As part of this fantasizing, I just read Peter Korn's new book.
Korn argues that everyone understands the world by way of "mental maps." We take on maps like a Mr. Potato Head, adding a bit from religion and maybe another bit from politics, and this conglomeration of maps helps us make sense of the world. For example, recently there was a great post on a greenwood Facebook group that a follow. It consisted of a photo of the US Capitol building with cherry trees in the foreground and a caption that asked what you saw: the US Capitol, or potential spoons? As a history teacher I see the US Capitol, but now that I make spoons, I was also drooling over those cherry limbs. Our maps are a prism through which we see the world, filtering and sorting information and helping us make sense of it.
These ideas are not new, of course. Plato's theory of forms does a pretty freaking good job exploring this idea, and Wayne Dyer probably said it most succinctly: "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Still, what Korn adds is the role that craft plays in our mental mapping. He argues that craft helps us take charge of our mental maps. He feels that the maps we inherit from society sort of have their way with us, and that the process of creation helps us take control of our maps, insert our values into those maps, and even alter society at large. Through craft I certainly explore form and function, but I also explore values. For me, making treen pushes back against our fast-paced, mass-produced world; they are objects of integrity that transform everyday routines into moments of memory and love. As Korn puts it, "However a person chooses to go about it, creative practice directly challenges the status quo of his mental map, impinges upon his core models of identity, and impacts the beliefs of others" (162).
But isn't this what I already aspire to do as a teacher? On my best days students walk out of class with their brains stretched, stepping into a world different than the one they knew when the walked into class. More importantly, I hope they leave the course with the tools to upgrade their own mental maps after they leave school. I think Korn would recognize that work as much like his own, both his craft work and his educational work.
So, if this is the case, then why am I feeling unfulfilled with my teaching these days? Why am I spending so much time thinking about spoon or bowl design, and even writing in this blog? Korn says contentment comes from creative practice, but I am not feeling so creative in the classroom these days, thus not so contented. Most of my creativity seems to be spent on spoons. I think I need to stop coasting and throw myself back into my teaching. I have known this for a while, in the back of my head, but writing this helps. Time to get creative again.
But even if teaching brought me more contentment, craft would still hold an important place for me, and this place is something that Korn does not really touch on in his book. Another hobby of mine is bike riding and racing, and I have spent many summers working in bike shops as a mechanic to fund/feed that hobby. Wrenching on bikes was not simply about being close to bikes or affording a new wheel set; it also allowed me to use another side of my brain, working with my hands to transform parts into a working whole. In find using my hands as hands to be very satisfying, especially since I spend so much time as a teacher living "in my head." I am sure some have written about this, but I have not found them yet. Any suggestions are much appreciated.