Saturday, October 23, 2021

box makers...

I am one of six box makers featured on this offering from Fine Woodworking Project Guides 

https://www.finewoodworking.com/project-guides/boxes

Boxes remain one of the best ways to learn overall woodworking techniques. My next box making article for Fine Woodworking will be photographed in the ESSA woodshop in December.

In the meantime, my new book, The Wisdom of Our Hands has made it through the copy editing process and will be headed to the printer on November 7. Hopefully, the paper supply problems will not delay the 2/22/2022 publication date.

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


Thursday, October 21, 2021

A reminder

With kids present, things do not go as planned. Yesterday we painted our bat houses made in the Clear Spring School woodshop and I failed to make clear what my intentions were, that they decorate, rather than paint the whole things. And so with milk paints in hand, they got carried away. 

It was also a reminder that I can lower my own stress level by having them paint outside rather than inside the wood shop where stray splatters of pain fall on our beautiful floor.

Note to self... Kids and paint need to be mixed in a carefully  controlled environment. In any case, the bat houses (four of them) are decorated and ready for installation and occupation by bats.

Make, fix and create...


Monday, October 18, 2021

Unhook from the supply chain...

This year supply chain problems will severely impact the delivery of mountains of Christmas time toys and stuff. That will likely impact for additional months to come, the volume of broken stuff delivered to landfills. 

Naturally President Biden will be blamed as children are deprived of meaningless stuff that would have been intended to generate Christmas time delight but that then would have been thrown out as meaningless in the months to come.

How about taking matters into our own hands. We and our kids can make the things we need and my book, Guide to Woodworking with Kids can help. It is currently scheduled to be reprinted and I'm hoping that the shortage of paper doesn't interfere with a timely delivery. 

If supply chain issues affect my Guide to Woodworking with Kids, https://smile.amazon.com/Guide-Woodworking-Kids-Projects-Lifelong/dp/1951217233/ I've been assured other books of mine are in sufficient supply. Making Classic Toys that Teach https://smile.amazon.com/Making-Classic-Teach-Step-Step/dp/1940611334/ provides instructions for making Froebel's gifts and explores his philosophy for teaching kids. While Froebel is known as the inventor of Kindergarten, his methodology of learning through play applies to us all. And even adults will love working their way through this book.

And then there's box making. I have a variety of books about that.

If you want to make the coming holiday season far more meaningful than others where crap was in abundant supply, try spending time with your kids in advance of Christmas. Make gifts and toys for each other. A few tools will help, and a new hammer under the tree will bring delight. 

The photo shows a plane made by Veritas that I reviewed for Quercus magazine this last year. Sized for a child's hands and unlike the toys that go in the trash, this tool will perform for a century or more as your children grow up and share it with their kids.

Unhook from the supply chain. This is the year for it.

Make, fix and create.


Sunday, October 17, 2021

five or six Ds.

When a student in Pestalozzi's school was told to look at a picture of a ladder, the child asked, "why should I look at a picture when there's a real ladder in the shed?" "We don't have time to go out to the shed," the student was told. Later when the child was presented with the picture of a window, the child asked, why do we have to look at a picture when there's a real window right there? We don't even have to go outside to look at it." The teacher complained to Pestalozzi and was told that the student was right. Whenever possible, lessons should be based on the real world. But we confine our students to classrooms and isolate them from deeper engagement. 
 “The sensational curiosity of childhood is appealed to more particularly by certain determinate kinds of objects. Material things, things that move, living things, human actions and accounts of human action, will win the attention better than anything that is more abstract. Here again comes in the advantage of the object-teaching and manual training methods. The pupil's attention is spontaneously held by any problem that involves the presentation of a new material object or of an activity on any one's part. The teacher's earliest appeals, therefore, must be through objects shown or acts performed or described. Theoretic curiosity, curiosity about the rational relations between things, can hardly be said to awake at all until adolescence is reached.” -- William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology: And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals. 
Much of what troubles post modern education is its artificiality. Even the pretense that it is all engineered as a benefit for our children is a distortion of the facts. The simple message should be clear. The things that most ail American education can be described as the 5 D's. We've got disinterest, distraction, disappointment, disillusionment and disruption. Some students go though 13 years of schooling without ever being disruptive, but most suffer at least from the first 4. We can add another D, for depression. It's how we all feel when recess is deprived us.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 16, 2021

concrete and abstract

One of the principles of Educational Sloyd was  that of moving from the concrete to the abstract. The idea was that by building and doing real things, rather than just engaging abstract material, students would develop both skill and deeper sustained interest. Back in about 2009 I was quoted by Matthew Crawford in his best selling book Shop Class as Soulcraft used a quote from my blog as the epigraph of chapter one. 

“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.” 

He used the quote noting that in just a few words I'd summarized the dreadful situation we're in. It's the artificiality of it all that drives kids nuts. Some are able to sit bored for hours. Some rebel. Crawford did a later exploration of the same quote in a subsequent book, The World Beyond Your Head in his final chapter. So I'll go a bit deeper into it myself. 

The first thing to note is that kids are smart and they know the difference between the artificiality of schooling and real life. They know that the teachers are presenting the things that the administration cares about, the students' own personal interests be damned. And since they know the curriculum has been manipulated and controlled based on things that are not real to them they need not pay serious heed. 

For some schooling is made barely bearable by having goals that lie beyond graduation. But just because some manage to make it through schooling seemingly unscathed and find some degree of success beyond it does not make it right for any and certainly not for all.

So what's a guy or gal to do? Julie Wilson, in her Path to Learning Podcast episode laid things our pretty clear. You change things, bringing your own unique passions into the school environment. Julie said, 

If school sucked for you, we really need you (to teach). Because you have a lens that we typically don’t have. The vast majority of people in the education system, people like myself, they did school well; therefore, I think we need more of the people who were not served by that traditional model. The more they can rally around this work and bring their different and innovative thinking to it, I think that will really help to turn things."

Yes, this will take time. But there are examples to examine like  our own Clear Spring School and a very long tradition of progressive pedagogy to inspire us to move forward. 

Make, fix and create.

Friday, October 15, 2021

willing suspension of belief.

Religion is a confusing subject as it is based on what we believe or hope to believe or profess belief in. And in that realm we are welcomed to believe what we want, whether true or not, as that is proposed as our right.

It would be far better if we were able to suspend belief rather than disbelief and simply observe, learn to trust science as a process, develop critical thinking skills rather than being required by schooling and religion to suspend disbelief and to take on faith what we've been taught. 

In the schools which we've all endured, we've been planted in seats and measured by our compliance and complaisance. It's the same in church. And not having been encouraged to directly challenge what we've been taught, we fall into the trap of thinking that the reality we've chosen for ourselves is right and the others wrong, and then line up along factional lines against each other and in denial of science which has become overly complex to unskilled minds. And some people are willing to die or cause others they love to die to score marks on the other side.

In the early days of manual training in the US and around the world, Educational Sloyd as practiced in the Nordic countries and as introduced in the US in the 1880s noted the necessity of educating all, absolutely all, in the manual arts. The idea was that working with the hands, developed the mind and also the social fabric, as it helped people in the upper classes develop a greater sense of the value of the contributions to society made by others, regardless of class. Another value was that the manual arts being practiced in schools made schools active rather than passive. Passivity practiced in schooling was destructive of society at large and meant the death of critical thinking skills.

And so here we are now. A huge mess. Factions aligned against each other.

The knife was one of the introductory tools in educational sloyd. They idea was that it was the first tool a Swedish child would use, even before formal education began and every Swedish child knew how to use a knife safely. It was not regarded as a weapon to be used against others. It was a useful tool that gave the student power to shape, and observe. You cannot whittle a stick without making simple hypotheses as to how the edge of the knife will address the wood and how the grain of the stick will impact the result. And so from such humble observations the full powers of science gradually emerge.

We’re a very long ways from reforming education to make schools active rather than passive places. Education today is obsessed with classroom management because classes are too large for teachers to address the varied needs and interests of their kids. By having kids unnaturally forced to sit at desks when their whole bodies are itching to do real things causes them to rebel, not only by becoming disruptive but on the inside, meeting what they are taught with a sense of disdain. Without being granted the opportunity to test what they are being taught and measure it against the real world, lessons are just more crap that they are expected to believe, and even the science upon which all of modern life depends is met with derision and distrust.

Fortunately there is a real world out there. Stupidity will meet its own measure against the realities the world presents, so I find a bit of hope in that. But we could be making things easier for future generations by helping them to do real things in school, allowing them to measure what they've been taught against the realities of the real world that they've been trained to observe for themselves. 

I started out talking about belief, and it seems that folks are all challenged to believe something or are regarded as naked. And yet, to see and see well, without the blinders of belief to distort the reality we live within, would serve us best.

On the home front, I've been finalizing the reading list that will be added to my new book.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 14, 2021

19th Mad Hatter Ball Auction

Our annual fund-raiser for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts went online last night and it's worth your time to browse the offerings and witness the variety of arts practiced here. 

https://one.bidpal.net/steampunkwonderland/browse/all

Some of the work was produced by teachers, some by students and some by members of our community. who have learned and grown through participation in classes. The proceeds of the auction will advance the school and its role in making Eureka Springs one of the most fabulous places to live in the US.

When we started ESSA, it was with the recognition that having an art school in such an arts-infused place, with a high concentration of amateur and professional artists would be inevitable. And so, choosing to apply some effort to the inevitable, we soon found many friends who shared our sense of its inevitability. Many hands make light work.

One of the great things about ESSA is that it's so easy to be involved. And it's easy to support ESSA by bringing the works of some of our wonderful artists into your own home.

The arts have an interesting effect. They develop the character of those who participate in them, providing us closer relations with each other. If you have money, and lots of it, you can choose to hide behind walls, and when life is done with you, you'll be forgotten. Participation in the arts assures that will not be the case. As you share in creative processes, you have effect that will linger and transform in fluid fashion and through the hands of others for far longer than we can imagine.

Make, fix and  create.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bat houses.

Our Clear Spring School bat houses are complete except for screwing down the roofs making French cleats on the backs so that they can be easily hung.

The students now want to decorate them, naturally.

Make, fix and create... 

Monday, October 11, 2021

manual arts and the upper crust.

I seldom address the economic value of manual and industrial arts in the blog because that's a given. You'd have to be dead-on plumb bob stupid to not know that when you put tools and the power of understanding in the hands of a man or woman, that he or she can become a contributing member of an economy.  Settlement schools like North Bennet St. in Boston and Hull House in Chicago were intended at first to accommodate the huge number of unskilled immigrants who required acculturation and skill in order to make their way in the American political, economic and social landscape.

 I've been concerned more about the benefits of manual arts training to all, as its general value as a tool in the development of character and intellect is the value most ignored. There's been a persistent conceptual divide in American education, with an upper crust or intellectual elite intended to receive academic training, while the rest were to get trained and acculturated for manual labor. And that great divide left the upper crust stupid and unskilled. Along with that divide came disparagement of skill, and the unreasonable elevation of academics as superior to all. But what is the value of knowledge if we can actually do nothing but twiddle thumbs. Fortunately, the American people have means to rise up despite our educational institutions. The persistent inclination to do and to make whether music or objects of useful beauty is endemic. Academics are not.

I got an inquiry from a person in India who is trying to establish programs for their poor, and wanted me to point out my own essays in the blog that best address the value of manual arts training for the poor. Some of the best writing on this subject was by Felix Adler, founder of the Workingman's School in New York City. Here in the blog you can find excerpts of Adler's writings on the subject having to do with both social classes, the rich and poor if you use the search block at upper left. Type in Adler and see what comes up. One of my essays concerning Adler is on the subject of Will. Adler believed that morality was less a matter of religious precept than one of action. He was an advocate of "unsectarian" education. The more modern term would be "non-sectarian". Many still believe that religion and religious dictate are our only sources of human morality.

Non-sectarian education has been important in the US, helping folks from nearly all cultures to find common ground. On the other hand, non-sectarian education is often viewed as lacking in moral content. Kids are often left on their own for moral guidance, as teachers feel constrained to keep out of the moral arena. And so we have schools in which bullying is commonplace and pop-culture is the primary guide to student behavior. According to Dr. Thomas Gordon in Teacher Effectiveness Training, many teachers are reluctant to enter the values or morals arena with their students. They may even be frightened to address moral concerns that may be related to sectarian values. "They prefer to leave these teachings to families, churches and other agencies".

Adler and others in the early days of manual arts education, recognized the value of craftsmanship as a moral force in education. You either do a job well, or not. If you perform carelessly, the results are obvious for all to see. Through craftsmanship a student is pushed toward caring and the expression of care. In academic subjects the results of work are abstract, often disconnected from direct relationship to the child's environment. Assessment of academic labor is vague, often discriminatory, and lacks clarity. What students may learn in academic pursuits is that they can lie and often get away with it. In any case, I urge those interested to read more of Adler, a bit of which follows: 
"All that has been said thus far converges upon the point that has been in view from the beginning—the importance of manual training as an element in disciplining the will. Manual training fulfills the conditions I have just alluded to. It is interesting to the young, as history, geography, and arithmetic often are not. Precisely those pupils who take the least interest or show the least aptitude for literary study are often the most proficient in the workshop and the modeling-room. Nature has not left these neglected children without beautiful compensations. If they are deficient in intellectual power, they are all the more capable of being developed on their active side. Thus, manual training fulfills the one essential condition—it is interesting. It also fulfills the second."

"By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box. The first point to be gained is to attract the attention of the pupil to the task. A wooden box is interesting to a child, hence this first point will be gained. Lethargy is overcome, attention is aroused. Next, it is important to keep the attention fixed on the task: thus only can tenacity of purpose be cultivated. Manual training enables us to keep the attention of the child fixed upon the object of study, because the latter is concrete. Furthermore, the variety of occupations which enter into the- making of the box constantly refreshes this interest after it has once been started. The wood must be sawed to line. The boards must be carefully planed and smoothed. The joints must be accurately worked out and fitted. The lid must be attached with hinges. The box must be painted or varnished. Here is a sequence of means leading to an end, a series of operations all pointing to a final object to be gained, to be created. Again, each of these means becomes in turn and for the time being a secondary end; and the pupil thus learns, in an elementary way, the lesson of subordinating minor ends to a major end. And, when finally the task is done, when the box stands before the boy's eyes a complete whole, a serviceable thing, sightly to the eyes, well adapted to its uses, with what a glow of triumph does he contemplate his work! The pleasure of achievement now comes in to crown his labor; and this sense of achievement, in connection with the work done, leaves in his mind a pleasant after-taste, which will stimulate him to similar work in the future. The child that has once acquired, in connection with the making of a box, the habits just described, has begun to master the secret of a strong will, and will be able to apply the same habits in other directions and on other occasions."
The notion of cultivating a strong will  in students might not appeal to educators whose objective is to make students complaisant, and who think that some purpose might be achieved by making school boring and as much a test of the nerves as a test for the intellect. 

You may notice the gentlemanly clothes of the Sloyd teacher in the drawing above. Otto Salomon was very careful to use drawings and photos showing that Educational Sloyd was for all students, not just those from the working class.

Make, fix and create...

Indigenous People's Day

Old Chris Columbus was sitting at a bar with friends after "discovering" the Americas. His pals were teasing him, that anyone who happened to have sailed that far would have simply bumped into this place. No big deal they insisted. 

Chris then challenged his buddies to try to balance a hard boiled egg on its end and after they tried and failed, he tapped the egg on its end, making a slight flat spot and proceeded to balance it on its tip. "Anyone could do that," his  friends roared. "Yes, now that I've shown you how," Chris replied.

And that's the story of the Columbus egg. Otto Salomon, in his development of Educational Sloyd referred to his systematic introduction of tools and techniques following a natural pattern of growth within the child as his Columbus egg. A thing as simple as tapping an egg on its end, but of enormous value.

Whether or not the story of Chris and his hardboiled egg is true, the consequences of his "discovery" of America were enormous. And here we are today. The conquistadors  brought deadly diseases that preceded their conquests on both continents. And the indigenous peoples who had lived thousands of years in some degree of harmony with the land were pushed aside, their cultures nearly destroyed.

What was once celebrated as Columbus day, we now celebrate as Indigenous People's Day in the hopes that we can once again live with greater sensitivity to the earth and the plants and animals that share this lovely clouded blue dot in space circling around our sun.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 10, 2021

How the forest changes lives

Daycares in Finland, choosing to emulate forest kindergartens, took matters into their own hands by creating forest environments for their children to navigate and learn from. 

https://www.sciencealert.com/daycares-in-finland-built-their-own-forests-and-it-changed-kids-immune-systems

What researchers found surprising was that engagement in reality actually altered and strengthened the children's immune systems.

So the benefits of engagement in forests are not just intellectual and spiritual, they're physical as well, and every school in the world, even those in cities, should have their own forests.

In my wood shop I'm at work building walnut bases for Arkansas Quality Awards and inlaid boxes for an order.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 07, 2021

stumbling along

Today I'm sitting on the front porch with golden doodle daughter Rosie at my feet. She's chewing a long branch into short pieces and I'm attempting to compose my thoughts. 

A friend, Elliot asked me if I'd studied Viktor Frankl and his book, "Man's Search for Meaning." Sometimes you get much of what you need from the name of the book, taken as an invitation to explore your own mind and your own experiences. As I explain in the introduction to my new book, some will get everything they need from the title alone as it invites them to explore the workings of their own hands and minds in the shaping of the world around us.

Yesterday as Rosie and I sat on the porch, a doe walked out of the woods to present herself not 30 feet away. Of course Rosie jumped up and chased the deer into the woods. When she came back her face was covered in burrs to the point that she could barely open her eyes. That forced me to cancel my classes for the day as Rosie was in dire distress. There were tight clusters of burrs distributed over her whole body. Jean and I spent hours grooming her and took her to another groomer for a bath and clip. The experience was stressful for us and for her. So chewing a good stick on the front porch is a good therapy. I cut the offending weeds in the woods and vow to keep them short forever more.

My dad had a favorite poem that I recited at his funeral service and that I found later in a collection of poems for teachers of manual and industrial arts. It goes: 

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings
All share this common destiny:
Each is given a set of rules,
A lump of stone
And bag of tools,
That each may carve as life as flown,
A stumbling block or stepping stone.

Man’s search for meaning is what drives everything, isn’t it? Money, power, and the attention of others. Having the right car or the right home or the right look of the dog. Then there's corresponding impulse to fit in, to be part of the in crowd, not sticking up to the point where someone else feels the urge to hammer you down. Within that matrix is the urge to build a legacy upon which others can build… a greater sense of purpose that gives life meaning beyond the mundane.

There are two aspects of self that can easily be mistaken for each other: A sense of purpose that connects us with the carving of stepping stones to lift others up, and a sense of self-importance that ultimately leaves us humbled and forgotten. What will your path be? You may choose, stumbling along as we all do.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

a tangle of hands

In response to sharing the new cover design for my new book, Frank Wilson, author of the Hand sent this image of a young Christ among the doctors by Albrecht Dürer.

It shows much more than a tangle of hands, old and young. It shows the passing of mind from one generation to the next. One pair of hands finds passages in the book. One pair marks a spot in his. One pair holds the book closed as the doctor looks on in wonder. One pair is attempting to instruct. The young Christ is using hands to reflect within. And there at the center, the entanglement of minds.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Sloyd trivets and Paper Sloyd

Yesterday student in my class made sloyd trivets. In the meantime, one of the members of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers (NEAWT) noted that he'll be out of his classroom for 10 days after becoming exposed to Covid-19 by a close encounter with an infected student. 

Asking the members of NEAWT about projects he could have his students do while he's out, I suggested paper sloyd. You can view and download the book free from this site: https://diyhomeschooler.com/2011/06/06/paper-sloyd-free-e-book/

His students may argue about being required to learn what students had once learned in Kindergarten and first grade, but they would benefit from it none-the-less, gaining skills they'll need for other things.

It is no longer surprising for teachers of design at the university level to learn that many of their students no longer have skills in the use of rulers, scissors and paper folding. Paper Sloyd, intended as a precursor to Educational Sloyd and originally intended for the younger set, can fix that. It also helps develop skills in utilizing instructions and plans. 

Today my students will be making tiny house letter holders. If you are reading this on the blog and not on Facebook, you can use the search function at the upper left to learn more about Paper Sloyd. There are a number of reasons I want to encourage readers to go to the blog rather than facebook. The blog allows me to use more photos and offer richer content. So if you find facebook down or want to avoid it because it's eating away at our lives, go to http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com

Make, fix and create...


Sunday, October 03, 2021

vaccine policy

Things are opening up and as more folks become vaccinated we are beginning to feel safe returning to normal activities. The Eureka Springs School of the Arts is returning to live classes and I'm grateful for that. Vaccinations are required for participation.

Getting vaccinated is a reasonable way of helping each other be safe and the most practical way of assuring that life returns to normal.

This week the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers explained their board's decision to require vaccination of all those using their shop as follows:

"We are aware that not everyone will elect to be vaccinated, however the board approval of this measure demonstrates our commitment to maintaining safety measures protecting our membership. This measure will certainly have a negative effect on a few members, but we believe it will allow a larger number of members to, after 20 months of staying away, finally have enough confidence to take part in and contribute to valuable teaching and mentoring commitments, as well as ability to work on their own projects in the Guild Shop. It is not fair or logical for these constructive folks to be discouraged at risk of their lives from contributing to our Guild, in consequence of our hosting unvaccinated members.

Unvaccinated population is propagating continued spread of the virus, endangering lives by overpowering hospitals and healthcare workers, to the exclusion of life-saving treatment for other medical conditions."

I think that's rather well put. This week, also in their newsletter  https://guildoforegonwoodworkers.org/resources/Documents/newsletters/2021/Sept%202021%20Newsletter.pdf is a review of my "Guide to Woodworking with Kids," written by a friend, Bob Sokolow.

Make, fix and create... 

Saturday, October 02, 2021

180 years old and fresh as the day it was born.

https://www.froebelusa.com The kindergarten model of education launched by Froebel in the 19th century should be the model of all schooling from pre-K through university. The ideal is that we learn through play within the realm of real life.

Artificiality and contrivance are the bane of effective learning. They kill it dead. 

Students who want to be teachers should be launched into classrooms their first term at the university so that they are provided a means to test and utilize and be energized and awakened by what they are learning in class. 

Froebel offered an understanding that what was taken into the mind needed to be tested through the outcome of the hands and in real life. Student testing of what is taught is the foundation for the development of critical thinking. That our nation has devolved toward idiocy is the consequence of our failure to develop critical thinking skills. Those are derived from scaffolding developed within the child through the following pathway. Start with the interests of the child. Build from the known toward the unknown, from the easy toward the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, utilizing the concrete to form the foundation for an understanding of abstract principles.

This is not rocket science, but  is built upon observations from the 18th and 19th centuries on how children and adults learn best.

You can participate in a renewal of education by paying attention to the Kindergarten documentary film series, and by attending to the path to learning podcasts created by my friends Scott Bultman, Jay Irwin and John Pottinger. Path to learning can be found here: https://www.froebelusa.com/podcasts/the-path-to-learning-podcast

Make, fix and create...