The Woodworking Life

The Woodworking Life

Turning Around America

comments (1) June 28th, 2011 in blogs

DougStowe Doug Stowe, Contributing author
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The back of Beths van opens to a complete woodworking shop.
Beth offering instruction at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.
Beth with first grade students at the Clear Spring School.
Beth with the 2nd and 3rd grade students at the Clear Spring School.
The back of Beths van opens to a complete woodworking shop. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

The back of Beth's van opens to a complete woodworking shop.

Photo: Doug Stowe


It seems that many in the media these days are mourning the loss of American manufacturing, and have changed their minds about whether or not it is ok for us to abandon manufacturing completely. (I for one never thought it was OK.) But if we don't introduce our children to  craftsmanship, and the value of making things, there is little we can do to reverse the loss. Beth Ireland decided that as a woodturner she could do something. She’s been on a mission to turn as many students on to woodturning as she can in a single year. Her idea was that while children taught to the test and challenged by compliance with "standards" in school and occupied by social networking at home  just don't make things anymore, she could take matters into her own hands.

Having heard about Beth's Turning Around America project, I invited her to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to teach at the The Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and the Clear Spring School. 

For 9 months, 32 states, 21,000 miles, Beth traveled the US in a van equipped with two lathes, a band saw, boxes of tools, a grinder, and would teach wherever an extension cord could be plugged in. Her van also contains a bed, living and cooking supplies, toilet, and space dedicated inside for book making. She’s taught at schools, clubs and even campsites. Her total after 9 months is 2084 students, which in the vast scheme of things may not seem much more than a dent, until you remember that most of those students had never made anything before in their lives.

At ESSA, our School of the Arts, I brought a lathe from Clear Spring, and the Stateline Wood Turners from Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missiouri brought one, and with Beth's two lathes set up and ready to go, woodturners of all ages were invited. Adults, some as old as in their seventies turned on the lathe for the first time. We made turned pens and whistles, and even the director and staff of ESSA became hooked on turning.

In three days at Clear Spring School, all my students from 1st through 12th grades made turned and carved whistles.  From  a wood shop teacher’s perspective, I can tell you that spending time with another teacher with such skill and passion brought me new skills of my own.

Beth’s partner Jenn is taking the  the van on the road to new schools, while Beth does a residency at the Turning Center in Philadelphia, as part of the International Turning Exchange. Her project, "Turning around America" is aptly named, as nearly all the political pundits have finally moved toward agreement that we have lost our creative edge,  that we've been going steadfastly in the wrong direction and that it is not enough for us to be a nation of mindless consumers educating our students heads, but failing in the education of their hands. We've been missing the development of character and intellect that arise when the hands are intelligently engaged in learning.

You can support Beth's project through a link on her website.




posted in: blogs, , wood turning, woodworking education, Beth Ireland, ESSA, the Clear Spring School

Comments (1)

MKenney MKenney writes: Nice post Doug. I'm glad there are folks like Beth and you out there teaching the craft to the next generation.
Posted: 9:05 am on June 30th

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