Frederick Gordon Bonser, "What Do We Mean by Industrial Arts?" (1930)

Source: Adapted from: bib info needed

In the world of practical life, the industrial arts are the activities by which man changes or transforms the raw materials of nature to make them more usable and satisfying in meeting his needs for material supplies. Broadly used, the term "manufacture" has the same meaning. The school study called industrial arts derives its purposes, content, and methods from the problems which confront us in supplying our material needs. As consumers of products, we can select and use the products of industry intelligently and satisfyingly only in so far as we know their qualities and values in relation to their purposes. By studying the materials and the changes made in them to increase their values we can learn these qualities: --

    appropriateness to purpose,

    durability of materials and construction,


    economy, and

    the proper basis for use and care.

As citizens, such studies provide us with that knowledge of sources, production, and distribution which helps us to contribute intelligently to such regulations and cooperative practices as will help to secure just and fair treatment of both producers and consumers.

As educated men and women, these studies give us a knowledge and an intelligent appreciation of how man has made the world-wide resources of the earth contribute to his satisfactions.

From these educational purposes and the content and activities correlative to their achievement, industrial arts as a school subject may be defined as: />

A study of the changes man makes in materials to increase their values to meet needs, of the appropriate usage of products made, and of the social advantages and problems resulting from the making of these changes and products.

The values for usage are those relating to health, to economy, to efficiency, and to aesthetic satisfaction.

The study of sources of materials, methods of changing materials, factory organization, inventions, employer and labor cooperation, distribution of products, and regulative measures to secure justice alike to producers and consumers affords values in social understanding.

The creative and manipulative activities essential to the development of appropriate information, attitudes, and appreciations include that work in design, construction, decoration, and experimentation which promotes growth in coordination of hand and eye, general manipulative dexterity, freedom in handling materials and tools, and aesthetic appreciation of products.

The purposes emphasized in the study are thus seen to be direct and practical in meeting immediate needs of selection and use of industrial products, and, at the same time, developmental in promoting growth in various kinds of ability, intellectual and ap­preciative. In addition to the achievements of growth within the limits of its own purposes, industrial arts also affords motivation for much that is of value in arithmetic, geography, and history. It furnishes the avenues of approach which give meaning, significance, and value to these other subjects, removing that isolation which has been so characteristic of their study in the past.


What has just been indicated as the dominant purposes of industrial arts was not true of the work with materials in schools during the forty years or more after its introduction into American education about 1876. Under the terms "manual training," "manual arts," and "hand work," the primary values attributed to the activities were disciplinary. These values were stated in such terms as developing neatness, accuracy, patience, persistence, love of labor, manipulative skill, honesty, and character. Other values were rated as subordinate -- as possible by-products -- but not as objectives to be worked for consciously. The whole case for the work rested upon the basis of a disciplinary psychology. The result was that the courses for the schools consisted almost wholly of manipulative activities, largely dictated to pupils. Manuals and other books on paper folding, cardboard construction, raffia weaving, basket making, sewing, exercises in wood­working and Venetian ironwork are examples of dic­tated instructions to be followed explicitly. The pupil had no opportunity to think or create, to invent or experiment, or in any other way to use initiative or originality-he must simply follow dictated instruc­tions. While such work naturally appealed to the strong impulses in children to manipulate, and was usually entered upon with some satisfaction in con­trast to other subjects requiring the use of words and books only, it did not seem to yield the values claimed for it. It did not show those "leading-on" qualities which our more recent psychology has found charac­teristic of a good subject for mental growth. Its "practical" values-those for improving the selection and use of industrial products-seemed to be almost negligible.

The result of the inadequacy of this kind of manual work in the schools has been much experimentation in recent years to develop a "content" subject to take the place of one that is "disciplinary."

A vast body of thought and appreciative material was available.

Through twenty years of development, workable organizations of materials and methods have resulted. Manipulative activities have come to take their place as means, not as ends. Thought content and apprecia­tive content have been so developed the work represents an opportunity for the growth of pupils in intellect and appreciation in direct relationship to the needs and activities of practical and cultural life.

The name needed to designate the work is not a disciplinary term, but a content term.

The work in the beginning was literally "manual training."

Now it is far more "mental" and "social" than "manual," as any legitimate educational work must be:

"Industrial arts," while not free from criticism, seems to be the most satisfactory term yet proposed, and it does not suggest the invidious implications so often attributed to "manual training."

To be sure, the old term still exists in many school systems, and in many the work still remains true to the term in character. But, when the teachers of "manual training" find themselves consciously contrasted with other teachers engaged in the "mental" education of pupils, they usually recognize the fact that the term as well as the work should be above such criticism.


When we realize the extent to which we use mate­rial commodities in daily life, and the extent to which the world's work consists of the making and distribut­ing of such commodities, we can appreciate the impor­tance of that study of the materials and products of industry which will make us intelligent and efficient relative to their use and their production. The value' of this work also in providing a natural approach and a motive for the materials of geography, arithme­tic, history, and fine arts entitles it to a place of much significance in the curriculum. In schools, the indus­trial arts should have a place commensurate with their importance outside of school. Their study not only re­lates to the meeting of practical needs and problems of the consumer and citizen in daily life, and to an understanding and appreciation of the economic and social problems of the world of to-day, but it also fur­nishes a basis for much that we think of as more highly cultural or liberalizing. It helps greatly in understanding and appreciating many allusions in lit­erature, music, art, and the folk games and plays of both our own time and the past.

Another consideration which entitles the work to a large place in the curriculum is the fact that industrial arts affords opportunities for educational growth adapted to the nature and abilities of that more than half of our school population who think more readily in terms of concrete experiences than in verbal or abstract terms. As evidenced by the fact that from ten to thirteen per cent of the children in the first eight grades annually fail of promotion, that from twenty to twenty-seven per cent of all the pupils in the first eight grades are one or more years over-age, and that many who are normally promoted are but barely on the edge of a passing grade, there is great need for more work adjusted to the abilities of the individual pupils. The abilities of children to construct, to investigate, to experiment, and to learn through those activities in which they can engage with success and satisfaction have been almost wholly neglected. Well developed work in the industrial arts and closely related subjects would give all pupils an opportunity for growth equal to that now afforded to the brightest only.


No discussion of industrial arts in detailed items of purposes, methods, and equipment can apply appro­priately to the whole range of the public school field. A separate presentation is necessary for the elemen­tary school, for the junior high school or upper grade years, and for the senior high school. In the earlier years, the whole purpose is that of general education. In the junior high school it is still dominantly general, but the vocational guidance and often the vocational education purposes combine with the general. Be­yond the junior high school, the specific study of the industries should become very largely vocational. The closely related subjects appropriate for the later high school level-science, mathematics, economics, sociol­ogy, and art-will afford the more liberal or general education aspects. The work is therefore presented from the point of view of each of these three respective levels.