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Craft, Flow, and Cognitive Styles

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Originally a talk to the Waldorf Handwork Educators Teacher Conference on the 15th of July, 2021. Watch a video here. Hopefully this is of some interest to anyone interested in autism and learning, not just teachers of fibre-craft…

I want to talk today about different experiences of education, of making, and of the world. There are lessons from handwork and craft more generally that I think we can carry into life in general, and lessons from life that should be brought to bear on the handwork classroom. In particular I want to talk about flow states and mastery, what they mean, and how to help students to access them.

I should say a bit about myself, because most of you don't know me. I am not a handwork teacher, although I like to mend and make clothes from time to time, and art and crafts play a big role in my life. I am barely even a Waldorf teacher - my background is in physics, philosophy and computer software, and I trained to be a science teacher at Goldsmiths, University of London. However, my journey took me to the Edinburgh Steiner School, where I have been teaching chemistry and sometimes other things for seven years now. After I had been there a couple of years, I ran training on autism and neurodiversity for our staff group, and after that I started letting my colleagues know that I am autistic, having been officially identified in my early thirties (more than ten years ago now).

Outside of teaching, I like to write, to make art and to do whatever I can to make the world better for my fellow autistic and neurodivergent people. In this, I am partly following in the footsteps of my mother, Dr. Dinah Murray, who died last Wednesday - peacefully, with her loved ones, including me, and with a sense of having achieved pretty much what she set out to in life. I wasn't really planning to talk about her when I agreed to give this talk, but it happens that her work - and the arc of her life - are extremely relevant both to what I want to say and to this conference's theme of finding a place on Earth, so please bear with me if it seems strange, in a talk about teaching craft, to talk about my family history, and what it means to have a life well-lived; I promise you that it all ties together. So my mum was born in 1946; she had me in 1978, the youngest of three kids. She's said that if she was growing up in the 2000s she would undoubtedly have attracted a diagnosis of autism; I'm sure she's right, but as things worked out, she only came to think of herself as autistic some time around 2010, after many years of working with autistic people and thinking about autism. I