Friday, May 22, 2015

a celebration of the child's senses

Two quotes from Édouard Séguin:
"Let us educate the senses, train the faculty of speech, the art of receiving, storing, and expressing impressions, which is the natural gift of infants, and we shall not need books to fill up the emptiness of our teaching until the child is at least seven years old."

"As soon as we, young or old, have taken to the habit of asking the book for what it is in our power to learn from personal observation, we dismiss our organs of perception and comprehension from their righteous charge, and cover the emptiness of our own minds with the patchwork of others."  – E. Seguin.
Yesterday was the last day of the 2014-15 year at the Clear Spring School and high school graduation. Our end of year program is called the Celebration of the Child, and we celebrate much more than the child's reading and math. Each scholar is recognized for the qualities of character they embody and express. Parents were very complimentary of the school's woodworking program.

For the next few days, in addition to planning for next year at Clear Spring School, I will be cleaning the shop and preparing for summer classes with adults. My first summer class will be making Scandinavian bentwood boxes, or Tiner. A fanciful version is shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The doll...

Stacking of shapes associated with Froebel
I was reading in Froebel's Gifts by Wiggin, and found a reference to the unmentioned shape. Assembling the cube, cylinder and sphere outside the order in which they are conventionally stacked and have come to represent Froebel, you'll get a secondary shape, that Froebel preferred to let the child discover for herself.
We now proceed to the cylinder, the reconciliation of the two opposites; an object which having qualities possessed by both occupies a middle ground in which each has something in common. Froebel originally took the doll as the intermediate form "uniting in itself the opposites of the sphere and cube," and thus showed that he understood child nature well, for no toy follows the ball with greater certainty than the doll. – Wiggin, Froebel's Gifts, 1895
As far as I know, Froebel made little further reference to that which is absolutely obvious, as is shown in the photo below. When arranged in this order, the three basic forms found in nature combine to present the form of man. The point here is obvious. The Froebel gifts were not intended as a means of hammering the children to attention but to awaken the child's own gifts of discovery, for nothing engages one's attention more effectively that to discover something for oneself. It suggests the difference between learning and being taught.
"But now as man both unites the single, which finds its limits in itself, and the manifold, which is constantly developing, and reconciles them within himself as opposites, there results also to the child from both, from sphere and cube outwardly united, the expression of the animate and active, especially as embodied in the doll." — Froebel's Pedagogics
The "doll."
Today at Clear Spring School, we have our high school graduation and the Celebration of the Child, our annual end of school celebration.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Froebel's Gifts...

If you don't like how it turns out, return it to the woodpile.
We are at the close of the school year and I'll be wrapping things up, cleaning the school shop and getting ready for summer classes. By inter-library loan, I've received a book by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith called Froebel's Gifts. It is available as a free download from Google Play.
Every child brings with him into the world the natural disposition to see correctly what is before him, or, in other words, the truth. If things are shown to him in their connection, his soul perceives them thus as a conception. But if, as often happens, things are brought before his mind singly, or piecemeal, and in fragments, then the natural disposition to see correctly is perverted to the opposite, and the healthy mind is perplexed. - Friedrich Froebel
If we understand how to see and to thence learn, the matter of belief becomes of little importance because we become directly involved in physical reality rather than in some abstraction of reality compiled and superimposed on our own thoughts by those who would control us. So naturally, schools, left in the hands of educational policy makers have become places for complaisance and indoctrination in which many students are bored and disinterested.

It is puzzling that through schooling children are made to dislike learning, when the state of learning is most natural and fundamental to human growth and development.

One of the best things about a wood shop is the opportunity to learn and express learning in its most direct manner. For instance, after making wooden boxes for almost 40 years, I can still find new things to learn, and new ways to express myself. The chunk boxes shown above are my latest examples. And if schools were to each arrive at an understanding of the role the hands play in learning, the need or school woodshops would be obvious.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

preparing beyond the bubble test...

Adding manes and tails to wooden horses
This was my last day of class in the clear Spring School year, and I had my students first grade through 6th for last class and finishing projects. I also invited my upper middle and high school students into the wood shop to claim finished work and to take a photo of the class.

Now, I'll begin getting the school wood shop ready for classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Our  end of the school year "Celebration of the Child" will be held on Thursday, and I'll spend some time working on end of year progress reports over the coming weekend.

With common core testing moving to various computer platforms, schools are discovering that lack of keyboarding skills are a handicap to their students' performance. So in addition to usual test prep, they are having to do technological test prep, too, to make certain students don't stumble over the equipment and lose points to their lack of technological expertise. Perhaps teachers will begin to reminisce about the good old days when the bubble test was the norm.

In any case one can see a problem in that those who have had less access to computers in early childhood, will measure less accurately, and just as standardized test scores have always expressed a strong bias against students from poor families, we can expect much more of the same.

Today the first and second grade students completed their wooden toy horses.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 18, 2015

a loss of words...

uncrafted boxes, one open for examination
My apology. This post is rather long for one titled, "a loss of words," but part of it is recycled from an earlier blog post.

Robert Macfarlane describes the loss of words related to landscape and to the natural world and suggests a rewilding of our language is needed. No doubt as the publishers of the Oxford Junior Dictionary continue to reduce content of traditional words to make room for new words like blogger, and broadband, as our children's minds are actually narrowed rather than widened, and as there is truly nothing broad-minded about broadband, we are also losing words that have to do with the making of things. Without going into an exhaustive study of the junior dictionary, I have no way to determine the exact extent of the loss, but a review of the language as it still exists continues to tells us that we've never actually been "human beings," but are "human doings" instead (when we function as god and nature intend).

And so, the question must be asked, "How do we create schools that will benefit all children?" Is there a formula for it? These questions are nothing new. John Amos Comenius, 1592-1670, considered the father of modern pedagogy (the science of education) observed:
Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them.
There is a rapid rise in the use of Ritalin and Adderall to control classroom behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Certainly some girls are diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication for it. But the the largest number affected are male. If Comenius was making his observations today, in watching boys, he would note the same qualities in them now as then, and suggest that we make use of their natural inclinations to their educational advantage. One cannot help but wonder if the structured learning in our schools is at least partially to blame for ADHD and the underperformance of boys. That schooling works for some may justify its existence, but that it doesn't work for others should call into question its methods. Howard Gardner popularized the notion that we learn in a variety of ways, that we each are smart in some ways and not others, and yet, there has been no direct implementation of his concepts in American classrooms. So, how do you go about such needed change? I call it the "strategic implementation of the hands" and create my own acronym "SITH." Make everything children learn "hands-on" meaning of course that it must engage the real world, the child's physical senses, and the opportunity to respond to learning through the arts. Simple enough. But it will take work, and it will take change.

The local paper this week proclaimed that students in Berryville, AR are learning "hands-on". In middle school science class they launched a weather balloon to take photos from up in the air. And as much as I applaud them for doing something real for a change, to actually interest the kids in watching something real take place as a classroom activity, there is a difference between simply watching something as a class and actually doing something in each child's hands that can be equally real, and even more real and inspirational to each individual student. Hands-on makes a great headline, that appeals in the newspaper, because you'd have to be dead from the neck down to not know that hands-on learning is best. On the other hand, hands touch every aspect of human culture and should be utilized in every facet of learning, not just for holding one end of a weather balloon as it is readied for rising into the atmosphere.

Again, I applaud Berryville middle school science class for a step in the right direction.

Having mentioned ants in the quote from Comenius, I have to mention the local election. This week our city overwhelmingly supported a local civil rights ordinance to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. Religious conservatives fought a good fight against it, first prohibiting the local Methodists from participating in the "I love Jesus Parade", and then when they lost the referendum, accusing local supporters of civil rights of having put maggots in the mail boxes of those who were opposed to the ordinance. They also accused the supporters for the ordinance of being outsiders. And yet, if they were from around here, and had observed more closely, they would have noticed that what they thought were maggots were simply ant pupae, and that each was being carefully attended by a full grown ant.

This time of year, the ants look for someplace dry to protect their babies, and mail boxes may receive an invasion. In fact, you could say that the ants, in protecting their babies, are simply exercising "Christian values," just as any parent of any species might do under the same circumstances.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

crafted, or not crafted...

The barely-crafted box.
Years ago I paid a sales rep to feature my work at the New York Gift Show. The idea was that he would help me sell hundreds of my finely crafted wooden boxes. Unfortunately  (or fortunately) things didn't work out that way, and when I asked why my boxes and other products had not sold, the answer was that my work was too highly crafted. It could thus not sell cheaply enough for the market. That's a sad state of affairs. Buyers arrive at the show hoping to find things that are unique and cheap, that they can sell at a particular price point at which individual craftsmen are unlikely to compete. After the agents gets 15% of wholesale, and the merchant takes 60% of the selling price, the maker is left holding the bag. He (or she) pays for the materials, overhead, labor and the rest.

And so the challenges of being a craftsman in America live on. We aspire to growth in craftsmanship as evidence of accomplishment and value within our culture. But by investing in craftsmanship, we make our products more expensive than the market can grasp. We've gotten so used to machined perfection, that there is no longer much understanding of human craft or of its value to the individual or to community.

But when we buy a craftsman's work, we facilitate his or her growth to the next level, and invest in the character and intelligence of our communities. Just in case anyone wonders why we have poverty in places like Philadelphia and Baltimore, we need look no further than our failure to understand, appreciate, and foster craftsmanship in each other. Religions lecture morality, but craftsmanship and the culture of craftsmanship actually build it.

Finally, I have a product of my own design that is not so highly crafted. It stands out from the other things I make in that it requires no joinery, no special materials, no particular skill, and can be done quickly with only a small chance of failure. To make matters worse, no sanding is required (except for pulling off splinters)  and no finish is necessary. From a stack of firewood, I can make hundreds of them. If they became wildly popular, I could make a mold from one one of the best and have them injection molded from plastic, and thereby reduce the craftsmanship to absolute zip. But sadly, those would not have the smell of real oak.

So what shall I call these? Does chunk box sound romantic enough?

Today is Books in Bloom, the literary festival that my wife and friends started about 10 years ago. Some of your favorite authors will be there to speak and sign books. This morning I'll be setting up tents. During the mid day I'll serve as a photographer for the event. At 3 PM, I'll take Roy Blount, Jr. to the airport.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

new box judged a success...

I made a new band sawn box design yesterday and displayed it during the White St. Art Walk amidst so many finer boxes that I had made. I could have sold it four times if I had put a price on it, so evidently the new design is a hit, and I should have made a dozen more before the show.

Today I made another for a friend to take to her grandson in Munich. The suggestion is that I leave these unfinished, as the character of the rough wood makes a statement that is lacking in modern life.

Perhaps the second box is as lovely as the first.
Make, fix and create...