Friday, April 08, 2005
Educating for the spirit of beauty.
Sculptures at Springlands- Blenheim
People have always surrounded themselves with beautiful things. In early Greek civilization students were taught to create and evaluate paintings, music and poetry. Today music, sculpture, and literature bring joy to our lives.
Herbert Read, the art educator of the 50s, argued that the general purpose of education was to the growth of what is individual in each human being and that the arts were central to this. Today we call it ‘personalized learning’ and ‘integrated studies.’
John Dewey, the progressive educator, years earlier, saw the teacher as an artist who facilitates the development of the child as an artist and said that no intellectual activity is complete without aesthetic quality. The value of art, he said, was to define experience.
Both these writers influenced the creative education of the 60s.
More recently Howard Gardner, known for his theory of multiple intelligences, saw aesthetic education as crucial to all learning. Every activity, including plying a sport, has an aesthetic dimension, and Garner believes that schools might judge their effectiveness by how well students can think in an aesthetic way.
Too often in school the emphasis is on students' gaining meaning in literature, art and poetry rather than aesthetics, and rarely do history, mathematics and science become vehicles for beauty. Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman talking about a friend who is an artist said, ‘I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see much more of the flower than he can.’ Using Gardner’s theory a flower can be interpreted through a range of lenses and expressed in many ways.
Unfortunately our schools represent a fragmented world where subjects, too often, do not meet.
Our schools need to be developed as total aesthetic environments. As Churchill once said, ‘We shape our building and they in turn shape us.’
Imagine a student entering a school for the first time what ‘messages’ would she gather if it were an aesthetically designed school? What would the foyer ‘say’ to her; the open spaces between learning rooms; the classrooms themselves? The music she might hear; the art she might see?
Creative teachers, who understand the power of aesthetics, have transformed their classrooms into environments that celebrate their students’ thinking and creativity. Not only are there well displayed examples of student art and creative writing but also marvelous examples mathematical and scientific thinking. As well all the individual pieces on display illustrate that students have been ‘taught’ the importance of design and visual layout.
Such teachers help develop connections between areas of learning by valuing aesthetics.
Take a look at the next classroom you visit – or your own with ‘fresh eyes’.
Is it visually attractive? How could it be more attractive? What ‘messages’ does the class gives to you; what does the teacher seem to value? Does the students work represent individuality or does it all look the same? Do the displays inform you with key questions, suitable heading and quality research? Is the work integrated? Then have a critical look at the teacher’s whiteboards and student’s book work – do they show an aesthetic understanding and do the student books show continual quality improvement? Is there evidence of the use of music through modern ICT Media?
Wise educators weave aesthetic experiences into all their teaching – the arts can enrich the learning of all subjects and make leaning more interesting and motivating.
I always like a quote I heard many years ago ‘We have no art we do everything the best we can.’