Heads/Hands Learning

In a comment at the Other Voices Column in The Union by George
Rebane, Greg Zaller wrote:

I just bought the video “Most Likely to Succeed” for our local library in the hope a public screening and discussion will result that generates some activism around getting our schools up to speed with the 21st century. https://www.mltsfilm.org/ Less talk, more do.

While watching the film trailer attached to the URL in Greg’s comment, I remembered an article I had written for the Nevada County Business News about Charles Litton’s views on education.

Early Entrepreneur, Litton Engineering Laboratory

An Education Vision for Our Community

Charles Litton’s vision of economic success in Nevada County included more than just own machine tools and tools for manufacturing vacuum tube business; he was also interested in growing a technically educated workforce in the whole county. It was in part was to full fill his own need for skilled technicians in his manufacturing business, but also to provide opportunities for the youth in the community to find good high paying jobs.

In a letter to Harold Weaver, President of Sierra College, he described a recommended course of study for technicians in the electronics field. He assumed that high school graduates interested in a career in electronics would be familiar with basic electricity, the fundamentals of circuits and measurements, and have an understanding of how to make qualitative measurements using instruments common to the field. In other words, they had graduated from high school electric shop.

“It would be of great advantage for the student to have built something, a piece of gear, radio receiver, vacuum tube voltmeter, etc., wrote Litton.

Litton made a distinction between education and training. Training was what high schools and the military provided, “Junior College”, or as Litton referred to it, a J.C. was about education. In his letter, Litton thought J.C. was the breaking point when learning started. In his view, a Graduate Technician would have the following academic and shop training: Science and Physics, Inorganic Chemistry, Math (algebra through differential and integral calculus), Mechanical Drawing, Wood and Plastic Shop, Molten Metal Shop, Machine Tool Shop, Electrical, and Electronics Laboratory. Upon graduation the student should be capable of designing one of the following according to Litton: Vacuum Tube Volt Meter, Cathode Ray Oscilloscope, Audio Oscillator, or limited range signal generator.

In Litton’s view, technical education needs a strong heads/hands connection. A connection that he learned in his four years at Lick-Wilmerding, a San Francisco private high school founded in 1895, that promotes the development of the head, heart, and hands of all attending students. Students are asked to imagine a project, designed it, and then finally created it in the school’s shops and labs. Litton encouraged Sierra College to adopt a similar approach.

In February of 1954 Litton wrote to the headmaster at Link-Wilmerding on the value of his education at the school:
“ . . . As I look back, it is easy to see that the head/hands program at Link-Wilmerding contributed a great deal more to my life’s work than did the subsequent university education . . .my four years at Link-Wilmerding were by far the most important in my educational life, and while there is no need to detract from my years at Stanford, which was of certain great value, the molding job was already done.”

Today Sierra College has a campus on Litton Hill in a way a monument to Litton’s emphasis on education and the long-term impact on the community’s economy. In his vision, a well-educated workforce would benefit his business and attract other business to the community.

In his August 1953 offer for the Memorial Hospital Litton wrote:

“It has long been my opinion that communities such as Grass Valley and Nevada City could greatly benefit from more diversification of industrial endeavor. Most such communities cannot provide opportunity for their younger citizens who might like to engage in the trades or professionally in scientific and electrical fields, and providing such an industry at this time – if successful – might well lead to other complimentary light industries following suit, thus providing more opportunities than we alone could hope for.“

For many years the local economy benefited from Litton’s vision. He was instrumental in bring Grass Valley Group to Nevada County, and over the years many companies with roots in GVG were spun off, and they prospered. Litton’s vision for a healthy technical educational institution for local youth was not as successful. Sixty years later we are still struggling. With the failure of education to produce the products that our local tech industry needs, the community might benefit from reviewing Charles Litton’s vision and a prescription for success. More heads/hand education in our schools, starting with high school and advance the concept in our local J.C.


Ellen and I recently toured the Curious Forge and discovered it has wood, metal, jewelry and electronic workshops, computers, 3D printers, and laser cutters. It could be a great partner in launching a heads/hands approach to education.  More details on our tour HERE. Link to the Curious Forge is HERE.


About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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1 Response to Heads/Hands Learning

  1. Hifast says:

    Reblogged this on HiFast News Feed.


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