Order of Operations vs Order of Learning

The Order of Operations for any production is simply the order in which you do things. But the order in which we learn things is not the same order (usually). However in recent years it has been common to teach classes, especially in woodworking, that teach what to do, in the order that you do it, in order to have a class oriented around making an object (chair, spoon, bowl etc).

It’s simple really: you can’t spend a full day teaching about wood specie and characteristics if you are going to get the chairs all made by Friday. But if it were a college class or a class setup for actually learning the whole craft, you would spend much more than a day on the wood. Instead we simply go with “for the back you want Oak, Ash, or Hickory, and for the seat something easy to carve or more of the same log that you have”, done. We don’t take time to really get into whys and wherefores and options.

Take your drawknife for example. There numerous styles, and bevel up or bevel down knives. Why? I have about 15 minutes to show how to use one and then get the class to sit down and start using the ones they brought with them, or one of my loaners, none of which is the same. If I really want to teach them all about drawknives I would need at least half a day. The same with the axes and the spokeshaves and every other tool that we use.

All of teaching woodworking has ended up like this. The students want the “let’s all make this thing” orientation. It’s easy to see why, instead of finishing the class empty handed but knowing more, you finish the class with this thing you take home. Yet many of the students just don’t know enough at the end of the class.

It shows when someone later asks… “can I do this thing with ash, all I can get is ash and you said to do the thing with oak and we used oak in the class” etc. If the discussion of wood selection were more in depth they wouldn’t have to ask.

Fell the tree, cut up useful lengths, split it to useful sections, use the ax to even out dimensions, drawknife to square, drawknife to octagon, etc day one done.

Where was the time to talk about stewardship of our woodlands? The time to talk about all of the varying qualities of all of the types of wood available and how they compare to each other? The time to talk about what you want in an axe, and all of the riving tools, how does a Hudson Bay axe differ from a Kent axe, my students don’t know but they should. There is so much missed in this way of teaching.

I would like to see a class where I teach with a more classical approach to teaching. Where the teaching order is arranged not by project but by the subject. Where we do spend a day talking about stewardship of the land and about the woods that are available. Where I spend some time talking about the history of the craft and the changes to the tools over the centuries. And at least an hour about each of the tools, before we try to use the tools. Then instead of making one thing we make many things. we start with simple (to point of being crude, well, maybe rustic), and we end by making something complicated or difficult. Those students would be woodworkers when we were done.

I’m musing on this while taking a break from editing my course syllabus for the class that I will be teaching in May this year at the Morris Arboretum, look under Creative Expressions. It’s the “Build a Stool! Intro- Green Woodworking Techniques” class. I fear that three 2Hr sessions will not be enough time… I feel rushed.

be well

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