Incontestable Consequences

“As a couple well-meaning colleagues and concerned friends told me, taking a detour to teach hand-tool woodworking in a high school English class was a bad idea. Regardless of how enthusiastic I felt about it. I’d be adding even more chaos into the classroom, like tossing another flaming chainsaw to someone on a unicycle already juggling 10 of them.

Ask a teacher you know, and they’ll tell you that on any given day, they wear a lot of hats. They pivot between being a public speaker, a cheerleader, a counselor, a lion-tamer, an event planner, a hostage negotiator, a psychological puppetmaster, and (thankfully, not often) a triage nurse. I don’t mean to complain – the unpredictability of my career is one reason I love it. But my colleagues’ concern was well-founded. Wasn’t my role teaching metaphors and semicolons, not showing a kid how to adjust a bench plane or chamfer an edge? What if all my kids tanked their Advanced Placement exams because I’d burned through precious instructional hours showing them how to saw to a line instead of how to write? Wasn’t this whole thing a vanity project, an excuse for me to do woodworking at school? What if someone sawed off a digit? Or ran a chisel into a classmate’s aorta? 

Did I really want to give a bunch of squirrely 17-year-old girls sharp antique tools, interrupting their study of American literature?

Yes. Yes, I did. 

If you want to make learning real, you have to give it a sharp edge. You have to give people the sense that what they’re learning genuinely matters. That if they don’t pay close attention to each step, there are real, incontestable consequences. Sloppily sawed or planed, a board ends up twisted, out of square, or as firewood. Sloppily written, a student’s essay meanders, unsure of its purpose, wasting its readers’ time, something written only for a passing grade, not to explore an idea.”

– Cameron Turner, excerpt from “Crafting an Education: Recreating Henry David Thoreau’s Desk with 11th Graders” in Issue Eight, available here.


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