Friday, November 27, 2015

the universal man...

H. Courthope Bowen in his book Froebel and Self-Activity had suggested that the songs and games of Kindergarten should be adapted to better conform to the immediate lives of the children in the particular community. His idea was that since it was unlikely that Kindergarten children in an urban environment would ever encounter fishes living in a brook, that songs and fingerplay about fish should be abandoned to make room for others more relevant to the particular children involved. Susan Blow in her book Symbolic Education respectfully took an opposing position. There should be no child not taken to a brook and exposed to the wonders of nature where real fish might be observed.

I fall on Susan Blow's side in this minor dispute. If Kindergarten is to lead to an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, as Froebel intended, how can that be without the child's direct engagement in nature? Through planting gardens, tending the growth of plants, observing the wonders of nature and attending to the needs of small animals, children are awakened to a deeper relationship to life, and nurture their own sense of responsibility to life itself. There are universal principles having to do with nurturing children to become nurturing of all that surrounds them. This might not fit well with industries' demand for the industrialization of all things for the sake of their profits. But to a very large degree, survival of our species requires that we act with a high degree of sensitivity to what surrounds us.

In addition to celebrating Thanksgiving, I am attempting to illustrate Froebel's idea of occupations..I'll focus on just two examples as the book about making Froebel's Gifts should simply provide a starting point for parents hoping to take a greater role in assuring their child's full development. With the occupations, building upon the foundation provided by the gifts, the parents' role becomes simplified. Provide some simple tools and materials and back off while the child creates...

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn likewise.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

regard for the value of the student's work...

Yesterday one of my students added a leather handle to her bow. As she began personalizing it further by wood burning her design logo on the front side, she informed me that the bow was the most beautiful thing she'd made in wood shop and that she was more proud of it than of anything she'd made to date. I could tell by her enthusiasm when the project was first introduced that this would be the case.

Making things and then making one's own marks to further personalize the things one's made are natural to the learning process. When work matters to the student and the student takes the work seriously, the signs of that are the student's interest in making the work clearly reflect his or her own personality. With that in mind, I am careful to demonstrate on wood other than the piece upon which the student works.

For the sake of comparison, I am reminded of my time in high school freshman English class. My teacher would grade and correct my writing assignments, each written carefully in cursive, and return them to me emblazoned with her red ink pointing out the errors in punctuation, and with no comment as to the intelligence and originality of my thoughts. I did not realize that I was supposed to take her comments and redo the assignments with her corrections in place. In my mind, she had simply desecrated my work and insulted my intelligence. And having been insulted, I simply threw the papers away as I left class. At the end of the semester, Mrs. Adamson informed me that I was failing and would not pass if I did not return my corrected versions of the papers, all of which I had thrown away. My only choice was to redo all the assignments, and to go through the process of correction, ugly red ink and all. And the point here is that student work should be respected, though it routinely is not. If you don't get it, read yesterday's post, the property sense.

This being Thanksgiving Day in the US, I will be busy making pies and will spend just a bit of time with lessons for my great niece Olivia in wood shop. As she is in Kindergarten in Florida, and as kindergarten is no longer what it once was, I hope to experiment just a bit with paper weaving, and peaswork.

Counting blessings and feeling thankful are important elements in the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. And I have many things to be thankful for. Among these are the opportunity for creative endeavors and friends interested in sharing my journey. Happy Thanksgiving.  We've 29 making days before Christmas. Make this a giving season in which the greatest gift is to yourself: dexterity of mind and hand.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the gift of learning likewise.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

the property sense...

Yesterday my student who had broken two bows as they were being made came to wood shop  early to begin crafting his third. When students want to accomplish real things, they make time for it even when it means missing a part of their lunch hour recess. While he was at work on his bow, I made a very tiny bow and arrow inspired by the efforts of one of my students. My very tiny bow and arrow, as silly as it may seem, has inspired a number of students to ask if they can make one, too. The desire to possess interesting objects can lead students forward in learning skill.

In my home work shop, I finished a few boxes  and cut miters for nearly 30 more. What will I do with so many boxes? I find joy in the making of them and that should be reason enough to carry forth. I have the power to disperse them as I see fit.

Felix Adler suggested another reason to support manual arts training for all students:
"––namely, that it develops the property sense. What  after all, apart from artificial social convention is the foundation of the right of property? On what basis does it rest? I have a proprietary right to my own thoughts. I have a right to follow my tastes in the adornment of my person and my house. I have a right to the whole sphere of my individuality, my selfhood; and I have a right in things so far as I use them to express my personality. The child that has made a wooden box has put a part of himself into the making of that box––his thought, his patience, his skill, his toil––and therefore the child feels that that box is in a certain sense his own. And as only those who have the sense of ownership are likely to respect the right of ownership in others, we may by manual training cultivate the property sense of the child; and this, in the case of the delinquent child, it will be admitted, is no small advantage."–Felix Adler 1888
With the making of things comes the possession of the object made, and also the possession of the skill required in making it. Desire and anticipation of owning an object can lead students onward. As students apply themselves to skill building tasks with the intention of laying claim to objects desired, they also lay a strong claim upon aspects of self that will serve them well in all things.

Make, fix, create and assist others to learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What will we make today?

Last year my great niece Olivia visited here in Eureka Springs for Thanksgiving, and we did a few simple projects in the wood shop. We made tops and toy cars and so one of Olivia's first questions this year as they planned their trip was, "What will Uncle Doug have for me to make this year?"

Later in the day, we'll find out., but first I have pancakes to make.

This year Olivia is in Kindergarten in South Florida, and they will likely never consider woodworking as an activity in her school, so this is her chance. I brought home one of the kid sized benches from school and have plenty of tools and materials to keep her busy with a project each day. Last year she was shy about woodworking. This year she perks up when she hears the word woodshop.

As it is growing even less likely with each passing day that wood shops will return to education, the responsibility to preserve the hands-on intelligence of our nation falls in your hands and mine on a case by case basis. Let me tell you, that inviting a child to create under your own watchful eyes is not a burden but a joy.

I spent nearly two years trying to learn Swedish, when a toddler would have grasped as much of the the language I was able to absorb in a few days, so we know the learning capacity of a young mind and the impact of what they learn on who they are.  Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, 1902 as follows:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
Make, fix, create and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Monday, November 23, 2015

reduction of testing time...

Here in Arkansas, the change from PARCC to ACT Aspire testing programs this year is claimed to cut the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests in half according to a front page article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

What will likely not change, however, is the amount of time spent teaching to the test. If testing drives the standards, then the standards will be driving content. And student interest will fall by the wayside. I've included an interesting cartoon above that tells the story.

Some of the serial effect launched by the common core and PARCC testing, and ACT Aspire is that students have to be on computers to take the tests, and that is predicted to cost education more than 17 Billion dollars over the next 7 years.  According to an article in KQED:
Districts are scrambling to figure out how to improve, update, and add technology so students can actually take the new tests. Murfreesboro public schools in Tennessee, for example, borrowed $5.2 million to purchase laptops and iPads to prepare students for the new assessments.
If you buy a bandsaw or lathe, it will be useful to students 20 years down the road if cared for and maintained. With computers and programs for them, the investment is obsolete within three years, (whether you find sufficient and effective use for them or not) and school districts will be forced to launch a whole new dance to acquire funding for that. But what may interest readers is that the implementation of core curriculum and the testing for it, is actually forcing schools to join in the stampede to spend money on iPads and laptops. It is a vicious cycle. Students won't do well with the core testing if they are not proficient on the computer. So teaching to the test, and training in computer proficiency will dominate classroom learning.

The computer is seen by most educational policy makers as a magic silver bullet. that can be aimed at all the problems in education and child development. But screen time has long been understood by the American Council of Pediatrics at having detrimental developmental effects. The silver bullet of technology is experimental at best, but without the controls necessary to understand the outcome.

In the meantime, a few schools across the country are awakening to the importance of the hands. As is described here: How turning math into a maker workshop can bring calculations to life.

The point is that kids are inspired to learn when they are given the opportunity to do real things. As I was quoted in the first chapter of Matt Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft,
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. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
How can you make certain your students are doing something real? Get their hands engaged in it.

Make, fix, create, and inspire others to learn likewise.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

sufficient interest...

Yesterday, in addition to cleaning in my office and finish room (the shop is still a disaster), I spent a bit of time trying to finish a few boxes that were made during my summer classes as demonstration pieces. They display a variety of joints and techniques, and as I get finish them  I can either sell them or give them to charity events.

A good question that educational policy makers could ask, is how do we create schooling in which the natural interests of the child are sufficiently captured, so that self-directed learning is engaged. Froebel had called that "self-activity." Just because a child is active does not mean that he is not learning. In fact, the child's activity suggests that learning is taking place.

In speaking of the delinquent or disadvantaged child and the more advantaged child as well, Felix Adler (1888) wrote on the integration of two important points:
First... History, geography, and arithmetic are not, as a rule, interesting to young children, especially to young children of the class with which we are now dealing.  These listless minds are not easily roused to an interest in abstractions. Secondly, it is a notorious fact that the intellectual culture, pure and simple, is quite consistent with weakness of the will. A person may have very high intellectual attainments, and yet be morally deficient. I need hardly warn my reflective hearers that, when emphasizing the importance for the will of intellectual culture, I had in mind the intellectual process as applied to acts. To cultivate the intellect in its own sphere of contemplation and abstractions, apart from action my leave the will precisely a feeble as it was before.

And now, 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 of literary study are often the most proficient in the workshop and modeling room.... 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...
 Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

manual training and the poor...

The following is from Felix Adler, a small portion of an address to the National Conference of Charities and Correction at Buffalo, July 1888.
"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 point that Adler was attempting to make was that part of the problem for the poor and for the juvenile delinquent was insufficient development of will. But then the development of will might offer challenges to the powers that be in that strength of mind would lead to demand for change. Here in the US, it seems policy makers would rather incarcerate young men than train them to do useful things. That may sound like a harsh thing to say, but it is true, as evidenced by the elimination of manual arts training in schools throughout the US.

Today I hope to gain some quality time in the wood shop, and plan to renew a proposal for an article about my simple router table. The table itself was featured in "Methods of Work" in Fine Woodworking years ago, but the addition of various fences and a new, simple means of providing zero clearance to the bit makes it worth another look.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.