• Charlie Plant

Travels with Charlie: Sloyd- Hand, Heart & Mind

I received a most wonderful gift from my daughter and her husband – a whittling kit.


Even though I have been a teacher and principal for a long time now, I often am most happy when building something, working with my hands, including sculpture.


Here is a picture of a sculpture I did on an early Met School retreat where we got to mess with clay. Also, a picture of the skeleton of a small backyard office I built from discarded palettes. It is an aesthetically beautiful image to me.



In the picture of my starting to whittle and carve a spoon the wood is walnut, and the knife is a “sloyd” knife.


Sloyd” refers to a venerable Scandinavian handcraft curriculum taught in U.S. schools for many years. All students from a young age were exposed to woodcarving, metal work, and other “shop” activities.


As author Mathew Crawford says “Shop class is Soulcraft”.


Working with the hands demands the attention and intelligence that builds cognitive capacity, confidence, and promotes emotional stability.


In a school setting it also has a positive impact on socialization. At MetWest we had the garden, a bike shop, and a shop/shop outfitted with power and hand tools where any student could build with wood, making furniture, sculptures and gifts for family. Some of the most difficult kids behavior-wise found a refuge in the shop, as did some of the brightest college bound kids. Interestingly, the girls of the school owned that shop and did amazing work.


The bench pictured here was designed and built by a group of students for whom I had to consistently set behavior boundaries – not the kids I would expect to build me a going away gift, and then sign it with well wishes and appreciations. But the shop gave them the opportunity to engage their hands, their minds, and their hearts in an act of generosity of the spirit. It was very touching, and instructive for me as an “educator”.


The Harbor Freight Fellows program is this principle in action. It affords respect and resources to those kids who often don’t get a lot of it in an education system fixated with academics. What a waste.


We still don’t pay enough attention to the value and benefits of kids working with their hands, no matter what their post-secondary path is plotted to be. Not even in BP schools.



*Crawford is a philosopher with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Chicago. He owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Virginia.

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