Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/April 1890/Sloyd: Its Aim, Method, and Results

1149192Popular Science Monthly Volume 36 April 1890 — Sloyd: Its Aim, Method, and Results1890Frimann B. Arngrimsson



SLÖJD, anglicized into sloyd, is a Swedish word, meaning dexterity or manual skill (compare old Norse sldegd, cunning, and English sly). Of late, however, the word has been restricted to denote a system of manual training.

This system came originally from Finland, but was adopted some fifteen years ago in Sweden, and there perfected in its methods. The Finnish teacher Zygnaus is its originator; but to Messrs. A. Abrahamson and O. Salomon,[1] of Nääs, Sweden, is due the honor of having adapted it to the use of schools and made it generally known. For fifteen years their institute has been growing in importance, and in that time over one thousand teachers have been trained there and sent out to different parts of the world. Hence this method has often been called the Nääs system of manual training.

The aim of the system is not to teach the pupil a trade, but to educate him. Its primary object is to insure a healthy physical and mental development, while its secondary object is to secure general dexterity useful in every vocation.

The method is based upon the principle that a harmonious mental development is best secured through a harmonious physical development, promoted by exercise. It proceeds first to call the physical activities into play, and by stimulating, strengthening, and training these, it seeks to awaken, develop, and cultivate the powers of the mind. Taking advantage of the pupil's natural activity, it permits him to engage in work so arranged as to lead him to discover the principles to be taught, to apply his knowledge, and thus obtain a useful training.

The instruction is on the inductive plan, mainly through practical exercises, but in part oral. Class instruction is used only when general directions must be given, as when commencing a class, explaining the use of tools, position, etc. Otherwise, individual instruction is employed, it being found to yield the best results; but, as the pupil advances, the teacher's aid becomes less necessary.

The training consists mainly in performing certain exercises calculated to give general dexterity, promote health and strength, and at the same time develop the perceptive faculties, ingenuity of construction, concentrated attention, love of exactness, and artistic taste.

The exercises, though necessarily varying with the requirements of different localities, must embody the leading principles of the system; be conducive to health and development; pleasing, so as to interest the pupil; varied, so as to exercise the various faculties; and graded, so that the pupil may, with the mere guidance of the teacher, pass from the first and simplest to the last and most difficult.

Series of objects or models made of wood (Figs. 1 and 2) are used to illustrate the exercises. These models, though varying according to localities, must always represent useful articles; be of pleasing forms, in which curved lines largely enter; be varied, so as to demand variety of skill; and be systematically arranged, so that each subsequent model requires an exact copy of the preceding. All careless work must be excluded, as also polishing and painting, in order to secure the more thorough workmanship. The tools comprise all the essential ones used in carpentry as the knife, the hammer, the center-bit, the try-square, compasses, saws, files, planes, etc. The work-room must be spacious, airy, and well lighted, and the work-benches should turn, so that when the pupil is at work the light shall fall on him chiefly from the left side. The teaching should not be intrusted to others than those who have natural qualifications for the work, have been instructed in the science of education, and trained in the system of Sloyd.

The courses of instruction must necessarily depend on circumstances, but the instruction falls naturally into three stages, viz., an elementary, an intermediate, and an advanced course; or, more simply, into an elementary course for children, and an advanced course for older pupils. In any case the period of instruction may be made to coincide with that of the common school.

What relation Sloyd bears to other systems of manual training can here be merely indicated in a very general way. This system agrees with ether systems of manual training in making physical i 'rise the basis of its instruction and training, also in adopting the inductive method of teaching. But it differs from most of these in using wood as the only material for construction, and in the form of its models. From the various handicrafts in wood, as carpentry, wood-carving, wood-engraving, etc., it differs in not

Fig. 1.—Models.

being a trade; and from other Sloyd systems, in avoiding their tendency of either aiming at a mere technical skill or a mere mental discipline. Thus, it differs from those adopted in France and Denmark in being less technical, from those in Germany in being less theoretical, and from the Russian system chiefly in laying greater stress on the utility of the articles and introducing curved lines at an earlier stage.

How far Sloyd may be adopted in the public schools has been extensively discussed in Europe. That it should be introduced into the public schools, either as a separate branch of study or incorporated with the ordinary branches as a continuation of the Kindergarten system, has been earnestly urged by some schools of pedagogy, and as strenuously opposed by others. It is not possible to enter fully into the subject here; but it may be noted that the principal teacher of Sloyd, Director Salomon, unhesitatingly claims that its introduction into the public schools would be beneficial, directly promoting general health, and indirectly by facilitating the acquisition of other studies.

It has been claimed by many advocates of this system that it is better than most others, supplies a healthful training, without becoming on the one hand a mere trade, or on the other a mere theoretic study; that while it trains in general dexterity and promotes physical development, it at the same time strengthens and disciplines the faculties of the mind; cultivating the perceptives.

Fig. 2.—Models.

especially the senses of form and order; training the power of comparison, constructiveness, and concentration of thought; besides awakening a liking for manual labor, respect for manual workers, love for the true, and taste for the beautiful. Whatever may be said to the contrary, so much is certain that, if properly taught, Sloyd is a valuable means to education and an important complement to the ordinary branches of school studies. This is borne out by its phenomenal success in Sweden, its extensive adoption in countries where education is most advanced, as in Germany, France, and Great Britain, and by its growing popularity on this side of the Atlantic.

Some idea of how Sloyd is succeeding on this continent may be gleaned from the following extract from the "Midsummer Report of the Sloyd School" at No. 10 Warrenton Street, Boston:

"This school was started by Mrs. Quincy A. Shaw. It is superintended by Mrs. F. S. Fiske. The Sloyd instruction is given by Mr. G. Larsson, formerly a teacher in the normal school at Nääs, Sweden.

"The school began in November, 1888, in the Warrenton Street Chapel, the intention being to show the principles of the Swedish method of manual training—modified, however, according to American requirements. The course from November 1, 1888, to July 1, 1889, has been carried on with continually growing interest on the part of the pupils. As the course has been free, with no obligatory attendance whatever, it is astonishing to see with what interest and attention it has been followed, not only hj the grown-up pupils, but especially by the younger ones.

"The number of pupils who have received instruction is above one hundred and forty; of these, fifty-three were lady teachers, twenty working-girls, thirty-seven boys between the ages of ten and sixteen years, ten young men, and twenty from the Horace Mann School (deaf and dumb).

"About fifty of the pupils have begun the normal course, but the time has been too short for any of these to finish the series.

"The pupils have to complete a copy of each model as exactly as possible before they begin the next number.

"As soon as they have completed the series, they will have a few lessons in sharpening tools; also get practice in teaching pupils; and by short discussion obtain some knowledge of the different systems of manual training in wood, their advantages, disadvantages, etc."

Since this report was written the school has steadily increased, so that now the pupils number over two hundred. Of these about eighty are boys, the rest being chiefly teachers from the city schools. There are two courses provided, and a third more advanced course will be added if necessary. The time required for completing a course varies from one hundred and fifty to two li mid red hours, according to the pupil's ability. The pupils are divided into classes of twenty each, and these meet at stated times, generally twice a week, the lessons being usually of two hours' duration. Admission to the school is limited to teachers, boys l'i(>m the public schools, and deaf-mutes from the Horace Mann School. Tuition is free.

The following table of the first six models, in a series of twenty-five, shows that the order of the exercises is the essential quality of a series of models:

No. Model. New
New tools. Kind of
sions ins.
1 Wedge. Whittling. Knife, rule, lead-
Pine. 3 x 1 x 1/4 Parallel lines
2 Flower-
Square whit-
Knife, rule, and lead-
Pine. 12 x 1/2 Parallel lines
3 Flower-
Square sawing
and planing.
Splitting-saw, jack-
plane, try-square, and
Pine. 15 x 1/2 How to find the
4 Pen-holder. Curved whit-
tling and
Center-bit. Hard
8 x 1/2 Free-hand draw-
ing of curved
5 Cutting-
Round saw-
ing, filing,
and using of
Cross-cut saw, turn-
ing saw, compasses,
flat file, block-plane,
center-bit and back-
17 x 6 x 3/4 How to find the
center of a line;
to draw a circle,
given the radius
or two tangents.
6 Flower-pot
Nailing and
using of
Hammer and bench-
Pine. 20 x 6 x 3/8 Continued elem'n-
tary drawing.

A Glimpse of the Sloyd School in Boston.—It is a rather remarkable building, that chapel at No. 10 Warrenton Street. The first floor is used for Kindergarten and evening school, the second for a church and lecture-room, while on the third floor is a Sloyd school.

Here the visitor enters a large, well-lighted hall (Fig. 3), with two rows of benches along the sides, and at each bench is a student. It may be that a class of teachers is at work, teachers mature in years and experience, of delicate frames, care-worn countenances, watchful eyes, aquiline noses, now and then adorned with a pair of gold spectacles gentlemen, men of polite address, ladies of queenly deportment all at present whittling or hammering, sawing or planing, like genuine carpenters, exercising many a delicate muscle now perhaps for the first time in their lives, working with a will, even enthusiasm, which can not be explained on the supposition that they are trying to atone for the sins of their quondam educators. No, they are here to educate themselves, that they may the better educate those placed in their charge; and it is this which makes their work sublime, even sacred. Or it may happen that a class of youths are at work boys from the public schools or the machine-shops, factory-girls and servant-girls; youths who feel the irksome and unhealthy influence of hard service, who are debarred by utter poverty, arrogant pride, or blind custom, from obtaining that education which their gentle, aspiring, and noble natures desire debarred from the full development and the free exercise of their God-given faculties; youths of untutored talents as well as those of well-instructed minds are here. And all engage in the work; all take hold with a will, even with joy. For they feel the blood course more freely in their veins, hear the wind breathe sweeter music, and see the light weave a more lovely world of colors. Their dormant energies are awakened, the heightened color on the cheek, the lustrous laughing eye, the merry mobile lip, the fair white hand, the whole person speaks in eloquent language the pleasure which springs from progress, or a work well done.

Fig. 3.—Free Sloyd School Normal Class.

But it may be that neither mature teachers nor tender youths are at their benches, but playful, frolicsome children flitting about their work like butterflies about a flower, and working with glee, learning almost unconsciously. Here is a batch of boys, there a group of girls, who at other times might be called a little unruly; they are now all attention, their minds concentrated on the curious models before them; and, while the exercise lasts, there is no indication of unrestrained spirits.

But perhaps the school presents none of these sights, but a very different one; a sight half sad, yet not without a ray of gladness; a picture not composed of trained teachers, or boisterous youths, or prattling children, eagerly listening, and as eagerly speaking, but of a group of deaf and dumb. And now, if ever, you may see what intense enthusiasm may be thrown into manual training. The poor unfortunates deprived of hearing and of speech find here a new field in which to exercise their minds and express their ideas. By their very disabilities they are enabled to concentrate their minds better than their more fortunate brethren, and even outstrip them in excellence of workmanship. Among the boys there is a deaf-mute some sixteen years of age who surpasses all others in the school, a result attained not by superior talent but by close application. Near him another boy of magnificent build and great ability dashes off his work now planing, now carving, with a master hand. On the other side of the room, in the midst of that row of girls—neat, even pretty girls—there are two most noticeable; one a brunette, whose quick, observant eye omits nothing while her snow-white hand deftly draws and carefully carves the model. Beside her stands a quiet blonde with blue, thoughtful eyes, carefully examining her model; and then, as if suddenly discovering some new principle, makes a gesture of joy and resumes her work. At the close of the exercise she takes the finished model to her teacher, and, with a pleasant smile, joyful feelings struggling for expression in her soulful face, says, in the deaf-mute language, "I love this work."

  1. For more detailed accounts of the Sloyd system, consult the writings of Dr. O. Salomon, Miss C. Lord, Prof. W. T. Harris, P. M. Sluys, etc.