Saturday, February 24, 2018


Teachers are responding to the idea of being armed at the following twitter page. As you can see, they need help. But not guns.

The fact is that teachers are drawn to the profession by their desire to make a difference in the world and in the lives of young people. They are frequently in the position of having to shelter children and their feelings from the challenges of the world outside that in ways large and small is failing them and falling apart. Children come to school hungry, angry, hurt, confused, and teachers have been tasked with either fixing those things or finding some way to get the lessons through despite the obstacles to learning that the world at large presents. Are we going to add to that a responsibility to bear arms? And to be trained in their use? It is difficult enough to get all teachers trained in CPR.

The proposal that teachers be armed is incredibly naive. Or should I say stupid. Or shall I say evil. Even well-trained police officers are often incapable of performing adequately on the job.  They have been known to accidentally kill innocent folks.

I am disturbed by how the shooter in Parkland has been treated in the press and by the politicians in their comments. The call him a monster. They distance themselves from him without acknowledging that he's a monster of their own making. The shooter was a young man who fell through cracks. The cracks were held open wide for him to fall through and for others to suffer in consequence. And so how are those cracks held open so wide? They are held open by our government's refusal to provide a basic safety net of mental health care, and further by the refusal of corporations to pay a living wage, and by our refusal to acknowledge that we all, even the most high and mighty among us, have a responsibility to care for one another.

One thing is for certain. We have a society in which many people think it is OK to care for our own children and not care one whit for others. The truth is, however,  that all children are our children. As difficult as it may seem for some to adjust to the fact, we must circle them all up in our arms and care for them all as if they are our own, for in truth they are. That is our responsibility and the gift of being human.

We must also acknowledge that the government of a caring people is to be used as an instrument of that caring.

Yesterday my upper elementary school students wanted to make troll dolls just as had been proposed for my lower elementary kids. Children can be left to savor the innocent joy of their childhoods. Part of the parental challenge is to shelter them for that.

Today I'll help play host to the Stateline Woodturner's meeting in the ESSA wood shop.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, February 23, 2018

armed camps?

The National Rifle Association and president Donald Trump are insisting that by turning our schools into armed camps we would solve the problem of violence in schools and in the lives of our children.

What about the movie theaters, shopping malls, churches, concerts and other places where peaceful people congregate in joyful communion? Will we turn the whole of the planet into an armed camp, each person packing heat against each other?

Schools in particular should not be further sequestered from their communities.

Perform a simple experiment. Hold a stick in your hand and raise it above your head. Do you feel a sense of power from this simple act. Now imagine you are holding a chisel or a knife and applying its sharp edge to a piece of wood. Do you not feel the same thing? Now imagine you are holding a gun. You have the potential to point it at another person or (as ugly as this may seem), at your own head.

Thomas Carlyle had said the following about tools, a thing you will find yourself to be true:
"Man is a Tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all." –– Thomas Carlyle
Human beings are somewhat dependent on feelings of power and agency in their own lives. We become depressed and anxious when we have no control over things. Is it any wonder then that those who are anxious and depressed would be drawn to guns? Is it not reasonable to watch our guns closely so that they not be put in the hands of those who do not have legitimate use for them, and would it not also be reasonable to employ all in the use of real tools toward the creation of useful beauty?

Both the Hindu and the American Sioux recognized the close relationship between the power to create and the power to destroy. Those powers are invested in the human hand. Those powers are multiplied by the tools (even as simple as a stick) that we've created.

Should people be legally entitled to own weapons to bring down airliners? Should they carry flame throwers into their local shopping malls? Should they own bazookas and other effective arms designed only for killing folks? If you think so, perhaps you should join the NRA and fight for the unrestricted right to bear arms and insist along with them and the president that our schools become heavily armed camps.

On the other hand, if you think we need education to take place in schools that are engaged in their communities instead of sequestered from community life, put real tools in the hands of kids. Engage schools and students in community life. Enable them to discover their power to create, not destroy.

Today my high school students will help clean the wood shop at ESSA in preparation for a Stateline Woodturner's Group meeting tomorrow. Yesterday I delivered the boats to Clear Spring School. 

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, February 22, 2018

sandy hook...

On television, we've watched again and again, the same thing. Folks use the second amendment and a "well-regulated militia" to justify owning weapons that have been used in the merciless slaughter of children. There is nothing well regulated about arms sales in the US, except that the NRA uses its political clout and campaign contributions to insure that American politicians do not interfere with the horrid stupidity of having 300 million guns in the US.

As I've said before, hunting is one thing, AR-15's another. Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone wrote a book, "Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun" that offers insight into the escalation of violence in American cities and schools. Form your hand in a fist and observe the feelings within your mind. Hold a stick in your hand and wave it in the air. You will feel a sense of power from such a simple thing. Take a knife in hand and track your imaginings. Then imagine you are holding a gun. You have the power to take your own life or that of another person with ease, and folks have the possibility of becoming infused with darkness of their own making.

Sandy Hook Elementary School where children were killed five years ago is right down the road from Taunton Press and Fine Woodworking in New Town, CT. One of my editors from Woodcraft Magazine also lives in Sandy Hook. So, even here in Eureka, killings like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week are not that far away. Today, in fact, I'll review the layout for an article in Fine Woodworking Magazine, knowing that 5 years after Sandy Hook, life goes on, just as it has had to go on for those who've lost loved ones in such horror.

I want people to read the Constitution of the United States and then explain to me why AR-15s and other similar weaponry should be allowed . We do not allow private citizens to own nuclear arms, or even bazookas and flame throwers. And so why should we allow any child to be put at risk by heavily armed gun crazed sick folks? And why should those sick folks have ready access to guns that even sane folks would never need except to kill others at rapid pace?

I am in awe of the brave young people who have stood up to take the lead in the debate. The NRA and all those politicians who've been sitting on their hands and making excuses since Sandy Hook and Columbine had better wake up and finally do something to protect our children from violence in school. If not, they will be brushed aside and as a teacher, I will give thanks.

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School, my plan of having the first grade girls make troll dolls was quickly subverted. They turned the parts I had crafted into cats instead. That led to a cat show. Children in schools should be allowed time to be innocent, and teachers should be the protectors of that innocence. And not, as the president suggest, by carrying guns of their own.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

mining tools...

My students in 4th, 5th and 6th grades will travel around Arkansas later in the spring. Yesterday we made mineral collection tools for them to use for crystal mining in Hot Springs. The students are under orders to keep them at school so they will be ready for the trip, but that did not stop them from wanting to test them on our own rocks. If you've made something useful, do you not want to test it immediately in your own hands?

I'm attempting to prove a simple point. If you've done real things in school, the artificiality of testing is not required. And if we gave students the opportunity to do real things in the first place, they would love their time in school. So what are the real things that students can be trusted to do that offer educational benefit? I'll not recite a whole list as there are some you will want to come up with on your own. I'll start with these: science, woodworking, music, and athletics.

While waiting for the M-60  bus to LaGuardia on Monday, my daughter asked what the K-8 students in Finland do in Kindergarten and first grade since they don't begin reading in school until age eight. They learn woodworking, sewing, crafts, art, physical exercise and how to get along with each other. Finland ranks 1st in literacy among nations and allows more time for recess than any other European country. The US, despite the huge attention we give reading in schools and at such an early age, is tied for 7th.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

back in Arkansas

I am back in Arkansas today from New York City and have a whole lot of cleaning to do and preparation for classes.

In the ideal school, students would be learning and testing what they learned in their own hands.

In the typical much less than ideal schools of today, students are "taught" and then administered tests. The tests create anxiety, even through they are just made up as an abstract means to measure transference of information.

In the ideal school, on the other hand, what the students learn is energized by student interest, and the testing is in their own hands as they challenge what they've been taught and test their own ideas in response. Those tests are anticipated with glee.

All of this has to do with a balance. Froebel believed that each bit of information that went into a child's mind should precipitate an active response and we all learn best by doing real things. If you've taken time to observe your own learning patterns, you will know this to be true, even without being told by one expert or another.

And so I must ask, "When will we find confidence to develop schools that work the way students best learn?"

The small metal box in the photo, in a classic "reliquary" style, likely held small items of great value. I find objects like this to be inspiring. The box is at the Met.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 19, 2018

the Met...

Yesterday we went to the Met. Today I am headed home to Arkansas. The image of Joseph the carpenter is from the Cloisters. In the museums I've been looking at things that are so wonderful and that no one of this day could make them without first investing their lives in the development of their hands and minds.

All of the legislators in office since Sandy Hook should be held accountable for failing to protect our students from gun violence. Will you please join the student movement to force legislators to act in behalf of student safety? The American legislators did nothing after children and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook and will likely do nothing now unless it is demanded of them.

While the image is claimed to be that of Joseph, you may notice the background shown in the image is of not of Roman times.

Last night I mentioned my ideal to my daughter, that students in the great universities in the US put students to work in carpentry and stone carving as a means to assist the the forming the students' character, creativity and intelligence. Of course, my daughter is right. Parents would not stand for it. The idea of paying big bucks to engage students working deliberately with their hands would make no sense to those who've based their own terror of the trades.

The funny thing is that industrial arts training in the US was launched in the 1870's because leaders at MIT and Washington University realized that their engineering and math students were lacking a basic foundation for their studies due to their not having done things that are real.

Make, fix, and create...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

sailor's snug harbor

Yesterday my wife and I found our way to Staten Island and visited Snug Harbor, a complex of buildings that had served as a home for retired and disabled seamen and then as a national historic site became the home of a variety of cultural centers. The attraction that led us to Snug Harbor was the Noble Maritime Museum.

A friend had wondered what we would find to do on Staten Island. I'd never been before and that's reason enough to make the free ferry ride.

Ferries are certainly the best way to travel.

Snug Harbor is a fascinating place with a rich history:'_Snug_Harbor

On the way across on the ferry, I recognized this small lighthouse, Robbin's Reef Light, the story of which is well told in the Noble Maritime Museum. The museum is the protector and defender of this light, and cherishes and tells the story of Kate Walker, who was keeper of the light for 33 years after her husband's death. When the US Coast Guard, declared Robbin's Light to be surplus property, the Noble Museum stepped up with a plan for its preservation. It will be restored and maintained as it was when Kate Walker was keeper of the light. It is not as small as it appears in the photo, and has five rooms inside.

Make, fix and create.