Time to draw a few threads together………..or maybe just woolgathering.

It has been an interesting week.  As I wrote my last post I was reading Richard Sennett’s book, The Craftsman with considerable enthusiasm and at the same time preparing work from our pupils to go on display at University College Falmouth as part of the DesignEd exhibition.  Well the exhibition was a great success, an astonishing variety of very high quality work from pupils in schools and colleges across Cornwall, the county I work in.  The exhibits ranged from very fine craft produced by students on the fine furniture making course at Cornwall College, through couture creations from textiles students, food technology, product design, engineering, microelectronics and ceramics.  From fine hand work to state of the art computer aided design and manufacture.   It was a stunning array of talent as everyone who saw it would agree.  It also underlined for me at least the huge value that all those young people had got from their experiences of design and technology.  Some will go on to study related subjects and follow careers in the creative industries that are such a vital part of our nation and such a ray of hope for our battered local economy, many will not but they will all have known what it is to engage with the process of design and creation and be the richer for the experience.

Then there were two conversations, both brief.  One with our local MP who came to visit my school just as we were engaged in a curriculum day where we take a large number of pupils off normal timetable, throw a design and make challenge at them and see what they can do.  The children and my team rose to the occasion and I was able to share my concerns about the present governments policy on education with our visitor. He had no magic wand but perhaps we offered him a different perspective.  The second conversation was with a colleague in higher education; same theme but what I shared with him came as a shock, he had not realised what was going on in schools.

One other factor in my thinking for the week was an article in “Crafts”, issue no 198.  A report on the winner of the Jerwood Applied Arts prize for 2005, the silversmith Simone ten Hompel; “whose  intense relationship with making and material began as a small child when she was taught to make little flowers and object by a blacksmith…….Meta,l she says,  was quiet literally her first language.  It was the medium she communicated through, with an innate ease that she didn’t have with words.  The written language has always been a struggle for her because she has severe dyslexia.”  The sublime forms and surfaces of her work confirm a mastery of expression in metal that is remarkable.  Most importantly this illustrates the idea that communication, expression, thinking,  are not the sole province of spoken or written language.

This combination of coincidences prompts me to restate in simple form some of the major themes that have emerged from my writing this blog, or perhaps it is the natural inclination of any teacher to sum up a years work before the summer holiday.  Whatever the reason here they are.

  • Designing and making are thinking activities, not simply in the sense that one thinks about the order of action or the process but in the deeper and more complex business of thinking bodily.  It may be that the designer maker can articulate some of the thinking but it is almost certainly true that language is not up to the task of comprehensively describing the reality of the event.  If you doubt this try to describe fully any design or craft activity, let me know how you get on.
  • Designing and making is a complex set of activities and abilities, probably the most complex that we ever ask pupils to do in schools.  Children engage with it in different ways according to age, maturity and other factors but the experience is formative and educative.
  • The dichotomy between head and hand, between thinking as an abstraction and the thinking that engages with materiality, is a false one.  The brain is part of the body, derives its information through the body and acts in the world through it.  The growth of the notion that head work is somehow superior to hand work is driven by social categorisation and the desire to establish status.
  • The much vaunted knowledge economy will not be driven by those who have knowledge; the almost universal availability of computer power and access to vast resources make this almost a given.  It will be the province of those who have the capacity to make use of knowledge in creative ways.  It is an interesting notion that the new aristocracy will be those with knowledge skills.
  • I take it as to be beyond question that education should seek to enhance the development of fulfilled and  functioning adults.  We all want the best for our children and ultimately that “best” locates around the sort of person they are and that they are alive to the possibilities in their own lives and the lives of those they come into contact with.
  • My vision of what design technology can and should be in our schools is hugely significant in addressing the needs, both personal and social of our children; personal in that we have a capacity to let children find their element and social in that while in their element they will be at their most generative or productive, and at their most fulfilled.
  • Any curriculum which denies our children access to the experiences, skills, demands and rewards available through designing and making is not fit for purpose.  To cause this by accident or through lack of understanding is inexcusable in any politician.
  • As a design technology teacher it is my responsibility to make sure that, in spite of anything prescribed, the experience I am providing is the rich one that I have identified.  It is also my responsibility to ensure that in my craft, the craft of the classroom to borrow a phrase from Michael Marland, I am an expert.
Well there we are, argue with me, agree with me, question me.  Whatever you do if you are in the business of teaching children about designing and making do it with a passion, do it with curiosity, do it with intelligence.
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