I’ve come to really appreciate the writing of Benjamin Doxdator. His blog posts are thoughtful and take me places I haven’t been before while helping me think in some new and interesting ways. His reflection on his first day of CMK is one of those. In it, he describes his thinking on making after a day of exploring his project. In the post, he raises the idea of the artifice of risk:
At once the pattern is made, the embroidery is executed with the artifice of certainty. At once I set the fabric into the machine, the pattern will be re-produced as many times as I want, each stitch just as perfect as the rest. Our environment is dominated by the artifice of certainty. Any metal bowl that you buy at Ikea is virtually indistinguishable from the rest. This is both a boon (we can count on them each being made just as well), but also an aesthetic burden. As David Pye has argued, the artifice of certainty reduces the visual variety in our built environment. In contrast, the Wampum belt is the product of the artifice of risk: the piece can be ruined at any moment with the wrong move. Take a look around you: how much of what you see is made from the artifice of risk? Consider the objects that you treasure, or find to be the most beautiful: how many are made from the artifice of risk?
We all know that to the person with a hammer, all the world looks like a nail. So, we must be careful about what tools and artifacts we surround ourselves and our students with. To the school with Turnitin, all the world looks like possible plagiarists. What artifacts do we wish to surround ourselves with and care for? After we can answer that, we can begin to think about what we wish to make.
He also explores what it means when everyone’s a maker, and why that maybe isn’t quite right for all:1
I largely agree with Papert that meaningful contexts set the stage for learning, though I’m skeptical that we ought to think narrowly in terms of making products. We might not make anything when we tend to a community or care for a fellow person. Cleaning isn’t plausibly construed as making a product. We make meaning when we read, but I doubt that’s what people have in mind. Putting those objections aside, I know from my own teaching experience that a meaningful context helps students learn how to write better than isolated lessons. If children need to write a letter, narrative, or essay, then they encounter problems they need to solve; I can help them find solutions (or, at least, strategies) in conferences and mini-lessons. In order to learn how to make a section of their mystery story more compelling, it’s essential that they learn how to use dialog, select interesting verbs, and use imagery. Their goals set a context in which learning how to use writing techniques becomes meaningful.
I want to set aside the rich and meaty issues mentioned about making vs. caring, a distinction I don’t think is quite so clean as is made by Chachra, but is something important and worthy of more attention. What I want to come back to is the idea of artifice of risk, and why I think it’s important, mostly because it helps me think about something I started doing a couple years ago and think has been powerful for me2.
When I realized that I had grown a little too distant from the people in my life who I care for, I began to take some time on a regular basis to write to them. As I grew more comfortable with the tools of letter writing3, I began to grow the circle of folks I try to write to. Strangers who I admire. Acquaintances who did something I found interesting or useful. Folks to whom I wished to express gratitude.
That’s letter writing. Not on the computer, but by hand. I think it’s definitely a situation where the writer is making an artifact she would want cared for, though it can be risky.
I keep letters sent to me, and I suspect that you do, too. Everyone enjoys getting mail that is actually for them, and not a bill or an ad. So, yeah, it’s risky. But there are risks worth taking. And they improve the making.
If you find yourself wanting to both make something AND express care, I’d highly encourage you to try writing a letter to someone you care about. By hand. You can do it, and it will be treasured.
- I’m linking again to the article linked in this quote, because it’s a thoughtful push against making as something we all do. Debbie Chachra describes her struggle to push against the idea that “everyone is a maker. She writes:
Maker culture, with its goal to get everyone access to the traditionally male domain of making, has focused on the first. But its success means that it further devalues the traditionally female domain of caregiving, by continuing to enforce the idea that only making things is valuable. Rather, I want to see us recognize the work of the educators, those that analyze and characterize and critique, everyone who fixes things, all the other people who do valuable work with and for others—above all, the caregivers—whose work isn’t about something you can put in a box and sell. [↩]
- Yeah. There’s likely a better transition in here somewhere, but I can’t find it presently. [↩]
- Lots of stationery nerds have plenty of strategies for “doing letter writing right,” but I’ve found that, for me, I only need to carry three things with me always, so that when the urge or exigence strikes, I can quickly satisfy it. Those three objects, which I carry in a file folder in my work bag, are a pad of fancy-ish paper, some matching envelopes, and a book of stamps. It’s really the stamps that matter most – once I always had a stamp, I could always write a letter. [↩]