I spent the day with two woodworking teachers from Russia today. They came to meet me and ask questions on issues they felt passionate about. They took many answers and left questions.
I saw the kind of penchant teachers often have that’s unique to teachers I think. They were passionate about woodworking and what they taught was the basics of woodworking to primary school boys and girls. They had made short videos of the children they work with using hand tools in classes that reminded me of what we are now losing in mass spheres of industrialised education. They reminded me of my own past as an early teenager spanning formative years in a system that misunderstood children’s needs to generate a one-size-fits-all system. AN apprenticeship changed that and allowed me to take charge of my education in positive ways. As a practicing craftsman and then as a teacher developing curriculum for beginner woodworkers including children and new adults regardless of age, I found myself growing in my love for both making and teaching. Here’s the thing. These children in Russia had this wonderful woodworking class. They were like coiled springs with energy levels perpetually charging as they discovered wood, the smells and textures of it, the nuances of it and the use and functionality of it. They were in a zone that only, ONLY, inspired children can have. You could not have stopped these children from doing what they were doing which was spokeshaving a plank held to the bench with clamps. Well, MY HEART LEAPT, SKIPPED, DANCED AND DID PIROUETTES. . . .
. . . and then, inside at least, I wept my brain-tears!
Still weeping this evening, I felt something inside me crumbling at the thought that these kids were given decently sharp spokeshaves to make with, handsaws to saw with and they were trusted. Trusted. They were trusted to be sensible, trusted to be respectful, trusted to take care not to hurt one another and trusted in the use of the sharp tools they were using. My visiting friends said they never injure themselves or one another. The weeping? How many hundreds of thousands of young people who could want what I had in deciding my future as a crafting artisan for a lifetime will never have their palates touched by a few hours a month in a woodworking workshop in a school anywhere. Imagine if it had been me!
You see that’s how it was for me when I was a boy. That’s how it was for me discovering a pathway to my future. That’s how it was for thousands upon thousands of boys in my day. Why then, if the schools have such responsibility, and I am talking about educationalists and politicians and not teachers, are children no longer exposed to working with their hands and yes, allowed to use such tools as I am talking about. Why are schools so not just risk averse, but totally opposed to woodworking, craft education as a whole and then worse still plain scared?!!!
Depriving children of the exposure I am talking about is narrow minded at best. All schools in Britain, privileged and not so privileged, had woodworking once a week. It was understood to be fundamentally valued in every child’s development. And by woodworking I mean with chisels, mallets, planes spokeshaves and saws. Not industrial machines per se. I was pouring molten metal into moulds, grinding off steel with grinders, and using lathes for both wood and metal. And yes we made knives from old files to carve with too.
I will treasure what my Russian visitors brought to me this past week. Their courage was emboldening. And they were inspired by me!!! How they inspired me! Whereas we cannot host visitors here any more, I was so glad this was booked in and that we did it. St Petersburg is enriched by men like these who carry the burden to invest in younger and smaller children, boys and girls of 7,8, 9, 10, 11 and up in so tangible a way. Can our countries reverse the trend to oust serious development for children in these realms. Can we see serious crafts like woodworking, metal working and many other crafts return to schools again here in the west? Craft work is not a nostalgic, preservation, conservation institution kept alive like a museum of skills. It’s vibrant, living sustainable culture; a real means of conservation by engaging in and with the essentials of life.
There are no pictures in this blog because it was a private event happening for the benefit of future children and a future generation. I know that this is not the only country in the world doing this work. others are too. Words alone must convey a heartfelt cry that we MUST look to our young to see our craft skills absorbed in lives that can carry belief in them into their future. We once had this and it quietly slipped through our fingers.