Thursday, January 30, 2014

What can education learn from the arts about the practice of education?

"We live at time that puts a premium on the measurement of outcomes, on the ability to predict them, and on the need to be absolutely clear about what we want to accomplish. To aspire for less is to court professional irresponsibility. We like our data hard and our methods stiff—we call it rigor". 
"What we are now doing is creating an industrial culture in our schools, one whose values are brittle and whose conception of what’s important narrow. We flirt with payment by results, we pay practically no attention to the idea that engagement in school can and should provide intrinsic satisfactions, and we exacerbate the importance of extrinsic rewards by creating policies that encourage children to become point collectors. Achievement has triumphed over inquiry. I think our children deserve more". 
Elliot Eisner was a professor of Art and Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and one of the United States' leading academic minds. He argues that "the distinctive forms of thinking needed to create artistically crafted work are relevant not only to what students do, they are relevant to virtually all aspects of what we do, from the design of curricula, to the practice of teaching, to the features of the environment in which students and teachers live".
This lecture is truly enlightening, a MUST READ if you want to educate yourself on the values of an art centered education. It explains you why the current educational system still relies on values and visions that belong to the past and has in many cases not adapted to the needs and the knowledge of the modern times. It goes on explaining 6 artistically rooted qualitative forms of intelligence, arguing that "the forms of thinking the arts stimulate and develop are far more appropriate for the real world we live in than the tidy right angled boxes we employ in our schools in the name of school improvement. He wishes for: "a culture of schooling in which more importance is placed on exploration than on discovery, more value is assigned to surprise than to control, more attention is devoted to what is distinctive than to what is standard, more interest is related to what is metaphorical than to what is literal. It is an educational culture that has a greater focus on becoming than on being, places more value on the imaginative than on the factual, assigns greater priority to valuing than to measuring, and regards the quality of the journey as more educationally significant than the speed at which the destination is reached. I am talking about a new vision of what education might become and what schools are for".
However, he concludes: "..Visions, no matter how grand, need to be acted upon to become real. Ideas, clearly, are important. Without them change has no rudder. But change also needs wind and a sail to catch it. Without them there is no movement..."

"We need to sail against the tide. Our destination is to change the social vision of what schools can be. It will not be an easy journey but when the seas seem too treacherous to travel and the stars too distant to touch we should remember Robert Browning’s observation that "A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for."

"Imagination is no mere ornament, nor is art. Together they can liberate us from our indurated habits. They might help us restore decent purpose to our efforts and help us create the kind of schools our children deserve and our culture needs. Those aspirations, my friends, are stars worth stretching for".

-- read all here [Originally given as the John Dewey Lecture for 2002, Stanford University.]

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