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  • Doug Stowe

Wisdom of the Hands: The value of woodwork...

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The value of woodwork...

Pete Moorhouse has been engaged in researching the value of woodworking in early childhood education and his ongoing study can be found here:

The results of woodworking in school are well known here at the Clear Spring School, measured in the joy our students feel in response to their own efforts and deep engagement.

In Matthew Crawford's book about the world beyond our heads, he dedicated his concluding chapter to the quote from this blog that he used as the opening quotation in his first 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

There's a good reason that Crawford found my observation useful. It's true. Passionate engagement in learning is of primary importance, and passionate engagement comes from the empowerment to do real things. So there are two important strategies. Provide students real things to do in school that engage their imaginations and encourage the creation of useful beauty. The second strategy involves an effort to connect the school with real life. Field trips are useful, as are internships for the older students that lead them to real life experiences outside the school walls.

And so of course there's value in woodworking. There's also value in sewing, and in building from cardboard, and in making art. Those things can form a backbone for schooling that keeps children passionately engaged. And passionate engagement forms the bridge though which all the other important subjects flow. It can be said, even if I'm saying it here for the very first time, that if you want a child to read, give him a hammer.

This week I gave our lower elementary school teacher a big cardboard box. He asked his students to come up with ideas about what that box could become. One said, "a time capsule." Another said "a rocket to Mars." And in minutes each student had expressed ideas about what that box could become. But could they settle among themselves on a single thing? It was soon named "the magic box" because it could become all those things, serving the ideas of all in turn or even at the same time. And so I've been invited to come and see what it's become.

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


Wednesday, 05th May 2021

Forged in Fire

Yesterday I took a group of high school students to the blacksmithing studio at ESSA to begin the process of hardening their spoon carving knives. Each used the forge to heat their blades cherry red and then quenched them in oil.

None had done anything like it before. All will likely want to become students at ESSA so they were asking about classes and scholarship opportunities. I'll return to ESSA with another group on Thursday, and I remembered to get a few photos of the process which I'll share in an article in Quercus Magazine in the UK.

The simple point is that students deserve the opportunity to do real things, making the real world clear to them, developing in them an appreciation and understanding of our material planet. Schools can be designed to do that and should be.

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


Doug Stowe


*This blog is dedicated to sharing the concept that our hands are essential to learning- that we engage the world and it's wonders, sensing and creating primarily through the agency of our hands.

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