Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Path to learning podcast

I've been listening my way through the path to learning podcast and finding each episode to be quite meaningful. There are times in my wood shop when the noisy tools are off and I'm doing handwork, and that's the perfect time to fill my head with hope. 

Looking at education in general one might become depressed. But to hear our nation's experts in learning express their ideas and ideals, even when they are ignored by educational policy makers, tells me that with some work, investigation of some old ideas and recognition of the value of teachers, we can make things better.

In Finland, they attribute the success of their educational system to two factors. One is that the profession of "teacher," is a highly respected one. The other is that they train their teachers well to observe closely the needs of each child. In fact, the Finnish folks schools were originally established to follow the model of learning established by Froebel's Kindergarten.

You can a find the path to learning podcast available on all the usual podcast services. For example, I listen on an amazon device. I ask, "Alexa, play path to learning podcast." If I enunciate carefully the podcast comes right up.

I am very sorry to have lost a dear friend over the weekend. Steven Foster was the father of two of my students, a long time friend of the Clear Spring School, a vital trustee of our City Parks, and a world renown authority on medicinal herbs and plants. He will be sorely missed, not only here in Eureka Springs, but in the world at large and I offer my condolences to his family. 

Steven was the one who first introduced me to Bill Coperthwaite, a friend in Maine whom I've written about before in my blog. The photo shows Steven's son Colin with Bill Coperthwaite building a yurt with students from the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 15, 2022

building a sense of commonality

We had a great time on Thursday at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts as members of the staff and I made boxes. Shared experience in a common venture builds a sense of commonality, that we're all in this together, and even though each person in class was working on their own box, the journey through the process required taking turns at the saw and allowing for the needs of each other. 

At one point I looked around the room at my students and each was holding their box as though it was a small child to whom they'd just given birth. That's directly a part of the nature of such things.

In selecting woods for lids, the students would take a board and work out with each other which portion would become the lid of their box. If anyone out there needs to find a location for a corporate retreat with built in team building exercise, ESSA might be the place for it, and box making might be an exercise around which various folks might gather.

Friedrich Froebel is remembered most for his invention of instructional materials related to his invention of Kindergarten. He was also intent on the creation of a sense of commonality within children through which they sensed their relationship to others and their place and potentials within community life and beyond.

These days a lot of politicians and policy makers are focusing their attention on devising a sense of common history, by prohibiting teaching about the uglier parts of American history. Slavery for example. That's a strategy that offers no potential for the development of empathy and leaves us divided against one another. But when we seek commonality through the shared process of creating useful beauty, walls come down. We take turns, not only at the saw, but also in listening to each other and building space for each other in each other's lives.

And I again assert that the creation of useful beauty should be a requirement for children in school as it can be instrumental in developing a sense of shared community.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 14, 2022

staff class at ESSA

Yesterday I taught a one day box making class for the staff at ESSA. Seven staff members were able to attend and each made a box similar to the box shown. 

I supplied ash for the box sides, walnut corner keys and a variety of woods that students could select from for making the lids.

It's my belief that no one in the US should be allowed to graduate from high school without having had the opportunity to make something beautiful and useful from wood. A box, lovingly crafted, would hold memories for a lifetime. I thank the staff of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts for joining me in a day of box making. I can train others to share the same experience.

My week of teaching at the Clear Spring School was disrupted by a serious spike in covid cases in Arkansas and the local community. Other schools are also closed. At ESSA we kept each other safe by being fully vaccinated, tested the day before class and masked with KN95s. Please stay safe and keep others safe. We want all to survive this and keep our health care workers safe Please!

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

small town life, page 3.

Valley Nebraska, where my father's store was located, was famous apart from being on the edge of Omaha and trapped between the Union Pacific Railroad lines and the Platte River. The Platte has been described as a mile wide and an inch deep, and that traverses the state of Nebraska from one end to the other. 

Valley is also the home of Valmont Industries, originally Valley Manufacturing, one of the early manufacturers of the circular irrigation systems that are in use throughout the world. 

Valmont, with an expanded product line remains a major employer. And so it was with many small towns in America. Small towns would grow from unique ideas that had a significant effect on the world at large. Educational policy makers attempt to standardize education and make all students look at things the same way, and teach all students exactly the same things, and we suffer culturally and economically as a result. We are led to ignore the value of things that grow large from small things. Instead of standardizing education, we'd do better  for ourselves and our kids by diversifying. The arts are one of the best ways to do that.

At the Clear Spring School this week with our group studying small business, I mentioned possible sale of woodworking kits, and I provided kits I'd prepared for building Soma Cube Puzzles from wooden blocks for our students to assemble. The students sanded and glued the blocks into the arrangement shown. The Soma puzzle consists of seven pieces, each consisting of 3 or 4 blocks representing the only 7 ways sets of 3 or 4 blocks can be arranged other than being in a straight line.

Concurrently, the core teacher got a 3 D printer for Christmas and is interested in learning its use. I am concerned that 3D printing of things not designed by the students can be a waste of time and talent, and of less educational value so we'll be using Tinkered software for the students to design objects that can be printed, and that reflect their experimenting with objects made of wooden blocks.

The experiment involves some interesting connections with educational sloyd. First start with the interests of the child. The kids love Minecraft, a game that involves pixelate creatures and landscape that appear as through they're made of blocks. In order to go from the easy to the more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract are two principles from Educational Sloyd. It's easy to build with blocks and thus experiment with pixelated designs. (And it's very easy for me to make lots of uniform wooden blocks). 

It can be difficult to learn and used 3D design software, so we'll use Tinkercad on iPads for the students to make designs reflecting their arrangements of blocks. Wooden blocks are concrete in that they have texture, and weight. Tinkercad is abstract. The finished, 3D printed objects will become concrete representations of student thought. And the play with blocks brings Friedrich  Froebel back into the 21st century classroom.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Small town life, p. 2

Valley Nebraska where my dad's store was located was typical of the situation all across the US as small towns were gradually being gobbled up by the expansion of larger cities. Shopping in Omaha offered a much wider variety of goods than what my father could offer in his store. He did take a lower than normal markup on many things and gave credit to many folks who could not have been afforded credit at the time. 

Working in my dad's store put me in touch with people from all walks of life. Louis Siebenaler for example, operated an auto salvage at King Lake, Nebraska, an unincorporated town nearby. He and his son-in-law Coy would come in covered with grease from head to toe. Louis was a large man and Coy small, and it was always apparent in how Louis smiled that they had serious affection for each other. 

Ted Reser was the town blacksmith at a time when most folks would rather buy new than fix old. He was rather deaf from the sound of his hammer striking the anvil, smelled of soot and sweat and was very proud of his physique. He told me more than once that the ladies in the bar next door expressed their admiration for his shoulders and strong arms. 

There were of course, others that came in throughout the day. farmers in overalls, women hunting through the selection of greeting cards and the like. My dad had a genuine warmth for all. And so, why in the world would any of this be important now? Perhaps because we've let things grow completely out of hand, and no longer matter as much to each other as we once did.

Because of my banking in the local bank and being known there, when a Chevy dealer in Indiana called the Bank of Valley to assure themselves that the hippy with a broken down Chevy van could actually pay for their service to my truck, the dealer was shocked at the glowing credit report offered by the bank on my behalf. "Yes, Mr. Stowe," they said. "We'll get right to work."And so when we live on a smaller scale and make a few friends along the way, and stay put long enough to be known and are kind enough to be respected, there's a very simple formula in that, and it's one that can be repeated even without living in a small town.

Make, fix and create...

small town life, p. 1

 In 1963 my father and mother bought a small store in Valley Nebraska. My father, having worked for various corporations and as manager of a large hardware and sporting goods store in Omaha wanted a business of his own and a small inheritance from my great aunt Allene, gave my parents some funds to invest. 

Valley Home Furnishings, as the store was called featured hardware on one side and a variety of other goods on the other, and I worked in the store with my dad on weekends and summers when I was in high school and summers during my 4 years of college. My mother was teaching kindergarten in Omaha, so my parents kept their home there and my father commuted each day for the 30 mile trip to and from Valley.

Valley was sandwiched between the Union Pacific Railroad on one side and the Platte River on the other and business was gradually being shifted from the town to the larger city to the east. One poet had called Omaha the "Paris of the Pigbelt," and shopping malls being developed on the west side of the city were gradually taking business away from outlying small shops like the one my mom and dad bought in 1963.

The effects of the railroad passing through town, and Valley being a switching yard for trains going east, west and north north, meant that autos passing in and out of town often had to stop and wait for trains, not just passing by, but going slowly back and forth as freight cars were unhooked and rearranged.

My time working in my dad's store had a profound effect on my attitudes about life and about people, and it had some effect on my choosing to live in a small town dedicated to the arts. 

Shall, I tell more while we wait for a passing train? Or is it OK that we as a society are consumed and swallowed up in the pigbelt? I have this idea (shared with many others, that small is wonderful as well as beautiful and that our souls call out for less, not more).

In the wood shop I've been finishing boxes that were started as demonstration boxes for teaching. Get them finished well and get them out of here! It's part of my plan to simplify.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

modest homes

On our travels to and from Worcester MA, I compared the huge Amazon warehouses along the way, with the modest homes on the hillsides in the small towns of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. 

Compared to the mac mansions folks build around here now, those smaller homes seem most reasonable and conservative. If people lived in such small homes and at one time raised large families within them we have to wonder where they had put all their stuff. We must also wonder how we've become such willing participants in planetary destruction.

We live in immodest times and if we want to save the planet and ourselves, we must reconsider our reliance on cheap, imported, meaningless stuff and return to a simpler relationship to our planet and to each other. We can try our hands at making a few things.

According to the news folks are leaving the labor market in droves in a movement they call "the Great Resignation." Has work has become increasingly abstract unsatisfying and detached? Can it be because the need for a simpler life has become apparent?

A friend, Mike, sent me the photo of a toy in a museum in Santa Fe. It's a box so naturally interesting to me. It had been part of a model excursion train that traveled from the Niagara Falls to the White Mountains. A banner on the side notes that "no one allowed in this car who uses wicked or vulgar words." Did they have a special car to carry the uncouth?

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 04, 2022


An article in the New York Times describes those who live their lives surrounded by real books as being "Book-wrapt."  

Books that have brought changes in our lives can feel like friends and are held close. I had a book that I kept at bedside for years until I recently decided to loan it to a friend. It was about the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest during WWII. I kept it at bedside because my father was there, had described to me how beautiful the forest was, and neglected to tell me of its horrors. His 104th Infantry Division, the fighting Timberwolves, had played an important role there in the attempt to end the Nazi regime.

There are things that happen in wars that reasonable parents choose to shelter from their kids. Keeping that book at bedside reminded me of that aspect of parental love and helped me to hold his memory close.  

I have friends who could be called "book-wrapt," and someone looking in my office at my collection of old books could call me by the same term. The books have been important resources for me and may continue to serve. I could also be described as "wood-wrapt," due to my collection of woods intended for use, and as "tool-wrapt," because I have a large collection of tools available to my work. I hope to simplify over the coming years.

Folks these days are "screen wrapt" as we sit around with each other and watch our social media feeds from elsewhere coming in on tiny screens and as we ignore the people in the immediate world around us. As a new year's resolution let us be more wrapt in each other without tiny screens standing between.

We got home yesterday from a road trip from Arkansas to Worcester, MA and home again. The highways were flooded with trucks on our way to Worcester but with reduced holiday and weekend traffic on the way home. If there's a supply chain problem, one would never know it from the big Amazon warehouses along the way or from the Amazon Prime trucks hauling things to us.

The photo shows our dog Rosie, bored by the journey and keeping her nose where she can keep sense of us along the way.

Make, fix and create...