in the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School
proudly show off the abacuses they made.
When I was in high school and college, I worked summers and
holidays in my father's hardware store. I would slip away for
an hour or so each afternoon to restore an old car under the
guidance of a master craftsman. One day he said, "Doug,
I don't know why you study to be a lawyer when your brains are
so clearly in your hands." His comment was prophetic. It
led me to reexamine my academic path, alerted me to the pleasure
I received from learning and working through my hands and ultimately
caused me to question the artificial and unproductive separation
between hands-on learning and academic pursuits. I became a
professional craftsman and then an author of woodworking books
In many schools, woodshops have been discontinued to allow for
greater emphasis on academic studies. As a craftsman, author
and parent, I have found myself in Internet conversations in
which I learned that woodshops were no longer considered relevant
in our information age. Instead of making things, we would buy
everything we needed from some developing nation.
In my own shop, I never felt that what I was doing was obsolete.
Woodworking enabled me to use a variety of skills, integrating
the arts, science, history, mathematics and business. It occurred
to me that woodworking in school could become central to the
learning experience, making all the other conventional studies
more relevant and meaningful to children's lives. If learning
were more relevant, more meaningful and more fun, school would
more readily engage our children's attention and lead to their
success. Thanks to my early craftsman mentor, I had noticed
something about my own hands that I believed to be a valuable
tool in education; when the hands are engaged, the heart follows.