Thursday, December 08, 2016

there are days like this...

I normally start my day by writing in the blog, but find there are mornings when I have nothing of particular interest to say.

My parties are over. My books have come out. My latest article in Fine Woodworking has been delivered online, in bookstores and in mail boxes. My children at school finished their toy making project and are now making Christmas trees out of wood.

Yesterday I went to a Christmas party to celebrate ESSA's volunteers. As my contribution I went to our local fudge maker and bought two pounds of fudge to share with guests. In the meantime, my rustic coffee table at the Writer's Colony where the party was being held had been taken out of service to return to me. I was uncertain how it had come into their possession in the first place, and was reminded that I had loaned it to them for a display, and they had not forgotten it was to be returned. That it was still mine came as a complete surprise to me.

In any case, when you've been working with wood for for as long as I have, you will remember your work, but may become fuzzy on the disposition of it. Rather than bring it home or find some other fresh place to put it, I've now assigned it to a more permanent loan to the Writer's Colony, and they were pleased. That particular table was made for my Rustic Furniture Basics Book available from Taunton Press. Remember the special code, Taunton1. Some of my other books can be found HERE.

In the meantime, you can see that I've made it through a day in which there was noting to say. Making is just about the same. If you want to become a maker, you must set yourself in motion making things. And it you want to have a permanent, lasting impact on the world around you,

Make, fix, create, and uphold for others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

hinges, fine woodworking, rubber bands and student made gifts...

I have an article in the new issue of Fine Woodworking on the selection of hinges, and a tip about making your own box making clamps. This is issue number 259, February 2017. I received copies in the mail yesterday as well as an inquiry from a reader. The tip is on page 17 and the article begins on page 50.

I spent most of the day yesterday writing text for my box guitar making book which I hope to have completed during this week. I submitted two chapters today. All together, there will be 10 chapters with two to complete before the editing process begins.

Today my first through sixth grade students and teachers will present student made toys for holiday distribution through our local food bank. The point of course is not that the children at the food bank need the toys that our students have made, but that our students need to learn generosity and to put themselves into relationships of service to the community. A child that may serve others in some real way represents the future of our human culture.

On the subject of box making, a reader asked about the large rubber bands that I use to assemble boxes in my books and DVD on box making. At one time, I simply went into our local office supply store and bought the largest sizes they had in one pound boxes, without paying much attention to the numeric size. But our office supply store closed last year, and ordering online requires precise information.

Here is what I recommend:

Go to and order rubber bands in sizes 105, 107 and 109. These may be a bit large for some of the smallest boxes you would make, but those can be assembled using more common off-the-shelf rubber bands that you would find in your desk drawer or in any big box store.

Make, fix, create, and extend toward others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

if you are the best...

If you are the best in the world, what do you do next? If it is in behalf of your children, you take steps to become better yet. Here in the US, however, parents attempt to isolate their own children from the rabble and provide themselves an excuse to ignore public education.

Finland has been lauded as having the best public schools in the world, and yet they continue to develop and grow toward a more ideal education. Teaching is an art, after all, and artists should be supplied with all the tools necessary for their creativity and success.

The latest in Finland is that they have chosen to remove all the artificial boundaries between various disciplines. They will have no subject areas: no math, no chemistry, no social studies, etc. They have been involved for years now in an extensive teacher retraining, so that all the abstract and artificial boundaries will be removed. In case you are wondering, this is a bold move, and most of the educational world is astonished by what they have done.

Let's look at my own simplified theory of education. 1. Children love learning. 2. They have real interests that teachers can help to sustain, by doing real things. To develop a strategy to meet these two realizations, we must:  1. keep education real by doing real things, and 2. keep it meaningful by  supporting the child's interests to do real meaningful things on behalf of family, community and planet.

This does not mean the teacher simply sits at the sideline and watches a room full of cats playing on keyboards. The teachers are the adults who have experience and training in guiding growth.

It is tragic that in the USA,  people think that we are the greatest nation, that all good things were invented here, and that if it wasn't invented here, it is of little or no value.

Several years ago (2008) I asked the dean of the graduate school in behavioral sciences at the University of Helsinki whether they had been able to find evidence of the role of educational sloyd in the success of their schooling. It was actually too narrow a question. The one I should have asked was whether they might find evidence of Uno Cygnaeus' implementation of Kindergarten style learning in the success of Finnish Schools. If you go to Finland and visit a school, you will find evidence of learning through play and evidence of learning cooperatively by doing real things that break the boundaries of traditional disciplines.

In the US, we should embark on a serious program to learn a few old things about learning. In the meantime, some reality can be restored to American Schooling through the following things: Wood shop, music, field trips, museum visits, internships, math through manipulables, dramatic performances, art and other activities that are truly meaningful to kids.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others may be empowered to learn likewise.

Monday, December 05, 2016

the nutshell: Make it meaningful, make it real.

Education, according to Salomon (and to Dewey) had two purposes. One was to prepare the child for economic success. The other was to prepare the child (and later the adult) to get along with others within communities: to grow as human beings in understanding of self. To focus on doing both is a tall order, particularly if you've created a contrived system of learning virtually devoid of real, meaningful work.

At my 40th year of woodworking celebration, family members came from Nebraska, and old friends came from Wichita Kansas, and in the midst of these two groups two young boys met for the first time, my nephew Knox, and Wyatt, the grandson of old friends. The two boys took to each other immediately, having age in common, but also sharing a profound love of dinosaurs. The two could have played and talked about dinosaurs for hours and days and it was difficult to pull the two boys apart when it was time for my show to end and for guests to part ways.

In planning the school experience, and in selling the necessity of the school experience to parents of young children, promises are made of the child's glorious future and economic success. But too little emphasis is laid on the social aspects of learning, and the election we just endured is an example of what we get when children grow into adults having not learned the fundamentals of interpersonal cooperation.

I was greatly relieved yesterday that the US Army Corp of Engineers shut down construction of the Dakota pipeline, thus handing a short-term victory to the valiant protestors who had already been forced to endure too much. I was so well reminded of our own fight against the destructive powerline three years ago, in which an ill conceived power line with no purpose but that of power company profits, was to be built needlessly across our lands here in Northwest Arkansas. We stopped that unreasonable monstrosity, and I again celebrate our own success in theirs.

Schools, focused only on the further academic success of their students put the entirety of human existence on the line. Without environmental studies to link our children to the splendors of the natural world (both large and small), they become careless of resources and allow corporate greed to rule all. Without training in how to cooperate and get along with each other, and without the opportunity to learn deeply of each other (in all classes, races and orientations) our democracy is placed in dire straights.

There are two basic principles that pull the whole of learning into alignment. Both of these can be derived from a study of Educational Sloyd, and have become the core of my own educational formula. Make it meaningful to the child (throughout his or her schooling) and make it REAL.

Tomorrow, I will get more specific in how this can be accomplished.

Make, fix, create, and offer others encouragement to learn likewise.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Educational theory and reform in a nutshell

Using toothpicks to attach the bottom of a Shaker box
No Child Left Behind was a top down scheme in which the feds set standards and rewarded or punished schools based on student performance on standardized tests. There was some resistance to federal mandates, so the states became involved setting their own top down scheme using the "common core." Great ideas, however, are hamstrung by faulty implementation and ill conceived methodology. Yes, it would be wonderful if all students were to arise to do their best. Despite the best intentions of policy makers, they are simply in the wrong place from which to interfere to make necessary change.

This takes me, again, back to 19th century educational sloyd. The principles, I repeat once again in the hopes they may become yet more clear: Start with the interests of the child. Move in necessary increments from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract.

Planning the move from the easy to the more difficult is easy. Starting with the interests of the child, in a complex culture is not so easy, in that even in a small class of first graders interests and level of prior experience will vary to a great degree. So starting with the interest to the child requires that the child's interests be known and allowed for in the PLANNING of school activities. If planning instead, is done on the state level or federal level, where is the necessary skill and sensitivity in that?

Moving from the known to the unknown can also be problematic, in that some students will arrive on their first day of school, having had interests and supportive experiences far beyond, or far less than their classmates. Some students will arrive at school intent on scholarly success, driven by parental expectations, and some will not.

Moving from the simple to the complex is relatively easy, as it is always easy to make simple matters more complex, but to make that movement in such a manner as the complex is made simple and clear to serve as a foundation for the next level of complexity, is not a thing to be crammed through without careful personal assessment of the comprehension level and interest level of each child.

So here we come to the most important point, moving in increments from the concrete to the abstract. This is not to say that the concrete should in any way or at any point be moved away from, but that it should infect every branch and every level of learning.

So, to bring things home, I want to make planning for student success simple enough  for any teacher or any educational policy maker to understand. When it comes to schooling, make it real, and insist that what you offer is meaningful to the student.

In tomorrow's post, I'll address making it real and keeping it meaningful. And yes, woodworking in schools has an important role to play in educational success.

Make, fix, create, and increase through your example, the likelihood that others will be inspired to learn likewise.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

cultural recapitulation theory.

A much beloved cousin with whom I share the same birthday sent me a link to a New York Times Article recommending a youtube program, Primitive Technology. The article alone should convince my readers of the potency of this program, even before watching a single episode.

There was a proposal at one time shared widely in education, that children should be encouraged to grow through all the earlier stages of human development as a means of fully grasping technology, and as a means of understanding human culture and each other. G. Stanley Hall was one of the proponents of this.  The idea was that the development of the individual would best parallel the development of human culture. With that proposal having been ignored in most schooling for the last century you can look around and discover for yourself that many folks are "out of touch." I had written about cultural recapitulation theory in education at an earlier point in the blog. And so it may make some sense for new readers to dig back into the whole of this blog from its early days.

It makes even more sense to dig into the early culture of man so that we may know where we came from AND sense the vector of human destiny. Are we to be disembodied observers of man (unnamed) on a youtube channel, or are we to become more? Can we move from passivity to action and evolution? Here I'm not proposing adoption of new technologies, but that we use skill and craftsmanship consciously to reshape the human spirit.

It does not surprise me that modern man would be fascinated by the ancestral means through which the human species developed. Various episodes of Primitive Technology have been viewed over 5 million times. We have a longing, particularly in this age of abstraction, to sense our origins asconcrete relationships to the environment. The question remains, however, whether we will be voyeurs of reality or engage in our own concrete creativity.

Today I have a Xmas holiday sale of work at Lux Weaving Studio from 4-8 PM, 18 White St. Come see me. Buy books and buy work.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to discover the joy and effectiveness of learning likewise.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Iceland's wonderful holiday tradition

Yesterday I worked on large timbers for a dining table, continuing with the forming of mortise and tenon joints. Tomorrow in addition to teaching at the Clear Spring School, I will begin setting up a display of my books, cabinets, sculpture and boxes for a holiday sale at the Lux Weaving Studio on Saturday, from 4-8PM.

Iceland has a wonderful holiday tradition that my wife has taken up here, and that I suggest for my readers as well. On the night of Christmas eve, Icelanders exchange books as gifts, leading to long hours of reading in the night.

Jólabókaflóð in Icelandic refers to the Christmastime flood of books. In Iceland, it seems that almost all books are published at Christmastime when they have the greatest sales. There are not so many readers of Icelandic, so the annual flood makes sense. Consisting of fewer than 600 new books, the flood is a great way to keep their unique language and culture alive. In the spirit of that tradition, I'll offer my own flood of books. Just in case you need to buy my new book Tiny Boxes, Here's a link.

To qualify for free shipping from the Taunton Press Store, you will need to spend $25.00 or more. To make a sweet deal, and meet the requirement for free shipping, add my book Building Small Cabinets, which is currently on sale for 1/2 price.

To sweeten the deal even more, take 10% off, using the promotion code "Taunton1" as described in the banner add below. Then to raise the tide in your own flood, you will find even more of my books there with special discounts. Use the search function at the top of the page and type in "Doug Stowe."

Have your own flood of books. Acquire the instructional books that set your hands and mind in motion for the coming years. Do not forget to use the code "Taunton1" for an extra 10% off.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others have the opportunity to learn likewise.