12/09/2013 02:37 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2014

The Ultimate Handcrafted Item in America -- the Child

In this day and age of manufactured items for everything one could possibly need for a comfortable life, crafting is alive and well. Personally, I am a knitter. I find deep relaxation and satisfaction in constructing a garment made from two sticks and string. It seems these days that the millennials are discovering knitting without the needles -- it's called "arm knitting." This is the latest fad in an industry that, according to the Craft and Hobby Association's "State of the Craft Industry Study," reaches 55.8 percent of American households. What's the motivation behind crafting? Again, according the CHA's report, "a personal feeling of accomplishment and being creative" -- two forms of intrinsic motivation, which are behind all work that is deemed deeply satisfying. We don't need to handcraft anything anymore. Industry and our economy have grown from factories that mass produce items from automobiles, to homes, to clothing, to food, to technology, even to art. So handcrafting has become a desired recreation or hobby practiced in more than half of American homes.

Unfortunately the factory mentality has invaded our educational system with the goal of mass producing children to be compliant, conformist, college and career-ready citizens as measured by their performance on standardized tests. It has sucked the passion and joy of learning from classrooms all over the country. This kind of conformity, controlled by fear, runs counter to the "inalienable" right to the "pursuit of happiness" in our Declaration of Independence -- our definition of freedom. I would also maintain that this right is behind the United States as a cradle for innovation. Political leaders with an eye to the future say education needs to produce workers who are self-starters, able to independently process enormous amounts of material, sift through it and create new works with added value. In other words, we have to be able to reshuffle what exists, innovate and invent to fill new needs. We must also create people who can adapt to a fast-changing world and to be able to work with people globally, as well as locally. The classroom that can produce such students must allow for diverse interests and abilities, and be a safe place to practice skills and to fail.

In his new book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner did a study of young innovators. He interviewed their parents and their mentors as identified by the young innovators, themselves. He discovered that, without exception, all of the mentors were outliers -- people who were not beholden to conformity and were able to recognize, honor and support children who also broke the mold.

Two thousand years ago, Socrates was afraid that the invention of the stylus and clay tablet--the written word, would make us less reliant on our memories. Every advance that replaces an earlier skill has its plusses and minuses. Using an electronic tablet is a new skill that our digital-native children manifest with dazzling aplomb. They can now amuse themselves endlessly. This was particularly noticeable to me after Thanksgiving dinner when the kids all disappeared into their individual devices while we old folks sat around the table and schmoozed. Apparently, conversation is not high on their list of recreational pleasures. When I asked my granddaughter why she texted her friends instead of talking to them on the phone she said, "Because it's easier." Yes, writing with emoticons is easier than reading the body language of another extremely complicated human being.

The Common Core State Standards can be interpreted as an opening to a path of diversity in education. It stipulates what individuals should be able to do with language and with math but it is careful to avoid inserting any specific curriculum. It encourages students to read all sorts of books on many subjects. The common denominator is the ability to read, but what is read is up to the individual. The insistence on standardized testing and test scores is the monkey wrench in this best of intentions. It is having the effect of mechanizing classrooms.

In order to produce original thinkers, creators, innovators and inventors, as well as thoughtful citizens, it is in our national interest to handcraft each child.