Maplewoodshop: Saving Shop Class

In U.S. schools shop class has been sacrificed to the Moloch of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Ninety percent of shop classes have been eliminated with the exception of a few robotics programs. The result, ironically, is STEM graduates so out of touch with the physical world that they design things impossible to build.

Image: Maplewoodworking

Maplewoodshop seeks to reverse this trend with an innovative woodworking program that trains teachers to integrate hand tool woodworking into their lessons plans. Teachers who graduate from Maplewoodshop’s training get a rolling box containing all the tools they need to teach woodworking classes in any room. Maplewoodshop is a great example of not letting perfection be the enemy of the good: we’re not going to get shop classes back any time soon but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something.

You can listen to an interview with Mike Schloff, founder of MapleWoodShop here.

On the Possibilities and Problems of Groups

I’ve had several conversations with friends recently about the difficulty of organizing groups. Too often a bunch of people get together for a worthwhile cause only to see numbers dwindle, enthusiasm flag and, worse, enmity and strife set in. It’s not that I can somehow claim to be above the problem. I’m guilty of disappearing, of “ghosting” my fellow group members once the initial excitement of the collective idea wanes.

Michel Foucault called our modern society a “carceral archipelago,” a prison made up of individual cells all watched over by an all seeing eye. The advertising that surrounds us has much to do with our carceral condition. Modern capitalism emphasizes our individuality–“Do it your way!”–while, thanks to social media, simultaneously monitoring our every mouse click. It’s hard to argue with Foucault’s prescience in, what I like to think of as our make-your-own-individual-burrito “Chipotle age.”

In order to accomplish any worthwhile goal we have to form groups. Human beings are not meant to be lone agents. The Inuit people I met on a trip to Greenland have a word for individualists, “wanderers,” and in the Inuit culture wanderers are considered possessed of a supernatural malevolence. While most of us don’t have to face the challenges of an arctic climate, the fact is that our individualization has left us all lonely and ineffective.

And yet, the way out of the prison is not to make forming groups an end in itself. This is Mark Zuckerberg great error. At the Senate hearing he said, over and over that his highest goal is “connectivity.” People can connect to feed the homeless, rescue animals or plant trees. Unfortunately, people can also connect to promote racism and hate, something the internet has made worse.

I wish I had an easy set of points on how to form positive, long lasting and effective groups or just how to be a better member of a group. I don’t. But, as in most worthwhile tasks, perhaps the answer is to take things one step at a time. We, in Western countries, have been on a downward individualization spiral since the 1500s. It might take just as long to climb out. Perhaps we need to begin just by sharing meals together, hanging out more and simply doing nothing, but doing nothing together.

Adam Parfrey 1957-2018

We said goodbye to Adam Parfrey yesterday. Adam was one half of the publishing team (with Jodi Wille), who put out our first book The Urban Homestead. At his memorial on Sunday he was remembered as someone who stood up for the principle of free speech, as a trickster, as the “last wild man of American letters,” and as a kind and caring husband, uncle and brother.

I want to say just how much we enjoyed working with Adam and Jodi. One of the first events we attended, after our book came out, was a huge publisher’s convention where we signed books in the Feral House/Process Media booth. Kelly and I took some time to wander the conventional hall and look at the offerings of the other publishers. It was depressing. They all seemed to be trying to put out the same books. Meanwhile, back at Adam and Jodie’s Feral House/Process Media booth a transcendentally fun party was going on. Members of the Source Family, were milling about in their flowing white robes. Pamela Des Barres dropped by to chat. Adam and Jodie promoted their books which, that year, included a profoundly not safe for work history of Weimar Berlin and the wild story of the aforementioned Source Family.

I told Adam about the sameness I had witnessed at the other booths. He explained, what I think neatly summarized his publishing philosophy, that other publishers asked the question, “How can we publish a book just like the other publishers?” whereas he and Jodi asked how they could do something different. Not only did Adam publish books that were different but he also put out books that no other publisher would get anywhere near. To say Adam’s books were controversial would be an understatement. He had a knack for combining controversy with good business instincts, no small feat in a difficult period for publishers.

We will miss Adam.

An Apology

Image: Morris & Co. tapestry.

My post early this week received some well deserved criticism from Root Simple reader Genevieve,

I often hear homeowners describing their renovation woes. But as a renter of 20 years with no end in sight due to the outrageous cost of housing who would love to own a home, at times it does rub me the wrong way. I know that it is not the intention of these posts to drive doomed renters crazy (and I know home ownership is no piece of cake), but I just want to put these woes into perspective. I dream of stressing out over what type of wood floors or molding to install in my 1920s bungalow. Instead I’m stressed out about whether my landlord will evict me, forcing me to leave the state since I can no longer afford the insane rents in California.

My apologies, especially for the misguided attempt at humor at the end of the post. Rereading it this morning in light of your comment, I can see how the post is tone-deaf. Evictions, homelessness and outrageously expensive housing surround us here in California and many other places. Rather than half-baked humor I should have looked to the example of William Morris whose novel, News From Nowhere, I just finished reading. In that novel, Morris shows us a world where economic justice, meaningful work and aesthetic beauty are related. In short, his example shows us how we can have a discussion of molding details and basic human rights while showing that these concerns are part of the same continuum. Thank you Genevieve and Lanen for your constructive criticism.

Anima: Animals, Faith, Compassion

The issues surrounding our food, whether we grow or raise it ourselves or buy it at the supermarket, can send you into a deep ethical nettle patch. How do we feed a growing population and not destroy the planet? How does our food impact our health? How do we keep the costs of food reasonable? What kind of diet should we follow? What about GMOs? We might be tempted to rely purely on the scientific method or economic statistics for these answers but life is not so simple. All too often we forget that our bonds to the natural world are also defined by meaning and spiritual practice.

This short film by Jennifer Jessum with music by Moby was produced by the Guibord Center. The film showcases the astonishing diversity of our hometown, Los Angeles, and features a dozen faith leaders discussing their tradition’s relationship with animals. I must note the appearance of the clergy (and official mascot dogs) of our spiritual home, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, who explain the human relationship to creation as one of “stewardship,” often mistranslated as “dominion.” Wether one eats meat or not is just part of the issue. Right relationship to our fellow creatures is what is important. Home gardeners, chicken keepers and permaculturalists well know the difference between stewardship and dominion, the difference between working with as opposed to our culture’s mad control freakery.

A personal note. I had, in the past few months, fallen off my ethical eating wagon and taken to occasionally consuming what I knew to be factory farmed chicken. In some sort of digestive karmic justice I seem to have come down with gallbladder issues forcing me, at least temporarily, to eat a vegan diet. This has granted me the opportunity to meditate on the issues raised in this film. While I may return to eating meat in the future I’ve decided to avoid the factory farmed “dominion” based stuff.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the Guibord Center offers many lectures and visits to sacred sites. If you’re not a local they have an archive of past events on their website