Friday, December 16, 2011

Julia Weber: Slöjd – an educational approach to wood working

The Goals of Slöjd Education:

To instill a taste for and an appreciation of work in general.
To create a respect for hard, honest, physical labor.
To develop independence and self-reliance.
To provide training in the habits of order, accuracy, cleanliness and neatness.
To train the eye to see accurately and to appreciate the sense of beauty in form.
To develop a sense of touch and to give general dexterity to the hand.
To inculcate the habits of attention, industry, perseverance and patience.
To promote the development of the body's physical powers.
To acquire dexterity in the use of tools.
To execute precise work and to produce useful products.

Otto Salomon, 1900



The Scandinavian Slöjd system was developed and promoted by Otto Salomon (1849-1907). Salomon was intrigued by the idea of making physical work an element of general education. He believed that we learn most effectively by doing things with our hands and developed a system for a craft based training. He put his theory into practice by founding a vocational school for boys in 1872, a vocational school for girls in 1874 and a teacher training school for slöjd teachers in 1875. All of his schools were located in Nääs near Götheburg in Sweden. From 1882 onwards Salomon concentrated his activities on the teacher-training school, lecturing and organizing for the further training of elementary school-teachers. This training scheme was designed so that serving teachers could obtain handicraft teaching skills, in addition to the ability to teach theoretical or academic subjects. In educational slöjd each student was put through a course of making models based on everyday, functional objects, along the way learning basic woodworking techniques and a range of organizational skills.

Slöjd is an old Scandinavian word that comes from the adjective slög that means ‘handy’. Slöjd means ‘craft’ or ‘manual skill’. About 1885, Salomon used the expression pedagogisk slöjd (educational sloyd or craft), defining it in a school and educational context. In his introductory remarks from the Teacher´s Handbook of Slöjd Otto Salomon made clear that, educational slöjd was not to be mistaken with the work of an artisan trade. Slöjd was meant as an educational approach without the economical considerations of a trade. Various materials such as wax, clay, paper, pasteboard, wood or metal could be used in educational slöjd. Wood slöjd and the so called slöjd carpentry has been the most popular of all. While slöjd carpentry and ordinary carpentry used the same raw material (wood) and to some extend the same tools, they differed from each other in many ways. The objects produced in slöjd carpentry were usually smaller in size and bounded by curved outlines. The most characteristic tool in slöjd carpentry was the knife while the carpenter prefered the chisel. The working conditions of the slöjd worker were much more primitive than those of a commercial trade and a division of labor was not allowed.

The goal of educational slöjd “lies in rightly directed bodily labor, as a means of developing in the pupil´s physical and mental powers which will be a sure and evident gain in life” Educational slöjd brings forward “pleasure in bodily labor, and respect for it, habits of independence, order, accuracy, attention and industry, increase of physical strength, development of the power of observation in the eye, and of execution in the hand (Otto Salomon).”

Teaching slöjd was a very methodical educational approach that followed a strict set of rules and guidelines for the teacher as well as the student. Salomon broke down woodworking into a series of very simple steps that could be mastered in turn. First using a tool in a particular way, then doing a simple project, then progressing to slightly more complex methods and projects. The teacher had a guiding role in Slöjd education. While the student was supposed to work independently and accurately, the teacher role was to be as passive and unobtrusive as possible. He should never touch the students work and in his instruction he should give as little explanation as possible to encourage the student to use his own hands and head to discover the right way. Each student was supposed to have his own workbench and his own tools, both should be labeled with numbers. These tools included a knife, trying-plane, jack-plane, square, marking gauge, compasses, rule or metre measure, and scraper. Students were responsible for keeping the tools in an assigned space and in good working condition. During their work the students should avoid talking and remain at their bench, while the teacher moved from student to student. The students were not allowed to sand their piece until it had been examined and found sufficient by the teacher. After working, the students put away their tools and cleaned up the workspace.

Educational slöjd helped students develop in many ways. They learned hand eye coordination obviously but also accuracy, learning the importance of quality in workmanship and learning to understand and honor handwork and physical labor even if they were not going to work as artisans. Thousands of teachers from all over the world attended classes at Nääs. Some of the countries, in which slöjd was successfully introduced were the UK, the US, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, the Scandinavian Countries and many more. Currently, slöjd is still part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. In Sweden, students choose between wood and metal or textile sloyd, and in Denmark all three materials are compulsory as individual subjects; and in Norway they are united into one subject called forming.

Young boy at his workbench:

Sloyd School, Welland Plant, ca. 1915:
Source: http://playbuildmake.blogspot.com/2009/09/educational-sloyd-naas-sweden.html

Video about educational Sloyd (PBS, The Woodwrights Shop: Who wrote the book of Sloyd?):
http://video.pbs.org/video/1772022559

The Teachers Handbook of Slöjd by Otto Salomon:
http://www.archive.org/stream/teachersbookofsl00saloiala#page/n15/mode/2up

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