Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day...

Scott Bultman has a new trailer for the History of Kindergarten project, and it now includes short b roll views of some of my students at work.

I found it lovely to see some of my student's working represented in this important project.

One of the questions that Scott asked me to answer in my interview had to do with the relationship between Educational Sloyd and the rising maker movement. My point was that the maker movement is a wonderful turn of events that would be enriched by an understanding of its place in the history of manual arts education. Makers have a sense that they've arrived here fresh, that they present something new and vital, and that manual arts training is something old and no longer essential. From that narrow view a rich history and depth of purpose may be missed.

This being Earth Day brings part of that important story to mind. Woodworking in particular, working with very basic tools, as simple as a knife, can provide an intersection between personal creativity and the natural world that surrounds us and upon which we depend. In a maker space, the student is surrounded by manufactured materials and processes that tend to be far greater than arms length from the natural world.

A simple way to think about Educational Sloyd, comparing it to the maker movement would be to think of organic and natural vs. inorganic and chock full of artificial ingredients. Woodworking is one of the ways that students engage in an exploration of materials drawn directly from the natural world. As children spend  more time on the artifice presented by their high tech digital devices, an exploration of the natural world through the child's personal manipulation of natural materials and expressions of personal creativity are far more essential, not less so.

My youngest students love to give me things, and the image above is what Joe called "organic wood." It has a nail carefully driven home at each end. Evidently, the term organic (for Joe) refers to wholesome materials, simple and pure to which no bad things have been done.

Today, scientists are gathering in Washington, DC in a march for science. Some scientists have been concerned that speaking out will cause them to lose voice. The following is from the organizers of the march, with whom I agree.
“In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense? There is no Planet B.”
Donald Trump will no doubt celebrate Earth Day by removing more of the carefully crafted regulations designed to protect our environment. As we near the 100th day of his presidency, he can lay claim to having destroyed more of the regulations intended to protect the planet, and put more of the environment at risk than any other president to date.

Happy Earth Day. May we all work toward living in a world in which no bad things have been done.

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

odd mail...

I received an odd piece of mail yesterday. It was a request for sources for the brand of hinge that I reviewed in a recent issue of Fine Woodworking.

But what made it odd was not the subject nor the sender, but that I received it at all. As you can see, it was addressed not to my address, but to my type of work.  "Mr. Doug Stowe, Boxmaker and Furniture Maker" is not an address but an occupation.

Where else but the small town of Eureka Springs, where I've lived for the past 40 plus years, would postal clerks actually deliver mail with such an insufficient address?

The envelope contained a stamped/self-addressed envelope, which is now on its way to an address in Indiana.

The Vertex round stopped hinges that inspired the Indiana woodworker to write me are available from and from

 I have written many times of the wonder of small town life. It may not be for everyone. Folks can get on each other's nerves. But when a piece of mail arrives in such an unexpected manner, it reminds me to feel a sense of belonging in this place.  It is wise wherever you are to plant your feet and make an investment in community life.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

call to makers.

We are developing a gallery section for my box guitar book, and if any of my readers have favorite makers to suggest, please submit contact information to the comments section below.

The book have a section in the gallery about Ed Stilley's guitars as well as work by another local maker, Ron Lutz. My emailed call for guitars brought an immediate result from an old friend Zeke Leonard whose guitars are lovely as you can see.

In the meantime, progress continues on the new wood studio at ESSA, and shipping of the work benches will be today.

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

starting with the interests of the child

I was contacted by a man interested in starting a woodworking program who had read some old books about Sloyd and was surprised (it seemed) that we at the Clear Spring School are not following a model series. He wanted to know if I knew of anyplace in the world where Sloyd was being practiced as it was and as represented in the old books.

I explained that it would be a violation of the principles of Educational Sloyd if it was. I attempted to explain my own program as follows:
No, I do not claim to be following Sloyd, but rather attempting to utilize the philosophy of Sloyd, outlined as follows.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown
  • from the easy to more difficult,
  • from the simple to the complex and
  • from the concrete to the abstract.
As with most models (sloyd itself is a model), there are problems that emerge when slavishly applied. Salomon saw sloyd as a "casting mold" from which better models would emerge. Or in other words, he saw it as a step in a process.

But what happens in all models is that adherents adopt them as though they are the last word. Sloyd should be the first word, not the last.

So starting with the interests of the child, what he knows, etc, the models or the 19th century are not necessarily what a child in the 21st wants to make. I could work to come up with my own model series that would be just as out of touch if I am truly attempting to consider and continuously reconsider the interests of the child.

So my own teaching requires flexibility, some negotiation, and a lot of individual attention to each child.
I've gotten requests from teachers who want me to share a “Clear Spring School woodworking curriculum.” I have a philosophy instead, that attempts to utilize the principles of Educational Sloyd.
I am sorry if this philosophy does not give a clearer starting point for teachers interested in starting programs. The important part is to simply start. Just as the student will learn by observation, so does the teacher. Choose some very simple models of things your child would like to make, remembering that at first you and your child will know very little about what it takes, the skill involved, or the steps. For that starting point, some of the old Sloyd models from the books can be of clear use.

Mike Mascelli, one of my fellow teachers at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, suggested that my students would love learning to sew. He suggested the Singer Model 20 as being the ideal machine to get them started. It was originally sold as a "toy" but one that does real sewing. My first, second and third grade students will start today. When one little girl saw the machine, her eyes lit up. "Doll clothes!" she exclaimed.

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Loss of K...

We call it K-12 education, but let's just re-number educational years 1-13 and leave the K out. The K was to stand for Kindergarten but Kindergarten is not what it once was, nor what it was intended to be, so to call it K is a misnomer and a lie.

Kindergarten was a time of learning through play and through which a child was to embrace his or her wholeness within community, not to launch the children in a scheme of advancement through standardized tests.

This article (one of hundreds about the death of Kindergarten) was sent to me by John Grossbohlin in New York: I've been in education for 20 years, and there's a disturbing trend afoot in kindergartens around the US.

The trend has been going on far longer than that, and the loss of real K in schooling along with the general trend to eliminate woodworking, too, has been going on for many, many years. Schools and educators have embraced a systematic elimination of play. Parents have gone along with it out of fear that their children, unless driven relentlessly by others will not be given the tools to keep up. The author notes:
Giving children a chance to play and engage in hands-on learning activities helps them internalize new information as well as compare and contrast what they're learning with what they already know. It also provides them with the chance to interact with their peers in a more natural setting and to solve problems on their own. Lastly, it allows kindergartners to make sense of their emotional experiences in and out of school.
So let's start being honest with ourselves. If we don't know what K was intended to mean by those who brought it to us in the first place, then we lie when we refer to K-12 education. Americans should make an effort to learn about Froebel and the invention of Kindergarten and stop making a lie of what he invented. If you know nothing about K, Norm Brosterman's book Inventing Kindergarten is a place you might begin your studies. If you want to do something about what you learn, consider my recent book, Making Classic Toys that Teach.

The image of play in a school yard is from 1918, a Catalog of Play Equipment. – Jean Lee Hunt.

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

what works can also hurt.

Educational theorist Yong  Zhao, at the University of Kansas, noted the usually unstated matter of consequences. You do one thing, and there are serial effects. For instance, some reading programs may make students read better and hate reading. Was that the consequence we were most hoping for? In this article Zhao notes: What works can hurt: Side effects in Education.

It appears to me that the problem that educational policy makers have is that they are too busy looking at the big picture and not at the individual child, or children and their specific circumstances and needs.

A classic tale is of the philosophers walking along in the starlight, contemplating the mysteries of the universe. The tale was brought to an unhappy ending when they fell headlong into a drainage ditch. We do not know whether or not they drowned, but we do know that American education is drowning under the influence of standardized testing. Even the individual classroom teacher may  be so focused on spreadsheets, work sheets and test scores that they may miss the needs of the individual child.

Zhao notes, that if you were to buy a medicine, the requirements of law are that you be provided information concerning the possible side effects and unintended consequences, but that when it comes to our children and their educations, no such badly needed warning is supplied. We are to simply take the word of those who are selling us something, and that something may have disastrous effects.

I can keep telling you about the Clear Spring School and the need for children to do real things. Do you mind? It will get easier for me and for all our children if you direct more folks to this blog. Together, we can put our children's hands to work, and wrest back their learning from the tyrants who, focused solely on standards have never witnessed the creative potential inherent in each and every one of our kids.

In my home wood shop, I am working on products to fill an order for Appalachian Spring Galleries in Washington, DC. The Babe-Bot glue dispenser is my new best tool. Unlike the tiny squeeze glue bottles I've used for many years, the Babe-Bot is less likely to clog, and holds far more glue. You can see that it applies an evenly controlled line of glue, thus helping to avoid the mess that comes with too much glue. Unlike accordion style dispensers, it takes very little pressure to unsure a steady flow of glue, and the lid will not pop off when you least expect it. It is also easier to fill.

Make, fix, create, and increase an understanding that we all learn best likewise.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

in the image of the creator

My tool chest is complete except for applying two coats of Danish Oil. I added a turn button to keep the drawer shut during transport, then a lift out tray and straps to keep the lid from opening too far.

It is heavy and rather robust despite being made of thin wood but I am pleased with how it turned out. The type of construction used will make certain it lasts for generations.

A friend asked how I can use such a lovely box for tools. "It will get beat up," he says. But what else could I use it for? Being made gives meaning to the maker. Being used and being useful gives meaning to the object.

I marvel at how addictive the work of making useful things can be. On the day of Easter "Resurrection" as Christians are celebrating an important day of faith, the questions comes up, Were we "created in God's image?" as they say, or on the other hand, have we created our concept of God the creator in recognition of our own power?  In either case, human beings when seen in their best light are creative.

There is something magical or spiritual when we join in the process of creation. To make a tool chest is not quite as profound as making a flower, but human beings from our earliest days should be encouraged to make beautiful and useful things and to thus be of some service to family, community and self.

The most interesting thing is that a man can spend a few minutes each day and in the course of a week, make a useful object that can last for a lifetime or more.

In addition to work on the tool box, I've nearly completed my first large turned bowl from green wood. More sanding will be required, and as it dries, it will take a slight oval shape due to being turned from green wood.

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