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 The ideas in it, however, will never go out of date.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.

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