[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 
Shop" <http://video.iptv.org/video/1772022559> 
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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