Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What will we make today?

Last year my great niece Olivia visited here in Eureka Springs for Thanksgiving, and we did a few simple projects in the wood shop. We made tops and toy cars and so one of Olivia's first questions this year as they planned their trip was, "What will Uncle Doug have for me to make this year?"

Later in the day, we'll find out., but first I have pancakes to make.

This year Olivia is in Kindergarten in South Florida, and they will likely never consider woodworking as an activity in her school, so this is her chance. I brought home one of the kid sized benches from school and have plenty of tools and materials to keep her busy with a project each day. Last year she was shy about woodworking. This year she perks up when she hears the word woodshop.

As it is growing even less likely with each passing day that wood shops will return to education, the responsibility to preserve the hands-on intelligence of our nation falls in your hands and mine on a case by case basis. Let me tell you, that inviting a child to create under your own watchful eyes is not a burden but a joy.

I spent nearly two years trying to learn Swedish, when a toddler would have grasped as much of the the language I was able to absorb in a few days, so we know the learning capacity of a young mind and the impact of what they learn on who they are.  Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, 1902 as follows:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
Make, fix, create and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Monday, November 23, 2015

reduction of testing time...

Here in Arkansas, the change from PARCC to ACT Aspire testing programs this year is claimed to cut the amount of time students spend taking standardized tests in half according to a front page article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

What will likely not change, however, is the amount of time spent teaching to the test. If testing drives the standards, then the standards will be driving content. And student interest will fall by the wayside. I've included an interesting cartoon above that tells the story.

Some of the serial effect launched by the common core and PARCC testing, and ACT Aspire is that students have to be on computers to take the tests, and that is predicted to cost education more than 17 Billion dollars over the next 7 years.  According to an article in KQED:
Districts are scrambling to figure out how to improve, update, and add technology so students can actually take the new tests. Murfreesboro public schools in Tennessee, for example, borrowed $5.2 million to purchase laptops and iPads to prepare students for the new assessments.
If you buy a bandsaw or lathe, it will be useful to students 20 years down the road if cared for and maintained. With computers and programs for them, the investment is obsolete within three years, (whether you find sufficient and effective use for them or not) and school districts will be forced to launch a whole new dance to acquire funding for that. But what may interest readers is that the implementation of core curriculum and the testing for it, is actually forcing schools to join in the stampede to spend money on iPads and laptops. It is a vicious cycle. Students won't do well with the core testing if they are not proficient on the computer. So teaching to the test, and training in computer proficiency will dominate classroom learning.

The computer is seen by most educational policy makers as a magic silver bullet. that can be aimed at all the problems in education and child development. But screen time has long been understood by the American Council of Pediatrics at having detrimental developmental effects. The silver bullet of technology is experimental at best, but without the controls necessary to understand the outcome.

In the meantime, a few schools across the country are awakening to the importance of the hands. As is described here: How turning math into a maker workshop can bring calculations to life.

The point is that kids are inspired to learn when they are given the opportunity to do real things. As I was quoted in the first chapter of Matt Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft,
In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
How can you make certain your students are doing something real? Get their hands engaged in it.

Make, fix, create, and inspire others to learn likewise.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

sufficient interest...

Yesterday, in addition to cleaning in my office and finish room (the shop is still a disaster), I spent a bit of time trying to finish a few boxes that were made during my summer classes as demonstration pieces. They display a variety of joints and techniques, and as I get finish them  I can either sell them or give them to charity events.

A good question that educational policy makers could ask, is how do we create schooling in which the natural interests of the child are sufficiently captured, so that self-directed learning is engaged. Froebel had called that "self-activity." Just because a child is active does not mean that he is not learning. In fact, the child's activity suggests that learning is taking place.

In speaking of the delinquent or disadvantaged child and the more advantaged child as well, Felix Adler (1888) wrote on the integration of two important points:
First... History, geography, and arithmetic are not, as a rule, interesting to young children, especially to young children of the class with which we are now dealing.  These listless minds are not easily roused to an interest in abstractions. Secondly, it is a notorious fact that the intellectual culture, pure and simple, is quite consistent with weakness of the will. A person may have very high intellectual attainments, and yet be morally deficient. I need hardly warn my reflective hearers that, when emphasizing the importance for the will of intellectual culture, I had in mind the intellectual process as applied to acts. To cultivate the intellect in its own sphere of contemplation and abstractions, apart from action my leave the will precisely a feeble as it was before.

And now, all that has been said thus far converges upon the point that has been in view from the beginning––the importance of manual training as an element in disciplining the will. Manual training fulfills the conditions I have just alluded to. It is interesting to the young, as history, geography and arithmetic often are not. Precisely those pupils who take the least interest or show the least aptitude of literary study are often the most proficient in the workshop and modeling room.... Thus manual training fulfills the one essential condition––it is interesting. It also fulfills the second. By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box...
 Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

manual training and the poor...

The following is from Felix Adler, a small portion of an address to the National Conference of Charities and Correction at Buffalo, July 1888.
"By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box. The first point to be gained is to attract the attention of the pupil to the task. A wooden box is interesting to a child, hence this first point will be gained. Lethargy is overcome, attention is aroused. Next, it is important to keep the attention fixed on the task: thus only can tenacity of purpose be cultivated. Manual training enables us to keep the attention of the child fixed upon the object of study, because the latter is concrete. Furthermore, the variety of occupations which enter into the making of the box constantly refreshes this interest after it has once been started. The wood must be sawed to line. The boards must be carefully planed and smoothed. The joints must be accurately worked out and fitted. The lid must be attached with hinges. The box must be painted or varnished. Here is a sequence of means leading to an end, a series of operations all pointing to a final object to be gained, to be created. Again, each of these means becomes in turn and for the time being a secondary end; and the pupil thus learns, in an elementary way, the lesson of subordinating minor ends to a major end. And, when finally the task is done, when the box stands before the boy's eyes a complete whole, a serviceable thing, sightly to the eyes, well adapted to its uses, with what a glow of triumph does he contemplate his work! The pleasure of achievement now comes in to crown his labor; and this sense of achievement, in connection with the work done, leaves in his mind a pleasant after-taste, which will stimulate him to similar work in the future. The child that has once acquired, in connection with the making of a box, the habits just described, has begun to master the secret of a strong will, and will be able to apply the same habits in other directions and on other occasions."
The point that Adler was attempting to make was that part of the problem for the poor and for the juvenile delinquent was insufficient development of will. But then the development of will might offer challenges to the powers that be in that strength of mind would lead to demand for change. Here in the US, it seems policy makers would rather incarcerate young men than train them to do useful things. That may sound like a harsh thing to say, but it is true, as evidenced by the elimination of manual arts training in schools throughout the US.

Today I hope to gain some quality time in the wood shop, and plan to renew a proposal for an article about my simple router table. The table itself was featured in "Methods of Work" in Fine Woodworking years ago, but the addition of various fences and a new, simple means of providing zero clearance to the bit makes it worth another look.

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

stopping the school to prison pipeline...

Asking the right questions ... The US Department of Education is using google hangouts to address the problem of school discipline. Way too many children are suspended from school and these kids are disproportionately from particular social groups that also are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers. The pattern is well established. Kids perform poorly in school, are suspended and left on the streets where they get in trouble, are then thrown into the juvenile court system for a time, and as they reach prison age without maturing beyond petty criminal and gang activities, end up in prison.

I am curious of course, as I listen, whether or not policy makers will ever get around to the important question about capturing student interest, and the challenge of maintaining discipline in overly large classes, classes that should not be so large in the first place. We know that in small classes, teachers have a better capacity to address student needs.

The way this fits the school to prison pipeline is that too many children are simply suspended as a part of the discipline protocol, and by being pushed from schooling, the issues are compounded.

One good question that was asked the panel had to do with students questioning authority. The questioner was not specific whether he was asking about school authority or authority in general.  The question threw the panel for  a moment or two. But should questioning authority whether it's the school's authority in question or the standard assumptions of society not be an important part of the student's school experience? I would hope that students challenge, and challenge again.

The wood shop offers an important opportunity for kids. My standard response when kids ask, "Can I do this?" is "Try it, See how it works." It's not my job to prove my own authority, but to encourage children to test on their own. The important thing is not to give students a standardized view of reality, but to help them to use their own minds and hearts to test physical and social realities. Woodworking is a bit different from courses in which children are captive in desks, afraid to move without launching a discipline protocol.

A friend asked me about the effectiveness of woodworking in the education of the delinquent or disadvantaged child. It is not a thing I discuss much here, because in truth, woodworking is relevant to all children in their development as responsible adults for the many reasons I routinely discuss. But if educational policy makers were interested in breaking the school to prison pipeline, they might consider wood shop, and giving students something to do that would fully capture their interests and attention.

Yesterday one of my students broke his second bow, due to it having been weakened in one spot near the handle due to a design choice. He had broken one earlier due to a defect in the material. So it was extremely discouraging for him to have had two failures. I offered my own bow that I had done as a demo for him to complete as a replacement for his own. He thanked me, but insisted that he wants to start another and to work on his own to make it more perfect. This is a student that I've had in wood shop since he was in first grade. He was a reluctant student at first and wanted nothing to do with real tools, so it is pleasant for me to observe his maturity and interest.

Marc Adams School of Woodworking has announced its classes for the coming year, with a process for signing up. My own classes are sometimes filled early in the enrollment process so adult students hoping to take one should apply soon.

On an unrelated issue, SWEPCO in their haste to build an extra high voltage transmission line through my home town of Eureka Springs, that they claimed was to serve us  by providing 8 times the currently available power, but was really to provide them with a power transmission corridor to sell wind power to the East Coast, had piecemealed the project. They divided it into smaller chunks,  hoping to get approval for a distasteful project and built the first portion of the power line, doing unnecessary damage to properties to the west.

One litigant filed an appeal to SWEPCO's court settlement on his property, and was awarded over 917,000 dollars in damages. Yesterday the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the jury's decision. After the way that SWEPCO lied to us and to the Arkansas Public Service Commission and after our long fight to stop them from building their unnecessary and destructive power line through our county, it is gratifying to see SWEPCO facing at least a small measure of justice. As I've mentioned before, if the corporation was a person, it would be ashamed of itself. If one were to assess corporations the way psychologists assess and diagnose patients, SWEPCO's corporate behavior in this issue would be found to exhibit a pathological Anti-Social Personality Disorder.

Make, fix, create, and enable others to learn likewise.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

the necessity of creativity...

With my book on tiny boxes nearly complete, I returned my attention to making Froebel's Gifts by writing an essay on occupations to submit to my editor.

Engagement in Froebel's occupations gave the student the opportunity to test material properties and test the dexterity of both mind and hands in the creative process. Creativity offers students a means to test what they have been told been taught, to engage in direct problem solving, and to directly observe and measure their own competence. Schools without the creative use of the hands are a waste of mind.

Yesterday in wood shop my students tested their bows and arrows, turned gavels on the lathe and made toys. Oen made a toy grapple on a string and as I left school he was attempting to capture the climbing gym.

The image above is a proposed cover for my new book.

Make, fix, create, and find it imperative that others learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The impact of Kindergarten...

Phildelphis World Exposition's Kindergarten class, 1876.
I had such a good day at school today, and plan to have just as good a day tomorrow. The kids are so much fun and show such enthusiasm for woodworking when they are challenged to do meaningful work.  This afternoon, when they saw that I was in the shop during lunch hour, they started filtering in early to work on their bows and arrows, and to hang out with the wonderful smell of wood. I'd been cutting cherry, so the odor of that wood was dominant in a room already smelling of sawn ash and planed pine. I'm reminded that manual arts in school was intended by some to extend the Kindergarten method into the upper grades, so it can be added to the long list of effects that Kindergarten had on education at large. The following is Nina C. Vandewalker's description of the impact of Kindergarten written in 1907.
“The kindergarten movement is one of the most significant movements in American education. In the fifty or more years that have passed since the first kindergarten was opened in the United States education has been transformed, and the kindergarten has been one of the agencies in the transformation. Although it came to this country when the educational ideal was still in the process of transformation, its aims and methods differed too radically from the prevailing ones to meet with immediate acceptance. The kindergarten is, however, the educational expression of the principles upon which American institutions are based, and as such it could not but live and grow upon American soil, if not in the school system, then out of it. Trusting to its inherent truth to win recognition and influence, it started on its educational mission as an independent institution, the embodiment of a new educational ideal. Its exponents proclaimed a new gospel — that of man as a creative being, and education as a process of self-expression. They substituted activity for the prevailing repression, and insisted upon the child's right to himself and to happiness during the educational process. They emphasized the importance of early childhood, and made the ideal mother the standard for the teacher. They recognized the value of beauty as a factor in education, and by means of music, plants, and pictures in the kindergarten they revealed the barrenness of the old-time schoolroom. By their sympathetic interpretation of childhood, their exaltation of motherhood, their enthusiasm for humanity, and their intense moral earnestness they carried conviction to the educational world. The kindergarten so won its way to the hearts of the people that the school at last opened its doors and bade it welcome. It has become the symbol of the new education.”
You can see That American education was headed in the right direction for a short time, then disrupted. In the meantime, "disruptive technology" has been presumed by those selling it to have only positive effect, and so anything that presents any consistency or constancy in human culture appears to be fair game for purposeful disruption. Whatever it is, disrupt it and see what happens. They used to say that if its not broken, don't fix it. Now the idea promulgated by avid technologians is break so it needs fixn' in the technologian manner. If schools buy into the technological fix, they must buy new equipment and software every three years to sustain it. But a good bandsaw, or lathe can last 20 years in a school setting, and kids can actually learn about 3 times as much about themselves in half the time by using one. How many kids these days are engaged in making useful beauty?  Too few.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn likewise.

for years now...

On last Friday, my 4th, 5th, and sixth grade students poked a hole in the theoretical underpinnings of my program. Part of the theory of my Wisdom of the Hands program was to enrich their studies by doing projects that were integrated with their classroom studies. For instance, if they were studying dinosaurs, we made model dinosaurs in wood shop. It seemed to me when we began the Wisdom of the Hands program in 2001 that we needed to prove the value of woodworking to staff and administration. So we developed projects to build culture and relationship within the school.

One day last week, my students were unsettled and the lesson I had prepared for them was not a thing that they were at all interested in. They were reading a book about the voyage of Christopher Columbus and I had thought a model and models of the Santa Maria would interest them. Only one student expressed interest, and the others were strongly disinterested. Their classroom teacher heard how noisy they were as they were goofing off. I challenged them at the end of class, telling them that I felt frustrated when they were not interested in learning what I had prepared for them... That I had spent most of my life developing skills, and that my own sense of fulfillment came from passing along what I had worked hard to learn.

So, I struggled in the night before yesterday's class, wondering how to get my students more deeply engaged. But their classroom teacher had raised the same question with them at the close of school on Friday. They told her that they wanted to do projects, not based on the ideal of integration, but of clear service and of meaning to others. It was interesting that I had arrived at the same conclusion during the night.

Yesterday we started two projects. The kids will be making toys for the next month to give to children at the local food bank. Select students will be working on turned projects on the lathe to be given as special gifts from the school. So instead of children goofing off, all were deeply engaged in their work.

Having a project that the children have chosen can make all the difference in the world. And an interesting thing to note, is that integration between classes, though an ideal in that it leads to collaboration between teachers and culture within the school, is not a necessity. Children, left to their own imaginations and intelligence can see the interconnectedness between areas of study, or are capable of making those discoveries on their own.

So, while school administrators all over the world, are embracing iPads as the essential tool, kids, when given the opportunity to do real things that are of meaning to others, will make the better choice.

Make, fix, create, and assist others to learn likewise.