Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Flint Knapping: Centuries Old Hands-On Learning

As I have so often mentioned in many other postings, the Boy Scouts is a mecca of hands-on opportunities for kids to explore the connections between their hands and brains... an area that modern schools are failing miserably.

At two different Scouting events this spring I have found the craft of flint knapping and the lines of kids to try their hands at this ancient art are always long. It's one thing to find a nice arrowhead point while scouring the banks of a river, but to actually learn how the Native Americans made them hundreds of years ago is education at its best.
 To watch a skilled teacher of the art so precisely chip a raw piece of flint into a working tool is a joy to watch, learn, and absorb. As new "knappers" learn the ways of chipping their own stone while listening to stories about the living history of the people who once depended on this skill for their very survival brings full-circle an education more complete and more meaningful to a young mind than any classroom lecture could ever compete.

As you can see in the pictures to the left and below, one of the Scouts in our troop at a recent event quickly found himself enthralled with the flint knapping station where he learned how to make his own flint and obsidian points. Back in campsite he was very proud of his newfound skill and was showing off his two points. Not only did he learn a new skill but also a hands-on lesson that will stick with him for a lifetime, unlike any classroom lecture that he will ever endure.

The picture to the right is of me in 1983 while leading a 28 day canoe trip on Georgia's Ocmulgee-Altamaha rivers. During our four weeks on the river we taught the boys a lot about Indian culture as we dug daily in the rivers bank finding tons of broken pottery and chippings.

On one such dig I found the greatest point in my life as seen in the picture to the right of a perfect intact arrowhead. Even today it amazes me that another human being held this same stone hundreds of years ago. I still wonder who that person was and wish that I could meet him.

Classroom lectures are perhaps part of the equation in eduction, but when you're in the "real" world making dirty hands, listening to first-hand stories, while learning an ancient skill by chipping your own stone into something useful you are taking education to a new level. If you're trusting the educational bureaucracy with the education of your own children then they're probably being left behind at some level. Take matters into your own hands and get their hands "dirty" learning about the real world in a real way. The Boy Scouts is a good place to start looking.

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