Saturday, December 25, 2021

A pitch to the choir

One of the things that must happen as we get together to sing in harmony with each other is to settle on the perfect pitch. And when someone sings a solo in the choir, they do not perform alone. And so it is with a revolution. 

There are times when we take turns at the lead, letting our own voices rise and fall in pitch and in volume, and there are times when we hold back, taking a breath.

I want to introduce you to a branch of the choir, led by soloist Joe Youcha, who in the spirit of a great choir does not sing alone. The organization he founded, Teaching with Small Boats Alliance, is a good one. I made a small donation today because I believe they, by building small wooden boats with kids, offer many students a chance to actually learn hands on. 

When you build a boat, it either floats and floats well, or you must be prepared to swim, and so in building a boat, students do a learning task that really matters to them, unlike most of the time they spend being taught abstract stuff. When they ride the waters in something they've crafted themselves, no standardized test is needed to assure them of their accomplishments. The link for making a charitable donation to Teaching with Small Boats Alliance is here:

The boys in the boat shown are in the boat they built following Joe Youcha's instructions and plans at the Clear Spring School. Being one of the leaders in the revolution, too, Clear Spring School will also benefit from your annual end of year giving.

Make, fix and create...


Friday, December 24, 2021

a Christmas greeting.

A friend, Knud in Stavanger sent these words from Norwegian poet/lumberjack Hans Børli.

”A good/kind word : a seed. – In a hundred years – birds shall build their nests – in whistling wide branches. – God’s oaks – grow slowly on earth…”

May these gentle words serve as my season's greetings to you. In a world where whole forests in the Southeastern US are destroyed and marketed as green energy to feed power plants in Europe, and too many of us are consumed and corrupted by the short term, may we think in longer terms (lengre sikt). May we plant seeds that grow into finer things that nourish our families in more meaningful ways. May we think of the days a hundred years hence in which birds nest in our branches.

The image is also from my friend Knud. It is of the same quote in Norwegian, done in calligraphy by one of his friends. It hangs on his wall in Stavanger.

Make, fix and create...


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Book list

My new book, "The Wisdom of our Hands" has been reviewed and recommended by Booklist, a review service maintained by the American Library Association as an aid to librarians selecting books for their collections.

They say in part, "This book will appeal to readers who wish to learn more about woodworking and crafting, but from a broader perspective, anyone looking for a way to reconnect with the Earth would do well to read Stowe's wisdom." 

The full review will go live on their website on January 13, 2022. Foreword Reviews will review the Wisdom of Our Hands in their March/April print magazine.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 20, 2021

Rigor and joy

In the past I've mentioned that joy can provide a means through which we can observe and measure student and school success. I proposed a Beaufort-like scale to observe and measure joy. But joy is not just a happy thing. It fits in balance with effort and manageable frustration. In the late 1970s I had product cards printed (Thanks Jacquie Froelich) to be given along with the sale of my boxes. In the text I noted that frustration was an inevitable part of the process of growth, and that without the balance it provides the moments of joy we find are without context. How much sweeter is success when it arrives through serious effort than when it's delivered without.

So schooling is not just a process of passing a child from one happy day to another, but one of presenting obstacles and a path forward to build toward transcendence.

You can witness joy in the happy faces of children at play. A parent can see it in the excitement their child expresses for going to school each day. An observer in school will see it clearly through the students' engagement in learning. Students can even witness it in themselves and in others, so clearly, joy would be a better measurement of school success than standardized tests.

And then there's the other side. In order for joy to have value and greater meaning it requires some obstacles having been in the path, some expenditure of effort and resolve.

That's where craftsmanship comes in, and the use of the principles of Educational Sloyd to establish rigor. Educational Sloyd had a model series for the students to complete. Each model was to bring the students from a reasonable starting point, in a direction that challenged their growth and then further growth. If we look at the model series today, and for the wide range of students, so many of whom have no knowledge of craftsmanship, the use of simple tools or the growth of character and intellect required, the models seem incredibly difficult (or impossible). But the quest for joy demands rigor and growth. What satisfied the craftsman's need for growth today will not suffice for tomorrow and will bring less joy.

This all demands further clarification. Join me in thinking of these things.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 19, 2021

stowe cases

I was cleaning in the wood shop today and ran across a bit of memorabilia from about 1980. At the time I was making display cases for various shops around town, many of which are still in use. I thought briefly of branding them as "Stowe Cases" and attempting to market them outside of town. Not all ideas are good ones, and to market them outside of town would have taken me away from crafting other things. 

The brass plaque was intended to be a branding device, setting my own work apart from others on the market and it was engraved by Jim MaGee, whose shop in downtown Eureka Springs has a number of display cases I made.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 18, 2021

great books or great works

An article in the New Yorker asks, What's so great about the great books? 

How you feel about that subject might hinge on what you see the purpose of eduction being. Is it to provide a career, or to provide a sense of your own humanity? 

My daughter went to Columbia University mentioned in the article and as a freshman and sophomore was required to take the Core Curriculum as were other liberal arts majors. The idea is that all would be required to read and discuss a number of books considered important to our civilization. The Core Curriculum is considered to be a sacred part of the Columbia experience and was to bring students to a common understanding of human culture.

Otto Salomon, one of the founders of Educational Sloyd discussed two primary purposes of education. One he described as economic, that of preparing students to earn livings upon graduation. The other Salomon described as "formative" in that it did exactly what Columbia University proposes as the outcome of the Core Curriculum... bring the students to a common understanding of their own humanity and place within human culture.

But there is a difference between Educational Sloyd and the Core Curriculum in that Sloyd proposed the education of the hands, a thing not to be found in books alone.

While my daughter was at Columbia University, I tried to contact university president Lee Bolinger proposing to alter the core curriculum to bring students to learn about human culture by doing real work in the real world of craftsmanship. Of course I was unsuccessful. Who would listen to a woodworker from Arkansas. But craftsmanship is the real core of civilization and culture, and Socrates sucks in comparison to what students can learn from the real world.

Right across the street from the university is the unfinished cathedral, St. John the Divine, and the opportunity it presents is obvious. What could be better for college freshmen than to get real world experience chiseling stone?

To do so would fit the basic principles of educational Sloyd, most particularly that of moving from the concrete to the abstract.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 17, 2021

the traditional role of grandparents

As described by John G. Neihardt in "When the Tree Flowered," as parents of the indigenous people of the northern plains were providing for their children's survival, the grandparents were doing the things that assured cultural survival. They were the teachers, through story telling and the making of things. 

For instance, a boy's first bow would be made for him by a loving grandfather who would then coach him in the making of his next bow. The grandmother's hands were busily engaged in making beaded moccasins and clothing for their grandchildren in whom they took great pride and while the children watched. 

Children would learn all important things through the tutelage and demonstrations provided by the grandparent's generation.

Compare that to today as grandparents are often thrust aside and cultural indoctrination and support is provided through peer grouping and through connective digital devices. Add to this mix the fact that in schools, children are grouped by age for the sake of control while being offering ineffective transference of knowledge. We are building a culture that lacks depth, in part because we've abandoned the traditional relationship between generations. What's new is now the driving force, and things related to the past, even yesterday's past, are quickly discarded.

We live in a time in which even simple tools are put aside in preference for high tech devices. It's a plague in which natural curiosity has been commandeered and placed in the hands of super-predator high-tech corporations and the traditional role of the grandparent's generation has been usurped.

Reclaim our direct human role in furthering skill, intellect and human culture. Anaxagoras, early Greek philosopher explained that man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. That's true even to this day. Use hands to teach.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 16, 2021

a mess of boxes

My woodshop is a mess with over 20 boxes nearing completion. These are all one-of-a-kind boxes as they were originally left-overs from having taught students various box making techniques. If I can get them finished they can be sold. If they can be finished they can be moved out of my woodshop to make room for the making of other things. And if I can get these boxes out of the way, I can give the shop the deep cleaning it deserves.

A friend, Kim Brand called suggesting that perhaps the best audience for my Wisdom of our hands philosophy will be found among folks in the grandparent generation. Those that grew up playing with paper, scissors and string may have noticed that their grandchildren are glued to their digital devices, and they, remembering their own childhoods will have hopes to be of use in offering creative opportunities to their progeny. Parents may be too busy and consumed attempting to make money and since most schools are unlikely to propel students into crafts, grandparents may be the ones to save human culture.

John G. Neihard wrote the book Black Elk Speaks, recording the words and philosophy of Black Elk. He also wrote a book of historic fiction called "When the Tree Flowered," about life among the indigenous peoples of the northern plaines. His description of the role played by grandparents is something we should all note. The tradition was that those of the grandparent's generation were the ones to impart human culture to the young.

So, in other words, my friend Kim is onto something you may have noticed as well.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Making Classic Toys that Teach

One of my books has fallen off a cliff in terms of sales, and it's one that I think deserves greater attention due to it having to do with the teaching philosophy of Friedrich Froebel's Kindergarten, a thing that should be of interest to every teacher and every parent in America. 

The purpose of my book Making Classic Toys that Teach is to offer instruction to parents and teachers in the making of Froebel's Gifts. Froebel's gifts were designed to lead the child into creative engagement, integrated with an ever expanding understanding of self within the matrix of life. 

The book covers both  hand-tool and power tool approaches and also covers the three ways in which the gifts were used— To create forms of beauty, to create forms of knowledge, and to create forms representing the objects of daily life.

Some readers may remember that Froebel's Kindergarten played an important role in the development of Educational Sloyd.

This is the right season to expand parental duties and enjoyment into the making of gifts that give expanding wonders to the lives of our kids. Making Classic Toys that Teach also offers skill building exercises to folks wanting to expand their own skills as woodworkers. And how much better is it to make things to give kids, than to buy into the plastic supply chain that feeds directly from the sweat shops of China to the landfills of America.

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

Monday, December 13, 2021

five boxes

Yesterday I finished a 3 day box making class with students at ESSA, that immediately followed a two day photo shoot with Fine Woodworking. In my home wood shop I've been trying to finish boxes that have accumulated from various classes. 

The five boxes made in the last 5 days add to that burden. Three must be sent in to Fine Woodworking after sanding and finish for photography to finish production of the article which will be published at a future, unspecified date.

Yesterday I received a blurb for the promotion of my new book from one of my heroes, David Henry Feldan. His award winning essay, The Child as Craftsman, published many years ago should be read by every educational policy maker in the US.

About my new book, David Henry said the following:

“Out of the hills of northwestern Arkansas comes a woodworker/philosopher with a message that, if heeded, could help heal our fractured country. In humble yet powerful words, Doug Stowe shows us the virtues of good honest work, patience, and humility and their role in creating a life worth living. A landmark work.” — David Henry Feldman, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Human Development, Tufts University

I want to thank my students, ESSA, and my editor Barry Dima, for giving me a great 5 days of box making and 5 yet to be finished boxes as tribute to the time we spent together. 

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 10, 2021

start of three day class...

Today I start a three day box making class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Due to covid 19 restrictions, I have a small class of only 4 students, so each will receive plenty of personal attention. 

Yesterday I finished a two day photo shoot with Barry Dima from Fine Woodworking. We made three boxes under the watchful eye of a Canon camera with huge lens, and flash. The boxes we made and photographed in process will serve as examples for my students as we begin class.

A friend of mine, Ron Hansen, PhD, professor emeritus from Western Ontario University and the founder of the Human Ingenuity Research Group offered the following comment on my new, yet-to-be released book:

Congratulations Doug and Linden. This book is so crucial to our understanding of human development and how the school apparatus that shapes our young fails to address both the need and the learning it requires. Bravo! Let the contrasts between contemplation and practical action evolve.

When we began the Wisdom of the Hands program at the Clear Spring School, it appeared obvious that the fix for American education would be. Engage the hands so that natural learning can commence. Being somewhat simple minded, I thought we would awaken folks to what's clearly in from of all our faces and change would come forthwith. But educators since Comenius have been laying out the same case. Learning needs to begin with the exploration of the senses to build a framework for deeper understanding. 

I've come to realize that change does not come easy and it's up to you as well to help build the case.

The photo shows three boxes made during the photo shoot.

Make, fix and create... 

Thursday, December 09, 2021

box making at ESSA

Yesterday I began making 3 boxes for Fine Woodworking, with Barry Dima taking photos of each step. The boxes have been glued up overnight and are waiting for the next steps which we'll take photos of today. 

We had been scheduled to do this article earlier,  but the Covid 19 pandemic brought delays. I was too busy yesterday posing for shots, and forgot to take any myself. I'll try to remember to take photos today. The photo shown is one from an earlier visit from Barry Dima in 2018 in which I demonstrated making a mitered box joint.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

A first review

Australian Wood, a woodworking magazine in Australia has posted a review of my new book, The Wisdom of Our Hands.  It is a very positive review that you can read here.

In the meantime, my own teaching at the Clear Spring School is over for the holiday season. I'm working on an article for Fine Woodworking with an editor visiting from magazine headquarters in Connecticut and I have a 3-day box making class beginning at ESSA on Friday. 

Make, Fix and Create...

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Path to learning: The Power of Hands-On Learning

I've been listening to the Path To Learning Podcast when I work doing quiet things in my wood shop. Each episode has content that I've found valuable, and today I listened again to my own episode which was recorded last summer. I think that if you are interested in progressive education you'll find it and other Path To Learning Podcasts useful. 

The senses are key. They lure you into learning. If you've wondered about the difference between the concrete and abstract in the principles of Educational Sloyd, the difference is simple. The concrete contains a full range of senses, proving to hand and mind the reality of the educational experience.

I'm reminded of a friend in her eighties who had asked to see my work many years ago. And then when presented with it she asked permission to touch it, claiming that what the eye is drawn to, the hands must explore and confirm. And so that's why the wisdom of our hands is so essential. What we see or hear consists of surface senses, but the hands not only sense the surface of things, they determine shape and weight, and provide the means to manipulate and test. Then when they've done their creative work, others can readily see and measure the results... no standardized tests required.

For the sake of efficiency, policy makers during the start of the industrial age, decided that children could be handled in the same manner as the assembly line managed parts. Students were to be arranged and sorted, by age and intellect without regard for the variations of human development and without regard for individual interests, and the expectation was not that we engage student interests and allow for the variations within the human species, but to force conformity to artificial standards.

And so they've made a great mess of things. It's not that their intentions are bad, but that failing to take the hands into consideration, they've made education overly abstract.

And so the path forward can be recognized in this quote from Anaxagoras, one of the earliest Greek philosophers who said, "Man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands." But then how do we become wise if our hands are purposefully stilled and sequestered from the development of mind?

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, December 04, 2021

let's notice a few things...

If we look at how we learn, we'll notice a few things that can be applied also to how other people learn and how education can be designed for greater efficacy. 

Adults and babies learn the same way. We listen, we watch what goes on around us. When we are able, we test what we see to ascertain the reality of that which surrounds us. Our hands are instrumental in this. Babies tend to learn a bit faster than the rest of us. By the time they're ready for school, they know a lot. And what they have learned provides a framework of experience against which to measure what they are being taught. And all the kids arriving at school at the same time will not know the same things, nor should they.  

That is what we are attempting to address through progressive education. There's a long legacy of progress in progressive education. I can describe its progress through a series of pioneers. You had Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Diesterweg, Dewey and the Clear Spring School, just to name a few in a healthy lineage. But progressive doesn't refer to progress, meaning the newest, "best" thing, but to the progressive and natural growth of the child.

Froebel, having been a mineralogist before becoming a teacher, had noticed how a crystal would grow from a design held within. So it is with a child. The job of a teacher in progressive education is not to force knowledge in, but to call what is inside into play and encourage growth, falling back to the original meaning of the word "education," "to draw forth."

One of the challenges that teachers perpetually face is the question, "what is your curriculum?" The word curriculum refers to a set of plans that are used to convey a sense of legitimacy to the teaching effort. But while it's important to have a plan, the most important part of the plan requires a willingness to abandon the plan when real needs are made clear to the teacher through listening to, observing and learning from actual students.

This is where the principles of Educational Sloyd fit in. They provide a framework for directing and assessing student growth, as well as a means to plan the educational experience. Want to know what comes next? Your observation of the child will be more meaningful than the lesson book.

For babies and adults alike, we start with the interests of the child and proceed from that point.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 03, 2021

principles and planning

I created this simple graphic as a reminder of the principles of Educational Sloyd. The sequence of learning described in it can be compared to Bruner's idea of scaffolding, but was first laid out by Diesterweg, a colleague of Friedrich Froebel. So while these principles are associated with the manual arts and Educational Sloyd, they actually fit education at large and describe the way we (even adults) learn.

These principles, reflecting how we learn present a challenge for educators. In order to start with the interests of the child, the teacher must be listening, observing and adapting continuously. And as a good teacher will know, plans can go out the window when student interests cease to be met. 

One of the reasons that rich schools are able to provide better educational outcomes is that smaller class sizes allow for personalized attention to learning needs. A good teacher recognizes the value of disruption when it can be safely directed toward learning goals and the needs of the students, which are often unrelated to the curriculum planned.

That's why teaching is much more an art than the closely scripted manufacturing exercise educational policy makers would like it to be.

While most educators face the challenge of either following or devising curriculum, we're far better off planning our own strategy for classroom engagement. Plan to listen. Plan to observe. Prepare to adapt lessons to meet needs. Hold self accountable to the principles of learning and growth.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, December 02, 2021

turned Christmas trees.

Yesterday with the Rainbow group at the Clear Spring School we made turned Christmas tree displays for holiday giving. I turned the trees on the lathe, and the students sanded and assembled the stands and decorated the trees. To make the trees I used dowels 1-1/2 in. diameter, drilled holes at each end for dowels to fit and then turned them two at a time on the lathe. A parting tool was used to cut the shaped trees apart in the middle.

Woodworking in school is a  collaborative exercise and fun for all. It's socialistic in that it fits the formula, "from each according to ability, to each according to need."  My own need is to be creatively stimulated and working out a means through which the trees could be safely turned on the lathe was my reward, in addition to seeing the kids so excited in their work.

We all need the opportunity to be creatively engaged making gifts to share with others. The Christmas tree will likely be kept by our student's families for years to come.

In addition to decorating their trees, the students decided to draw presents under each as you can see.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

a small bridge

Yesterday we installed the small bridge we'd made with students at the Clear Spring School, before getting back to making products for their pay what you want shop. The students added small toy boats, miniature Christmas trees and dreidels to their product line.

Make, fix and create...