Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Happy Birthday Mr. Comenius...

If John Amos Comenius was still alive, he would be 425 years old today as he was born March 28, 1592. If you wonder about boys and learning, and how they learn best, or about the arts and why they are important in schooling, use the search function at upper left and type in Comenius. He was considered the father of modern pedagogy, invented the first picture books, and knew a lot more about learning than most educational policy makers of today because he took the time to directly observe children first hand. He could be considered the start of a long line: Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon, Dewey and Montessori.

Children actually haven't changed all that much in the last 425 years. But their toys may leave less room for imagination. Give a child a stick and it will be an umbrella one minute and a hockey stick or light saber the next. Most of our toys today, including all the high-tech wonders, have all the creativity built in that the engineers can muster, leaving less for the children to imagine themselves.

Last night I was interviewed for a documentary film on Kindergarten and its direct relationship with Educational Sloyd. Today the film crew will join me at the Clear Spring School wood shop before traveling on to St. Louis and Louisville for additional interviews.

On another subject, I received my first look at the layout and proposed cover for my new book on making box guitars. Part of the process is for the editors to lay out the first chapters to see how the book is going to work with the intended design. What do you think? You may leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

The book is arranged chapter by chapter according to the specific parts of the guitar.  Chapters include making the box, carving the neck, decorating your guitar, adding frets, adding electronics, installing tuners and tail pieces, and the all important bridges and nuts. Each chapter offers a variety of choices. As a special treat for those more ready to go off the deep end, it shows how to make a uke. The book was inspired by a guitar making project last year with my students at the Clear Spring School and my hope is that the book equips the reader to make decisions and exercise creativity that excede my own.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Monday, March 27, 2017

a return to classes...

Spring break is over today at the Clear Spring School, and while my students are coming back and looking forward to wood shop, I know that the balance of the school year will go by quickly. It always does. The students have camping, and travel at the various grade levels, and those important hands-on activities cut into time available for wood shop.

I will enjoy the time we have left, and will reflect upon my student's steady growth.

This evening I expect a small film crew to arrive for an interview about the interconnections between Manual Arts education and Kindergarten. The idea was that the self-activity begun in Kindergarten would be kept alive throughout a student's time in school. As children had gained all they might from the Kindergarten gifts, real work in the transformation of materials would lead them toward fulfilling adult responsibilities in family and community. The motive behind Educational Sloyd and many individual manual arts programs was to sustain the kinds of learning that took place in Kindergarten that it might last throughout the students schooling.

In preparation for the interview, I've been thinking of my mother who was a Kindergarten teacher. She began teaching Kindergarten in the 1940's when Froebel's idea of learning through play was still the guiding principle. Then in the 1970s and 1980s educational policy makers began transforming Kindergarten into the new first grade. My mother would tell her worried parents that when they ask their children what they did in school today, and they say '"played", remember that play is the way their children learn best. It is the most important work they do. From that high point of understanding, things have gone way down hill.

By pushing reading down into Kindergarten, American schools have shown no improvement. For comparison, in Finland, they start school reading at age 8 and according to international standardized tests, Finnish students have far surpassed American readers at the eighth grade level in 30% less time.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

a welcoming address part 2:

The is the conclusion of Henry C. Muckley's welcoming address to the Eastern Manual Training Association meeting in Cleveland, 1900.

Why would this be important today? If we are to live in a nation of people whose minds have been made sharp and whose bodies have been made whole and productive, we have great work to do.
Two theories have been advanced in support of the introduction of manual training as a part of public school education. The one is the utilitarian theory ; namely, that our boys and girls should learn skill of hand in order that they might the better earn a livelihood. This theory lays its emphasis upon the thing done, upon the iron shaped, the wood turned, the drawing executed. How desirable it is that we have those in the world who are capable of doing the fine work of the world. Let us, therefore, say the advocates of this theory, educate our children in this direction, to the end that they need not be mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, but that they may occupy a place above the ordinary plane of labor; that they may become skilled mechanics, architects, draftsmen, and the like.

Now, this view of manual training is a worthy enough one. It is important that our boys and girls be able to accomplish things, be able to make things, be able to join together the various materials that constitute a machine, be able to give the artistic and skilled touch to everything which they undertake. Yet this, it seems to me, is not the loftiest and most inspiring thought which the manual training teacher should have in mind. The great thing after all is man himself. The reflex influence of all this upon the individual himself is of more importance than the objective result of his work.

One may stand and admire the architecture and artistic adornment of a great cathedral builded in the centuries of the past. He may say it is a noble work. It stands forth as an embodiment of the devotion and hopes and aspirations and religious fervor of the time in which it was built. Yet when we know that such structures are often built at the expense of the better aspects of our life; when we learn that as the building grew under the hands of the workman, the workman shrank in the presence of his structure; we wonder whether, after all, the sacrifice was not too great for the result. The mere accomplishing of some great thing does not necessarily react in the most helpful way upon the doer. Men live in the presence of the most sublime scenery of earth and yet remain groveling, inferior beings.

The mere existence of an objective world, however beautiful it may be, is not of itself sufficient to awaken the highest nobility in man, nor is the putting forth of energy to the construction of things necessarily productive of the highest individual development. The theory of manual training that places it not as a mere acquisition of skill to shape materials into convenient and useful forms, but as a means for the most complete development and enlargement of manhood and womanhood is to me the most worthy, and the one which furnishes the strongest reason for giving manual training the prominent place which it has in our educational system.

Whether a boy is to be a mechanic or not depends largely upon circumstances. But he will be a larger man in every way; he will be the better man no matter what his vocation in life may be, for having the development, the education, the skill, the judgment, the accuracy and precision which come as a result of a course in manual training.

It is, therefore, because you are a body of educators whose object is not to make things but men and women that we welcome you to this city. You have on exhibition in the rooms and halls of this building some beautiful examples of your work. Curious and elaborate shapes have been given to iron and to brass and to wood, but you must all feel that the principal product of your work is not on exhibition here to-day. It is to be found within the nervous systems and chiefly in the mental and moral natures of the boys and girls whom you have had under your instruction.

If your work has been well done, and we have every reason to believe that it has, then the subjective part of it — the part which has remained within the pupil, which has added to his character, has made him more honest because he finds honesty in the materials with which he works, has made his judgment clearer because he finds as a result of his misjudgment a want of harmony of the parts which he is attempting to fit together, is of infinitely more value than the things which you have on exhibition here to-day. I trust that you will find your visit to our city a very pleasant one socially and that your deliberations will be profitable to all who are in attendance. – Henry C. Muckley, 1900.
And so the manual arts in schools became and had been at one time a means through which all students were raised in both intellect and character. But there were those in the administrative and political class who believed that manual arts training should only be wasted upon those who were incapable of academic work. And so by the time I reached high school, my parents were given a choice. I would be directed to the trades or to college. Being in the college prep program closed all opportunities to enliven my education by doing real things. As a consequence, I was bored and made little effort toward my own success. It was only later after stumbling through college that I discovered how much joy and how much understanding might come through the engagement of my hands in creative processes. Are schools to be places where we warehouse kids and sequester them from real life? Or may we engage them in doing real things? I urge the latter.

The cartoon above is from France, 1910, imagining education in the 21st century. It's what some people want today who find no terror or error in it. By the French artist Villemard, it was part of a series "En l'an 2000" ("In the Year 2000") from around the World's Fair and the new century that was packaged in cigar and cigarette boxes.

Make, fix, and create.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A welcoming address, part one:

In 1900 the Eastern Manual Training Association met in Cleveland, with the opening remarks of Henry C. Muckley, Superintendent of Cleveland Schools. This short address lays out the original vision of manual arts training that was long forgotten in American education except by those who continued to teach manual arts. I present it here in two parts, today and tomorrow in the hopes that some tomorrow(or even today), American educational policy makers will re-awaken to the essential role the hands play in learning. Dr. Muckley:
We take special pleasure in welcoming this body of teachers because of what you bring us. We expect to derive great benefit from your visit among us. You represent one phase of the complete education of man.

The modern ideas of education are somewhat different from those which prevailed in earlier times. They have kept pace with the enlarging conception of man himself; for any theory of education must rest ultimately upon the nature of the individual who is to be educated. It is not enough now, that men be skilled in mere dialectic. That would have answered in the days of the scholastics, when the subjective nature of man was unduly emphasized and his outward relation measurably lost sight of.

The modern view of man is that he is a being of infinite possibility. While this theory of man has lurked in the writings of great and good men of the past, it has not been as thoroughly emphasized in practice as it ought to have been. Sometimes one phase of man's life has been emphasized by one people and sometimes another, but we believe today in education as the development of every power which man possesses.

Memory is no longer thought to be a power resident within the brain. It is defused or distributed through every tissue of the body. Single muscles have their memories, sets of muscles have their united memories, and every activity of the body seems to have this quality of memory resident in some way within the organ which manifests the activity. Connected with all these various organs of the body, we have at the center the great nervous axis, consisting of the brain and spinal cord. These are the great storers up of the power to liberate the energy of these organs; and the development of an individual is in a way measured by the development of these centers.

It is a physiological law that the growth and development of any part of the body is conditioned upon the exercise of that part. It would follow then that the highest development of these nervous centers is only secured by the exercise of every part of the body with which they are connected. The organs react upon the brain; the brain in turn sends out its stimulus to the various organs, and thus there is a mutual benefit accruing to either by their joint exercise.

You come to us as representatives of that practical form of education which comes through the doing of things. You would educate man to greater skill, you would educate the eye to greater precision; all of which means that you would develop and strengthen those portions of the central nervous system which control these organs, which preside over them, without which they themselves would be meaningless and helpless. Thus manual training becomes in its analysis, nervous and mental training. ––Henry C. Muckley, 1900
It is a rainy day in Arkansas and so I share (once again) one of my favorite illustrations showing a father and his children at work on a rainy day. Can there be anything more pleasurable or meaningful than that?

Make, fix, create, and increase the probability that others learn likewise.

Friday, March 24, 2017

divided sphere part 4

I managed to get the divided sphere assembled with a total of 7 hinges. It folds and unfolds from a sphere to a hollow cube and back again, and I can attest that this was not easy to make. So why make it? It seems that it is difficult to ignore challenges, and the artifacts of Kindergarten point us in an important direction.

The historic relationship between Kindergarten and the introduction of manual arts training in the US makes Kindergarten relevant today as we as we attempt to renew interest in wood shops in today's schools. The purpose of woodworking education was not to make carpenters, but to make responsible and creative citizens.

As we look at the politics and political shenanigans of today, we can wonder, where were wood shops when we needed them most? Have you ever seen such a mess?

The wood shop at ESSA received its garage door yesterday and the carpenters are putting metal siding on, starting with the back.

Work benches have been ordered and are being shipped. Ordering tools is the next thing on my mind as we proceed toward completion and summer classes.

Today I'll work on my presentations for the Woodworker's Showcase April 1 and 2 in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood of others learning likewise.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

turned sphere part 3.

I am preparing for my classes at Woodworkers Showcase at the end of next week and for the arrival Monday of a small film crew doing a video on Kindergarten in which my students will demonstrate "self activity"in the wood shop and in which I will explain the important relationship between the rise of Kindergarten and the rise of manual arts training in schools.

My mind/hand therapy has been to turn a hinged sphere from wood. In order to do so, I made 8 2-in. cube blocks, routed them to form hinge mortises in just the right places, and then glued the blocks together with brown paper between so that they could be turned on the lathe as shown.

The cuts in the side of the sphere are where the various hinges will fit between the segments when the ball is broken apart and rejoined.

Today I will install the hinges and see what I get. The objective is to make a segmented sphere as shown at the bottom of the second illustration.

 Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Yesterday I attended the Ozarks Woodcarving Seminar in Springfield Missouri and met a number of fine carvers that we will attempt to recruit for teaching at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. There were over a hundred students, 18 teachers and several vendors in attendance for the 6 day event.

Shown in the photo is my friend Bill admiring many of the fine tools for sale at the event., Bill Hinson had invited me to the event and made introductions to some of his favorite carvers and those he thought would be of interest to ESSA. He had also taken our catalog to the event so that various teachers would know about our school.

The work by both students and teachers was beautiful.

The show is held in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Springfield, Missouri and is an annual event. Visitors are welcome and the show is open until Friday, March 24.

One thing a visitor will notice at the show is that there are very few young people involved. It seems that we've a great deal of important work to do if we want to maintain craftsmanship in our culture, by passing skill into the hands of fresh generations.

Make, fix, create, and  increase the opportunities for others to learn likewise.