Monday, May 17, 2021

bridging the gap.

I'd written about this matter before. If the use of the hands makes you smart, then why are there so many folks at odds with those who attain advanced degrees? And the simple answer is that education often fails to bridge the gap between the concrete and the abstract. 

According to the theory of Educational Sloyd, education was to start with the interests of the child, then build from the known to the unknown,  from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. Launched from student interest and built through steady progression, education was to provide a firm foundation for exploration of the abstract. 

Imagine you are building a bridge from the concrete to the abstract. You start with a single line or cable and add comprehension step-by-step until the bridge is complete. Even the most obscure principles can be understood if the bridging is complete. Education that segments students into classes fails to build the proper foundation and builds barriers between social and economic classes.

What happens too often now is that children are thrown into abstraction without what Otto Salomon called "a firm foundation." The student may achieve understanding in narrow bounds and form judgements on what they consider the stupidity of others. The range of interest is narrowed, and complex subject matter is avoided.

A large part of the problem stems from the illusion that children can be successfully divided into classes based on age and taught together as classes without addressing individual student needs. This idea is not mine alone, but was discussed thoroughly in Salomon's "Theory of Educational Sloyd." But how can student growth be managed so each is allowed to arrive at highest potential and understanding? The family serves as an example: a group of kids, each at differing levels of maturity and interest, and yet with each encouraging the growth of each other, under the guidance of a mentor.

So for those looking for a model for education that sets things right, we need look no further than the 18th century when Pestalozzi wrote "How Gertrude Teaches Her Children" or the 19th century when Froebel invented Kindergarten, and Uno Cygnaeus and Otto Salomon invented Educational Sloyd. But then, how many in the halls of academia would consider they might learn important principles from the manual arts? Or why would anyone be willing to listen to a wood shop teacher with regard to reforming American education? You might be one of the first.

Even in my Rainbow Group (kindergarten) children arrive at school with a variety of prior experiences upon which to build learning. Some come from families where crafting is a regular activity. Some have never used a hammer before. Some readers wonder how we are willing to risk holding our fingers and thumbs so close  as our students hammer for the first time. We're brave.

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

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The indirect workings of mind.

I'm fascinated by the workings of mind... the ways we make connections between things, and these connections and how the mind works are as much drawn from the unconscious and that which we barely know about ourselves as they is from the broad daylight of conscious knowing. And so, what's the purpose of education? Is it to have those connections clearly drawn out between lines, or to provide us the tools to chart our ways through the unknown and unknowable? And so, while administrators would like teachers to be more like newsreaders laying out what the station owner wants the community to know and believe, teaching is more of an art through which students discover themselves and their own relationships to the world at large.

In my how-to writings I can tell, "do this, and next do that," and I offer instructions that if followed to the "t" lead to the product I showed on the first page of the article or chapter, or maybe featured on the cover of the book. But when it comes to people (and students of course) whom we hope to offer skills for the navigation of real life. There are no simple formulas or processes that apply equally to all kids. So it troubles me that children are to be laid out upon a grid of standards without being fully regarded as the valuable individuals they are.

There was a monster in Greek mythology named Procrustes. He would welcome visitors into his home. He had a special bed that was equipped to provide for the one size fits all ideal of classroom learning. If you were too short for the bed, it was fitted with chains and gears through which you would be stretched to fit. If you were too tall, it would chop length from your feet and legs to bring you to the right size.

You can see why Procrustes was regarded as a monster. And you might see some similarities between the bed of Procrustes and what passes as modern education in which children are pressed into molds and held in place until set.

Education at its best is about things other than reading or math or compliance with standards of behavior. It's about navigating that space between the conscious and unconscious mind through building bridges toward a sense of wholeness that assures the student he or she is a part of things, a wholeness of community life within which he or she plays (even as a child) an important part. 

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


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Rackensack Kilns

I attended "Slabberday" at Rackensack Kilns between Gateway and Rogers this morning and was pleased find friends attending from the Stateline Woodturner's Club who were there to demonstrate wood turning. It is a wonderful operation turning wood into lovely slabs of wood that are for sale to woodworkers.  It's  become a destination for area woodworkers and offers a variety of species of lumber, all in large form.

They mill it, dry it and plane it flat for your use. 

A couple days ago I got some new jigs in the mail, sent by a reader who took my flipping story stick technique from my books and articles and made a jig that duplicates the process. Instead of making  story stick for each box, you adjust the jig to the length and use it to set up stop blocks on the router table.

I promised to demonstrate the jig to students in my classes and to test it and provide feedback.

I'll have more to show on that at a later date. The photo shows only a small glimpse of the inventory of slabs available at Rackensack Kilns.

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

Slabberday...

Today I'm going with friends to an event called "slabberday," where a man will be cutting logs into large slabs of wood. It is an annual event. In the meantime, this article about a young chess master is an important thing to read. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/08/opinion/sunday/homeless-chess-champion-tani-adewumi.html

It concerns a young man proficient at chess, and suggests that we need to offer all children the advantages they need to succeed. The young chess master, in his wisdom says "I don't lose, I learn." And I ask "when will we learn?" that all children and parents need the opportunity to find success, not delivered on a platter or slab of wood, but that they work for and that's within reach.

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

Thursday, May 13, 2021

What we learn about the truth

Yesterday in the woodshop at the Clear Spring School we made tiny house napkin holders with the Rainbow Group (kindergarten). At that age the children are so excited to make things and simple things bring great joy. To prepare for this project I cut front and back pieces and a strip of wood to be nailed between. After the students had sanded the parts, I drilled pilot holes for the nails to give them a head start in entering and joining the pieces. Glue was also applied between parts.

Education that's left overly abstract allows students to think that you can just make things up. Education that involves doing real things, gives children an understanding that discovery of truth is related to powers of observation through the senses.

In 1973 I had watched the joining of the two parts of the Hernando Desoto I-40 bridge in Memphis. It was amazing how they brought the two parts from opposite sides of the river to meet exactly in the middle. Out of curiosity, and before th bridge was opened to traffic, my sister Ann and I walked across that bridge.

Now the Hernando Desoto Bridge is closed to traffic due to the failure of one part, a massive box beam, and it was good that the breakage of that part was discovered before a colossal failure of the bridge. Routine inspection and discovery of the break led the inspectors to call 911 and to demand immediate closure.

As we watch in politics, we learn that you can lie and make things up. You can choose to ignore what you see with your own eyes, and then fabricate and obfuscate. You can deny what you've done and if you can get enough folks out there to go along for various reasons of their own, you can keep lying til the cows come home, and they may not. Perhaps chickens will come home to roost.

You can make stuff up and walk right off the deep end in lies if you choose that as your path, but we should at least be helping our students discover pathways for discerning the truth. You find that path by doing real things.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

letterpress

My new book is in the hands of an editor and her work will be complete in a week or so. There will be questions for me to answer, high resolution images to supply. The title is not yet finalized. 

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop students will be working on a variety of non-weaponry projects from their own imaginations. My Kindergarten students, called here at our school, "the Rainbow Group" will continue to make toy cars and trucks. 

I'm hoping to bring the letterpress, typography art to our Eureka Springs School of the Arts by arranging a visit by John Horn and his portable letterpress studio described in his blog here: http://www.johnthetypesnob.com/2019/04/23/a-portable-print-shop/

Some may know John as one of the foremost authorities on letterpress and typography in the US. As an avid collector during the time in which the letterpress art was being abandoned, John was there as both a printer and collector. To have him here to share with us will be an amazing opportunity. 

One of my favorite blog posts from John's website is of his visit to an old print studio. It lets us know that there are still places for artists to go to save what's been abandoned in our face-first smack-down launch of "civilization" into the digital, everything easy age in which we live. The photo is from John's travels, of a print shop that got away, left abandoned. Would it not be wonderful for some aspiring young printer to find it and restore it to use?

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

a new knife.

Yesterday I tempered the spoon carving knives that we'd forged at ESSA last week, putting them in the oven at 425 degrees for an hour and letting them cool gradually to room temp. With the blades ready I was able to sharpen and add a handle to one, designing it to feel good in the palm of my hand. My high school students will work on their's today.

Without tempering hardened steel can be brittle. Tempering restores some of its flexibility while maintaining the steel's ability to hold a sharp edge. This thing is sharp.

The handle is made of ash.

Have you had the experience of making a tool for your own use? If so, you'll know that it feels good to feel what you've made, touching it and exploring its use in your own hands.

Just think about spoons for a moment or two and and how they are symbolically connected at the core of human life. We stir food with spoons as its being cooked. We measure ingredients with spoons. We feed babies with spoons and they offer a means through which we feed ourselves. 

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


Monday, May 10, 2021

Coperthwaite's spoon knives

Today I'll temper the spoon knives we forged last week so my high school students can begin adding handles. The spoon knives shown in the photo were made by Bill Coperthwaite and used for an article I wrote for Woodwork Magazine a few years back. 

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

Saturday, May 08, 2021

learning family style...

Our lower elementary school teacher Rigdon, has a chart on the white board in his room on which his students have listed the various things they're good at. The idea is in part that when they finish their work, instead of insisting on starting something new and that their teacher provide that for them, they can offer their skills to assist others, and those who may need help know to which fellow student they might turn. That's the way things work in families. And that's the way things worked in Pestalozzi's novel Leonard and Gertrude, centered on the life of Gertrude, a mother who taught her own children in a manner that caught the attention of the local duke. 

The success of Pestalozzi's novel brought him fame through which he attempted to build a series of demonstration schools of his own. His book, How Gertrude Teaches Her Children was his attempt to revolutionize schooling, particularly for the poor.

So what was so important about Gertrude's method? Think for a moment or longer of the one room school house with children of various ages and abilities, each responsible to the teacher and also to the success and well-being of every other child in the room. Two of the mistakes made in schooling are the division of students by age into classes, and the division of what they are supposed to learn by proposed grade level. These leads to a rushing through, with some kids leaping ahead and some left behind scratching their heads.

At the Clear Spring School we have powers unavailable to more conventional schools, and the pandemic has provided both inspiration and opportunity for us to leap ahead and be bold in ways most schools would not dare. In June we're planning a return to the one room school house concept, dividing the student body in three with each third being a multi-age group in which, as in a family, each child will assist the learning needs and development of each other.

I'm excited about this new and very old development in education, as I know Pestalozzi would be also as we are poised to offer the revolution Pestalozzi had in mind.

The photo shows my student Grady with his expanding sloyd trivet. Grady says, that as the son of a carpenter he has "woodworking in his blood," so he's one I'll be counting on to help others.

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


Friday, May 07, 2021

Knives and sharp sticks.


Yesterday I was told to no longer allow my students to carry sharpened sticks from the woodshop, as they failed a test, violating the rules of such things. Kids love whittling, and the level of interest they apply to sharpening sticks with a knife is amazing. But being allowed to sharpen sticks carries a burden of responsibility. Sharp sticks are not to be displayed as weapons or held in a manner that suggests they might be used as weapons. I got a texted photograph from the head of school, warning, no more, so that's that.

The rules were simple. Sharp sticks must be carried down at the student's side, not brandished, and upon returning to the main campus were to be put immediately in backpacks and not gotten out during the day, but kids and sticks, sharp or not are irresistible.

There are educational values in sharpening sticks. It takes close observation and develops hand skills as well as attention. So the new rule is simple and will be easy to enforce. Kids can whittle sticks, but they must be left in woodshop.

Yesterday I took another group of high school students to ESSA to use a forge for hardening their spoon carving knife blades. They were of course immediately in love with the place. Their knives are ready for tempering and adding wood handles next week.

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


Wednesday, May 05, 2021

forged in fire

Yesterday I took a group of high school students to the blacksmithing studio at ESSA to begin the process of hardening their spoon carving knives. Each used the forge to heat their blades cherry red and then quenched them in oil. 

None had done anything like it before. All will likely want to become students at ESSA so they were asking about classes and scholarship opportunities. I'll return to ESSA with another group on Thursday, and I remembered to get a few photos of the process which I'll share in an article in Quercus Magazine in the UK.

The simple point is that students deserve the opportunity to do real things, making the real world clear to them, developing in them an appreciation and understanding of our material planet. Schools can be designed to do that and should be.

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

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

We share this dream



John Horn sent me this small booklet containing Dr. Martin Luther King's famous speech. The printing and binding are flawless. Jean and I are grateful to receive it. Letterpress is nearly lost art, saved only by enthusiasts like John and important words set in type have greater effect when brought to us through the artist's touch.

The message in the book, "I have a dream" must become one of "We share this dream." 

If you've ever driven by mistake to "the wrong side" of the tracks, or ridden on the commuter train through areas where the planners chose that it not stop, you can assess for yourself that poverty and racism yet stand in opposition to the dream described in this thin volume.

Today I'll take some of my high school students to ESSA to use the black smithing studio to heat treat the spoon knife blades we've been making. We'll use the ESSA forges to heat them red hot, then quench them in oil. Next we'll heat them in the oven to temper the blades and handle them with walnut.

I'll do an article about making spoon knives for Quercus Magazine in the UK.

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

Monday, May 03, 2021

development of form

While modern education seems to have fallen on the narrow shoulders of the alphabet, and so many children (even in pre-school and Kindergarten) bear the heavy burden of letters and have chosen to shrug off such a heavy load,  Pestalozzi had recommended an "alphabet of form". The idea was that there were things other than reading that offered value of study. Form for instance. All learning was to arise from the senses first, and from the child's direct experience. The illustration above is from How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, Pestalozzi's book that proposed a revolution in education. It was based on how an exceptional mother might take care of her children and influence her community.

If you think of progressive education as a relay race with the baton being passed from one to another, Comenius handed off to Rousseau, Rousseau to Pestalozzi, Pestalozzi to Froebel, Froebel to Cygnaeus and Salomon (running side by side) and then Salomon to Dewey (even though they never actually met.) As has always been the case, most runners think only of themselves and their part in the race, and may be inclined to ignore the contributions of those who handed off to them. Maria Montessori, for instance, was critical of the performance of Froebel, even though her method was not independent from the foundation Froebel laid in the invention of Kindergarten. Education as to form, was one of the important differences perceived by N. Christian Jacobsen between Danish Sloyd and Swedish Sloyd.

Swedish Sloyd, as taught by Salomon was deeply rooted in the progressive tradition launched by Comenius, in which children were to learn from experience, and adults responsible for their learning would take advantage of their greatest resource... the natural inclination of the child to follow their own interests in learning. To ignore those interests, in the view of Comenius would be to lay obstacles in the path of effective teaching.

The alphabet of letters (in the view of most progressive educators) could wait until after the child had been guided to make intellectual sense of their own perceptions. And so for Salomon, and as he tried to reinforce through his lectures in 5 languages, Educational Sloyd was about the development of the whole child, and was part of a philosophical lineage of progressive education. And it was extremely important to him that his students (teachers) understood their own positions in the development of education. He knew that at some point, time would march past him, just as time had eclipsed Pestalozzi, and that educational sloyd was but a "casting mold" from which an even more modern and progressive system of education would emerge. It may be of interest to readers that Salomon kept a stone from Pestalozzi's gravesite on his desk as a reminder of his role in an historic progression. It may seem egotistical to some that I have a stone from Salomon's gravesite on my own desk.

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


Sunday, May 02, 2021

Once again.

Today I'll be doing some prep work at school for this next week's classes. In the meantime, there are two critical school and non-school factors that have the strongest influence on student success. These are no-brainers, meaning you don't have to be an educational expert to understand their effects.

The first is poverty. The longer a student spends in poverty, the more limited his or her educational outcomes. This affects drop out rates, college and community college enrollment, how early a student is forced to enter the job market, and their overall sense of potential for future attainment.

The second is class size. Small classes lead to better educational outcomes. This has always been true. It's been studied, but again the brain can tell you all you need to know if you are willing to take a fresh look at modern education. Small classes give the teacher more time to be responsive to individual student needs and aspirations. Is that so difficult for educational policy makers to understand? And if we understand it, the next understanding needed is to answer to the question, "why aren't we giving students what we know they need?"

The answer appears simple. The powers that be seem to have concluded that the purpose of education is to keep kids off the streets and under control. That's why, when my daughter was working on her masters in education degree, the primary focus of study was on classroom management. So it's obvious that the educational system cares more about the status quo of kids being controlled than it does about learning, and if that was not true, they'd do something about it. "What?" you ask? Number one is to eliminate poverty. Number two is to invest far more heavily in schools. More teachers in smaller classes, enabling teachers to be as free to grow as we hope their students will become.

We have a big, huge divide in America. There are those who care and want to do something about it, and those who would rather not care and are insistent that nothing happens to improve the lot of those who face poverty and are tied to an educational system that puts our teachers in situations that are impossible for students and teachers to thrive within.

And so we have the Clear Spring School and others like the Future School in Ft. Smith which we hope will serve as beacons for change.

The illustration is of Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, who said clearly that man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. If you want to help, share this with others and demand change.

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

Saturday, May 01, 2021

future school

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School we had the pleasure of guests from the Future School in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Allison Montiel is the principal of the school, and Boyd Logan is one of its founders and currently director of operations. 

They are going through a seven million dollar expansion, so the difference in scale between our two schools is enormous. But the focus of our schools on the individual needs of our students is the same. And both schools are focused on bringing meaningful change to education at large.

Children need to learn in a concrete manner from the real world, not from a whole lot of canned and contrived stuff.  Real world learning involves two strategies. One is to do real things in school connecting the various abstract studies, and the other is to use the school as home base as students get out into the real world for directed learning. At Clear Spring School we use regular field trips to get our students out into the community to learn, and our hands-on approach using crafts and arts make the experience real for teachers and students alike. 

The Future School, built on the Big Picture model, uses internships to bring deep engagement to their students, and they are having tremendous success. The important thing to note is that children and young adults are capable of doing real things that are of benefit to their communities and to themselves and that lead to sustained growth. Sequestering kids from real life is a failed strategy and one that often leads to children leaving their home communities in disgust and failing also to realize their full potential.

A few years back, my friend Elliot Washor had told me that he was at work with a Big Picture School in Arkansas. The Future School is the result, and I thank Elliot for making the connection, as we intend to learn much from each other.

One of the challenges that all Big Picture Schools have is that it takes awhile to rekindle student interest in self-directed learning after they've spent 8 years sequestered in classrooms from real life. That was one of the issues we discussed. Student interest can be a fragile thing and as Otto Salomon had suggested in Educational Sloyd, education must start with the interests of the child. And that interest is best kept centered in our attention and nourished steadily from day one.

My student Grady is truly excited about woodworking. He sees something made of wood and he wants to make it.  He wrote me a letter that I got in my mailbox yesterday insisting that he be given the chance to make a pyramid box. He told me that with his dad being a carpenter, "It's in my blood," to make things from wood. The photo shows Grady making a sloyd trivet.

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