Thursday, April 24, 2014

the hands, control and control of the emotions...

6 crocheted balls in a wooden box.
My sister had told me earlier in the week that her 6th grade students in public school were incredibly mean to each other.  She said that they are constantly bickering. The students in her classes are those who have been identified as behind grade level in reading. In fact they've learned to hate reading, and my sister has the challenge of doing whatever she can to turn the tide.  Her job is the incredibly difficult one of fixing what has been broken and neglected in the early years of their schooling.

Yesterday my lower elementary class arrived in wood shop in a lather. One student was angry with the whole class, but most particularly with one other student who had been insensitive to him since pre-school. Schools used to offer time to students learning to get along with each other. Now, with extreme efforts to get kids reading early and before they are ready, we have sacrificed the time that would have helped kids to get along with each other, and put useless and destructive reading emphasis in its place.

The skills of navigating ones way through the conundrums of social interaction are the most valuable ones that students can acquire in school. At Clear Spring, when one student is emotionally distraught, we simply drop everything, and the class deals with it. We can do that, because we have small class sizes, and because we know that our students' social skills are far more important than the clock, and rigid adherence to lesson plans.

Normally in schools, when a student has an emotional "problem," he or she would be isolated from the group, and made to feel that he or she has a "problem." In our case, we use such opportunities to build cohesion within the group. Students have the chance to listen to each others' words and learn how to better get along with each other. And if students are helped to find the means to work things out, they will have greater trust in each other and a basis for collaboration.

The point is not to make everything easy for kids in an environment that is always emotionally safe, but rather to give them tools that will enable them to be emotionally secure where ever they go in life.

It was interesting that when the students managed to talk things through and enough calm had returned for the kids to get to work, (and as I reported in yesterday's post), the breakthrough of sincere apologies came when the aggrieved party was standing at the lathe, turning wood for the first time. There is a way that the hands soothe raw emotions just as sand paper can smooth rough wood.

A relationship exists between the control of the hands in making things, and the control of the emotions. Just think for a moment... feelings and feeling. We use the same language for each because they are very closely related, and when you purposefully leave the hands out of schooling, kids that dislike school and play power trips upon each other out of frustration can be the result. After all, as human beings, we love learning. That is innate. Being schooled is another matter entirely.

Today in both my upper elementary school classes, I tried to get the students to learn by looking around them more and at me less. I noticed that they are looking at me for whatever it is they need, whether its a tool or to describe the next step. My objective has become that of doing less as they learn more. As harsh as my attitude may have seemed to them, I've asked them to get better at solving their own problems.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ten rules for students and teachers

These 10 rules for students and teachers were written by Sister Corita Kent in 1968 and popularized by composer John Cage. If you are a human being and not a machine, you will know that you are both student and teacher rolled into one body, and these rules would work for you, too.
  • RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
  • RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
  • RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.
  • RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
  • RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
  • RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  • RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
  • RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
  • RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
  • RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.
  • HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.
I repeat rule six for added emphasis. "Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail, there's only make." Whether its music you make or poetry, or noise, or in the wood shop, something beautifully useful or just sawdust, you are thence an active participant in make and are shifted in nature from idleness to creativity.

Today in the wood shop, two of my lower elementary school students arrived angry with each other and so we spent the first few minutes of class as the children worked through the problem of hurt feelings and raw emotion. Finally, the boy whose feelings were hurt began work on the lathe for the first time. Gradually, his feelings of control as he applied the tool to the wood, began to work on his emotions, too. He looked up from his work and spoke across the room, "I'm sorry." The other boy said, "I'm sorry, too." The sincerity of the moment was palpable. It is truly amazing that when emotions take charge of the body, the engagement of the hands has the power to steer the emotions back into control. It was yet another profound expression of the wisdom of the hands.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day!

I took part in the very first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 as it was celebrated on my college campus. Our gathering was very small and lasted only a few minutes, but I thought to myself, "finally." To celebrate the earth gave me hope. We celebrate nearly everything else (mostly money) and it seemed significant to celebrate the planet upon which our lives depend and that should no longer be simply taken for granted and used for our own personal monetary profit.

Up until the twentieth century, it seemed the abundance of the planet was such that we could take thoughtless advantage of it. We built ever more powerful machines to do so. And now we have learned that resources are limited, that all species suffer when we act thoughtlessly, and that our own future has been put in peril.

So we celebrate the earth in hopes that people will come to their senses in preservation of it.

On a related subject, I talked with my sister last night about her experience teaching reading in a public school. She mentioned how mean her kids are to each other, and that they've learned to despise reading. By the time students get in her class, it is almost too late for them and for the planet. How can one these days really understand their own responsibility to the planet if they are so ill equipped to get along with each other?

These are special kids. They've not been given the early parental support for reading pleasure. Then they are pushed into reading and pushed so hard as to become oppositional toward it and hateful of situations that force them to do it and have their intelligence and sense of self measured by it.

And where in the world is wood shop when we need it most? In wood shop we learn that what we do has real consequences. Children are given the opportunity for creative problems solving. They are able to express intelligences that they themselves can see and measure, and they find  pleasure in their being schooled and becoming educated. They find that when you can read plans, and then make things, even if it requires reading over and over again, you will have gained a mastery of reading that even those who read for pleasure may not get.

A comment below points to an article that proclaims "to hell with Earth Day, long live Arbor Day," but fails to note that one consciously evolved from the other. Let's celebrate both. Without trees the earth would be a barren place. With trees it has a chance of recovery.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, April 21, 2014

today in my wood shop...

I am at home today in my own wood shop, packing an order to ship and applying finish to boxes so they will be ready to sell in a weekend craft show. This time of year is incredibly busy for me, as I'm getting ready for the month long May Festival of the Arts, getting products sold, preparing for shows and finishing the school year.

This week our high school students are off on a week long trip to Chicago, and last week our middle school and upper elementary school students traveled around the state. Travel school is one of those special hands-on programs at Clear Spring that others could emulate if they knew the value of hands-on learning. It is, however, not a thing that can be arranged on a whim, and it takes a great deal of commitment on the part of the teaching staff to go into what is a 24/7 intensive learning situation.
Each box is unique.

Our kids, teachers and parents travel on the cheap, staying in church basements, and preparing some of their own food.
And of course everything must be planned well in advance, including what the students will study while on the road. For most, travel is a maturing experience.

The boxes I'm working on are some I started over a month ago that have texture-milk painted angular lift off lids. These also have secret compartments hidden by a lined false bottom.

Using two colors of milk paint, one over the other and then sanding though to the color beneath, creates an interesting effect.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

selling tools we don't need

As a woodworker, I am constantly bombarded by tool catalogs in the mail and offers online that sell new "must have" tools that promise the capacity (if purchased) to make my woodworking life easier, more efficient and my wood shop more cluttered. My shop, in full production can get cluttered on its own pretty fast without he purchase of new tools, and each time I succumb to the acquisition of a new tool, there is a serial effect. Everything in my small shop must be moved to accommodate. So most tool catalogs and emails go immediately into recycling or the trashcan and only rarely is a new tool actually required.

Some new tools are useful and beautifully made and are the kinds of things you would treasure and then pass down to a grandchild. But other than a few basics that are intended to last years and years, most of my tool needs can be met by things I make myself and then throw away or recycle in the scrap bin when their time of usefulness is past.

Woodworking is not the only field to be bombarded by new tools that promise to be better and faster and to make better cuts. Education is like that. Just as I've learned in my own shop to make my own jigs and simple tools that keep me from spending exorbitant sums and from waiting for the UPS truck to arrive, educators have the capacity to do without the latest standardized tests if only they were trusted and trained to use their own innate abilities to measure their own success. Parents, too, have the means to measure their children's success in school. As parents are their children's first teachers, they also should be trusted and trained to make meaningful assessments of growth.

I can look at my iPhone to see if its raining, but did you know that looking out the window or stepping out the front door gives me a better and more immediate grasp of the weather outside?

And did you know that a teacher looking up from her desk across a classroom and seeing hands raised to answer questions gives that teacher the capacity to assess her students' level of interest in the material and potential for success? If you are a parent, seeing your child arrive home from school excited about something they have learned tells you about your child's school and his or her success within it. If your student goes to school with knots in the stomach and arrives home in a state of angst, you are being providing insight that standardized testing will only tell too late to make a difference in your child's life.

As a national policy for "school improvement," we've put all our eggs in a standardized testing basket forced downward through a system of rewards and punishments to near disastrous effects... further removing teachers and parents from their traditional roles in measuring,  observing, and monitoring growth. These standardized tests have been sold to the public by a profit making industry. When I see all the latest tool catalogs, I know that the inventors of the new tools may claim having my happy and successful woodworking in mind, but I know that they plan to profit greatly by their sale. We have given American education over to educational tool hucksters selling standardized tests and coaching programs to help students pass them and it has given us no joy in the educational workshop.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

that settles it...

In my poll at right the vast majority chose the veneered box with the matching lid over the one that was purposefully mismatched. I should have known that would happen, and I believe you all with the exception of two brave souls gave the more conservative answer. I'll dial back my own adventurous creativity in the hopes that one or both boxes will sell.

Today I applied a second coat of Danish oil on boxes I am preparing to ship to Appalachian Spring on Monday.  And I am preparing additional boxes to sell at a show next weekend in Little Rock.

I am planning to help my high school students make a turned chalice on the lathe for their comparative religions class, and I spent most of today trimming new windows in the house. Because of the irregularities of stuccoed walls, I have to scribe each trim piece to fit and so I've been running back and forth from each window to the work shop, fine tuning each piece. Each piece of trim takes about 5 trips, but once each is completed it should last for 40 years or more. I wonder how many people still have the skills to do such things, or would take pleasure in it?

It seems that many people see understand the failure of Standardized testing to be an effective tool in school reform. There are obvious problems with it. But folks are reluctant to go cold turkey and get rid of the damn things. Some things are easy to measure and we devote school time to those things to the neglect of development in areas that are hard to measure. Standardized testing for reading and math doesn't address student development in the areas of collaboration and creative problem solving and those areas are also important to student success.

I am hoping to do an op ed on the subject of the Beaufort scale and how something like it could be useful to wrest assessment from the cold hands of the standardized testing industry. I can understand looking at your iPhone to learn what the weather is out of doors, but to wait until test scores are announced to get a handle on how well your child is doing in school and how well his or her school compares with other educational opportunities is plain stupid. To used standardized testing to try to guide school reform is even more so.

Today I also finished a small finger jointed box with tray as shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Signing and finishing...

I use  fine line Uniball black pen to sign the undersides of my boxes. Where there is enough room for it, I also write the names of the woods used, and with some of my inlaid boxes, that means writing the names of 5 or 6 different woods. My hand cramps after a time, so I try not to do too many at once. The identification of species of wood is one of the things that the buyers of my boxes appreciate. It also tells that I value the diversity of woods from our local forests.

Writing with legibility is a form of craftsmanship that's endangered in this age. People used to take pride in the form of their letters and the way they would flow from left to right across the page. But writing legibly takes practice, and if a thing takes practice, it also requires effort, an will likely be abandoned by kids who are taught to DO nothing in schooling but sit still and attempt to absorb lessons.

Now that my boxes are sanded, signing comes next. This exercise provides one more opportunity to check on surface quality before the Danish oil is applied.

Yesterday, a friend, Buz Peine came to school to do a demonstration for my high school students, and several students took the opportunity to try their hands at the lathe. Buz turned a green piece of black walnut into a lovely form. This type of turning frightens me just a bit for kids because for much of the turning, there is no clear edge to work the tool against and the gouge is cutting in empty space for about half the time or more during rotation. If you get your hand in the wrong place, you can get whacked hard. So great care is required.

In the photo at bottom is the lens for a pin hole camera. It needs to be tiny. The directions called for using a tin can. I had some copper pieces the right size. The directions call for piercing the tin can with a needle. Try it and see how that works for you. Since I really don't have the strength to poke a needle through the side of a tin can, I sharpened a nail, put the copper on an anvil, and struck the nail at the center of the copper with a hammer.

Make, fix and create...