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.

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