“Creativity is not just for artists. Subjects like design and technology, music, art and drama, are vitally important for children to develop imagination and resourcefulness, resilience, problem-solving, team-working and technical skills…These are the skills which will enable young people to navigate the changing workplace of the future and stay ahead of the robots, not exam grades.”
The quote above is from an article written two years ago. In the same article a professor who teaches surgery to medical students said that young people need to have a more rounded education, including creative and artistic subjects, where they learn to use their hands. He has noticed a decline in the manual dexterity (muscle memory) of students over the past decade and that it is a big problem for surgeons who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge. Students have become “less competent and less confident” in using their hands.
“We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge.”
Handiwork is just as important in the high school years as it is with younger children. The beauty of working with the hands, whether it be woodwork, felting, patchwork, metal work, or any other type of material, is that it provides a respite for mental work and acts as a pressure release valve for the person whose time is mostly spent studying. It brings balance by working with an entirely different set of skills.
A young person of high school age also has a wider range of handiwork available to them. They are capable of using tools that a younger child would find difficult to handle and they have a greater awareness of the safety issues involved (hopefully!). There are also more options for lessons.
Last weekend Hails attended an all day adult workshop on drypoint printing, a form of Intaglio printing. The teacher was quite happy to include her in the group even though she’s only 15 years old after I’d chatted to her. The class was a small group of five students and she enjoyed the workshop so much that we’ve registered her for another class on Mosaics early next year. I asked her to do a written narration on the drypoint technique and this is what she wrote:
Drypoint is a print making technique. By a print I mean an artwork that has gone through a printing press. The materials used in drypoint are a piece of acetate and a special needle with a very sharp, tiny point. Usually a reference image is printed out and placed under the acetate, then the artist traces the image onto the plate with the needle. It makes a very annoying, squeaky sound, as the needle is actually scratching into the acetate. A special drypoint ink is scraped over the top of the plate, forcing the ink into the cuts. Then the ink on the surface is rubbed off and you can see the image start to show up, as the ink is in all the scratches. Then both sides of the acetate are rubbed again to remove any excess ink, and it’s ready to print. The printing press is basically a machine with a large steel roller in the middle to force the ink down onto the paper which sits on a large printing plate underneath the roller. The acetate is placed cut side up on the printing plate, and a piece of paper that has been soaked in water is placed on top. Then three layers of thick, felt-like material is put on top of the printing plate, and it’s time to roll it through. Printing presses have a lever on the side to roll the plate underneath the roller and out the other side. Sometimes the acetate has to be rolled through a second time because not enough ink has been pressed onto the paper.
When the image has fully transferred to the paper, you take it off the printing press and leave it to dry. Usually you have to make a few copies of the image before it turns out to your satisfaction, because if you leave too much ink on the plate, the image will be smudged, and if you don’t leave enough, the image is too light.
After experimenting and trying to get the right balance of ink etc., she chose the picture above to frame.
The workshop also included Lino (relief) printing which is quite different. There’s a good explanation of Lino Printing here.
Charlotte Mason recognised the importance of manual dexterity. Her method stresses relationships; that children need living books and ‘things’ – handiwork, manual skills, nature walks…and so the teaching and practice of handicrafts should be continued all the way through high school.
‘…we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts.’ – A Philosophy of Education.