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Glossary--Woodworking as Reflective Thought: The History of Critical Thinking in the Manual Training Movement

(All comments below are tentative, and not yet formulated into anything permanent.)

Woodworking as Critical Thinking?

It's not a stretch! Woodworking, whether it's your profession or your hobby -- requires complex measurements, visualization, and creative problem-solving and planning.

Current Meaning

Generally agreed upon as an important component in education at all levels, critical thinking seeks to give individuals the ability to solve problems, to think rationally and creatively.

According to cognitive psychologists, problem solving and planning requires visual and spatial functioning: for woodworkers, for example, in constructing a piece, say a table, a chair, a bed, for final assembly, to figure out, how parts fit together -- the dry-fitting -- requires mentally rotating the project's components in your mind, all of which are cognitive functions involved in woodworking.

In another sense, doing procedural-based tasks -- learning how to do something -- engages different learning circuits than more cognitive-based tasks

Three basic criteria associated with woodworking that is an:

activity that is cognitively stimulating,

activity that is emotionally stimulating, that is enjoyable

activity that requires physical movement

Source: Adapted from Imperial Valley News , Saturday, 28 March 2009

Prevailing History of Critical Thinking in America

When I began to teach in 1858 I sometimes heard it said that it would be a good thing if boys could be taught the use of tools in school. I regarded the notion at the time as a visionary one. The school had no business with tools; they belonged to the home, to the period of apprenticeship, to the workshop. It would be the wildest extravagance for the schools to take them up. What tools should they teach? What trades should take precedence? What should be done with the girls meanwhile ? Does education lie that way? So I put the matter aside as a harmless speculation.

Frank A. Hill, The Manual Training Idea Self-Culture 1900, page 293. See Sources

Origin, Historical Development, Related Issues

Currently, as a concept, critical thinking is said to have been first articulated by Robert Ennis in 1962; see Jane B. Halonen (1962). However, in his 1962 paper,  Robert Ennis cites  Othanel B. Smith (1953) and Kenneth B. Henderson and B. Othanel Smith (unpublished circa 1962). And judging from the almost 50 citations in Ennis, 1962, initially the postulates of critical thinking are grounded in the education philosophy of John Dewey.

using the JSTOR database, a nest of citations on critical thinking were discovered from the early 1940s. Following this discovery, we began to check the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, the International Index to Periodicals, and the Education Index, around the 1940s, under the heading "Thought and Thinking": "Critical Thinking" as an entry, was not yet created. Further, a search for critical thinking in Psychinfo, the database for psychology that stretches back to 1887, shows about ten "hits" (i.e., articles posted) per decade, from 1920 to the 1960s, a time-frame that we believe coincides with John Dewey’s proposals, in several of his articles published between 1900 and 1922, about the prospect of implementing Critical Thinking in the curriculum. Later, in the 1960s and after, of course, the number of hits on Critical Thinking in Psychinfo increases exponentially.

In the Reader's Guide, the earliest article which includes "critical thinking" in the title seems to be by C. R. Miller, in Childhood Education January 1940, p 196. The earliest article in JSTOR database to include "critical thinking" in the text is a review of James Harvey Robinson's book, The Mind in the Making: The Relation of Intelligence to Social Reform, by H. N. Gardiner, in the American Historical Review, v. 27 (July 1892), p. 768:

Accordingly the major part of the book is taken up with discussions of our animal and savage ancestry; the beginning of critical thinking [emphasis added] in Greece, whose supreme contribution to human thought was skepticism and ...

Add here:

C. M. WOODWARD,"THE FRUITS OF MANUAL TRAINING", Calvin M Woodward, "The Fruits of Manual TRaining", Popular Science Monthly 1884

T M Balliet, Manual Training: Its Educational Value American Physical Education Review 1 1896, pages 483-499 [address given in 1895]

Nathan Christ Schaeffer, Thinking and Learning to Think Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1900, page 310

Charles B. Howe, ""The Future of the Manual Training High School in Vocational Education", 1913

Joseph Schimmel Taylor, Handbook of Vocational Education, 1914 New York: macmillan, 1914. pages 50-56, especially 54.

Until the 1920s, evidently, critical thinking remained as what might be labeled "an analytical observation" in scholars' discourse, that is, there were no proposals for implementing critical thinking into the curriculum. This changed with John Dewey, but in stages, between 1900 and 1922, where he speaks in terms of "reflective thought". [For the evidence, check JSTOR .] In How We Think (1910, p. 3), for example, he declares what constitutes reflective thought:

Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends.

In 1922, on pp. 29-31, in "An Analysis of Reflective Thought," in the Journal of Philosophy [in JSTOR] Dewey declares that his How We Think (1910) was "written for pedagogical purposes rather than for strictly logical ends." Dewey claims that his "analysis is formal, and indicates the logical "movements" involved in an act of critical thought. It is a matter of indifference which comes first." For emphasis, he asserts "that the main distinction between uncritical and critical or scientific thinking is that the latter strives to combine as far as possible into one act the functions of inferring and testing." Dewey further demonstrates that, for him, critical thinking is scientific thought:

Experiment is the indicated application of meanings to the particulars to see what happens .... Experiment has a two-fold function. From the side of suggested meanings it is a test; from the side of the otherwise fragmentary data, it supplies organization, system. [for] the traditional idea of ready-made or given particulars and universals, data and meanings. ... [T]he text of How We Think, with its practical pedagogic aim, was especially concerned with enforcing the difference between uncritical and critical thinking.

click here )

However, from the late 19th century, from evidence we derive from such writers on education as Calvin Woodward, John Runkle, Charles Godfrey Leland, and J Liberty Tadd, the motives existed among numerous educators for injecting critical thinking into the curriculum.

...In the 1880s, educators who supported manual training argued that it was not "trade training," or preparation for particular forms of work. They argued that students would develop hand and eye coordination by learning to use tools for working with wood and metal. The skills gained through manual training would be beneficial for all students, whatever their vocational destination in life (Lawrence A. Cremin, The Transformation of the School, 1961 (not online); Herbert M. Kliebard, Schooled to Work: Vocationalism and the American Curriculum, New York: Teachers College Press, 1999 (not online); Stamp, 1970).

In the 1880s -- when manual training was first introduced into North American schools -- the idea of vocational education was resisted many educators. By the turn of the century, however, evidence of a shift in attitude is readily demonstrable.

Many educators in that era began to visualize not only manual training but also all of public schooling as preparation for work.

At the same time that views about the purpose of education were changing, the nature of work in industrial society was changing as well. With the development of new technology and assembly line methods of production, "workers could be hired off the street". Employers no longer needed employees possessing the of knowledge and skills developed through long, arduous apprentceships.

(for more details, click here.)

Instead of hand and eye coordination and qualities such as self-direction, the kinds of "skills" industrial workers needed were an ability to follow orders and to perform simple, repetitive tasks. Increasingly, educators joined businessmen in criticizing manual training at the turn of the century, not because it was vocational preparation, but because it was an anachronistic, outmoded form of vocational training in an industrial age. (See for example, see the doubt about the utility of manual education expressed the opening paragraph of Dr Frank Hill's "The Manual Training Idea", in the box up on the left. Hill was Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Click here to read Hill's turn-around. Or, check out these selected articles -- culled randomly from the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature -- by Nicholas Murrary Butler, then president of Columbia Univeristy and a leader in formulating the era's educational policies:

"Is there a new education?" Review of Reviews v. 13 (February 1896) p. 217;
"Democracy and education", National Education Association. Proceedings and Addresses v. 35 (1896) p. 86-95;
"What shall the schools teach?", The Outlook (1893) v. 51 (May 4 1895) p. 727-8;
"What knowledge is of most worth?", National Education Association. Proceedings and Addresses v. 34 (1895) p. 69-80;
"Reform of high-school education", Harper's Weekly v. 38 (January 13 1894) p. 42

8 Drawing and Constructive Work:-- To introduce this subject generally into the secondary schools of this country would be a new departure. It is so, however, only because these schools have not been doing their duty by the pupils entrusted to them. Taken together, drawing and constructive work constitute what is properly called manual training, the educational value of which has been established beyond all contravention both by argument and by experiment. It aims to develop in the pupil powers of thought-expression that no other study reaches, as well as to train the judgment, to call out the executive powers, and to give self-confidence in dealing with actual material. It serves also to illustrate much of the instruction in mathematics and in natural science. Many secondary school pupils may wish to follow manual training beyond the mere rudiments and with more especial reference to its scientific and technological applications.

It may be added, for the sake of definiteness, that the constructive work will naturally employ for its material pasteboard, clay, soft wood, and metal, successively.

Source: Nicholas Murray Butler, The Meaning of Education, and Other Essays and Addresses New YorK: Macmillan Company, 1898, pages 182-183 ("What Knowledge is of most worth?", listed above, is included in this collection.)

To test this changing attitude -- that educators began to embrace the idea that manual education should be part of the curriculum -- using the search engine, Google, I conducted a "quick-and-dirty" survey: limiting the coverage to the years 1850-1900, and using the search string, "educational value of manual training", yielded 446 hits on may 13, 2009. Because of the ongoing program of the digitization of books and articles by Google, tomorrow and later, these numbers could change. Regardless, the yield confirms that a lively discussion about manual education was occurring at the time.

This research string -- reflective "manual training" thinking OR thought --yielded less, only 46, but a telling amount, all the same. The top of this "hit" list is Hill's "The Manual Training Idea", and little lower down is Calvin Woodward's 1887 The manual training school:

1884, Calvin M. Woodward, "The Fruits of Manual Training", <strong><em>Popular Science Monthly</em></strong>


Calvin M Woodward, "The Fruits of Manual Training"; Lawrence A. Cremin, The Transformation of the School, 1961 (not online); Fisher, 1967; Herbert M. Kliebard, Schooled to Work: Vocationalism and the American Curriculum, New York: Teachers College Press, 1999 (not online); Marvin Lazerson, Origins of the Urban School: Public Education in Massachusetts, 1870-1915 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971; Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Patricia M. Amburgy, Paul E. Bolin, "Questioning the past: contexts, functions, and stakeholders in 19th-century art education", in Elliot W. Eisner, Michael D. Day, eds, Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education,Mahwah, NJ: National Art Education Association; published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004, pages 33-53