Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Students are now burdened with 10-11 hours of common core testing. Some parents are worried that their children don't measure up. Other parents and groups of parents are in revolt, threatening boycotts and withdrawal of children during test days. Sir Ken Robinson says that education should be a human business, and not one in which children are expected to perform as machines.

Well, OK. This education business is not easy for anyone. Parents put pressure on administrators. Administrators are strapped to budgets that allow only so many teachers for so many kids. Like in the game of Money Ball, they try to get the best teachers they can afford. And then along come folks like Sir Ken, and folks like me, who say that schools have it all wrong. What's an admin to do, but to attempt to carry forth in the same old manner with the scant resources that school boards provide? What you see in the cartoon is what we are talking about, and what we are rebelling against, and why the system is breaking.

When Kindergartens began taking American education by storm in the late 1800s, American educators faced a choice. Either change the rest of education to match the Kindergarten ideal, or change Kindergarten to conform to the strictures of traditional learning. At this point, you can see clearly which side won. But if you step back and watch children at work and at play you will see that learning is a basic impulse that should not be restrained.
"This craving of young children for information," says Bernard Perez, "is an emotional and intellectual absorbing power, as dominant as the appetite for nutrition, and equally needing to be watched over and regulated." – Froebel's Gifts, 1895
Today, I will be working on end of year conference reports, continuing to clean the wood shop at school in preparation for ESSA classes, and will attend a showing of Eureka, the art of being, at Crystal Bridges Museum. I have been asked to bring samples of my work for display.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Jig for sizing lids to fit drilled boxes
I became curious about a saying referred to in Forster's "the Machine Stops." The character Kuno,  had learned from his own tentative exploration of the real world that "Man is the measure." His hands and feet gave him definition of space. But the phrase also refers to a quote attributed to Protagoras, that "Man is the measure of all things," which was interpreted by Plato years later to mean that:
"there is no absolute truth, but that which individuals deem to be the truth. Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside of human influence or perceptions."–from wikipedia
Boxes ready to drill with a Forstner bit.
There is a chance that Protagoras was not as bad as what Plato had in mind. He said,
"Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life."
The word measure suggests action. It implies involvement in measuring, not making stuff up and to simply believe whatever you want. He was likely not implying that truth was relative, but rather that it required examination, not blind acceptance of that which we are told by others.

The Machine Stops is a fascinating story published in 1909 by E. M. Forster. It eerily predicts our current era, and immersion in virtual relaity. His name should not be confused with Benjamin Forstner, the inventor of the large drill bits bearing his name that can be used in forming the inside of a box.

The jig shown above is for routing lids to accurately fit holes drilled to form boxes. Years ago, I had made a box for a friend to carry two tablespoons of her father's ashes to India, that she might sprinkle them into the Ganges River. I needed a very precise lid, so that the contents would not be lost through many miles of travel. This jig gives me a way to make boxes with precise fitting lids, so tight they snap on and make a popping noise when you take them off. The clamp holds the lid stock tightly to the jig, but allows it to be rotated counter-clockwise against the spinning router bit. The stop clamped to the surface of the router table controls the diameter of the spigot formed on the underside of the lid.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 25, 2015

test box

I have a new box design based on laminating a number of thin strips of wood to prepare the stock. The lamination was crosscut at a 55 degree angle, and then glued using Gorilla Glue to a piece of mahogany. After trimming on the table saw and squaring the ends, I used a 1 in. forstner bit in the drill press to bore a hole at the center, and used the router table and a custom fence to turn the inside of the lid to fit the hole.

This is one of the boxes I'm making for my book on tiny boxes, and I'm curious what my readers think. You can use the comments function below to provide feedback.

It will be more beautiful when it has been sanded and a finish has been applied to give the natural colors of the wood greater contrast.

With school out for the summer, I am cleaning the school wood shop, getting ready for my ESSA class in making Scandinavian bent wood boxes, and working on school end-of-year conference reports.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

asking for the return of shop classes...

Material for tiny boxes
Sir Ken Robinson wrote an opinion piece for Time Magazine, Why Schools Need to Bring Back Shop Class. I wish politicians and educational policy makers would wake up and pay attention.
The Education Committee of the US Senate is currently considering the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. Much of the original rhetoric in NCLB was about improving job readiness and employability. In a tragic irony, the focus of the last ten years has not been on improving vocational programs at all but on testing narrow academic standards. Overall, the impact on students, schools and employability has been baleful. This is the time to change.
The point of shop classes in the first place was that students were lacking in the kinds of fundamental relationships with reality to give them a foundation for academic achievement. Kids find their academic studies to be relevant when they are engaged in doing real things.

Education of hand and mind at the same time can be quite simple, but in the hands of politicians and educational policy makers, this nation has become one of idiots. Whether by stupidity or by design, politicians and policy makers cut the arts, music and craftsmanship from the heart of our children's educational endeavors and put standardized testing in place. If we want our children to grow, the best strategy is not to measure them constantly, but to feed them meaningful and responsible things to DO.

The following is from Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a man who's ideas I've covered previously in this blog.
"...a classical teacher who has no original, spontaneous power of thought, and knows nothing but Latin and Greek, however perfectly, is enough to stultify a whole generation of boys and make them all pedantic fools like himself. The idea of infusing mind, or creating or even materially increasing it, by the daily inculcation of unintelligible words--all this awful wringing to get blood out of a turnip--will, at any rate, never succeed except in the hands of the eminently wise and prudent, who have had long experience in the process; the plain, blunt sense of the unsophisticated will never realize cost in the operation. There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what they really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."
In that earlier time, education suffered from an excess of exhortation as teachers infused in the classics and detached from everyday reality stood upon platforms at the head of classes and strutted their stuff. These days, in order to have large classes measured by standardized testing, successful classroom management makes hands-on learning nearly impossible, thus leaving the teachers time only for guess what? Exhortation. So between tests, we have teachers standing before classes lecturing students in subjects for which the students have little interest and in which they see little relevance to their own lives. It is a formula for failure and furtherance of stupidity.

But schooling can be fixed. Sir Ken described the effects of renewed shop classes as follows:
Students who’ve been slumbering through school wake up. Those who thought they weren’t smart find that they are. Those who feared they couldn’t achieve anything discover they can. In the process, they build a stronger sense of purpose and self-respect. Kids who thought they had no chance of going to college find that they do. Those who don’t want to go to college find there are other routes in life that are just as rewarding.
In my wood shop, I have been cutting and gluing parts that I hope will build into interesting boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

finding a place in the commonality of all life.

Laminated wood for making small boxes.
Last night I listened as barred owls called in the forest outside, and I marveled at our own place in the scheme of things. We can shelter from the outside world and withdraw into our own spaces in a state of disconnection, or we can stretch beyond the common boundaries of self in the realization of our dependency upon, and commonality with all things. Folks live now in a world of ignorance, in which we are too often disconnected from the natural world and choose to think that is OK. As a very small step toward remediation I offer a few brief quotes.
"Natural geometry (taking the word in its limited sense of study of form in space) is the object of a desire which generally precedes the artificial curiosity for the meaning of letters." E. Seguin.

"Without an accurate acquaintance with the visible and tangible properties of things, our conceptions must be erroneous, our inferences fallacious, and our operations unsuccessful." – Herbert Spencer

"If we consider it, we shall find that exhaustive observation is an element of all great success."  – Herbert Spencer.

"Instruction must begin with actual inspection, not with verbal descriptions of things. From such inspection it is that certain knowledge comes. What is actually seen remains faster in the memory than description or enumeration a hundred times as often repeated." – Comenius.

"The education of the senses neglected, all after-education partakes of a drowsiness, a haziness, an insufficiency, which it is impossible to cure." – Lord Bacon.

"Of this thing be certain: Wouldst thou plant for eternity? Then plant into the deep infinite faculties of man, his fantasy and heart. Wouldst thou plant for year and day? Then plant into his shallow, superficial faculties, his self-love, and arithmetical understanding, what will grow there." – Thos. Carlyle.
I have been thinking of the richness and joy that comes with engagement in community, when the boundaries of self are erased by connections of compassion felt for and expressed for each other. Those were the things that children were to learn in Kindergarten and wood shop before the educational policy makers got involved and twisted things to match their own short term objectives.

Today, I will be working on the 4th chapter of my new book about making tiny boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 22, 2015

a celebration of the child's senses

Two quotes from Édouard Séguin:
"Let us educate the senses, train the faculty of speech, the art of receiving, storing, and expressing impressions, which is the natural gift of infants, and we shall not need books to fill up the emptiness of our teaching until the child is at least seven years old."

"As soon as we, young or old, have taken to the habit of asking the book for what it is in our power to learn from personal observation, we dismiss our organs of perception and comprehension from their righteous charge, and cover the emptiness of our own minds with the patchwork of others."  – E. Seguin.
Yesterday was the last day of the 2014-15 year at the Clear Spring School and high school graduation. Our end of year program is called the Celebration of the Child, and we celebrate much more than the child's reading and math. Each scholar is recognized for the qualities of character they embody and express. Parents were very complimentary of the school's woodworking program.

For the next few days, in addition to planning for next year at Clear Spring School, I will be cleaning the shop and preparing for summer classes with adults. My first summer class will be making Scandinavian bentwood boxes, or Tiner. A fanciful version is shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The doll...

Stacking of shapes associated with Froebel
I was reading in Froebel's Gifts by Wiggin, and found a reference to the unmentioned shape. Assembling the cube, cylinder and sphere outside the order in which they are conventionally stacked and have come to represent Froebel, you'll get a secondary shape, that Froebel preferred to let the child discover for herself.
We now proceed to the cylinder, the reconciliation of the two opposites; an object which having qualities possessed by both occupies a middle ground in which each has something in common. Froebel originally took the doll as the intermediate form "uniting in itself the opposites of the sphere and cube," and thus showed that he understood child nature well, for no toy follows the ball with greater certainty than the doll. – Wiggin, Froebel's Gifts, 1895
As far as I know, Froebel made little further reference to that which is absolutely obvious, as is shown in the photo below. When arranged in this order, the three basic forms found in nature combine to present the form of man. The point here is obvious. The Froebel gifts were not intended as a means of hammering the children to attention but to awaken the child's own gifts of discovery, for nothing engages one's attention more effectively that to discover something for oneself. It suggests the difference between learning and being taught.
"But now as man both unites the single, which finds its limits in itself, and the manifold, which is constantly developing, and reconciles them within himself as opposites, there results also to the child from both, from sphere and cube outwardly united, the expression of the animate and active, especially as embodied in the doll." — Froebel's Pedagogics
The "doll."
Today at Clear Spring School, we have our high school graduation and the Celebration of the Child, our annual end of school celebration.

Make, fix and create.