In the spirit of the season, I am seeking to offer small bouquets of appreciation to some with whom sometimes I argue here.  Last week I offered kind words for Daniel Willingham, and this week I wish to do so for Bob Compton (producer of the Two Million Minutes movies), with whom some readers remember I had a sharp (perhaps too sharp) quarrel in October.

Today however I want to send sincere words of praise for his fine post last week on a school he visited in South Korea, a post entitled “Returning to Middle School Engineering and Creativity–IQ-EQ– Class.”  It is excellent; I hope he doesn’t mind my quoting some of his fine observations:

In American public Middle and High School, I’m unaware of any formal hands-on classes in actually designing and building things.

The Korean economy seems firmly committed to staying in the design and building of products and this three-year course is a unique way to introduce students to that thinking and have them experience the process first hand.  Based on the principal’s translated explanation and the EQ/IQ teacher’s enthusiasm for this class, it is clearly one of the students’ favorites and is highly regarded by the school.

This sounds like a great learning program for these students: this is an educational approach I also am very enthusiastic about, one where students “actually design and build things.”   Compton goes on to interestingly ponder the similarities of this Korean class and good old fashioned 1970s style “shop class:”

“Shop class” in the 1970’s in the U.S. was a chance to integrate math, art, physics and other classes and actually build something useful…I don’t know why “Shop class” was removed from the curriculum – legal liability, I suspect – but it was the one class that used the whole brain in the process of making a product.

I think we might have something to learn from the Korean Middle School “IQ/EQ Class” – that the making of products is a process that should be hands-on and is engaging to students.

Having seen this classroom and discussed the course with students, I think American education might find real benefit in emulating the Korean example of a class that uses the whole brain and teaches students how things are made – from idea, to design, to schematic, to prototype, to quality control, to testing and to final production.

Nice.   I think that great 21st century schools are serious about exactly this: engaging students in real-world problems and projects (“building something useful”), challenging them to tackle something genuinely hard to do, holding teams of students accountable for excellence in production, and asking them to develop their skills of design, ingenuity, and problem-solving and their “whole brain.”

Compton’s praise for the merits of  “shop class” also makes me think of the recent book Shop Class as Soul Craft, where a Ph.D. in philosophy praises the development of thinking, creativity, and character that good old fashioned shop class promotes.

To reiterate, I do want to apologize for some of the harder things I wrote in October about Bob.  Bob is offering great value in his blog and in his films for the project of re-thinking K-12 education, and re-defining excellence in education, in our contemporary times, and I know that while there is much we disagree about regarding narrow particulars of that project, we also have, I believe, much more in common, particularly in the shared passion we both have for this very meaningful and important purpose.