Document 13: The Importance of Projects in the Education of Boys (1926)

In 1925 and 1926, Paul V. Woolley, Head of the Department of Manual Arts, Filson High School, Muncie, Indiana, published two books:

In 1925: A Guide to the Study of Woodworking, Peoria, Illinois: Manual Arts Press book, 1925.

In 1926: A Guide to Woodworking Projects: A Companion Volume to A Guide to the Study of Woodworking

As I uncover greater detail about the unexamined history of woodworking -- especially the history that relates to Industrial Arts in the 1920s and later -- I am more and more convinced that much happened, about which we are unaware. Is it important? Perhaps, not, although the decline of woodworking as an industry conducted by trained craftsmen certainly should be at least of curiosity to some economic, social, and cultural historians. Astime allows, I intend to focus more attention on several documents created by the American Vocational Association, the first in 1934 -- Standards of Attainment in Industrial Arts Teaching -- but subsequent editions produced in each decade, up to the 1960s, and then evidently ending abruptly.

Woolley's 1925 manual indexes the projects in forty manuals, some published as early as 1907

Document 13, "The Importance of Projects in the Education of Boys", comes from the front matter of the 1926 book, A Guide to Woodworking Projects: A Companion Volume to A Guide to the Study of Woodworking.paul_woolley_guide_1926

A year earlier, Woolley had published his A Guide to the Study of Woodworking

Taken together, these two "Bibliographical Indexes" are examples of what -- in the academic world -- is called "From Theory Into Practice".

For pdf versions online, click here for

1. the 1925
A Guide to the Study of Woodworking, Peoria, Illinois: Manual Arts Press book, 1925.
Woolley's 1925 manual indexes the projects in twenty-two manuals, some published as early as 1907.

2. the 1926 A Guide to Woodworking Projects: A Companion Volume to A Guide to the Study of Woodworking

(see more details on Woolley's two books in Woodworking Manuals, 1921-1930 but also continue reading below.)

In the 1925, A Guide to the Study of Woodworking, Woolley's aim is to make references "only to a few of the best books dealing with tools, processes, and materials."  In the 1926, A Guide to Woodworking Projects: A Companion Volume to A Guide to the Study of Woodworking, Woolley indexed books in print [in 1926] which deal wholly or in part with woodworking projects. 

Thus the distinctions between these respective books are significant: the 1925 volume focuses on "processes", while the 1926 volume concentrates on "projects".

For Woolley, writing the "Preface" for the Projects volume, his "theory"  is best described in the following manner:

In considering the teacher's problems of instruction, we should note that modern education does not demand so much that we become mere storehouses of information, as it does that we learn how to locate information when wanted for a given situation.

Woolley's purpose in these two guides is to offer "a systematic means of organizing information so that it can be found quickly when wanted, and that pupils may be taught to search for knowledge in a systematic manner".

Woolley's analogy,  about encouraging students to take advantage of  "accumulated knowledge" -- see below -- suggests the adage attributed to the 17th century English scientist, Sir Isaac Newton:  "If I have seen further than others, it is only because I was standing on the shoulder's of giants".

The appreciation and judgment are also aided in having at one's finger tips the creations of those who are older in training and experience—the books of the past centuries. The Guide is a new, but tested device which has as one of its purposes this feature of directing teachers and pupils to the accumulated knowledge and ideas of the past. It lists the woodworking projects found in the form of drawings and descriptive material in 20,000 pages of 118 books.

And I think that yoou'll agree that Woolley's motives are both noble and informed:

This method of indexing the bulk of the world's knowledge on a given subject is an outgrowth of an attempt to reduce routine duties in the schoolroom so that more time might be left for actual instruction. The production of these guides is based on an experience of ten years of teaching shop and academic subjects, preceded by a number of years at the bench, a four-year college course in science, and a special course in engineering, as well as subsequent study in a state university, a state normal, and one university abroad.

While each of Woolley's volumes are under 100 pages long, they achieve remarkable results: the indexes that Woolley compiled access projects in 118 books -- in the form of drawings and descriptive material -- that occupy a grand total of 20,000 pages

In his Preface, Woolley notes that the

1. There are about 1200 different projects listed.

2. There are about 500 projects which call be found in only one certain book.

3. Many projects classify themselves naturally into such major groups as: Baskets, Benches, Bird Houses, etc.

4. There are about seventy-two different kinds of tables, seventy-five kinds of boats, fifty-three kinds of chairs, thirty-five kinds of stands, twenty-five kinds of toy animals, nineteen kinds of guns and twelve kinds of puzzles.

5. From the standpoint of popularity with authors, as a single project, the taboret leads the list with sixty-three references, foot stools have forty-eight and wren houses forty-eight references.

(Woolley provides no count for the Processes volume, but, in amount, it probably falls around  2/3 the latter volume, which makes the 2-volume set a guide to roughly 2,000 tools, processes, and materials and/or projects. )

"This method of indexing the bulk of the world's knowledge on a given subject is an outgrowth of an attempt to reduce the routine duties in the schoolroom so that more time might be left for actual instruction."

For emphasis Woolley quotes from Charles G. Wheeler, who -- in his book, Woodworking: A Handbook for Beginners in Home and School, Treating of Tools and Operations (Putnam, 1924, p. xi) -- says 

"The more he (the teacher) can be freed from routine duties the less likely he will be to go stale or become narrow; and the breadth and enthusiasm of the teacher react powerfully upon the pupils...."

(Significantly, Wheeler dedicates his book "to the Boy Scouts of America, from one of the advisors to the national court of honor." )

First, I think it worthwhile to point out that industrial arts educators -- according to a University of  Washington master's thesis, Industrial Arts in Education and Leisure, 1940, pp. 90-124, by Paul Hopkins Rule -- considered that the recreational benefits of shop instruction are more important than its vocational training benefits. (Ex: Charles Alpheus Bennett, mentioned above as the founder of both the influential Manual Arts Press and the journal, Industrial Education Magazine, published this article in his journal in 1929: "The General Shop-Recreational Activity".)

The extent of Rule's survey of the pertinent scholarship -- in both its breadth and depth -- is impressive, especially considering that it is for a master's degree. In the future, on the narrative section of this history, I will focus more directly on the matter. (I am indebted to Steven M. Gelbers' monograph, Hobbies: Leisure and the Culture of Work in America, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 235, for bringing Rule's work to my attention.)

Thus the theory -- make woodworking interesting by emphasizing its recreational benefits -- results in a practice of pointing students to published information sources for finding out about tools, processes, and materials and/or projects, and reduce an instructor's routine duties in the schoolroom so that more time might be left for actual instruction or to concentrate upon pupils' individual needs.

Such testimony goes a long way in helping us understand why woodworking, as a leisure activity for men, increasingly became a popular hobby.

(My intent on the putting "Home" above in red font is to show evidence that, in general, how industrial arts instructors were at the time, themselves, aware of the recreational potential of their courses.)

Second, that the theoretical policy that Woolley articulates reflects a movement in industrial education that ultimately laid at least part of the foundation that encouraged amateur woodworking -- as on leisure time activity -- to blossom.

Significantly, Woolley -- see below -- voices an opinion evidently shared throughout industrial arts education circles in the 1920s:

"Tell me what a boy does of evenings after school or during vacations and I will tell you what kind of a man he will be."

This growth in amateur woodworking in the latter part of the 1920s -- and more definitely in the 1930s -- is registered in several ways:

  1. The home workshop movement

  2. The formation of the National HomeWorkshop Guild  1933

  3. The frequency of allusions to a growth in amateur woodworking recorded in the prefaces of woodworking manuals of the 1930s and 1940s

  4. The publication in 1936 of the first of six volumes in the Index of Handicraft series.

Woolley Bibliographical Indexes 1925-1926

Some Comments and Some Potential Future Investigations

(1) I am curious about the following (almost) parallel features common in

(a) Woolley's 1925 document, i.e., "processes:-- tools, processes and materials" and his 1926 document "projects" vs

(b) the "What you should be able to do" and "What you should know" sections of Fryklund and Laberge's 1936 General Shop Woodworking and

(c) the 1934 "standards", of what students should know, as outlined in editions of Standards of Attainment in Industrial Arts Teaching

(2) While I am impressed by Woolley's effort in producing these two volumes -- I myself did something similar in the 1970's, a much different time, technologically, than the 1920s -- I must inject a note of realism about whether his vision in producing these two guides to sources were widely realized. We must keep in mind the following: That to take advantage of the Woolley guides, all the books indexed must be accessible when needed by any student. This is where the bite of realism hurts. The books must be in ALL school libraries! And, even if these books are in all libraries, they must be accessible. That is, on the shelves, not missing, not lost, not stolen, etc. In the 1920s, there is no photocopying, certainly no online access; even "dittoing" -- low-tech photocopying" -- was barely available. And then there is the problem asociated with the "politics of library book budgets". (I am a veteran of over four decades of the politics of library book budgets, and speak from the vantage point of today.

It seems to me that the chief pitfall in Woolley's 2-volume index project is

the "promise" that all high schools -- hundreds nationwide -- with courses in woodworking would have libraries,

(a) with budgets, that
(b) would include sufficient funds accessible to, school-by-school,
    (i) buy,
    (ii) catalog, and
    (iii) shelve the books indexed.
The first volume indexes 40 books, the second ca 125, or roughly 150 titles. Not a great number, of course, by today's standards, but my intuition tells me that getting those 1 50 titles accessible to students in woodworking course, high school by high school, would be difficult to make a reality.