Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Sustainable development and the whole child...

In my wood shop, I am continuing my exploration of Japanese puzzle boxes, as you can see in the photos at left and below.

In the early days of the progressive education movement and among those who promoted both Kindergarten and Educational Sloyd, it was suggested that most education was "one sided " and that schooling must instead concern itself with the "whole child."

I ran across the following in a book (Educationeering) by Pai Obanya, connecting sustainable development concerns with the necessity of sustainable education.
Since the human being has to be educated to maximize his capacity to function as the motor of sustainable development, his Education should also be sustainable. The question that we will therefore have to address is: what makes Education sustainable?

To answer the question would require reversing the ills that an over-emphasis on mere schooling, bookish learning, and regurgitative examinations has wrought on education systems over the ages. Thus, sustainable education for the human being will have to obey the following four imperatives.
  1. It must not be one-sided
  2. It must provide for the basics
  3. It must never be terminal
  4. It must stress both hard and soft skills.
One-sided education is one that fails to address the individual's three H's–– the head, the hands and the heart. That is, the type of education that has not assured the beneficiary's all-round development. It is also the form of education that promotes the disintegrated approach to knowledge; on that denies the learner a broad intellectual/affective base by over-emphasizing premature specialization. –– Educationeering, 2014 Pai Obanya
The point of  course is that education should lead each child to an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. Quite sadly, schools as they are currently contrived are not the place in which that is designed to happen.
“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being "with it," yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.”
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
Make, fix and create... Teach others to do likewise.

Monday, August 03, 2015

death of shop class

That shop classes have been endangered in the US will not come as any surprise to most of my readers who are likely amazed that any remain at all. Early in the Spring, one of my friends who taught wood shop and tech ed at a small high school north of Springfield, Missouri, was told that his program was being eliminated. And so it goes... one program after another for years.

An article posted today in the Daily Kos addresses the "death of shop class," and a long thread of comments were posted in response. The very sad thing is that many with educational credentials do not know how children learn, and are unaware of the impact that the engagement of the hands can have on learning. The author of the article notes that:
Between the attacks on public education and the well-meaning emphasis on academics due to the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, which has induced high schools to shift resources toward core subject areas of math and reading, shop classes like machining, welding, and robotics are being crowded out. The very classes that allowed me to actually understand the Pythagorean theorem or Newton's Third Law are the very classes that are on the chopping block. We will always need people to be able to weld, fix cars, and other trades and these jobs should not be looked down upon, nor should they be looked at as second tier jobs.

Originally there were two motivating factors and two distinct models in the 1870's origins of the now nearly dead manual arts movement. The Russian system of Victor Della Vos was intended to train bodies to fill job openings in the rapidly growing industrial sectors in various nations. The other model from Sweden and Finland, Educational Sloyd, recognized the relationship between the hand and brain in learning and proposed manual training as a part of the general education for all students, and for all sectors of society. It recognized that both character and intellect were developed through the making of beautiful and useful things.

When the US decided that we would have a "service economy" in an "information age," and it was OK to surrender the trade wars to cheaply manufactured imported goods, and that people skilled in trades were no longer a necessary outcome of education we reached the pinnacle of educational stupidity.

We cannot count on any of the "smart" people in politics and academia to understand the role of the hands in learning, so we must take matters into our own hands.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

fitting back in the everyday scheme of things.

a play tray of parts for making boxes
Having been on vacation at a family reunion in Michigan for one week, and then teaching for 7 days at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, I am home in Arkansas attempting to fit back in the everyday scheme of things. My dreams have been filled with abstractions, as my mind attempts to put pieces back together in precise order. First you take this bus then the next correct bus to connect with the next seems to be the sequence as I reassemble a fresh pattern in my thoughts. I awaken from the struggle thinking, "I know this, and it's easy" and yet when I go back to sleep the struggle resumes, as without getting on each bus and actually arriving at each destination, and then traveling to the next there is no clear resolution of thought.

I have been asked by a child therapist if I will make "sand trays," which are used to help children describe what has happened to them and actual circumstances for which they have no words and no understanding. Just as child psychiatrists used the "house, tree, person test" to get a handle on what's going on in the mind of the child, and what cannot be put effectively in words, the sand tray is used to gain interpretive insight in Jungian psychology. You can read about it here.

While I may or may not find time to make sand trays, I find my own work to be a therapeutic means through which to integrate my conscious and subconscious minds. When I am wrestling in my dreams with concepts that seem to make little sense, I often find that in waking hours, the work of my hands helps my mind make sense of things. For instance, tomorrow I will continue work on my Japanese puzzle boxes and the assembly of concrete parts will reveal my success or failure at recreating a mechanism that works while hidden completely from view. Step-by-step engagement in the process of creating useful beauty helps us to find a secure place in the world while allowing us to be of some significance to others.

There are those who call woodworking "sawdust therapy", and therapy is needed not because there is something wrong with us that marks us as unworthy and that must be fixed, but because in a conflicted world, it gives us the power to set things right, not only for ourselves but for others also.

My own useful variation of a sand tray is shown above. It consists of a cardboard beer flat filled with wooden parts carefully prepared to assemble into Japanese puzzle boxes.

As we look at learning, we must banish the inclination to reside solely in that which can be spoken and/or in that which can be easily measured. Creative work demands the engagement of both the conscious and unconscious minds, and the intersection between the two can be most effectively addressed through visual thinking. Or as Einstein described:
The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be 'voluntarily' reproduced and combined. .... This combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others. ––Albert Einstein in a letter to Jacques Hadamard.
 Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

home again...

I am home again in Arkansas and will spend the next week working on my tiny boxes book and preparing for my last adult class of the summer.

Teaching requires that I be extremely focused on the needs of my students and my plan for the class, which means that I get less sleep than would be good for me. I also plan to catch up on sleep during the week.

On the tiny boxes front, I am nearly ready to assemble my first Japanese puzzle box to see if it will work as intended.

My last summer class will be making veneered boxes. The use of veneers will allow us to bring in some additional color and interest to our work.

At the present time, I have only 3 students enrolled in this class. So each student will get my personal attention. To enroll, go to the ESSA website.

While this class will be on the subject of veneered boxes, anyone interested in basic box making or general woodworking will find value in the techniques offered.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 31, 2015

completion of day 5

My  students and I (along with assistants Doug Dale and and Jerry Forshee) finished our 5 day box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and I am on my way back to Arkansas.

It was a great week, with lots of boxes being made, and skills moved toward greater mastery.

Each student competed several boxes, with each box representing personal design choices.

Make, fix and create... help others to do likewise.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

at the start of day four

I am in the bench room of "Stowe Hall" at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, preparing for my students to arrive for demonstrations and work on their own boxes. The hall has a temporary name above the door painted in black and white. Naming classrooms temporarily for each teacher is an honor that Marc confers upon his teachers, who indeed feel honored to teach.

This is the start of our 4th day of box making class. I have several demonstration boxes on my own bench, and there is evidence of learning at each bench in the long hall.

Today I will demonstrate making wooden hinges, the installation of barbed hinges, and help students with the installation of mini barrel hinges.

Each of my students is making boxes of their own design. We learn best through experience and through discovery. The things we have been taught may be abandoned and perhaps should be when we have knowledge acquired through our own experience and are less dependent on observations made by others.

Make, fix, and  create...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

at the start of day three...

I am at Marc Adams School of Woodworking for the start of day 3 of my five day box making class. Several of my students are more advanced than many might expect. Some have been in one of my earlier classes and some have watched my box making DVD more than once. So as I prepare for my students to arrive, I can walk up and down the bench room and see great progress. One box in particular stands out, as it was shaped on the outside using a cove cutting table saw technique.

One of the great things about this particular class is that students are each given encouragement to explore their own ideas, while my assistants Jerry and Doug Dale, watch each step with an eye toward safe preparation of parts.

Today I will demonstrate the use of my flipping story stick technique for the installation of butt hinges, show how to install a inlay banding on the top edge of a box, and how to cut mitered box joints.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ready for day two...

Yesterday we began my second five day class in box making for the year at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. As this class is intended to explore a "next level" in box making, I have several returning students. One student had been in my very first box making class at MASW 10 years ago, and another student had taken my class at Marc Adams as his first before becoming addicted the school and gaining his masters certificate through the school.

In this class, I am attempting to demonstrate techniques I have never offered before at MASW, so it feels great to be here.

You can see in the photos that my students and the class are already moving at a fast pace in their box making.

Make, fix and create...