Last Christmas I spent some time browsing through a few of my father’s old books. I came across the ‘manual training’ textbook my grandmother had used when she was in teacher’s college, which was called ‘Normal School’ in her time . The title page indicates the book was published in 1920, and that was also the year she began her training.
From the contents of the book, it looks like Manual Training wasn’t just another name for Shop Class, although successful completion might lead a pupil there. Basically it contains lesson ideas for designing and making simple things from simple materials. Its goals are honourable and they seem to be to instill basic 1920’s era spatial, design, geometric, and construction skills in children through projects that require them to work with their hands – in today’s parlance I think we might refer to these activities as fostering rudimentary ‘Maker’ skills. Quoting from the Introduction:
The old idea that education was entirely a matter of books has now almost disappeared; and a system which appealed almost entirely to the memory is being supplemented by methods which directly appeal to the interests of the pupil and which use his own activity and observation in the training process.
That statement sounds like it could have been written last week. Here’s a little more on what the authors think Manual Training is:
Manual Training must not be thought of in terms of processes only; it not only gives practice in doing, making, and originating; but, if properly undertaken, it is capable of being made to assist in the mental, manual, and social development of the pupil.
The lessons are graduated to take pupils from ‘Form I’ to ‘Form IV’. I’m not sure what modern-day grade levels these correspond to, maybe something in the primary grades from the looks of the projects.
One part in particular that caught my eye was a page in the Form II: Cardboard Construction section that featured two photos of town dioramas whose buildings were made from cardboard, nestled in simple scenery, and placed on small tables for display. They are quite charming.