Tuesday, June 14, 2022

development of neural pathways

Imagine you walk each day from the backdoor to the outhouse, and keep the path well worn. Grass and loose stones are knocked unceremoniously from the path by the movement of your feet, and weeds are kept clear by the same effect. If you've been away from home for the summer you'll have found the weeds grown up in your absence and the journey to and from may take greater effort. You may need a weed-whacker to restore the path. But when the weeds are cut back, there again you'll find your well-worn path.

The same applies in the use of tools as repeated use builds neural pathways to and from the brain. Let the tool fall into disuse for a time and when you pick it up again, it may feel a bit awkward at first, but the comfort of the grip will soon return and it will settle into your hands like an old friend. 

The very first time a tool is used an early awkwardness sets in that requires a great deal of brainpower to overcome. And through repeated use, the impressions the tool leaves on the musculature and nerves of the hands refines the passage of information to and from the brain and even within the brain itself. That, of course, is why hands-on learning is so important, so engaging, and so powerful in comparison with online lessons, or lessons delivered through books, articles, lectures, and the like.

Field Marshall Rommel in WWII was described as having fingerspitzengefuhl, an intelligence of hand and mind derived from having done real things in real life and having been a careful observer of what he and others had done. For Rommel, fingerspitzengefuhl gave him a secure sense of the battlefield, even those parts at a distance that he could not see and so you can see that hands on learning is not just for those destined to spend their lives working in the trades.

There is a law in geology that falls somewhat akin. It's that the present is the key to the past. In other words, what you see now, going on around you, is informative. There's nothing in the world that you can't do mindlessly if that's your intent. And of course the difference between one thing and the other is the amount of passion you bring to bear. Are you blasé and dismissive of that which surrounds you, or are you willing to engage your attentions with passion and intent. If the present is indeed the key to the past, then or course, viewed deeply and with passion, that which surrounds us can be viewed in a new light... Even when it's a well worn path to the outhouse and back.

Today was my last day as the director of the Wisdom of the Hands program at the Clear Spring School. While I'm retiring from that job, I'm not retiring from woodworking, from teaching adults, mentoring teachers or from writing books and articles about woodworking or education. The work in those fields is far from complete.

The photo shows the lines used to lay out the carving of a sphere from a wooden cube. Known to be an amateur woodcarver, Friedrich Froebel would have carved such things as he walked from one village to the next. It is a form of contemplation.

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

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