Making is Mostly Marvellous: Leah Buechley’s Fablab Keynote

October 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

I present Leah Buechley:

Leah Buechley

Dr. Buechley did some simple counting. She looked over the 36 issues ever published from Make magazine and went looking for who makers are according to who is on the cover and who is writing stories.

Who are makers?

Of 36 issues of Make, featuring 40 people on the cover, here is the breakdown of boys, women and people of colour:
85% boys and men
15% girls and women
0% people of colour
The editorial staff at Make includes 15 people. 87% are men, 13% are women and none represent a visible minority.
Leah Buechley suggests that this is not really a problem if Make is a niche subculture doing it’s own niche thing.  But, when Make spawns a not-for profit with the same branding, then, she points that there is issue with this lack of representation.

What are the makers making?

Not only is it predominantly white boys and men, but the projects featured are overwhelmingly about electronics, battling robots, and vehicles.
What is making?

So, we know who the makers are according to Make (white males). We know what they are making according to Make (electronics).  Leah Buechley suggests that the magazine has a responsibility to reflect other forms of making, like textiles which is her area of expertise, in order to be broader. Particularly if Make is moving into the educational realm and public education.

Who will bring the maker movement to public schools?

The teaching force, in case you didn’t notice, is mostly women.  So, if the people that are championing Fablabs and maker movement want to get anywhere in public education, I think we need to consider that the teaching force is largely female and very few of whom have a science background.  I think the maker movement, if it is going to gain any traction at the school level (public school especially), must resonate with a female teachers.  That may be hard to accomplish if the perception of maker, as presented in the media, is white males with electronic-battling-bots.

Every child a maker? Hang on a LED-flashing minute.

In the spirit of Leah Buechey’s semi-challenging talk, I too would like to throw another rock at this movement to shake things up a bit further.  I am uncomfortable with the slogan: Every child a maker.  Like Leah Buechley, and many of the people at Fablearn, I think Making is marvelous.  But, I worry about making children make.  Forcing children to make electronics is normally called a sweat shop. I think we easily vilify traditional school activities and hold up complicated, expensive and literally flashing activities as reforming education.  But hang on a LED-flashing minute.  What if a kid is not into making?  That child could be white, black, brown, yellow or purple for all I care, but if they don’t want to make, they shouldn’t be coerced into making.  Buechley points out that the enthusiastic maker disciples who want to spread the message must  “come with your excitement, but come ready to listen and hear what kids are excited about.”  I think we need to ask who wants to make? We need to ask what do students want to make.  Otherwise we are yet again reducing the learning experience into a really fancy, expensive, flashing 3D worksheet equivalent that happens to also be potentially dangerous and often lacking in connections to the curriculum.
A child can be just as bored with a worksheet as with attempting to program a robot, sew a flashing teddy bear or watch a 3D printer (especially the last one). There, I said it.  You can’t make your way out of boredom and move away from less than perfect teaching by throwing a child and her teacher into a Fablab.  Creating plastic artefacts that have one foot in the landfill is a dangerous way to think about educational reform.

Making is about engaging the head, hands and heart.

What will change education is exposure to rich and meaningful hands on tasks that engage the heart, head and hands as Gary Stager suggested in his keynote.  We need to empower and support a largely female-non-science-educated teaching force with tools, tool kits, guides and guidebooks to lower the barriers to equipment and increase access to making at any price point.  We need to keep our vision locked on student learning.  We must regain and maintain a laser sharp focus on the process, inquiry, problem solving, debugging and nurturing passion and engagement that I think FabLabs are more than capable of facilitating.

Maker boys and girls

I think this movement is going to work. I would not have flown across the country if I didn’t believe that. But, we must be aware of the face of the teaching force and the face of the students we serve. We must also keep the focus on choice and exploration. We must focus on opening opportunities not shutting kids into sweat shops.  We must honour that the tradition of making has been around a long time and with many women at the centre of crafting and textiles.  Let’s name the gender and race issue so we can hopefully in the near future erase them completely so a hammer or a sewing machine are no longer dripping with dated notions of men’s and women’s work.  I would love to see the day where a hammer or a sewing machine are as gender neutral as a pencil or an iPad.

“Make, you haven’t earned my trust.”

Leah Buechley said “Make, you haven’t earned my trust.”  One way to garner her trust is to “be honestly generous to what people are invested in.”  She is completely right. We must honour what teachers and more importantly what students are interested in, or else this is as bad as test prep only worse because you can’t burn your finger tips when filling out bubble sheets.



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