I met some kids a short time back, two or three weeks ago now, open-faced, funny, healthy, happy children, the way we all think for the main part that kids should be. These children were 9 years of age but the unique thing was that they were in their third year of woodworking in school. Their teachers sent me a video of the class a year ago after a previous visit to my workshop and I saw the children working on their projects with spokeshaves and rasps. It was a delight and reminded me of my early workshops with children when opened up the workshops after my daily work making my furniture for local children and my own to come to for a few hours woodworking. I had upwards of 40 children a week coming back then.
Anyway, I used my bench plane in front of my visitors from who had come all the way from Moscow in Russia and they asked their teacher why they didn’t use one of those and only the spokeshave. The teacher referred them to me for an answer and I said that they had yet to develop their upper shoulder mass and also the muscle to go with it. I told them that my own children started using spokeshaves aged three because it was the most ideal plane for preschoolers to learn to shape wood with. Shaping skills can be established at quite a young age whereas more precise control for planing wood comes little on.
Having seen video of my visitors working with spokeshaves it was a truly rewarding and exciting experience for me. It was nice for me to see their teachers with such willingness and foresight and though not experienced as crafting artisans per se, earning their living from it, they do their research to find out what the age-appropriate tools and skills should be. Once they then learn how to use the tools they begin to teach the children in their charge and that to me is just wonderfull.
I tried to imagine how such a thing could be added to a national non specialist school curriculum in Europe and the USA and concluded that it would never be allowed. Schools are governed by educationalists, politicians and economists. Hand crafts of any kind don’t enter into their psyche. Craft and working with your hands to develop dexterity and take a further backseat to the arts so that’s not likely to change. The three said institutions work in union according to their perceptions derived from their own education, political bent and economic evaluation of society. I have yet to hear of any one of them understand the meaning and functionality of craft in any way. Of course children are seen mainly as the future workforce by them. They must develop the general education for the masses accordingly. To these giants of industry control, though never having worked creatively in their lives, general education is designed specifically to minimise the need and dependency on skilled hand work. There is no demand for skilled working (the result of the Industrial Revolution) and therefore no need for any kind of hand work training. Such a sad demise.
There is indeed unquestionable acceptance of the core subjects to ensure literacy, numeracy and so on and that’s the way it should be. For me though, the only reward was the craft work I so enjoyed in school. The agenda factors into its economy the reality that education to the higher levels is indeed good economic strategy even though no goods are ultimately produced for sale. Creating debt whereby the young generations over many decades owe millions or even billions of pounds, euros and dollars every year to the respective governments has nothing to do with a desire to educate people but more provide additional income for the economists, educationalists and politicians. Such questionable leadership and dare I say ignorance in my view could never draw parallels with craft education as a system of learning relational knowledge rather than abstract and all too often fractured knowledge. For me though, fractions of measurements and weights suddenly take on real dimension and proportions are allocated to tangible effort. This way too, decimals and such all become coherent in the measuring and dividing of distances, weight and so much more. Suddenly all makes sense when a shelf position correlates directly to the divided extent. How interesting when the millimeter is split like the atom and an explosion of understanding takes place in a young , emerging mind.