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

*** previously published on Popular Woodworking’s Blog ***

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.

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