Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 4, Issue 4
   March 2010
   The Wisdom of the Hands

Students in the Wisdom of the Hands program.
Students 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 and articles.

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.
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