Saturday, February 29, 2020

Seymour Sarason

Seymour Sarason compared teaching to a performance art. In the classroom, the teacher stands in front of class and engages the students attention, or at least makes the attempt to do so. But unlike a musician, or a theatrical performer, the teacher gets little or no direction to improve performances, and no rehearsal time.

He or she is judged from outside the classroom based on whether or not order is maintained. The teacher's power over his or her students is the basis upon which administrators and fellow teaching staff judge the teacher's effectiveness, and yet when it comes to kids, intellectual engagement is more often expressed by an enthusiasm that would be adjudged intolerable in many schools. So one can see that administrators and policy makers would like to find some way to measure teacher performance without having to put directors and stage managers in every class.

Seymour Sarason had maintained a rather dark but realistic view that every attempt at reform of public education would fail and so far he's been proven 100% right.

The charter school movement takes a spitwad approach. Throw a bunch of new ideas (that are really old ideas) in the form of charter schools (most of which follow a single not so new formula and most of which are intended to turn a profit) against a wall, and see which sticks best. Sarason, on the other hand, suggests that the secret to effective schools may have more to do with how we train our teachers for collaboration within and between classes, training them to draw forth from students their deepest engagement.

His thoughts are a deep well, and should be read by all who might take an interest in the subject of school reform. With between 40 books and 60 articles, getting to know Sarason would be a monumental task, but for the book I'm reading, the Skeptical Visionary, edited by Robert L. Fried

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Friday, February 28, 2020


My first through 4th grade students finished their planter boxes this week as you can see in this photo of student work lining a classroom window.

On the home front, we've reached the end of an era. About 5 years ago our yard and gardens began being overrun and destroyed by feral hogs. With the help of a friend, and having been offered no help from the state, we began the process of trapping, killing and removing them ourselves.

We are grateful that the State Fish and Wildlife Commission has finally become involved. Today I took down our trap, knowing that we are no longer alone. Fish and Game's high tech traps are far more effective.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that all children learn lifewise.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

a new favorite

I take photos of the Clear Spring Students at work in the woodshop, and occasionally a new one shows up that serves particularly well to illustrate a particular value of woodworking. This is one, showing intense concentration. It also shows the development of skill. The idea of a child with a sharp knife might frighten some. But the boy is proud of his work.

Make, fix, create, and adjust education so that others learn lifewise.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Beginning to make foot stools

Yesterday my high school class began making foot stools from white oak. Two inch thick white oak will be used to make the legs. To get familiar with the wood and the processes of traditional woodworking I passed out hands planes so the students and their teacher could get their muscles and minds into the work.

My lower middle school students glued up blanks  from cherry and walnut to begin turning plates on the lathe, and my elementary school students finished planters to used for starting a garden.

My assistant Curtis took a scrap of white oak home from making legs for the footstools. He and his sons counted over 100 annual rings.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

if we were...

If we were to build a new school from scratch to resemble the way children actually learn, it would bear little resemblance to the public schools of today with 30 same age kids put in sterile manageable classrooms. Instead, it would resemble the Clear Spring School where we have over 40 years practicing and refining our educational model.

If we were to build a new school or university to teach adults the way adults learn best, it would not look much like the universities of today. Instead, it would resemble the Clear Spring School, for certainly, we all learn alike, and learn best and to greatest lasting effect from doing real things. My quote in Matthew Crawford's books Shop Class as Soulcraft, and the World Beyond your Head makes that point.
“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.”
The photo shows our students joyfully crossing the small bridge my students and I built last year to connect the school with our new hands-on learning center where my new woodshop is located.

This next week I have an editor coming from Fine Woodworking Magazine to photograph an article we've been working on about box making. I'll also have him briefly in the Clear Spring woodshop to  take pictures of our kids, learning in the manner they (and we) love best.

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

Friday, February 21, 2020

take a break, do something

I was contacted by a writer wanting to contribute to this blog on the subject of safe things to allow your child to do with digital devices while you take a slight, necessary break from the demands of parenting. Children take and need a lot of attention. Parents do need some time for themselves. And so, many parents use their digital devices to alleviate parenting concerns.

There are serious concerns with toddlers and screen time, also, in that research has proven a number of undesirable and even damaging results. The following report is only one bit of research among many.

Screen time is linked to poor social adjustment, childhood obesity and other unwanted effects, and while we have these delusions that digital technology is making our children smart, perhaps we should not allow ourselves to be deceived. Google makes us feel smart also, as we race from one site to another retaining very little in actual mind.

There are reasons to stay engaged in the real world and for us to use tools to help our children remain engaged in reality. I told the writer that as the author of Making Classic Toys that Teach, I had other ideas beyond iPhones and iPads for occupying children while their parents take a break.

Making Classic Toys that Teach is about a lot more than just making toys. It is also about the life and contributions of Kindergarten inventor Friedrich Froebel and his philosophy of learning, that applies to toddlers and even to their parents or grandparents. We all learn best when we are doing real things.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise

Thursday, February 20, 2020

measuring stuff

A friend asked, "How do I teach kids to measure stuff?" The assistance I have is that our elementary school students are taught the use of rulers in their regular classes. Their teachers ask them to measure stuff.  It's part of math, and to have children running around the classroom with rulers observing and measuring the length, breadth and thickness of things is a good thing. Similar exercises should be common in every school. In our case, students also have the opportunity to see that measuring things is important in wood shop, sewing and in the arts. Measuring is important in math comprehension and student confidence.

Yesterday one of my 8th grade students was measuring the inside dimensions of a frame and stated confidently, "Nineteen and five-eighths inches." I felt joy. Her measurement was exact.

I also felt joy with our Kindergarten class as they made "flag poles."

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

Friday, February 14, 2020

super heroes

On Wednesday my kindergarten students finished their super heroes. Today I'm packing a shipment of props to send to my publisher, Blue Hills Press for my Guide to Woodworking With Kids. It will go to press next month and be available in May.

In my at home wood shop, I'm assembling boxes.

What more can I say? We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hand-on and by doing real things. Through woodworking children can be of service to family, community and self and gain in intelligence and character by doing so.

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

in comparison

My wife, Jean alerted me to this furniture company, Palettes by Winesberg that might serve as an example of American industry at its best. They have zero waste, and source all their fine hardwoods from their own forest. This would not be found to be the case under most circumstances.

When you invest in quality American products, you invest also in the quality of our nation. Is that so difficult to grasp? The screenshot from their website shows the entire operation except the forest from which their furniture is made.

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

Monday, February 10, 2020


Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi was kind of an "absent-minded professor" of education. He had written a novel, Leonard and Gertrude about a poor mother and her stone mason husband in a small village dominated by a bailiff who used his tavern to keep the citizens drunk, indebted to him and subject to his control. Gertrude was a righteous woman, who despite her poverty, used her creative resources to keep her family fed, clean and clothed while her husband suffered from drunkenness under the malicious influence of the Bailiff. Gertrude managed to get her husband's attention, and thence commenced the story of how a whole community was restored to prosperity and righteousness.

In real life Pestalozzi had been brought up by his mother in relative poverty after the death of his father. So when he devised his method of schooling his intent was primarily to serve the poor. His books, Leonard and Gertrude and How Gertrude Teaches Her Children are both available from Google books for free, so with a bit of free reading you can become as much an expert on his life as I am. His schools were one failed attempt after another from a financial point of view. His book How Gertrude Teaches Her Children was his attempt in the form of letters to explain his educational method. Pestalozzi had a profound effect on the rise of progressive education through his books and through visits by important folks to the various schools he founded.

Much of modern educational policy is driven from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Pestalozzi recognized the power of the simple individual to take matters into his or her own hands and bring profound changes in their own lives and in their communities. How Gertrude conducted herself in relation to her children, husband and community offered a profound example that influenced Froebel in his development of Kindergarten, then Cygnaeus in the founding of the Finnish Folk Schools, and then Salomon in the development of educational Sloyd. Pestalozzi's approach was from a radically different angle from the current efforts at educational reform in the US. We all know that things are broken. Most expect others to fix things.

Both Pestalozzi and Froebel (who had visited Pestalozzi) recognized the value of young mothers as being their child's first teacher. One of the things that poverty tends to do is to extract young mothers and fathers from this important role. Fix the problems associated with poverty and you'll go a long way toward fixing American education by giving young mothers and fathers more time to fulfill their traditional roles.

Pestalozzi was known for his enormous compassion for the poor. So his books can be an inspiration, even today.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

4 things

Diane Ravitch, an educator whose writings I follow has an editorial in this week's Time Magazine, offering her prescription for  improving American schools. The prescription is simple, fix our nation's poverty, and reduce class sizes. Abolish our fixation with standardized testing... a fixation that's never fixed anything despite pouring billions into the standardized testing industry and despite disrupting children's learning by testing and teaching to the test.

The fourth thing I'll offer on my own. When education is abstract, unrelated and irrelevant to the lives of children, they sit numbly through lessons. That may be what some educators want. Numb children are more
manageable. Of course the down side is that they're numb.

The alternative that we practice at the Clear Spring School is to use education to offer a grounding in doing real things. In the woodshop we are engaged in the use of real tools, using real materials, making real things. And that can serve as a model for transformation.The following quote from this blog served as the opening line for Matthew Crawford's Book Shop Class as Soulcraft and to frame his discussion in the closing chapter in one of his more recent books.
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. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
Children deserve to become fully engaged in their educations. Others might try it and will see that it works.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise

Saturday, February 08, 2020

standing on shoulders broader than our own

A very dear reader suggested that in my last post I was bragging while I thought I was making a point that not all that needs to be taught in schools will be something measurable by degrees or academic attainment. I do not want to disparage those who work hard to attain academic credentials, but do suggest that they are made richer by engagement in the real world, a thing often ignored in the halls of university training. There's the abstract and the concrete, and we know that learning must, in order to be most effective, move from the concrete to the abstract and not the other way around.

Yesterday I took part in a panel at the Arkansas Arts Council to select the next Arkansas Living Treasure from a field of 8 or nine nominees. Taking part in such panels is part of the responsibility I have for having received the award in in 2009.

The award is for excellence in the practice of traditional crafts, and for pushing those traditions into the future. It's not enough to be good at what you do. You must also demonstrate your commitment to education. As I told a friend, no craftsman is an island unto himself. We most often stand upon shoulders broader than our own, and have a responsibility after being lifted, to lift those around us.

Last Wednesday we were missing some students due to bad weather, and so with a reduced class size, I invited our 4th and 5th grade teacher to assist a third grade student as he made his first efforts to turn on the lathe. Chris had been one of my students years ago, and it felt special to have him re-engaged at the lathe. We do stand on the shoulders of others, and while we may brag on occasion, it is truly best to acknowledge that whatever we do or have done there are certain things we must not forget.

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

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


I was asked kindly for my qualifications to teach a 5 day class in making small cabinets for a community college. They wanted to know whether I had a degree which would have been useful in meeting their accreditation standards. I told them:

 I have a degree in political science, a BA in 1970. I've been a professional woodworker since 1975. I'm nationally known for having published over 100 articles in national publications on the subjects of woodworking (for adults) and k-12 education. I've published 13 books for nationally known publishers in the woodwork field, two of which were translated into German. I was named an Arkansas Living Treasure in 2009 and have served on a furniture design critique panel for the University of Arkansas School of Architecture. I've taught woodworking in major craft schools like Arrowmont and the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and for 19 years have directed the Wisdom of the Hands Program at the Clear Spring School with students from pre-K through 12th grades. I'm the author of the Taunton Press book Building Small Cabinets and have taught Building Small Cabinets at ESSA, at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, the Diablo Woodworkers in the SF Bay area, and at the Kansas City Woodworking Guild. I also did a Building Small Cabinets DVD for Taunton Press. An MFA in the Arts would not make me better qualified to teach this course.

Yesterday my students worked excited in wood shop. One of my younger students struggled to glue two pieces of wood together end on, thinking that if a bit of glue didn't do the job, more might. In wood working we learn about the real world and real constraints within our material environment. There is a difference between real life learning and the conceptualized and artificialized environment of typical education. And typical education at all learning levels would benefit from being held to the standard of doing real things.

The lovely piece of furniture shown was just completed by my good friend Bob Rokeby.

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

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

the process

Each day, I push things forward just a bit. I spent a good bit of time yesterday reviewing the first draft of my Guide to Woodworking with Kids. It promises to be a good book, giving greater confidence to parents, grandparents and teachers to help their children get started in woodworking.

In the new wood studio at the Clear Spring School, I continue organizing in the new space, as we hold classes for grades K through 12.

I got an email from a fellow box maker saying this:
I have been making boxes for some time now and have never been terribly happy with them now I have purchased the Box Making video and cannot believe how well done it is, I have been building sleds and jigs for days now getting ready to start. Thank you very very much.
All I can say is "you're welcome." I am also grateful that I've been able to help. Isn't that what we're here for?

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