement of the problem. Face to face with her group of pupils, each teacher may formulate her problem in this way: How can I help these boys and girls to do better in all those wholesome activities in which they normally engage? This statement presents the point of view taken throughout this volume. The emphasis is upon helping rather than merely teaching; consideration is directed to boys and girls as individuals, not as groups and averages; pupils are helped to do better than they have done before, rather than to compete with others; the subjects for study are the normal experiences of children and people in whom they are concerned (limited, of course, to wholesome activities) in place of the formal Three R's.”— Junius L. Meriam, Child Life and Curriculum, 1920
The point can be simply stated. Children (and adults) in the real world learn with energy and enthusiasm by doing real things. Schooling, in contrast, is hindered its artificiality. One aspect of its artificiality is that of considering students as a class rather than as individuals. The early progressive educational theorist knew this, but the demands for efficient management of kids got in the way of actual efficiency in education. Do real things, and anchor learning in real life and real learning results.

Yesterday my wife, her sister, her granddaughter and I went to Silver Dollar City and had a wonderful day of play. Was there learning involved? Perhaps so. It was fun, and we will remember it for many years to come.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Meriam's principles for curriculum design.

I realize the title of this post would make a reader choose to ignore it.

Junius L. Meriam in his book Child Life and the Curriculum, 1920 attempted to redirect the design of schools to meet student needs and student interests. Meriam was an advocate of manual arts training, but I do not know whether he was influenced by Educational Sloyd, or formulated his ideas by simply observing the way children learn, and what drives them to learn and to love learning.

Direct observation was the way Comenius learned about kids, how Pestalozzi learned about kids, and how Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon, and Dewey learned about kids. Children have not changed much in all this time, and you can learn a great deal about learning by watching kids at play. In this book, Meriam laid out five principles to assist schools in establishing a curriculum that takes into account the student's motivation.
Principle One: The curriculum should contribute primarily to enabling boys an girls to be efficient in what they are now doing, only secondarily to preparing them to be efficient later.

Principle Two: The curriculum should be selected directly from real life and should be expressed in terms of the activities and the environments of people.

Principle Three: The curriculum should provide for great scope and flexibility to meet individual differences in interests and abilities.

Principle Four the curriculum should be organized that it will admit of easy rearrangement of the schedule for any day, of the work for any grade, and even of the transfer of work from grade to grade.

Principle Five: The curriculum should lead the pupil to appreciate both work and leisure, and to develop a habit of engaging in both.
It is cheaper and easier from an administrative perspective to fill a classroom with as many bodies as possible, and have a teacher trained to maintain order, control the class and deliver lessons, whether the students are interested or not. The idea then becomes one of designing the curriculum to flow from one uninteresting thing to another. Is it any wonder then that students would be under motivated, inattentive and in some cases drop out?

I have been working on two fronts. One is to prepare the new ESSA wood shop for classes. The other is to prepare for my own classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I'll drive to Indiana for that class on Saturday.

Make, fix, create and design schooling in which children (and adults) are given the power to do real things.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017


Junius L. Meriam wrote the following as the preface of his book, Child Life and Curriculum published in 1920 and available as a free download.
Bobby was one of my foremost pupils in a village high school. He was fourteen years old but small in stature. At times his face was radiant with boyish joy; at other times his face bore the serious demeanor of a judge. Bobby was one of the very first to reach the playground at recess time. After recess he was among the first to open his books for study. He played with those younger than himself because the younger ones played the more. In the classroom he worked with those older than himself because with these his good mind had more companionship. He was punctual, regular, and reliable in both work and play.

But before the close of the year a marked change took place in Bobby. He played less and studied less. Something was wrong with the boy — or with the school.

As his teacher, I had come directly from a classical college. I required all my students to take Latin and mathematics. English grammar and history also were emphasized. Hard work and vigorous drill characterized my school policy.

I wondered what caused the change in Bobby.
One day three of my grade teachers reported to me that Fred, known in the school and in the town as " the worst boy in school," had been asked by Bobby to join his gang. He declined, saying that that gang was too bad for him. My Bobby's gang too bad for Fred? Thus through Fred it was discovered that Bobby was the leader of a gang which had as one of its purposes: How to make swearing easy. These boys held regular and irregular meetings in a little covered bridge near the pastor's house. There they exercised in their self-chosen art.

Explanation of the changed attitude of my favorite student was now clear. The usual play at recess had not provided the needed activity. The serious school studies had not given the boy opportunity for invention, self-direction, genuine inquiry into real life. This he craved, and the gang became his more effective school.

I give to Bobby and his gang the credit for suggesting to me the problem I have endeavored to present in this book.
I am able to quote liberally here because the book is no longer in copyright protection. The ideas in it, however, will never go out of date. A principle of Educational Sloyd is involved, that of starting with the interests of the child. And actually, an effective teacher does not just start with the interests of the child. He or she is continuously monitoring that level of interest, and shaping the curriculum to fit and sustain it.

This is of course difficult in the modern American classroom in which teachers are given little time to consider the needs of individual learners.

I am getting ready for my class of adult box makers at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Each of my students will have signed up well in advance of the class, will have invested in tools and materials, will dedicate a week to the process, including travel and motel costs. And when I arrive to teach, I can be assured that I will have my student's interests. But I must also  tailor my lessons  to meet each student's individual interests and goals. That I do so insures not only that my students learn effectively, but also that I am invited back to teach again the next year.

Is there not something important to learn here? Are we so foolish and naive to think that adult human beings and children learn in different ways, and that children should and can be exposed to a higher level of manipulation without cost to their interest in learning?

One morning a few years back I followed a link sent to me by a friend and found that I had been quoted in The New York Times. That’s not a thing that happens often to wood shop teachers.

The article linked to my blog in its discussion of Matthew Crawford’s best selling book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. Crawford’s book opens chapter one by quoting me as follows:
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.”
Such a statement could have been made by any of the remaining wood shop teachers in America. We all know in our hearts, through our own soulcraft, that our students learn best when their hands are engaged in real problem solving.

I have  downloaded Junius L. Meriam's book free from the internet to my iPad so that I have something to read evenings in my motel room after teaching each day at Marc Adams School. I leave on Saturday.

Make, fix, create, and lead others toward learning likewise.

Monday, June 05, 2017

ribbons and all...

We had our ribbon cutting ceremony for the new wood working studio at ESSA yesterday. I was selected to be one of those wielding the huge scissors for the event.

We had over 200  people there to get a first hand look at the new woodworking facility, and to take part in the Incredible Edibles Art competition. I was kept busy most of the time, answering questions and showing guests through the wood shop.

The following is from the Report to the Commissioner of Education for the year 1887-1888:
The Dwight School, 1882 is often thought of as the first effort at integrating manual training in American School curriculum, but it was built on an earlier example.

In 1872 a society known by the name of Industrial School Association established in Boston what was called a whittling school, carried on in the chapel of a Boston church of evenings. In 1876-77 this society united its school to the industrial school that had for two seasons been holding its sessions in the Lincoln Building, the supporters of the two schools organizing as one body under the name of the Industrial Education Society. The city gave them the use of the "ward room on Church street," where from 7 to 9 on Tuesday and Friday evenings instruction in wood carving was held. Firm benches were obtained, provided with a vise and carving tools for each of the thirty-two boys, ranging in age from twelve to sixteen. About half the pupils were still attending school.

The report, written in 1877, from which these facts are taken, closes thus: "The object of the school was [at the date of its inception], not to educate cabinet-makers or artisans of any special name, but to give the boys an acquaintance with certain manipulations which would be equally useful in many different trades. Instruction, not construction, was the purpose of this school. We cannot but believe that it would be easy to establish in connection with all our grammar schools for boys an annex for elementary instruction in the half dozen universal tools; i. e., the hammer, saw, plane, chisel, file, and square. Three or four hours a week for one year only of the grammar school course would be enough to give the boys that intimacy with tools and that encouragement to the inborn inclination to handicraft, and that guidance in its use, for want of which so many young men now drift into overcrowded and uncongenial occupations or lapse into idleness or vice."
We are now faced with a challenge of making certain the wonderful new facility gets maximum use. Perhaps a whittling school would be a good idea. Children these days are given digital tools that are powerfully engaging and purposefully distracting, but of little real use in shaping their own environments. Some reach college age without having used simple tools like scissors and hammers and the like. How are students to understand the materiality of their existence without having once tried to make something from it?

We know that doing difficult things is the way human resilience and character are developed. We also know that the whole thrust of digital development is to make stuff easy. So unless we propose and accept meaningful challenges for ourselves in the making of beautiful and useful things, we're screwed. As someone said at yesterday's event, schools like ESSA and the volunteers that make them happen are examples of how America IS "truly great."

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

Sunday, June 04, 2017

almost ready for class...

Yesterday I went out to ESSA to make a few last minute adjustments before our opening of the new wood studio this afternoon. With students and classes, it may never be quite so new, shiny and clean ever again.

I still have some work to do setting up the dust collectors, and more tools will be added, including many of the hand tools necessary for an effective learning environment.

Our new wood studio is a lovely building with lots of natural light, as you can see.

In any case, I know that you and our many guests will find the new building amazing. I was concerned at one point that I'd not planned enough space for equipment, and students to share the same space. But I'm very pleased with how it has turned out.

On Monday I begin ordering more tools and supplies for the ESSA wood studio, and will begin preparing for my classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

As I begin to pack boxes with tools and supplies. I get excited about it, for when people learn such good things, making beautiful and useful objects, new friends are made for life. The objects, carried home, will also delight and students having been engaged in learning through their hands, have a broader view of life, as well.

Today's opening reception for the new studio and the incredible edible art competition is from 3-6 PM.

Make, fix, create and delight others by helping them to learn likewise.

Saturday, June 03, 2017


I have been re-reading How Dewey Lost: The victory of David Snedden and Social Efficiency in the Reform of American Education by David F. Labaree. It is a remarkable story of how a nut case's vision of schooling came to rule for most of a century, over the more thoughtful and appealing ideals of John Dewey.

Dewey won the debate among educators and earned world-wide recognition for his ideas. Here in the US, Snedden and the proponents of industrialized education got their way. Those who have been watching the current round of top down schemes to re-shape American education, may see a painful connection.

David Snedden's ideas were strikingly similar to what Woodrow Wilson proposed when he was president of Princeton University and before he became president of the United States.
We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
Snedden got so carried away with Wilson's vision that he proposed special isolated schools for every conceivable occupation. And so with Wilson's signing of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1918 which granted funding to only certain kinds of manual arts training, it became an accepted purpose of education to engineer society along pre-existing class lines. Tied up in this story are the psychology of G. Stanley Hall and the standardized testing movement.

Unlike Snedden, a man whose name is largely forgotten, Dewey's name lives on to inspire. He was a proponent of manual training for all students, including those who might be destined for college and advanced degrees. The object of Dewey's manual arts training was not to prepare students for particular industrial tasks or occupations, but (in alignment with the ideals put forth by Educational Sloyd), to shape the way students think, learn, and care for each other. The life of humankind is not shaped as much by what we are instructed to think as by what we learn to DO, and what we learn to do can shape the way we think, AND what we feel for one another. Those things that are learned hands on, have the greatest educational impact, meaning and longevity in student's lives. Adults, too, benefit most in their learning by doing real things.

I am taking a day off from ESSA and invite you to attend the opening day of the new wood shop, tomorrow, June 4,  3-6 PM

Today I'll be catching up on yard work and begin reading through edited texts for my book on making box guitars.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 02, 2017

While i was at work...

Yesterday while I was at work, getting the new ESSA wood shop ready for classes, our president (of the US) decided to abandon the United State's role as a leader in the free world by removing the US from the Paris Climate Accord. Most world leaders are against the move and even the CEO of Goldman Sachs tweeted against Trump.

When it comes to the climate, I am compelled to speak out. The forests that surround my own home are molded to the climate that existed prior to the disruptive force of human induced climate change.

The acceleration of climate change affects my own trees, and the wildlife that lives here in Northwest Arkansas. We are losing songbirds. Real winter seems to have become a thing of the past. Bugs, bugs, bugs, galore are no longer killed by the deep freeze that came every winter like clockwork. 

Most people in the world are simply trying to do good things. We work as volunteers to make the world  better, all the while trying to minimize our own effects on the natural world that surrounds us. We recycle. We conserve energy. We tend plants. We attempt to conserve and protect the history of our culture, and we care deeply for each other. Others appear to care very little for the natural world that has always sustained us. Their idea seems to be that if you can build it and make money on it, who cares who pays? and who cares what the real consequences are? I am compelled to write because I do care.

The photo is a view of our lathe room at ESSA being gradually fitted out for our first classes.

Make, fix, create, and pray that others learn likewise. Woodworking is a means through which we learn about woods, trees and forests, begin to understand their value and are motivated to take a role in protecting our environment.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

this day.

Today I'll be at the new ESSA wood shop and continue to prepare the new space for classes and for the grand opening on Sunday. I have been putting so much time and thought into the new wood shop that I've let other things slide. And even after the opening day, there will be a lot to do to get the shop organized and ready for my own classes later in the summer.

So far I've relied heavily on a team of dedicated woodworking volunteers, and I am grateful for their help.

While I'm involved at ESSA, I'm also working on articles for Fine Woodworking and Woodcraft Magazines, going over edits for my box guitar book, and preparing for my own summer classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, and ESSA.

What I also need to do is make boxes, and as I awaken in the night, box designs are on my mind.

Assembling tools and figuring out where to put them and how to hook them up, is an exciting thing. The new ESSA wood shop is working out pretty much as planned. Yesterday was the first day to operate table saws and the planer in the new shop.

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