Wednesday, April 28, 2021

getting caught up in things...

Last year, for the first time in my life, and as we were adjusting to the new reality of Covid-19 restriction, I discovered an interest in pulling weeds. 

My favorite to pull is commonly called cleavers. It grows in long frond like forms that lay on the ground or will climb up and rest upon other plants and it appears to have as its survival strategy the ability to entangle and to be carried along by animal life. It is only barely rooted and pulls up from the earth with ease. It's not one to cling desperately in the soil like a dandelion, so perhaps by pulling it, I'm enabling its spread. Why else would it come loose with such ease?

Galium aparine ('aparine' from Greek 'apairo' [απαίρω < από «from» + αίρω «pull to lift»] – "lay hold of" or "seize")[2] with many common names including hitchhikerscleavers,[3] cliversbedstrawgoosegrass,[3] catchweed,[3] stickyweedsticky bob,[4] stickybudstickybackrobin-run-the-hedgesticky willy,[3][5] sticky willowstickyjackstickeljackgrip grass, sticky grass, bobby buttons, whippysticks and velcro plant,[6] is an annual, herbaceous plant of the family Rubiaceae.  — Wikipedia.

Today in the wood shop my students will continue working on their pyramid boxes related to their study of ancient Egypt. 

Children are much more like weeds than corn. We hope they all grow up straight and tall like corn, but diverse, with each enabled with a variety of coping strategies. One of those should be to work with their hands, developing skill and exercising creativity.

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Elliot Eisner, non-linguistic intelligence

I realize that when I challenge academia for failure to acknowledge the intelligence expressed through the hands, some might be offended. After all, who am I, a simple teacher and craftsman to challenge modern education? My purpose is not to offend, but to simply assert the value, the intelligence, and dignity of hands-on work and hands-on learning. To that end, I quote the following from Elliot Eisner's the Arts and the Creation of Mind

"...a lesson that the arts can teach education is that literal language and quantification are not the only means through which human understanding is secured or represented. So much of schooling privileges discursive language and the use of number that types of intelligence and forms of understanding not represented in these forms are given marginal status. It must be acknowledged, of course, that the abilities to read, to write, and to compute are of crucial importance. Students who cannot read, write, or compute are in deep trouble. But important though these skills are, they do not encompass all of what people know or the ways in which what they know is given public status. We appeal to poetry to say what cannot be expressed in literal language. We secure from images ideas and other forms of experience that elude discursive description. We experience through music qualities of lived experience that cannot be rendered in quantitative form. In short, our sensibilities and the forms of representation associated with them make distinctive contributions to what we notice, grasp and understand. As Pascal said, 'The heart has its reasons that the head knows not.'"
According to Eisner, "The long term result of such deprivation is a diminution of the varieties of life that students are able to lead." Is the purpose of education to diminish and deprive or to enable? We hope for the latter. The purposeful engagement of the hands provides an answer to what ails American education.
Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Monday, April 26, 2021

for my own amusement

I have been compiling a list of educators and educational theorists who have had impact on my understanding of the teacher's responsibilities.... particularly with regard to progressive education. Elliot Eisner came to mind, and I had to dig back into old blog posts to remember why.

Eisner against the rising tide of standardized education, asserted that teaching much more an art than a science. As an art it brings the recognition that we're not at our best the first day out, and that we have no limits, except those we accept or that are demanded by others, for how good we might get.

Today, as my students are studying ancient Egypt, we'll be making pyramid boxes, a project repeated from 2013. The photo shows a student crafted pyramid box, complete with a mummy inside.

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

Sunday, April 25, 2021

making our own mark on things.

Yesterday I finished a new bathroom vanity for our home to replace a mass produced oak cabinet of an unpleasing style. Next in the room will be the installation of a new countertop and replacement of floor tile that had to be pulled up from an earlier renovation. There's pleasure to be derived from making our own mark on things. And that applies to all things in human life.

A reader asked what tools he would need to begin box making, and there are a few basics, table saw, planer, jointer, band saw, router table, that I use very regularly in my work. But caution is advised. 

Not only are tools potentially dangerous, each requires a steadily growing familiarity and appreciation, and beginners can be quickly overwhelmed. Each offers a huge potentiality and it's useful to acquire them in a cautious one-at-a-time manner. For instance, buy a tool, learn what it can do, and the full range of what it can do and then buy another when you've pushed the first to its limits and your circumstances insist that you buy another. This may seem wrong headed to someone wanting to do what he or she sees me doing, but to establish a creative relationship with one's tools is a lifelong journey.

The wood in the new vanity is ash. Ash is available on the market at a good price these days due to it being harvested in advance of the advancing emerald green borer that's been killing ash trees across the upper midwest. The borer that kills it arrived in the US through international trade, just as did so many of the diseases that have had a devastating impact on our forests. It is a beautiful, strongly grained wood (as you can see). It will age to a darker honey tone in time and with exposure to light. Just as tools are best learned gradually through use and through time, the trees and woods are likewise.

And so, a word to those who might be the young among us:  it's good to choose a path with lots of deep learning ahead.

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

Saturday, April 24, 2021

the value of woodwork....

Pete Moorhouse has been engaged in researching the value of woodworking in early childhood education and his ongoing study can be found here: 

The results of woodworking in school are well known here at the Clear Spring School, measured in the joy our students feel in response to their own efforts and deep engagement.

In Matthew Crawford's book about the world beyond our heads, he dedicated his concluding chapter to the quote from this blog that he used as the opening quotation in his first book, Shop Class as Soulcraft. 

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

 There's a good reason that Crawford found my observation useful. It's true. Passionate engagement in learning is of primary importance, and passionate engagement comes from the empowerment to do real things. So there are two important strategies. Provide students real things to do in school that engage their imaginations and encourage the creation of useful beauty. The second strategy involves an effort to connect the school with real life. Field trips are useful, as are internships for the older students that lead them to real life experiences outside the school walls. 

And so of course there's value in woodworking. There's also value in sewing, and in building from cardboard, and in making art. Those things can form a backbone for schooling that keeps children passionately engaged. And passionate engagement forms the bridge though which all the other important subjects flow. It can be said, even if I'm saying it here for the very first time, that if you want a child to read, give him a hammer. 

This week I gave our lower elementary school teacher a big cardboard box. He asked his students to come up with ideas about what that box could become. One said, "a time capsule." Another said "a rocket to Mars." And in minutes each student had expressed ideas about what that box could become. But could they settle among themselves on a single thing? It was soon named "the magic box" because it could become all those things, serving the ideas of all in turn or even at the same time. And so I've been invited to come and see what it's become.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2021


Serendipitous is a long word, but useful as it suggests flexibility and direct response to changing circumstances. It may be irksome to some teachers to have interruptions as they are trying to deliver lessons. Some teachers, on the other hand, welcome intrusions from real life... life that we know is real because real life is in flux and subject to change and offers the opportunity for discovery based learning. 

The other day I had a great big cardboard box and at my wife's suggestion, I delivered it to the lower elementary school classroom, where the teacher, Rigdon, noticing what a big beautiful box I was delivering, welcomed a 180 degree shift in plans for the day, and the next day as well. It is currently being painted to become whatever the children can imagine. 

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


Yesterday I introduced my Kindergarten students to making tops. Each made one and then of course wanted to make more to share with their families. I have a small drill press set up for making wheels and it's safe enough that my lower elementary school students can use it without supervision. With the Kindergarten students, I supervised closely, making certain that each wheel blank was secure before the student turned on the drill and turned the handle to lower the drill into the stock. 

With hand crank drills mounted in vises, the students can decorate the tops with colored pencils and markers.

To mount the drills in the vise, I cut v shaped grooves in pieces of 2 x 4 lumber and then used u-bolts to secure the handles of the drills in the blocks.

The students left with pockets full of tops, some decorated and other to be taken back to class for further embellishment. And now with the students knowing how to drill the centers of wheel blanks, they're ready to make cars and trucks in next week's class. 

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Making a sloyd trivet

Today I introduced the lower elementary students at the Clear Spring School to the new work bench to be used in their classroom. Grady made a sloyd trivet. He didn't know or care what a sloyd trivet was or how it's used. He wanted to make one because he liked how the parts moved in relation to each other. And of course he liked making it from a kit that I prepared during the time when due to Covid-19, the kids were not in in-person school. It is a pleasure for all of us to be safely back, and as new cases in Carroll County and Arkansas continue to fall.

An editor for my new book has been selected and will begin work soon.

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

finding beauty in everyday things.

A friend, Charlie Plant who coordinates the Big Picture School's Harbor Freight Fellows program, has written a lovely blog post about the beauty of everyday things.

Charlie calls into question the artificiality of the line drawn between the arts, crafts and the trades. I'm reminded of the man, who used to do telephone installations here in Carroll County, working for Ma Bell. To see the insides of the junction box he installed was to witness his meticulous concern, with each wire left twisted and coiled in perfect shape. He left his own distinctive craftsmanship as a signature for others along the line to discover: the next lineman to open the box would discover not only that he cared about his work, but that he cared about himself and had respect for and pride in his own labor, and that he was there, making his own mark on things.

We build society in that manner.

As we've shifted things, outsourcing to machinery in foreign lands, we've lost too much.

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

Friday, April 16, 2021

moving toward an age of wisdom

The news this morning is like the news of too many other mornings: More people killed through gun violence as the enraged or insane deliver mayhem on the soul of our nation. If all politicians cared about people and not power they would have fixed things after Sandy Hook when teachers and kindergarten students were targets of wrath, but if that didn't move them toward action, what can? That they refused to fix things then still amazes me. This interesting editorial by David Brooks, "Wisdom isn't what you think it is," suggests that wisdom is more about listening to others than about what we can say. And I pray for the development of wisdom.

One of the rules I have posted in the woodshop at the Clear Spring School is Listen. The rule is not just about what I say in the form of instruction. It's also about the tools and the sounds they make that inform us of how they are interacting with the material, wood. For wood, being real, is one of the sources we draw upon to engage wisdom. One of the things that becomes clear is that while we may quickly know a few things, on a superficial level, practice is of enormous utility. And as Brooks points out you can quickly grasp other people's knowledge, it takes living and listening to attain wisdom. And true wisdom is less about what you can do, and more about the ways through which we enable others to act courageously and with wisdom of their own.

One of the most common notions of wisdom is that it "comes with age." And yet, we can spend a lot of time doing the same dumb things over and over and not necessarily get wiser in the process.

Knowledge comes from a variety of sources: conversation, books, radio, instruction, television, personal observation.
Knowledge may be acquired either directly or from a third party.
Wisdom emerges from reflection on personal and collective experience.
Wisdom involves understanding the relationships between seemingly disparate events and things and is expressed as action toward improvement of the lives of others. It's not about sitting on our hands, it's about putting them to work.

The following is from Charles H. Ham and his book Hand and Mind, 1880: 
"Nothing stimulates and quickens the intellect more than the use of mechanical tools. The boy who begins to construct things is compelled at once to begin to think, deliberate, reason, and conclude. As he proceeds he is brought in contact with powerful natural forces. If he would control, direct, and apply these forces he must first master the laws by which they are governed; he must investigate the causes of the phenomena of matter, and it will be strange if from this he is not also led to a study of the phenomena of mind. At the very threshold of practical mechanics a thirst for wisdom is engendered, and the student is irresistibly impelled to investigate the mysteries of philosophy. Thus the training of the eye and hand reacts upon the brain, stimulating it to excursions into the realm of scientific discovery in search of facts to be applied in practical forms at the bench and the anvil." 
And so, you will find that it is not enough to read about wisdom and the idea of wisdom may seem pretentious, unless you, too, are inspired to explore the wisdom of your own hands. Plant a garden, play instrumental music, make something of useful beauty.

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

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Kindergarten woodworking


Yesterday my Kindergarten students made color wheels, a project that had some hammering for the first time.

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

color wheels...

Today my Kindergarten students will have their first weekly lesson in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School. We're off to a late start due to Covid-19 precautionary delays.

We'll make cool color wheels. Unlike the color wheels used by artists, these are made of wood and the wheels can be spun to visually mix colors.  The project includes sanding, nailing, drilling, assembly and decoration.

This was a favorite project introduced in 2018 and remains a project that even older students enjoy. 

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Getting a grip

I've been thinking about Teacher Effectiveness Training and found this interesting article in the New Yorker, "The Repressive Politics of Emotional Intelligence," by Merve Emre. The article points out the 25th Anniversary of the very influential book by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, that promoted the idea that we are each responsible for our own emotions and the effective management of them to thereby fit into the prevailing culture and economy. It suggests that those who manage to control their emotions manage to get ahead. Goleman's book starts with a quote from Aristotle that avoided an important part. I've highlighted in bold the important point that Goleman skips. 

Anybody can become angry-that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.

Are we to be stoic and repressed for the sake of the smooth running of things? Or would it be best that we recognize that emotions are not be be repressed but utilized to bring change and betterment, as well as a better and more cohesive understanding of each other? Can we offer training not in the control of emotions, not to squelch but to empower?

Emotional intelligence sounds like a wonderful term, a great catchphrase recognizing that how we feel is an important aspect of maintaining a grip on things, at both individual and collective levels. But emotions are best not kept in all bollixed up, but let out where they can be felt by others. We either set up a framework of active listening (one of the important concepts in Teacher Effectiveness Training) or we face times like we face now, with police on one side with their tasers and guns, and justifiably angry protesters on the other. We'd best get down to it, listen to each other get to know one another and develop empathy. And that should be what happens in school long before emotions hit the streets.

True emotional intelligence does not avoid sharing what we feel, nor does it disparage or marginalize what others are feeling. 

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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Small works of art

Today ESSA will offer a short video in which I'll demonstrate matching grain in making a mitered corner box. The video will go live at 10 AM Central time and was made in the wood studio of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. My thanks to Darla and Hilka at ESSA for producing the video. This page has links to the auction and to the various demonstrations.

I was awake for a time in the night thinking about Teacher EffectivenessTraining and ways that we practice being more effective in our communication with each other. I was first introduced to Teacher Effectiveness Training as a younger man just out of college when working with kids at the Porter Leath Children's Center in Memphis, TN. 

I was a group leader in a summer program for kids who had been selected for the program for having emotional problems. In preparation we were given a three day class in Teacher Effectiveness Training developed by psychologist Thomas Gordon. There is no way that a three day class in such a revolutionary approach to effective relationship building can turn off and around patterns instilled and reinforced over a lifetime, but there's power in the model that would transform the ways we communicate with each other. 

Later, as a parent at the Clear Spring School, my wife and I took a class in Parent Effectiveness Training, and the subject has kept coming up again and again during my time at the Clear Spring School because it works. Two things are to be remembered, and as simple as they are, old patterns of communication are deeply engrained and difficult to reverse. The Effectiveness Training approach involves a strategy of active listening that came from Thomas Gordon's therapeutic approach, and the extremely powerful "I message."  The I message is an assertion about the feelings, beliefs, values, etc. of the person speaking, generally expressed as a sentence beginning with the word "I", and is contrasted with a "you-message" or "you-statement", which often begins with the word "you" and focuses on the person spoken to.

The power of the I message is to claim power in social relationships through the admission of vulnerability. It is not to claim attention for oneself, but does enlist partnerships in the resolution of whatever problems we face. To say, "this is how I feel" carries ownership and responsibility, but also offers "caring others" an opportunity to help and to build bridges of empathy between us. It's odd that when we attempt to assert power over others by demanding, we seldom get what we want, but that when we offer sincerity and admit vulnerability we then have the capacity to change a few things, bringing others along into an effective relationship bringing the potential for change.

Throughout my time at the Clear Spring School, Teacher Effectiveness Training has provided a model for student engagement in conflict resolution, and interpersonal conflict resolution is probably the thing most needed now in this fractured world, and yet, even for us and for me, continuing refreshment and practice of the model is required.

Join us in raising scholarship money for ESSA.

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

Friday, April 09, 2021

Small Works of Art

Bidding starts today for small works of art to support the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Please join us for this celebration of hands-on activities. Tomorrow at 10 AM Central time, I'll demonstrate online. A schedule of other free presentations, can be found at this link:

Among the small works of art for sale are my own Postcards on edge. Each is made from vacuum laminated veneers and is stamped and postmarked by a clerk at the Eureka Springs Post Office. You will need to register to bid on these and many other fine works. Please join us. 

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

Thursday, April 08, 2021

note to readers.

Some readers may notice that I've not been sharing as much of late. It's because we're preoccupied with getting back to school, home repair and I'm attempting to write other things. So I'll share an earlier post and a photo from that. 

In education there's a widely held belief that learning is something that centers primarily in the head, but nothing could be a more foolish view than that. 

ESSA, our school of the arts is having a fund raiser/ annual event, Hands-on ESSA and I urge you to attend on-line.

Among the activities are an auction and presentations from a variety of instructors. I will have a video demonstration on mitering the corners of a box, and paying homage to line.

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

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

long board


The photo shows Lucky with his longboard, a project we started before the Covid pandemic and carried proudly home yesterday where he plans to add trucks. He's welcome to bring it back later if he needs further help. It is exciting to get back to regularly teaching kids in person in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School. Covid case loads in our county have fallen to less than one case per week. So the horizon looks hopeful.

Lucky said he wanted his longboard to look like a surfboard. I think he got that effect. The project was a fun one. And even without the added trucks provides evidence of learning and pride of accomplishment. The students selected strips of wood of different species that I provided, glued them up in patterns that they arranged, and then designed their longboards.

Yesterday I presented my high school students with an alternate technique for grinding spoon carving knives, using an angle grinder and a wooden fixture held in the vise.

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

Thursday, April 01, 2021

look first then see

Yesterday in wood shop I introduced my high school students to making spoon carving knives. I began with a short video on spoon carving and then a second short video, part one of making a spoon carving knife. Of course the problem I encountered is that in order to perform a task you must first have an idea of the finished object in order to assess whether or not you are getting the results you want. In order to see the results you want, you must look and shape with an idea of what you are looking for in mind. Øyemål.

I explained that in watching an instructional video, not merely to be entertained by it, they needed to watch very carefully, for very shortly they'd be attempting to do what they'd seen me do in the video. I had spoon carving blanks and spoon carving knives ready for them to use to gain a better understanding of the tool they were about to make, but they largely ignored the opportunity to use the tool. How can a person successfully make something if they do not know thoroughly and thoughtfully how it's used? You can see where the lesson went astray.

I'll likely discard their efforts from yesterday and have them start again. 

I'm facing the craftsman vs. teacher dilemma. As a craftsman, I want the students' work to be successful and for what they make to be useful. A teacher, on the other hand, understands the necessity of failure as a means to challenge the students to look more carefully, and to understand at a deeper level.

The teacher also understands his own need to fail in the delivery of lessons as that also has educational value.

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