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  • Doug Stowe

Wisdom of the Hands: The illusions of class

When it comes to poverty and what's called the upper and lower class, class is quite real and we've been contending with that throughout the rise of the modern economy. Salomon's Educational Sloyd was deeply concerned about the barriers presented by class and the struggles that were arising as modern economies took advantage of the poor. By engaging ALL students in the manual arts he hoped that ALL, even those who would pull the economic strings of industry, would develop a sense of the dignity of labor and be willing to reward for its full value.

But there's another meaning to the word class that Salomon regarded as an illusion, the idea that you could take a group of kids of the same age and put them at desks and lecture them through an entire course and, to then think that they had successfully followed along. Of course the problem is that all students arrive at that "class" with varying experiences to serve as a foundation for what they are to learn and they pass through with too little effect.

Then there's the problem of mind. If I say something to you, it's intended to trigger either complaisance or a response. In complaisance it's all "in one ear and out the other." If I say anything at all that stimulates your attention, your own mind becomes engaged with questions about what I've said. Once your mind is stimulated in its own internal dialog, you will no longer be listening to me, but to your own thoughts. For a group of kids to all be attending to the same facts at exactly the same time is near impossible as they each receive learning as it connects with their own prior experience, interest and disposition.

Friedrich Froebel and others in the progressive movement believed that nothing should be learned without the opportunity to test what you've just learned, so instead of sitting idly while being presented with endless streams of useless stuff, schools would be laboratories of learning where students are engaged hands-on. A perfect balance might be one part stuff and 3 parts action, and of course the academician's response would be "we don't have time for all that, we've got important stuff to cover."

But the truth is that while school can be hard (and boring) learning is easy. And the refreshment that doing real things brings to schooling pays off by providing reason for the students to attend, both in body and mind. For the inventors of Educational Sloyd, woodworking and other crafts would unite the body and mind in learning, extending the Froebel's Kindergarten style of learning into the upper grades.

Those in a so-called "class" are frequently there, but absent in their attentions. Bringing the hands and mind together would assure the participation of the whole child. This is not new folks. Rousseau had noted the way that the activities of hand and mind would each refresh the other.

Feel free to share this with others. It's important.

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


Flag Poles

Kids in Kindergarten (our rainbow group) will gladly make anything, as there's excitement in the use of tools and in seeing what you're learning develop in concrete form. My student Lane asked, "Do I get to take this home?" That's an important question that shows a direct line from home to school, that builds important links. The students are proud of what they've made and want to share. That they have a concrete expression of what they've learned makes that age old question, "what did you do in school today?" easy for children to answer.

Yesterday's project was making "flag poles," each being a piece of wood tenoned to fit in a base and adorned with wooden flags. The kids (with help)operated the drill press and a cordless drill with tenoner, then sanded and decorated the parts and assembled them. With the right tools and preparation in place only a half hour lesson was necessary.

Children having more year's practice in wood shop have more complex ideas. Three of my students decided yesterday that they wanted to design and make a board game for classroom use. So I helped make game pieces on the lathe that they insisted are needed. Over the next two weeks we'll see whether they bring their board game to a finished form.

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


Sid's Motor Tank

The students in wood shop at the Clear Spring School often have things in mind that can't be easily explained. For instance Sid's Motor Tank has been in the works for weeks as he's explored various ways to add more and more pieces of wood, in defiance of gravity. As you can see, more and more tape has been needed to hold pieces together. I asked how he would improve it if he was to make another. He said, "I'd make it metal." And so we can see prototyping in action. We also witness art in action, as the process of creating art transcends boundaries even when masking tape is necessary to do so. With the motor tank complete Sid began attaching wings, proposing another attribute of the arts. It's that one thing leads to another.

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


Doug Stowe


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

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