It’s a rainy Saturday, and I’m spending the afternoon prepping some gifts and products for my company’s annual craft fair. The top photo shows a lamination I’m preparing to make a couple of wood pens. Sandwiched between the walnut are layers of veneer (light-dark-light) that will appear as a sort of “pin stripe” pattern in the pen body.
The second photo shows an ebony ring I’ve glued up. This will become a layer (an actual “ring”) in a walnut bowl I’m making. Some of these projects take several days, not because of the total labor, but because each gluing phase that will be subjected to any stress should dry overnight. The ring itself had three distinct gluing phases (pairs of sides, 3 sides into halves, then the two halves), each of which called for a pause. Multitasking projects (and not letting my workbench become overwhelmed with clutter) is a must.
Meanwhile, I’ve been following Doug Stowe’s blog The Wisdom of the Hands. If you’re interested in either education or the arts I encourage you to visit. In addition to being a master woodworker and teacher, Doug has recently been shaping a coherent philosophy of education that emphasizes the role and benefits of “hands on” education. We’ve had some e-mail correspondence around his ideas; in particular I’d want him on my short list of intellectual thought-partners if I ever decide to study this idea seriously.
Doug and I question what is lost when children do not routinely have a lot of practice manipulating real objects and crafting their own creations. It’s an interesting empirical question. For example, one psychologist has written a book titled Lifting Depression, based on the theory that our hands are hard-wired to the brain’s reward circuitry. She claims that tasks involving manual dexterity (e.g., knitting, woodworking, etc.) can actually mitigate depressive symptoms. In my experience this idea has some merit; I’ve certainly felt my own seasonal blues recede after a few hours in the shop. So I’m interested in this hand-brain-soul connection. In particular, what happens to a generation that manipulates keyboards and game controllers rather than physical objects? Perhaps it makes no difference; I guess we’re going to find out.
Being trained as a researcher can feel like a drag on enthusiasm sometimes. Don’t get me wrong – I love the act of inquiry and shaping ideas. It’s the learned disposition toward skepticism that sometimes puts a wet blanket on creativity, perhaps prematurely. For example, I may have an intuitive sense that kids would benefit from bringing the arts back into education front and center (and arts education scholars such as Elliot Eisner have written thoughtful books on the subject, so the idea isn’t too far-fetched). The educator/activist in me wants to go forth and argue for the arts. The researcher in me, though, wants to gather evidence first. How do Eisner’s ideas hold up empirically? Did he base his thoughts on solid evidence? Am I (and he) paying sufficient attention to negative cases, where the arts don’t appear to have the intended effects?
I envy Doug Stowe for not being encumbered by this skepticism. He can see the concrete benefits of his work with students on a daily basis, and this evidence corroborates the ideas of other scholars of the manual arts. He believes in what he’s doing.
So I’m left with this question: what would it take for me to believe in a cause without first doing years of “due diligence” research?