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  • Doug Stowe

Wisdom of the Hands: Future School

Yesterday at the Clear Spring School we had the pleasure of guests from the Future School in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Allison Montiel is the principal of the school, and Boyd Logan is one of its founders and currently director of operations. They are going through a seven million dollar expansion, so the difference in scale between our two schools is enormous. But the focus of our schools on the individual needs of our students is the same. And both schools are focused on bringing meaningful change to education at large. Children need to learn in a concrete manner from the real world, not from a whole lot of canned and contrived stuff. Real world learning involves two strategies. One is to do real things in school connecting the various abstract studies, and the other is to use the school as home base as students get out into the real world for directed learning. At Clear Spring School we use regular field trips to get our students out into the community to learn, and our hands-on approach using crafts and arts make the experience real for teachers and students alike. The Future School, built on the Big Picture model, uses internships to bring deep engagement to their students, and they are having tremendous success. The important thing to note is that children and young adults are capable of doing real things that are of benefit to their communities and to themselves and that lead to sustained growth. Sequestering kids from real life is a failed strategy and one that often leads to children leaving their home communities in disgust and failing also to realize their full potential. A few years back, my friend Elliot Washor had told me that he was at work with a Big Picture School in Arkansas. The Future School is the result, and I thank Elliot for making the connection, as we intend to learn much from each other. One of the challenges that all Big Picture Schools have is that it takes awhile to rekindle student interest in self-directed learning after they've spent 8 years sequestered in classrooms from real life. That was one of the issues we discussed. Student interest can be a fragile thing and as Otto Salomon had suggested in Educational Sloyd, education must start with the interests of the child. And that interest is best kept centered in our attention and nourished steadily from day one. My student Grady is truly excited about woodworking. He sees something made of wood and he wants to make it. He wrote me a letter that I got in my mailbox yesterday insisting that he be given the chance to make a pyramid box. He told me that with his dad being a carpenter, "It's in my blood," to make things from wood. The photo shows Grady making a sloyd trivet. Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning lifewise.


What we learn about the truth

Yesterday in the woodshop at the Clear Spring School we made tiny house napkin holders with the Rainbow Group (kindergarten). At that age the children are so excited to make things and simple things bring great joy. To prepare for this project I cut front and back pieces and a strip of wood to be nailed between. After the students had sanded the parts, I drilled pilot holes for the nails to give them a head start in entering and joining the pieces. Glue was also applied between parts.

Education that's left overly abstract allows students to think that you can just make things up. Education that involves doing real things, gives children an understanding that discovery of truth is related to powers of observation through the senses.

In 1973 I had watched the joining of the two parts of the Hernando Desoto I-40 bridge in Memphis. It was amazing how they brought the two parts from opposite sides of the river to meet exactly in the middle. Out of curiosity, and before the bridge was opened to traffic, my sister Ann and I walked across that bridge.

Now the Hernando Desoto Bridge is closed to traffic due to the failure of one part, a massive box beam, and it was good that the breakage of that part was discovered before a colossal failure of the bridge. Routine inspection and discovery of the break led the inspectors to call 911 and to demand immediate closure.

As we watch in politics, we learn that you can lie and make things up. You can choose to ignore what you see with your own eyes, and then fabricate and obfuscate. You can deny what you've done and if you can get enough folks out there to go along for various reasons of their own, you can keep lying til the cows come home, and they may not. Perhaps chickens will come home to roost.

You can make stuff up and walk right off the deep end in lies if you choose that as your path, but we should at least be helping our students discover pathways for discerning the truth. You find that path by doing real things.


Doug Stowe


"Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise."

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