You Don’t Need a Doctorate to Color in the Lines

expert woodworkingI have a news flash for you…woodworking ain’t that complicated. It’s a learned craft at which anyone can become accomplished.

How many of us have heard the sayings: “Draw a line, Saw the line,” “Stay to the waste side,” “Take the line, leave the line, split the line,” “measure twice, cut (on the line) once?” When I hear these woodworking instruction cliches, I flash back to my kindergarten teacher encouraging me to color within the lines.

Isn’t that what woodworking is – an evolution of what we were doing just right after graduating from diapers? We might have more complex crayons and our coloring books might have morphed into SketchUp plans applied in 3D, but we’re still stressing about going over lines and accidentally coloring the dog pink.

I bring this up because every now and then we go through this wave where individuals or groups start vetting people “qualified to educate.” This both infuriates me and makes me chuckle.

Now I realize a lot of this is just marketing for some people to differentiate themselves in the world of subscriptions, DVD and book sales. Still, it annoys me because it’s not the human way and it plants the idea in the populous that they need an expert to teach basics. Having Alf Sharp teach a class on basic dovetailing is as much a waste as having John Nash teach basic arithmetic. Gentlemen (and women) of that caliber have so much more to offer.

You even see this mentality in the public school sector. Districts go out of their way to find teachers with master and doctorate degrees to teach K-6 9 (and pay them a sizeable amount more than their less-educated brethren). While I applaud higher education, I don’t see how a doctorate in literature will affect a first-grade class learning to spell “cat.” But I can see how it would be of benefit to a collegiate-level educator because… a second-grader can help teach a first-grader to master coloring; a third-grader can help a second-grader with basic arithmetic; a fifth-grader can help third-grader; and a PhD can teach those seeking a master’s. That’s the human way. We get info from those who know a little more, and we can teach those who know a little less.

I bring this up because in rereading one of my last posts, I caught myself spewing this “experts only” dogma. I questioned if we had enough “experts” capable of teaching a basic woodworking class in our public school sector. Sure, if you are teaching a class on making reproduction Chippendale furniture you should have years of experience and lots of specialized education. But to teach basic woodworking? Flattening, sharpening, basic joinery…not that complex…. All you need is be a grade or two above those you’re teaching. So a motivated teacher could easily learn enough to teach a group of theoretical woodworking kindergarteners the basics.

So if you have a kid, or a group of friends, or even a newbie neighbor who wants to know what you know, don’t be hesitant to share – and don’t be hesitant to ask from those who know a little more than you.

And when you hear experts barking about their decades of experience or qualifications due to build complexity and then hear them regurgitating the “saw to the line,” “split the line,” etc., do what I do: Picture them in the outfit you kindergarten teacher used to wear. And because I started my elementary education in the 70s that includes bell bottoms, tie dyes and Bob Ross perms.

— Shawn Graham

8 thoughts on “You Don’t Need a Doctorate to Color in the Lines

  1. Joe7

    Kevin must have an earned Doctorate in Heckling! His observation was obviously tongue-in-cheek, but it points out the huge difference between hands-on craft skills and the skill sets demanded by classroom teaching. The point remains that often the best teachers aren’t credentialed and too often a heavily credentialed person isn’t best suited for teaching. Shawn suggests that you can benefit from playing tennis, playing chess, or perfecting joinery by hanging out with someone whose skill is slightly better – you can be challenged without being intimidated. After all, learning should be enjoyable, right?

  2. Les Groeller

    As a father of a teacher I can agree that most teachers are certainly under appreciated and likely underpaid. However, I “ain’t got no Master’s in nothing” and I understood the point of the post.
    I’m sure he wasn’t slagging off teachers, but that everyone has something they can teach others. Some teaching efforts may be best left to professionals but that’s how we all learned most things…by watching others who had some skill in the subject matter.

  3. martinsmithjr

    Credentials are overrated. I don’t have a Computer Science degree and neither do the two other most gifted programmers I’ve ever met. Learn by doing. And talk to as many people you can who do know what they’re doing. Embrace failure. Just like one should never let the lack of a tool stop them from making something (or trying to), the same goes for a lack of education.

    1. Shawn Graham - wortheffort woodworking Post author

      I wouldn’t say all credentials are over rated. Some are, some aren’t, and unfortunately that changes over time. I definitely want an accredited doctor. And one that keeps getting more education as times change. But there is a lot out there nowadays as you implied that getting accreditation doesn’t signify expertise.

      But, in this article we aren’t talking about the end level of education we’re talking about the beginning. The kindergarten, and elementary stuff. Just the fact that someone has graduated high school means they (should) have 8-10 years of additional experience in hand writing and drawing so that should be good enough to teach a younger person to draw the alphabet or cut a dado.

  4. dzehner2

    As the husband of a K-5 teacher, I have to disagree a bit about them being overpaid. My wife has a master’s degree (paid out of pocket, no district funding) which taught her many ways to teach more effectively and how give her tools to manager her classroom from a heard of cats into a group of kids that can actually sing quite well. That’s the difference her higher education (and good work ethic!) brings. I get your main point, but I think using the analogy with elementary school teachers misses the mark a bit.

    1. Shawn Graham - wortheffort woodworking Post author

      The difference here from you comment was her graduate level education was in teaching or administration, not a subject. There’s a difference. I probably coulda been more specific. I was just trying to point out you don’t have to be an expert to share or find an expert to learn basic fundamentals of just about anything.

        1. Shawn Graham - wortheffort woodworking Post author

          Awe come on Kevin, that implies my writing is at the level of an undergraduate journalist and we all know that ain’t the case. The key to a good heckle is that grain of truth brought to the outlier edge. I’m sure a middle school class in journalism or creative writing woulda helped me. Especially if it was taught by someone with a Masters.

          But journalism and creative writing are much higher cognitively than coloring in the lines, writing letters, and basic arithmetic so those could benefit by being taught with someone possessing more in depth knowledge.

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