Thursday, January 21, 2021

Building a basis for understanding complex things.

One of the principles of Educational Sloyd is to build from the simple to the complex, and certainly, we live in a world that's enormously complex and difficult for most folks to understand. For instance, I'm typing this on a laptop, connected by a wireless modem to the home network, connected to a cell tower that allows what I write to be distributed to you, my dear readers.

And so, we throw in the towel and throw up our hands at the complexity we use, but cannot fully control and will never fully understand. In this complexity that defies understanding, folks have a tendency to grab information that suits their own limited world views and are thereby easily led as blind lead the blind.

So I've been asked lately, "why woodworking?" What is there about woodworking that makes it ideal in education?" We could at the outset throw children into a wide range of crafts from which to choose. In the early days of manual arts training, schools with limited resources had to choose one craft or another rather than provide a smorgasbord of opportunities. But that alone is insufficient in understanding why only one craft was primarily featured in Educational Sloyd. The point was also to build a common basis for understanding the world. Wood is a real thing. It can be harvested directly from the forest, thereby building a relationship with the natural world. The tools used lend an understanding of industrial processes but also invite reflection on body and culture.  Woodworking lends itself to clarity in the recording of direct action. You cut it once and it cannot be uncut. Due to that factor alone, it hones the powers of attention and mindfulness. That it requires the use of sharp tools, is also an inducement to mindfulness and careful use.

Textile arts were also featured in Educational Sloyd. I visited a room at the University of Helsinki where student works are treasured and preserved. But if you can stitch, you can unstitch and correct errors in the making of things. No such luxury is offered when making something from wood, except, thank God for what woodworkers call "plan b." When things go awry in woodworking, you must engage problem solving skills, and because the range of potential errors is wide, problem solving is done on an individual level, thereby cultivating the powers of individual mind.

The management of complexity and the movement from simple to complex is best grown as one would build an item from wood. You begin with small exercises and build step-by-step toward an understanding of larger things held in complex relationships. That's where Kindergarten comes in. Froebel used the term of his own making gliedganzes, meaning "member, whole" and aiming the child's development toward discovery of his or her place within the vast complexity of all things. Not to be blindly led as folks appear to be now. We need to discover or construct a sense of commonality among us, and start at a very early age, moving from simple to complex in order to understand our place in things.

When I visited Sweden and the home of Educational Sloyd in 2006, I arrived having read a number of books about Sloyd, but unprepared for what I discovered there. The home of Educational Sloyd was not just about training teachers to teach woodworking. Instead, it was about teaching teachers to teach, using woodworking as a model through which to build a foundation for excellence in educating the whole child. In addition to work rooms with benches and tools, there was a gymnasium where teachers were taught to address the physicality of their students through games, gymnastics and dance. Regular activities included lectures on the fundamentals of effective teaching, curriculum development and observance and measurement of student growth.

The photo is of my friend treasured friend Hans Thorbjörnsson who was my guide at Otto Salomon's school and throughout my investigations into Educational Sloyd.

I have written too much today, so will head for the shop.

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

1 comment:

  1. I understand school have limited resources (time and money) and so can not disperse their effort.
    I was lucky to have a "rich" environment at home. Trying to make my own toy with a tree branch. Having access to scrap boards, nails, screws, wire, old clothes. Doing string puppets with a head in "papier mâché" with old newspapers, bones partly in wood, stitching clothes for it, etc.
    Having also wooden blocks, lego, meccano, "little electrician" and such things. Drawing and coloring. Plasticine, plaster. A garden which was a bit wild. I surely forget a few things. And... liking creating things.
    Being able to make some limited metal working is necessary in woodworking.