Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The limitations of conventional language based learning

We all know that craftsmanship is an expression of values. A man or woman does beautiful and useful work because he or she cares enough to make it so. The inclination to create beautiful and useful things is a human universal. It can be found in every culture. It is rooted in relationship. We do good work because we are trained to expect it of ourselves, that we may be seen by others as caring. On the other hand, you can tell folks a thing or two, and lay verbal claim to your moral superiority, with it being shown at some point as total bull.

From Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886:
It is the most astounding fact of history that education has been confined to abstractions. The schools have taught history, mathematics, language and literature and the sciences to the utter exclusion of the arts, not withstanding the obvious fact that it is through the arts alone that other branches of learning touch human life... In a word, public education stops at the exact point where it should begin to apply the theories it has imparted... At this point the school of mental and manual training combined--the Ideal School--begins; not only books but tools are put in to the hands of the pupil, with this injunction of Comenius; "Let those things that have to be done be learned by doing them."
Also, from Charles H. Hamm:
When it shall have been demonstrated that the highest degree of education results from combining manual with intellectual training, the laborer will feel the pride of a genuine triumph; for the consciousness that every thought-impelled blow educates him, and so raises him in the scale of manhood, will nerve his arm, and fire his brain with hope and courage.
Hamm's theory is the antithesis of Plato, mas described in his Divine Dialogs:
"...the simplest and purest way of examining things, is to pursue every particular by thought alone, without offering to support our meditation by seeing or backing our reasonings by any other corporal sense."
To Plato, I offer James' rejoinder: "Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late." – William James. The following is also from Charles Hamm.
It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand.
The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and sacrificed our human culture on the altar of stupidity.

Make, fix, create and offer to others inspiration for learning likewise...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

report on first day of school...

I had my first class with my 7th and 8th grade students  at Clear Spring School yesterday, asking them to do some work for me (restoring sanding blocks) while we discussed the projects they are interested in doing this year. They are interested in learning veneer work, making boxes, making tools, and making things to sell to raise money for travel.

I thought I had the steeples worked out for my small chapels of wood, but am reversing course. It is always inherently appealing to do things a new way, but we should always be ready to assess whether what's new provides new value. These new steeples as shown in yesterday's post were hard to do, but even though I invested too much time in them, in reflection, they do not fit quite as I hoped. The fix will be simple, and perhaps will be shown later in the day. I will make ridge pieces from walnut to which a turned steeple piece will be attached.

The lovely illustration of a plane and its parts is from the Course of Study, Manual Training Department of the Elementary Public Schools, Chicago 1899-1900. Compiled by R. F. Beardsley and available from google books. It contains a huge amount of interesting philosophy and instruction awaiting a renewal of interest.

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

Monday, August 29, 2016


Yesterday I turned small steeples of wood for the boxes that will hold collections of Arkansas woods. The chapel shape of each box, and the turned steeple are used as symbols to suggest to viewers that something sacred is at hand. The glimpse of turned hardwood samples through the windows will lure viewers to a state of curiosity and engagement.

Turning the steeples was easy. the precise fitting to the roof, just a bit more complex.

Next will come the final fitting of the doors, and inside shelves. I have been working my way rather slowly through this project and plan to have these boxes finished in time for a visit by members of the American Folk Art Museum.

Today students return to classes at Clear Spring School and my wood shop classes for some students begin on Wednesday.

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

Sunday, August 28, 2016

the third thread.

I have been in the process of building a new website, and have been trying to gather the necessary photos and text for my web designer make a good site. My present website has served like a weary horse but has received too little of my attention for years. Yesterday's post was an attempt to review some of the philosophy that has driven my work, but in it, I overlooked a third thread, as follows:
"The third thread is knowing that we have a responsibility to teach each other what we know. Doing is one thing, sharing it another. Sharing my skills with others accelerates my own learning and furthers my own appreciation of nature’s beauty and the craft of woodworking. Plus, it, too, is a joy to do."
I think I have a clear grip on the reason for Donald Trump's popularity. People want the license to say whatever comes to mind, to speak in an unfiltered manner without being called out for being rude, selfish and insensitive. But, I'm sorry, things just don't work that way... In real life when rude, thoughtless, and insensitive things are said people take offense and feel hurt. They may respond to boorish behavior and speech even if you are hiding out in the darkest and most vile parts of the internet.

On the other hand, there are real things that we learn from real craftsmanship. We learn that what we think has direct impact on what we do and what we make. For good work, the thoughts must be aligned with a higher purpose and strong values. So it might seem simplistic to suggest craftsmanship as the solution to all that ails us. But let's give it some thought... and then...

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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

two threads

The philosophy of my work grew from two slender threads, carefully woven through years into a consistent body of work.

The first of those philosophical threads was given to me as a young man when an elder craftsman, guiding me through the restoration of an old car told me that my “brains are in my hands.” I spent the next 25 years as a furniture craftsman exploring that notion, proving it to myself, and arriving at the conclusion that what was true for me was also true for most others as well. I’ve spent the last 15 years helping others to understand the power of the hands to reshape their own lives. There should be no surprises in this. The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaxagoras noted centuries before that “man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands.”

The second thin thread was the realization that the woods that come from our great forests are too rarely understood in their great beauty and diversity. The most meaningful task for any woodworker to perform is to awaken others to the beauty that surrounds us. To craft something lovely and useful from our native woods lures others to discover the value of our native woods and to take care of the forests from which they come.

These two slender threads are carefully woven into a rope with two ends. One is a body of crafted work. The other consists of the sharing of the methods and spirit of that work through books, articles, classes for children and adults, and this daily blog, Wisdom of the Hands, where I promote the ideal of hands-on learning.

Shown above is a collection of some of the thoughts that may go into making a box.

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

thinking through

I have been gradually thinking through my box to hold a collection of turned samples of Arkansas woods, and have as my deadline for completion, September 10 when I have a group of members from the American Folk Arts Museum coming to tour my home and shop.

What you see in the image above are the doors of one box with holders  positioned where they will be attached to hold a dozen samples. The idea of the box is that when it is opened, a whole "choir" of woods can be seen. When the box is closed, only three woods will be visible through the plexiglass rosette.

The box is intended a a shrine to the beauty and value of our native woods.

The process of design is a form of play, but it is also an expression of intelligence of a type that is too often neglected in American schools. IQ tests include "spatial sense as an important type of intelligence that is crucial for engineering, science, music, the arts and mathematics. We do not know how much of the development of spatial sense comes genetically, how much comes through play, and at exactly what ages, but it is my belief, that at all ages, human beings derive benefit from design play.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

pattern recognition

After removing 25 feral hogs from the immediate neighborhood we had had some hopes of returning to normal and have begun restoring the rock wall that form the garden beds around our home. I am pretty good at recognizing patterns in the rocks and quickly assessing how they will fit gaps in the wall, but this is a skill area my wife admits is a particular challenge for her. Pattern recognition, spatial sense, and visualization are particular expressions of intelligence used in measuring IQ, and are closely associated with the kinds of play devised by Friedrich Froebel though the use of his gifts. According to the IQ test Labs with regard to pattern recognition:
Out of all mental abilities this type of intelligence is said to have the highest correlation with the general intelligence factor, g. This is primarily because pattern recognition is the ability to see order in a chaotic environment; the primary condition for life.
These kinds of intelligence are also closely associated with wood shop, though few educational policy makers seem willing to admit that could be the case. Is IQ something we either have or don't have? Or are their experiences in childhood that help to develop a higher IQ? I suspect there are, and that having experience in the manipulation of objects helps. For instance, this question involving Rubrik's cube:

How many folks have actual experience in the manipulation of Rubrik's cube? Without experience in it one would have far greater difficulty arriving at the right answer.

I have been meeting with my fellow teachers at the Clear Spring School to plan for the coming school year.

In the wood shop,  I've been using my own pattern recognition skills to continue work on my small chapels of wood. The holes drilled in the shelves are to position turned samples of 27 Arkansas woods.

Make, fix, create, and offer others a chance of learning likewise.