Saturday, February 13, 2016

in the seventies, eighties, nineties and on in America

In the seventies, eighties and nineties in America, the powers that be in both parties, and the financial elite, made the decision (over and over and over again) that it would be easier for them to make money by exporting jobs and manufacturing than it would be to build our cities and offer the opportunity to gain dignity to the people who lived in them. This may have been a decision based in part on the overwhelming size of the problem we faced, but it is closely associated with racism. For example, we know that the Governor of Michigan would never have waited to fix the problems with Flint's water supply and no children would have been poisoned with lead if the children had not been black.

The problems in the cities tend to be self-perpetuating. Work offers dignity. Work offers hope. Lack of work strips away what little of either may remain when children and their parents are faced day to day by poverty and lack of opportunity for meaningful employment.

When schools compound the problems by remaining abstract and irrelevant to the lives of their students, and only a single door (college) is proposed by those schools as the means to escape endless poverty, lack of opportunity is assiduously and perpetually assured.

Educational Sloyd proposed that all children should learn woodworking Sloyd in school, even those students aiming for academic based careers. The point was that all students needed not only to know how to do things, but also needed to develop a greater appreciation and respect for the contributions made by others. Skilled hands were considered an asset for each individual and also a means through which the whole of a nation might be lifted to its highest potential.

This is not a difficult thing to understand except for those who've become anesthetized and made complacent by success in their academic pursuits.  Of absolute necessity in a successful democratic society is that all discover through the creation of useful beauty, the wisdom of their hands... even and most particularly those who imagine themselves destined for greater things.

I'm just a simple woodworker here, with no power to make changes in the world at large. So I am counting on you. If you know anyone with power in any of the major political campaigns, presidential or otherwise, I would like to have a chat with them.

Make, fix, create, and extend a love of learning likewise.

what every child needs...

I was asked to write something free for a woodworking magazine and figured I might as well write what I would be writing anyway. The following which may be edited and may or may not be used.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with just one student while the others from her class were performing in a Valentines day fundraiser. It reminded me how very special it can be for children to be in a grandfather's woodshop and I must invite others who love woodworking to do just what I just did. There is no better thing in the world than to share what you know and what you love with a younger generation. I was able to work quietly on my own project while Rosie turned wood on the lathe. You've probably noticed that there are few school wood shops left. And while there's some buzz developing about the maker movement and maker shops, focused primarily on digital devices and automated production, there is a great and growing need for both children and adults to slow down, and engage deeply and skillfully in making beautiful and useful things.

As a shop teacher, I was recently quoted by Philosopher/Motorcycle Mechanic, Matthew Crawford in his new book, The World Beyond Your Head. In 2009, he used the same quote from my blog as the opening to chapter one of his best selling book, Shop Class as Soulcraft as follows:
“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.”
In the new book, he went to some length analyzing the quote in the conclusion of the book and while he doe not seem to agree with me that the engagement of the hands is an absolute necessity for ALL students, he notes that most of us, particularly in this digital age, would benefit greatly from becoming engaged as creators of the objects that have significance in our own lives. And he agrees with me that schools should play a much greater role in fostering tangible, personal creativity.

It used to be that schools offered all kinds of learning opportunities for children of every possible inclination, but of late, they’ve become so focused on standardized test scores and academic style learning, that unless your children are lucky enough to learn in a school like mine, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. If you have doubts about it, read my blog. I write regularly about the necessity of hands-on learning, and offer encouragement to parents, grandparents and teachers who want to share their own passion for woodworking with their kids.

My Wisdom of the Hands program at the Clear Spring School is approaching its 15th anniversary this year. I have students in high school who started working with me in the school shop when they were in first grade. If you don't think there's some real magic in that, think again. Invite your own child, grandson or grand daughter into your wood shop and learn first hand. It will benefit both of you.
If you are interested in a story about schooling gone awry, (not a pleasant subject, but common, never-the-less), read the following blog post:

The photos above and below are of a prototype cabinet for a class in Portland.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016


At school, I've almost finished a Jackson Pollack styled box guitar. In comparison with a true Jackson Pollack design, I've been lazy and not laid on enough paint, but the blue body of the guitar needed something extra to look good. I'm making these for no other good reasons than to make them available to the students in their music room, for my own pleasure and to demonstrate techniques they may choose to use on their own guitars. The the tailpiece, bridge, nut, pegs and strings will come next, and they, too, will add interest to the design.

In my home wood shop, I've begun making a small cabinet as a prototype of the cabinet I'll make in March with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers in Portland, Oregon. I am also working on outlines for two articles for Fine Woodworking Magazine.

I've been a bit disappointed in the presidential primaries. While candidates like to talk about there being more education and that it be delivered at less cost to the individuals involved, there seem to be no questions as to the quality of what's delivered. Should we not be talking about ways to make it more interesting and engaging so that students would want to be there and be learning in the first place?

My daughter Lucy is in grad school in New York City as she also finishes her second year of teaching at Harvest Collegiate. In grad school the primary focus is in giving the teachers some coaching on classroom management, and the study of child development is an afterthought, offered only to the curious as an elective class. From my standpoint, understanding child development would be the first thing, not the last, for without an understanding of how children learn and develop, real damage may be done.

Too little thought is given to the untenable nature of the institutions in which teachers are placed. And for good reason. To teach teachers about the more "idealistic" progressive methodologies that take actual child development into account would be wasted in schools run like factories with immature minds going in one end of the assembly line, and smaller ones emerging at the other end.

I am attempting as always to get my students to use their senses, and look at examples of the things they make, instead of expecting me to be the one to tell them how to do things. It is so easy to work on the basis of assumptions. And so wrong. When we go through motions (whether as teachers or students and whether in the wood shop or public school classroom) without evaluating those motions in comparison with both a theoretical foundation and direct use of the observational powers the senses provide, our efforts are crippled at the start.

Make, fix, create, and extend the love of learning likewise.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

setting kids up to almost fail and learn from it.

I have a second grade student Oen who wants to make everything in the wood shop, including the tools we use. The importance for him of making things is in part related to the ownership and control that comes with ownership. He is also a boy that revels in his own physical powers, so refining a boomerang to come back can keep him occupied for days.

You may have noticed in your own life the need to do difficult and demanding things. Children are just the same. They want to exercise prowess and control and to attain mastery in things that set them apart from their peers.

Yesterday I brought another of my own guitars to a near finished state, painting it with milk paints in a Jackson Pollack style. "How's this?" my students ask, in relation to their own work. "What do you think?" I ask in return. That give and take provides a great deal of information. I can look closely at their work and notice things that can be improved, just as I can look closely at my own work, and see those small things.

David Pye discussed the relationship between certainty and risk in a craftsman's work. We develop jigs and tools to enhance the powers of mindlessness, so that we can thus avoid failure. Whereas, the ever present risk of failure makes things more real, and requires greater attention. Should we be any less attentive to the power of failure in schools than in real life? There is an art in asking children to do real things, luring them forward when possible and knowing when they have reached their limit. Salomon called this the "teacher's tact."

Yesterday a friend Dan came to the school work shop to use one of our lathes to turn a large mallet to replace one that had been lost along the way. We talked about Heikki Seppa and the development of hollow form in jewelry making. According to my friend Dan, Seppa wrote about form in a way similar to N. Christian Jacobsen, so his is a book that I must watch for. It seems the Finns, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes have an attentiveness to form that can be inspirational.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

annual report...

I woke up in the night thinking of all the things I need to say in the blog, but in the clear light of early morning, those things have passed, and I'm speechless. Perhaps I'm so wordless because I spent much of yesterday working on my annual report, which I've posted here.

In any case, I've a day of classes to prepare for, and its not as though there's no further reading to be done here. This year will mark the 10th year of this blog, and there are well over a thousand blog posts emphasizing the necessity of learning through our hands. You will find links to all those blog posts beginning in 2006 at right.

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

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

educator symposium

Making a chess board
Plans for the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers hands-on learning symposium are underway, and you can download the application here: A Symposium for Hands-on Learning. I look forward to seeing you there. If you have any questions about content please feel free to email me or Larry Wade from the application.

I continue to be utterly fascinated by Piaget, and the development of human intelligence and most particularly that educational policy makers designed a system of education that so completely ignores what we know about human development. Should it be any surprise to anyone that only 32 percent of adults in the US operate at the Formal Operational Stage, given the educational conditioning offered, both in homes and in school? There are two things at work in the development of intelligence. One is the natural physiological growth that is to take place in every human being. There are periods of rapid brain growth interspersed with slower periods of growth in which the brain utilizes the environment to extend and test its new capacities. The old question of whether intelligence is the product of nature or of nurture gets the simple right answer, "both." Genetics can only go so far without corresponding experiences to stretch both quality and capacity of thought. These slower growth periods are called by some the "Critical Periods" of child development. The following is from Kathy Sylva, Department of Child Development and Primary Education, Institute of Education, London, UK, a paper entitled The Critical Periods in Childhood Learning.
The impact of nurture can vary according to its timing. For example, the impact of day care on a child may differ according to its occurrence in the first year of a child's life or the years right before school. The best known example of a critical period in animal development is that young ducks will become imprinted on any moving object in their immediate environment at approximately 15 h after hatching. If they do not experience a moving object during this critical period they will fail to become imprinted at all.

The broader concept of a sensitive period in human development has supplanted the notion of critical periods. A sensitive period may last for months or even years and denotes the time in which the developing child is particularly responsive to certain forms of experience or particularly hindered by their absence. A good example is the fact that children in the period 6-18 months are particularly sensitive to caretaking and that this is the time when they must develop their core attachment to their parents. Other periods may be particularly important for intellectual or linguistic development, for example the period 12-30 months when language develops so rapidly. – Kathy Silva, "The Critical Periods in Childhood Learning."
You may find the following interesting. As early as the latter part of the 19th century, there were educators, psychologists, and theorists who had recognized the existence of critical periods.  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
The point is that we use our resources or we waste them, only to work that much harder if we miss the critical period in which the mind is making its necessary connections, and constructing a framework for thought that is flexible, innovative and resilient in the processing of experience. If we miss those critical periods, we must work harder to develop them if we desire to do so. Ask yourself whether sitting in desks will suffice, when there are so many better ways to learn.

An article in the Winter edition of Indpendent School magazine mentions the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School and the problem that boys are having with anxiety in school.
I had mentioned this article before, but now there's a link.

Make, fix, create, and extend a hand that others may learn likewise.

Monday, February 08, 2016

common sense learning

Kim Brand sent this link, suggesting I and the presenter have a similar view. Grant Lichtman might have saved himself from a few miles by coming to Arkansas.  He missed Clear Spring School on his journey, but he came up with the right ideas.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I worked on a k-body guitar, got the back glued on with the electronics sealed inside, and I continued working on a neck for another. As you can see, applying detail to both curved and rectilinear forms.

My students are doing the same things.

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

Sunday, February 07, 2016

hail the knife...

First coat of milkpaint
Last week, I mentioned Salomon's advice that rectilinear forms in Sloyd be alternated with curved shapes in the various models laid out in sequence for the student's growth. You can begin to understand so much more and why N. Christian Jacobsen was Otto Salomon's favorite author when you read the following:
The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool.

But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom which consists in developing own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife holds a position similar to that which the freer forms for the moment hold; its use is also especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right-angle and curved forms. What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Khristiania (Oslo) January 1892
Second coat of paint applied
My sincere thanks and appreciation to Barbara Bauer for her careful translation. Salomon's original point was to alternate models to retain student interest, but you can see that Jacobsen shed new light on the subject, going beyond what Salomon had in mind.

I have a simple observation, however, on the idea that things can be done "mechanically." Certainly, to the observer, when someone is sawing, it may seem as though he or she is simply moving the arm mechanically (thoughtlessly) back and forth. But that is not all that's going on. One must align one's body to the work, one's wrist to the proper angle, and the motions of the arm must be made smooth, within the necessary range, and no further. To get the saw to cut smoothly without jerking and binding takes concentration of mind as well as of body.

Adding the wiring and controls
In the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I am making another k-body box guitar, but this one I'm using 4 strings and am adding a piezo and electric controls. This required me to brush up on my soldering skills.

You can see that my box guitars are rectilinear in shape, but the necks require careful contouring to fit the hand, so I regard these guitars as being an excellent blend between rectilinear and curved forms. My students are excited about making them (as am I).

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