Tuesday, May 05, 2015

sometime this week....

My first through 6th grade students will be camping this week, so I have this day to work in the shop. I'll be drilling matching holes in the tops and bottoms of pen boxes for my book on tiny boxes and will be making a number of them so they can be done in a variety of experimental designs.

This blog is nearing a milestone of sorts. The tracking software indicates that we will reach 1 million page views sometime this week. In the world of internet tracking, a million page views is not a big deal, but it does indicate that some folks are reading, a few folks are reading a lot, or that many stumble through, never to return again, unless by similar mistake.

My plan for this week is to have the first two chapters of the book on tiny boxes written and off to Taunton Press. If I can then get two more done by the middle of June, I will be on track for completion in very early 2016.

The photo above shows the simple set up for drilling holes for 5 mm. mini barrel hinges. They must be absolutely precise, and so to align the stops on left and right and to make dead certain the holes in the lid align with the holes in the body of the box, I use my flipping story stick technique. In it, I take a piece of wood sized to the exact length of the box and drill clear through with one stop in place. That hole is then used to align the other stop. Flip the stick, lower the drill into the hole, and then (it's nearly a three hander), clamp the second stop block in place. Setting the exact depth is the next step.

Human beings have forgotten much more than any one man can learn, and I know the flipping story stick is not a thing of my own invention. It is something I've discovered myself and found useful whenever something needs to be centered or aligned equally from each end on matching parts.

I have been attempting to repair a grandfather clock belonging to a former board member and long time supporter of Clear Spring School. To watch the well crafted mechanism from an earlier age is fascinating. And we know that the excitement that some feel now, over printing plastic geegaws, was once felt by machinists fabricating and assembling more intricate parts.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 04, 2015

Os trabalhos da mao

Alfredo Bosi wrote a stunning review of the activities of the hands in Portuguese, "Os trabalhos da mao" and some time ago, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Rose Ann Reeser who translated Bosi's text into English at my request. I was reminded of this by a report (through eNable) in Brasil of the continuing problem of machine amputations in the workplace. Fingers and hands are lost to machines  when there are insufficient guards in place and workers are pushed to perform relentless labors. Here in the US, we have OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, to require manufacturers to insure safe working conditions, including protection of fingers and hands and I'm sure they must have something similar in Brasil. People may not like regulation, and conservatives in the US may have an unreasonable hatred for the government, but is it not best that best practices be brought into play to protect the hands?

Bosi's exquisite essay was written out of concern for Brasil's workmen. It can be read in English here: The Works of the Hands.  My thanks again to Rose Ann. Her translation contains a few translator's notes which I have left in place because they add dimension to the text.

Today I will prepare whittling materials for my students to take camping, and will work in my shop on tiny boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 03, 2015


Idiocy is an unpleasant term that I have used occasionally in error and exasperation in the blog in making reference to educational policy makers who have successfully extricated the hands from learning. While the term idiocy is no longer used in reference to mental retardation, which is also rarely used, and for good reason, Idiocy was the title of a book written by Édouard Séguin, who had been highly influential in Montessori's approach to education. In Idiocy he wrote of the hand as follows: "
If any part of us challenges a definition it is the hand, its excellences being so many that a single definition cannot comprehend them all. The definition of De Blaineville, "a compass with five branches," justly elicits the admiration of the geometrician; ours, not so dazzling will come nearer to our object—the hand is the organ of prehension.
Prehension has two meanings, one referring to the hand's grasping, controlling and releasing the object, and the other referring to mental "grasp," which is closely associated with the workings of the hand and mind as a system of comprehension. After describing the way in which the hands are used in his technique to work his way through mental impairment to stimulate the minds of his subjects Seguin goes on to state:
The hand is the best servant of man; the best instrument of work; the best translator of thoughts; the most skillful hand is yet, in respect to certain realizations as it were, idiotic; our own hand shrivels before we suspect the thousands of ideas which it might realize.
If only we could reach through to the minds of educational policy makers with the power of our most important instruments...

Last week one of our teachers went on the river with her family for a picnic and met another family with an 11 year old boy. Pulling a watermelon from the cooler, our teacher invited the 11 year old  to cut it up. The boy's mother immediately interfered insisting, "No, he's not old enough to use a knife!" Can we not see the idiocy of that? Or am I out of line in mentioning the stupidity of parents in that situation? Since the boy was not to be allowed to use the knife, my student Alena did the work safely and in short order.

On Tuesday, our students grades 1-6 will go camping on the Buffalo River and I'm preparing sharp knives and whittling sticks to take on their journey. On Friday they practiced their whittling as shown in the photo above. That reminds me of a warning offered by N. Christian Jacobson. Would parents want their children untrained in the safe use of the knife? Would they prefer that they learn their knife work (which they will) in back alleys, and not under the watchful eye of teachers and parents who care for their safety, and responsible practice of technique?

And this leaves me with a final question for my readers. We know the term idiot is no longer considered appropriate when applied to those who have developmental disorders affecting the mind. But there are non-organic developmental disorders that affect the mind's powers, that come when the full powers of hand have not been applied to learning. May I safely apply that term to those in positions of great authority who ignore the role of the hands in learning and fail to apply our most effective educational resources? I intend no offense, but to ignore (as schools have done) the role of the hands in learning and that hands are the most effective tools for the growth of character and intellect should be regarded as either criminal or dumb.

In addition to working on boxes in my wood shop, I've made a new scroll saw stand of materials matching those used yesterday in making a stand for a new band saw. I could have bought a stand of pressed steel, bolts and all, but there is greater pleasure in working things out for myself. You will note that the design of the base for this saw is to invite close work.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 02, 2015

progress and the lack thereof...

New small band saw and shop made stand.
"The nation's eighth graders have made no academic progress in U.S. history, geography or civics since 2010, according to the latest test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)." This is described by an article in Education Week. The challenge in education is to make things relevant in the lives of our students, and if the hands are left aside, or pushed aside by the structure of schooling, relevance is hard to find. As stated in the theory of Educational Sloyd, effective learning must move from the concrete to the abstract. What you can't touch is not concrete, and will not provide the necessary foundation for abstract learning. At the Clear Spring School, we use travel school and engagement in community to make the necessary connections to bring history, geography and civics to life.

We had a fund raiser last night for my Wisdom of the Hands Program, and I was honored and worn out by the attention of so many wonderful people from our community. My students Oakley and Alena, gave instruction to guests as they made their own business card holder/desk accessories and flip cars. So, as one would guess, it was a thoroughly memorable evening for me, and will likely be the same for others. What more can I say? The hands literally touch every aspect of modern life, and while we would like to make things easier for ourselves, that our hands might remain clean, flabby, weak and without exercise, they are the instruments through which human creativity is expressed, and the steps of lasting growth of skill and character are performed.

This morning my apprentice Greg and I met in my wood shop to build stands for new small band saws, and in the afternoon, I have errands to perform for "incredible edibles," a fundraiser Sunday for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 01, 2015

this day...

Hinge parts marked for sawing.
Today I have a reception for the Wisdom of the Hands program at the home of Jim and Susan Nelson in Eureka Springs. The purpose is two-fold. On the one hand, it is important for us to show the foundation that provides funding for my program that it has community support. On the other, it will offer the chance for me to explain the purpose of the program, and how the hands impact learning to people in our community. Clear Spring School and the Wisdom of the Hands program serve as a demonstration for the value of hands-on learning. It has become rather easy for me to talk in public about the Wisdom of the Hands, because I "talk" about this daily in the blog, and practice what I say when I have guests visiting the school.

Last night I watched as folks on TV tried to understand how a young and vigorous black man could have 3 vertebra crushed and his spinal cord nearly severed as he was carried around town in the back of a Baltimore Police van whose sole destination was the police station. The shame of it all is that when it comes to police and black youth in cities, black lives seem to not matter and this same set of tragic attitudes exists among some in cities throughout the US.

In Sweden and Finland in the midst of the industrial revolution, the proponents of educational Sloyd had recognized that craftsmanship was the foundation of community, and that to build strong human values required the application and development of human skill.

William Jennings Byran, a famous Christian demagogue had said, "Outside of the church are to be found the worthless; the criminal, and the degenerate, those who are a burden to society rather than an aid." I think that religion as a factor in the shaping of moral values is a myth. We can look at the long history of the church and its role in subjugation, slavery and destruction for clarification of its role in history. Instead we might say with greater accuracy, "Outside of skilled craftsmanship are to be found the worthless; the criminal, and the degenerate, those who are a burden to society rather than an aid." To that, I would add also that there are some outside the realm of craftsmanship who are rich and careless for the rest of humanity.

In this, I recognize that craftsmanship is not a term applied only to wood working and similar crafts. It describes a steady application and evolution of skill and artisanship toward societal good. Even lawyers, computer  programmers and poets can practice craftsmanship. The Swedes and Finns saw such value in craftsmanship that they founded schools to provide teacher training so that all students would discover their own value to family and community through craftsmanship. I visited one of those schools during my trip to Sweden in 2006 and you can learn about it by typing Nääs in the search block at upper left.

A small Scandinavian bent wood box.
I will be setting up for this evening's event, and rehearsing my remarks. In the wood shop, I've made a bit of progress on making wooden hinges for my new Scandinavian bent wood boxes, as you can see in the photos above.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

which is his life...

The following is from Alfred North Whitehead's essay on education:
Every intellectual revolution which has ever stirred humanity into greatness has been a passionate protest against inert ideas. Then, alas, with pathetic ignorance of human psychology, it has proceeded by some educational scheme to bind humanity afresh with inert ideas of its own fashioning.

Let us now ask how in our system of education we are to guard against this mental dry rot. We enunciate two educational commandments, “Do not teach too many subjects,” and again, “What you teach, teach thoroughly.”

The result of teaching small parts of a large number of subjects is the passive reception of disconnected ideas, not illumined with any spark of vitality. Let the main ideas which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible. The child should make them his own, and should understand their application here and now in the circumstances of his actual life. From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery. The discovery which he has to make, is that general ideas give an understanding of that stream of events which pours through his life, which is his life.
The passionate protest at this point must become a revolution enacted against education itself, as it has become mired in standards, and too often a smorgasbord of ideas with little served to greater depth. When in schooling do children become engaged to such great depths that their passions extend beyond themselves? At Clear Spring School, I have been helping students with demonstration projects in Physics, keeping the shop and tools available to them as they explore various ideas.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our hands are tied...

Our hands are tied. Its what we say when we recognize our powerlessness in a situation. It's what we've all felt as we watched events play out in the Baltimore riots. There are many who see the color of the faces of rioters and find vindication for their racism and smug feelings of superiority. They will likely see and use the riots as a rationale for tighter control and greater police presence. It will become fuel for their righteous indignation. There are others who see more clearly into the full scope of the situation.

Chief Operating Office of the Baltimore Orioles John Angelos made the following statement after protests on Sunday by thousands outraged by the killing of Freddie Gray. The protestors had reached Camden Yards during a game between the Orioles and the Red Sox. The fans were initially told not to leave the stadium.
That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite has shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.
The big picture, and the bigger story that needs to be told is a simple one,. It's one that lies no further from each of us than the hands that dangle too uselessly at the wrist.  We thought that by freeing the hands from toil, we would be made clean, but instead we were made stupid. The hands are the instruments of human creativity and intelligence. Instead of putting the hands in service toward the development of mind and creativity in schooling. We (as a nation) chose to still the hands and to use schooling as a warehousing operation in which kids were kept isolated from futures of creative engagement.

Do you remember the past 40 years in which we were to sacrifice American manufacturing to foreign nations as we entered a "service economy" and then an "information age?"

Can people not see the stupidity of our situation? We as human beings, by our genome and the circumstances of life are instructed and compelled towards creative engagement. When the flow of that creative engagement is damned by schooling in which students are held captive, and under tight control, at some point, things will come loose with anger directed toward the repressors.

I know and you know how these things go. The angry black youth will be blamed by most, not the system of injustice that feeds the rich and famous. But there is a fix. It calls not for revolution in the streets, but for revolution in schools and in community life.The call to fix things is something you can take up in your own hands by teaching others to make.

Make, fix and create...