Hello, and welcome to the Burl Project. My name is Tom Cole. I am a retired engineer tech and shop teacher; and currently a full-time Masters level grad student at Iowa State University in Ames. I have engineered in industry and worked as a shop teacher; and enjoyed both worlds. I have had very creative opportunities in my work environments; but I am convinced that genuinely creative opportunities are being reserved for fewer and fewer young people entering the workplace. We have trouble seeing this because our benchmarks for creativity are slipping. They are slipping because they are no longer based on the oldest of human activities – cradle-to-grave building of artifacts and structures. We are still genetically hardwired to build these artifacts and structures, but our culture smothers this particular genetic predisposition almost from our birth. So, working with ISU, I will give young children an opportunity to build in a manner that allows this genetic predisposition to manifest itself. [My Masters activities will involve designing "toy like" tools that allow very young children to (safely) build toys of their own design from raw materials (durable materials that need to be cut, drilled sawed , etc.) – rather than "assembling" toys from prefabricated material such as erector sets, Legos and Lincoln logs]. I predict we will see some very surprising competencies in some very young humans. Should this be the case, I further predict that we will be able to combine this type of "holistic" building activities with K-12 core educational curricula in a manner compelling to children, teachers and parents. My final prediction will be that some of these children will want to pursue holistic building as adults; and that they will have the full support of parents and teachers. If this proves to be the case, we have a problem. The adult workplace operates on efficiency - which is antithetical to holistic building. This will call for a national dialogue. The support of this dialogue is the purpose of the Burl Project. The remainder of this website (accessed by the buttons below this introduction) is devoted to scenarios that the Burl Project might offer to facilitate this dialogue.
We have another problem. The nation goes to academia for advice on curriculum development. So I would like academic support for my ideas - particularly from experts on human development. But these experts are not holistic builders. Those most likely to understand holistic building are engineers - who are not experts in human development. But the engineers (particularly the STEM advocates) have a problem. They can't figure out why girls and women are not attracted in sufficient numbers to certain technologies and sciences. There are cultural reasons for this; but lurking behind the cultural reasons is a nasty debate over male and female proclivities for higher mathematics. The debate goes back to our interpretation of division of labor in the hunting and gathering millennia. I don't believe much of that debate can be substantiated, so I'm going to offer the alternative mentioned above - "toy like" tools that enable very young children to do some pretty sophisticated building. I'm going to work with parents and educators from progressive educational communities to shelter these children from widespread exposure to commercial toys (to suppress the tendency of these toys to fragment holistic building efforts). And I'm going to observe the children using these "toy tools" to build their own toys. I predict we will find that both genders use the toys with considerable energy, but in different ways and with different outcomes. (It is reasonable to assume that the ancient division of labor is in fact reflected in different building styles and preferences of each gender). The identification of these genetic-based gender differences will serve as a reliable base for those STEM advocates attempting to understand the cultural reasons for female aversion to certain STEM entities.
What I hope to gain from helping to resolve the STEM issue is an increased interest from the engineering community in providing (to child development experts) hardware that will help very young children to understand technology. (The toys that I design in concert with engineering at ISU will be designed to transparently (and safely) present basic material rendering operations such as sawing, drilling, turning, milling and so forth. All operations will be done slowly and with the child observer in mind).