[EAS] The Book of Sloyd
Peter J. Kindlmann
peter.kindlmann at yale.edu
Thu Aug 9 01:08:56 EDT 2012
Dear Friends and Colleagues -
On Public Radio yesterday there was a discussion
of introducing "mindfulness" into school
curricula, to address the teaching not of
specific subject matter, but of "character" i.e.
self-reliance, perseverance, patience, judgment
and a personal conviction about quality.
"Mindfulness" is a recent label applied to this
important and hardly new concern. Building
"character" has a more satisfyingly traditional
ring. As a component of education it has usually
been a kind of hidden variable of good teaching,
of teaching by example. The classroom is not a
suitable setting -- making something is an
essential ingredient. Thus it is the laboratory
or shop that is the place to hone character, if
it is going to happen at all in school.
There have been discussions of this before, even
in these mailings. The 2006 article by Matthew
Crawford "Shop Class as Soul Craft"
later expanded into a book, is a previous prompt.
The sociologist Richard Sennett (whose work I
have admired in my later years after getting a
very poor impression of sociology as a physics
major in college) has written one of his most
important books, "The Craftman"
in response to the decline of a sense of
craftsmanship in society. He defines
craftsmanship much more broadly than manual
skill, and maintains that the computer
programmer, the doctor, the artist, and even the
parent and citizen engage in a craftsman's work.
Most fascinating of all to me is the Sloyd
movement <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slöjd>. It
came to my attention via my son Gordon and my
wife Marcia, a potter. Sloyd derives from Slöjd
= handicraft in Swedish. From the Wikipedia
"Sloyd differed from other forms of manual
training in its adherence to a set of distinct
pedagogical principles. These were: that
instruction should move from the known to the
unknown, from the easy to the more difficult,
from the simple to the more complex, from the
concrete to the abstract and the products made in
sloyd should be practical in nature and build the
relationship between home and school. Sloyd,
unlike its major rival, "the Russian system"
promoted by Victor Della Vos, was designed for
general rather than vocational education." (from
the Wikipedia article)
An episode of the PBS program "The Woodwright's
gives a delightful presentation of Sloyd in
action (and examples of skilled use of
handtools). Watch the episode to the end, because
it recaps many of the Sloyd principles -- and
teaches you how to make a precise straight cut
with a handsaw that many good woodworkers would
have trouble with.
The challenge ahead for us, as educators, parents
and citizens, is to put more Sloyd into our
courses and our lives. Few subjects are so
abstract that they cannot be partaken of with
Sloyd or Richard Sennet sensibilities, and as
such give us fuel for living in our "made world"
with more self-confidence, better knowing what in
it we own, and on what terms. Such is to my mind
a good antidote to the pervasive sense of
helplessness that gnaws on our daily
circumstances and produces myriad compensatory
Have a good summer!
All best, --PJK
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