05 February 2018

Sunday Schooling

applying fresh milk paint to climbing toys
While the recent unusually wintry spell has reduced my productivity in the Pukou woodshop (I usually work until my feet get too numb or the sunlight puts too much of a strain on my diminishing eyesight at about 5:00), I've been engaged in a new teaching venture.  Initially I was interviewed for what was an attempt to promote,  TouchWood, an established Taiwanese woodcraft hobby brand in the Nanjing schools. It's a foreign brand so the director wanted a foreign face. (I cannot explain it but this is so common that the mainland Chinese don't even understand why it's questioned.) There was a lot of back and forth and vague promises about making me famous. I just saw a lot of money being thrown at a project with little understanding of its pedagogical function but backed with the marketing dominance of the Phoenix Publishing head office already well positioned within the school system. The first meeting, scheduled early in the day, revealed a near complete lack of preparation as to its purpose so a second meeting was scheduled in order for me to meet somebody who understood something.
Wang Meng's ukulele kit assembly class
And at the second meeting I met Wang Meng who was operating a little woodcraft boutique across town while also a university instructor. I think that I've mentioned this phenomenon. There are little shops for leathercraft, cake decorating, pottery, and other sundry activities with varying degrees of competence. I didn't see much in his shop that stood out, but he did express an interest in working with me to develop more 'instructional' classes for children. He gained my confidence by expressing an understanding of my objections to the Phoenix approach with TouchWood. And so for the last few weeks, I have been collaborating to create new classes that fit within the constraints of a woodshop installed on the 31st floor and the constraints of students with short attention spans. 3 hours.
Childsafe saw proving difficult for a child to use

Phoenix is also a distributor of many foreign brand educational toys. We were given a supply of childsafe tools from Corvus. The easiest way to describe their products is that they make dull edged tools. It's clear that a saw that cannot cut tender flesh can no more even cut softwoods. It became evident early on that we needed to upgrade the supplied fretsaw blades if we ever expected students to complete their projects in the allotted timeframe. I suspect that Phoenix was planning to sell such tools to hyperanxious Chinese mothers. I'm surprised, though, that there are enough German mothers to have initially created a market demand there. Do any German parents give their children dull knives, too, when teaching them how to do kitchen tasks? 
Motherly pride
Although I should not have been surprised, it was made manifest throughout the day that parents were as keen or moreso to participate in learning about woodworking. Some of this can be attributed to the children's short attention spans and low motor skills, but it can be more easily explained by adults who were denied such opportunities in their own childhood. I concluded with Wang Meng that if we saw that the parents were happy, then we could be confident that we had done well with the classes.  And yet there is also an element of Chinese parenting that sees every aspect of their childrearing as a competition for their children's future. Two mothers, in particular, exhbited this kind of anxiety.
helicopter woodworking

body language
But overall, most parents enjoyed themselves along with their restive youngsters. These photos were taken during two sessions conducted on the 4th of February, 2018 of our first class offering.
Mother and strings

Joy from playing with toys made by one's own hands

Demonstrating some mysteries of milk

There will likely be more class offerings after the Lunar New Year festival. Gounian kuaile, dajia!


Gabe D. said...

The helicopter woodworking comment was very amusing, I bet that happens stateside too. Too bad about the dull tools, I've found with kids in my shop that they naturally like the smaller tools that they can get both hands on, like #3 and smaller smoothing planes. Kanna seem to be more difficult, even for adults. Sawing takes the development of a unique motor skill, it's humbling to watch a kid try it for the first time because it reminds me of my first memories with a saw, and how lucky I am to have received such teaching at a young age. Love your blog, beats the hell out of advchina even if I do like motorcycles, ha.

Potomacker said...

One point that I learned from this first class is how these 'children's' benches are too low even for them to use. The boss and I are trying to devise a adjustable platform for using with the fretsaws. The students and parents, especially. struggled to keep the saw vertical which made turning through curves impossible. That, and they were too impatient to listen to our admonishments as to how to fold the fretsaws.
The second class is postponed until we have a solution. I've advised my leader to but some Irwin benchsaws but I don't know what pressure he is under from his boss to push the Corvus imports.