Friday, October 09, 2015

Each year at this time...

It is a rainy morning in Arkansas, with fall weather having brought an end to late summer drought.

Each year at this time, I get an order from Appalachian Spring Galleries in Washington, DC and have to turn my attention to making boxes for sale. So yesterday I cut rough walnut and basswood into appropriate widths, and resawed them into thinner stock for box ends, bottoms and sides. It is a soothing process, as I've done it so many times before. After the parts are cut to length I'll put my new 4 position router table through its paces. It is a router table with 4 routers in it, each set up to do a step in the making of these boxes. The idea is that having the tools set up and dedicated to certain steps will allow me to quickly make boxes in the various sizes required.

I woke up in the night thinking about Freidrich Frobel and the need I have to clarify his thoughts so they can be easily conveyed for a fresh generation. He had 4 main themes.

One was connectedness. He believed that knowledge was diminished when it was compartmentalized and isolated from the broader scheme of things, and that one particular duty of education was to bring the child tightly into the fold of civilization and to exercise responsibility in the natural world.

A second point could be called continuity. The child's flow of learning should be continuous from one age to another, and in order to do that, he arranged the gifts in an order natural to the child's growing mind, and intellectual capacity. Followers of Froebel envisioned manual arts in school as the means to extend Kindergarten style learning beyond the Kindergarten age.

A third point is creativeness. Not only was the child to learn by example and instruction, Froebel recognized that learning was best measured and expanded in the child's life and for the sake of human culture by what the child did in response to learning. Education in which the child passively received instruction or laerned merely from books and was not afforded the opportunity to test what was learned was considered "one-sided" and incomplete.

Froebel's fourth  and overarching point was the doctrine of self-activity. That is truly where the hands come into play. For activity is the direct opposite of the passivity enforced by most schooling.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

masks and arrows...

The lower elementary school at Clear Spring School is studying Africa, and the students suggested making African masks from wood in woodshop. They were making paper masks, but upon hearing that the originals were wood, making them in woodshop seemed natural. So I prepared the stock and made a sample mask, but only one student began work on one.  The others were more insistent on practicing whittling in preparation for their overnight camping trip that begins today. My upper school students worked on their arrows and began shaping bows.

The masks are quite simple to make using a coopering technique and hand planes. I ripped pieces 1/4 in. thick  from the side of a 2 x 4 and then cut staves in a uniform length. We beveled the edges with planes until they (when assembled) created a  curved form.  We used masking tape to hold the parts together during a design process in which the student drew a shape on the wood. After designing the overall shape and cutting it with a scrollsaw, we taped the joints with masking tape on one side and then spread glue between the parts on the other. With a well planed joint, glue and masking tape are enough to hold the mask together while the glue sets. When the glue has fully set, the mask will be strong enough for sanding, further shaping, paint, and to serve as evidence of learning.

One of the masks below was one my student designed and made. The others are ones I made for demonstration and fun. Can you guess which is which? Now some of my high school students want to make masks in addition to arrows.

The process of creating useful and/or beautiful works using hand tools and wood is addictive.

Make, fix, create, and share with others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

bows and bowls...

Yesterday my home school students began carving bowls. One had finished the toy robot he was making and said, "I want to make a bowl." I thought we were toy making, but he had something more practical in mind, and I had the right tools at hand. The next thing I knew, all the boys in the class wanted mallets and chisels to carve bowls. They know very little about what they are doing, but as long as the wood is safely held in the vise, it is a relatively safe operation, and one that will lead to observation and investigation.

Two of my 7th and 8th grade class began making bows while the others finished their arrows. Their work is not as lovely as arrows made by experienced fletchers. Skill is not a thing that arrives without practice.

Today in various classes, students will begin making African masks and and continue work on bows and arrows.

Make, fix, create, and extend the opportunity for others to learn likewise.

Monday, October 05, 2015


Many years ago, before I became a craftsman, I read A. S. Neil's book Summerhill, about a small independent school in the UK.  I did not know at the time, that I would later teach woodworking in a school that so closely resembles Summerhill in spirit if not in location. Clear Spring School is its very own thing, and not a deliberate clone of any other school, but like Summerhill has stimulated the imaginations of those who would want more for our children from education than they get in public schooling today, I hope that Clear Spring School may grow at least as famous as Summerhill was and serve to inspire a whole new generation of parents and educators.

Today the students at Clear Spring School finished their wooden dinosaurs with the exception of two students who have been lagging behind. Others continued work on their arrows and are getting excited about making bows. After I showed a youtube video of a craftsman making an arrow using sharp stones to work the shaft, one of my students slipped out of the classroom and I found him at work on the creek bank. He decided that his own arrows should be made in a more primitive do-it-himself manner. In some schools he would have been in trouble for that, whereas it would be my preference that students discover their own creative capacities and  become carried away in self-activity thus taking learning into their own hands.

When I go to family reunions, I enjoy talking with my sister, Mary who teaches in the Lincoln, Nebraska public school system. She is intelligent, thoughtful, and passionate about teaching and dedicated to her students. Her students come from difficult situations, and yet teachers are allowed to make no excuses for the challenges they face. They are supposed to trudge on despite the number of students they have that come from single family homes in which some children have a history of abuse or neglect, and many will never have the opportunities shared by those students from the upper classes.

So if you think of education as one would a train, by the time then engine manages to get the cars up to speed those with challenging home lives may not make it even to the caboose but for dedicated teachers like my sister reaching back to pull them up.

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

Saturday, October 03, 2015

on way home...

guns readied for destruction
I am on my way home from a quick family reunion in Iowa. Readers might be interested in the experience in Australia as described by Richard Bazeley:
"In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres - each with more than four victims - causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996."
Let's compare this with the US, where opposition to gun control is strong, and folks are frightened that the government will enact reform. In Australia people voluntarily turned in guns in an effort to build a safer society in which children could live without fear.

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

guns, more guns and stuff happens?

I am in DesMoines, Iowa, and on my way to a family reunion, but was not surprised to learn on the news of yet another incident of gun violence.

Weeks ago, I listened to a segment on NPR in which insurance companies seemed to be taking a rational approach to gun violence. If you have guns in the home you will likely pay higher rates commensurate to the actual risk your choices make the insurer face. Studies indicate that having a gun in your home increases the likelihood of gun violence, either by murder or suicide. So insurance companies (where such questions are not prohibited by state law) are taking a scientific view of the problem and analyze risk based on decisions policy holders make concerning gun ownership, whereas politicians have an emotional response and take fixed positions that lock and load our nation in endless debate.

And so more and more "stuff happens" which is the way some politicians (Bush and Trump) describe the endless rounds of personal tragedy that terrorize our kids.

This year at Clear Spring School, students in the upper elementary class were asked what they feared. One student new to CSS named gun violence in schools as being her biggest fear. Do you think that is an uncommon thing? And does anyone really think that a child's fear of gun violence would be alleviated by the presence of more and more guns? I realize that not all my readers agree with me on the subject of guns but if insurance companies recognize a clear danger from having guns in our homes, why can't we deal with the problem of gun violence and never have the fear of violence face the children in our schools? Let's do something about the problem, even if it requires changing minds to do so.

In the meantime, a beautiful tool can be as engaging as a gun, but leads not to risk, but toward the creation of beauty.

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

Friday, October 02, 2015


Last night the head of school of Clear Spring School asked me if I felt that our students have a sense of gratitude to the school. It may be quite common for kids to feel something for their school, and yet, young ones often lack a frame of reference, and gratitude is usually a feeling that comes through comparison with other situations that may be worse. Gratitude may also suggest an indebtedness.

So when children are joyful and responsive and under the care of adults who feel empathy toward them, it may not be necessary that they feel gratitude.

Yesterday one of our first grade students was standing alone with her arms crossed and a purposeful pout intended to express anger. She explained to me that she and another student "had a fight," and that the other student had forgiven her but that she was not quite ready to forgive the other student... who by that time was on the jungle gym and having a great time. "How long do you plan to hold out and not forgive," I asked. "Until recess is over." the girl asserted firmly with here arms tightening across her chest.

Anyone with a sense of empathy and compassion would enjoy being with these kids, and that's not to assert there is anything particularly remarkable about them. There are children all over the world that deserve the kind of learning environment that you can find at the Clear Spring School.

So when it comes to gratitude, I realize that I am a very lucky man.

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

Thursday, October 01, 2015

disingaged and difficult...

Richard Bazeley sent this image of a ship made by a boy who had been termed a "difficult or disengaged student," one that in the US we might call special needs.

I am reminded of three things. One is that some children walk at 10 months, and some as late as 18 to 24 months, and the pediatrician will assure the parent that everything is fine. There is a normal range at which children take to their feet. Can there not also be a normal range at which a child is ready for classroom learning? If the range is so great at such an early age, is it not likely that a particular range of development would widen rather narrow as a student reached school age? And if that is the case, one might wonder what  damages are done as we force children to fit.

Years ago one of my early mentor's in education had referred to Procrustes, a Greek monster who had a bed upon which he would invite guest to lay. The bed was equipped with chains to stretch those who were too short, and a giant knife to trim the legs of those who are too long. My friend John described education in the US as a "Procrustian bed." It may be perfectly comfortable if you are one of those lucky enough to fit.

I am also reminded of a hand-made book that I purchased for a dollar at the Carnegie Public Library book sale a few years back. It is a book of tiny etchings on hand-made paper, hand-bound and printed in a tiny limited edition as a graduate's thesis in the arts. The woman who made it had been diagnosed as severely retarded and placed in an institution. After several years there, a nurse noticed the 4 year-old child under a table having made a tiny dog sculpted from a small scrap of modeling clay. The nurse immediately recognized from that tiny sculpture that  the girl was not retarded. Further investigation led the staff to the realization that was deaf.

The book was the story, told in images of her being awakened from the hell in which she had been placed. I'll not say that schools are quite that bad. But I will inform you that when we place children in untenable situations that do not meet with their levels of readiness to learn, we have done them a disservice. Children do not mature at the same rate, and just as one child walks at one age and another matures to that at a slower pace, children's brains do not mature at the same time either. Schools could do a better job of easing up and making allowances for children to fit in at their own paces, and we would all be made better for it.

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