Wednesday, February 07, 2018


Some of my high school students have become enamored with iron work to the point that they've built forges in their back yards. I am reminded of the Chinese years ago when they launched their "great leap forward." The following is from Wikipedia:
"Huge efforts on the part of peasants and other workers were made to produce steel out of scrap metal. To fuel the furnaces, the local environment was denuded of trees and wood taken from the doors and furniture of peasants' houses. Pots, pans, and other metal artifacts were requisitioned to supply the "scrap" for the furnaces so that the wildly optimistic production targets could be met. Many of the male agricultural workers were diverted from the harvest to help the iron production as were the workers at many factories, schools, and even hospitals. Although the output consisted of low quality lumps of pig iron which was of negligible economic worth, Mao had a deep distrust of intellectuals who could have pointed this out and placed his faith in the power of the mass mobilization of the peasants."
The program of Chinese backyard steel making was a complete flop, as was most of the Chinese Cultural revolution. Mao was a brutal dictator and irrational to boot. The Chinese backyard steel making was big news in the US at the time, as was American gloating when the program was abandoned.

On the other hand, think of millions of backyard steelmakers being launched into experimental processes from which they learned  through experimentation and failure. The hands are the crucible within which the mind is formed.

In the photo, my high school student Ozric is making a steel cleaver as a demonstration art project for the study of World History. He used an old lawn mower blade as his source of steel. He heated it in his back yard forge and hammered it to shape and brought it to the Clear Spring School woodshop to finish into  working kitchen tool.

Given the state of things in  our country, and in our system of education, we can use a cultural revolution of our own, in which we rediscover the value of the hands in learning and in the development of intellect. If we want smart kids, we can begin by offering them something interesting and compelling to think about.

Make, fix, and create...

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