I probably shouldn’t write a blog when I’m close to feeling mad and frustrated but here goes. Over the past few days I encountered two spheres of, on the one hand industry, if we should treat education as a feeder phase into industry as politicians do, and the other a craft sphere. Craft of course revolves around creative spheres of beautiful isolation and independence from industry, spheres unknown to politicians, spheres where a man and a woman can work insulated from mass production methodologies to enjoy the natural limitations of their bodies and their minds. Such spheres are places I have enjoyed throughout my working life and one that works and can continue working for today’s furniture making woodworker.
A design and technology (D&T UK) teacher came to see me yesterday and we spent a good and productive hour discussing the reality that soon the teaching of design and technology category we know as part of the British school curriculum and specifically the area of resistant materials, that’s glass and plastics, metals, wood and so on, will soon be removed from the curriculum as we know it and it will be supplanted by other technology categories without the doing and the making of things. In other words woodworking and metal working will be dumbed down yet again to become theorised. Such political agendas go unchallenged today here in the UK because politics so control education so that the teachers that make the difference are indeed completely disempowered to voice their views and make a difference. We don’t have to wait a decade or two any more as we have in times past to see that we exported our industries to other emerging economies because the reality of being an unmaking culture has already arrived. Our young people are abused by politicians and economists legally and the results will not be seen for two decades or more. It’s not the teachers that are at fault because all power has been removed from them even though politicians constantly tell us that they want to give power back as a local level of authority. My heart wept yesterday wondering what we could do that would make a difference.
I know that I have often said that state school may not be the best place to teach woodworking and that’s true in most cases, but school today is commonly the only place that children are exposed to wood and woodworking and it may be the place, as it was with me, that children get to sense a feeling that this could be for them. Perhaps the best place for woodworking is in independent woodworking schools offering hands on classes for young people who really want to be there. This suits my imagination.
Unfortunately this theory might mean more a probability that children will never be exposed to the very thing they might discover they love, as it was for me 50 plus years ago.
No doubt by now you will see my fear. When I first went to woodworking shows in the USA I went there to show people what hand tools could do. The amateur woodworkers walked into my booth and were glued to what I taught. They stayed for an hour and lost all interest in the routers and router bits they had come to see. They left my booth with greater understanding and went over to the Dewalt and Bosch booths and said, “Paul Sellers over there cuts a dovetail in two minutes. You should go and learn from him!” Of course this didn’t make me popular, but over the 20 years of promoting the versatility hand tool woodworking to more compliment machines we gained a credibility that has resulted in 1.2 million following what we do in any given month. Over the weekend and then yesterday I encountered many people who loved what we offered in our explanations and demonstrations. Most, not all, were amateurs. These were the ones that wanted the exercise, upper body workout, the smell of real wood and the feeling that they were gaining mastery of craft work. The ones that resisted the most as per usual were those that might call themselves professionals in that they pursued the term professional rather than the craft and art of being qualified by their developed skill and ability. These were the ones that had been “in the industry” for a few years. Sadly they never developed the simplest skills of say how to sharpen a saw or in some cases even a chisel and some verbally admitted that they could’t sharpen any kind of edge tool satisfactorily. What was sad to me was their abject assertion that their methods were the best and no one could master enough hand skill to compare.
I am so thankful for the amateur woodworker through whom craftwork will be preserved and respected. I am grateful to parents who let their children use sharp chisels and spokeshaves (and supervise them). The politician and an economist can never understand anything more than what they can buy or sell. These left brainers will never understand the art of creativity and its related work yet we allow them to devastate the creative spheres so critical to nurturing the development of skilled work and of course our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our children!