Sunday, October 25, 2009

teachers and art.

Teaching is essentially an art, and when teachers are encouraged, given latitude of method, and trust of intent to pursue its intrinsic rewards as an art form it can be nearly without limits in its effects. And of course the same can be said of poor or mediocre teaching. Teachers can go through the motions, shuffling students through mind numbing process with little heart, doing little to give life to the student's intrinsic motivations toward growth. The effects are staggering either way. Children either are encouraged to arise toward greater potential over time, or may become trapped in ignorance that can be self-sustained for generations. Most of us, by the time we have been fully schooled have had an experience of each type, the great: those who made teaching an art, the not so great, and the ugly. The culture of the school, its administration and structure will have impact on which you get the most of.

In the Arts and the Creation of Mind, Eisner talks about intrinsic and aesthetic satisfactions, which "when they develop, enable a person to lose a sense of distance and time; one seems to occupy a spaceless and timeless universe that in retrospect yields high degrees of satisfaction. People who, on their own pursue painting, singing, dance, or the writing of poetry do it for the quality of life that such activities make possible more than for the financial rewards they secure from the products they create." Eisner goes on:
"One way to think about matters of satisfaction is to recognize that there are basically three reasons for doing something. The first I have already alluded to: one does something because of the quality of experience that it makes possible; sex and play are two basic examples. A second reason for doing something is not because one necessarily enjoys or values the process, but because one values the outcome. One might not enjoy cleaning one's kitchen, but one might enjoy a clean kitchen. A third reason for doing something is not because one enjoys the process nor does one necessarily enjoy the outcome, what one values are the rewards that the process and outcome make possible. Someone may work at a job in which neither the process nor the outcome is particularly satisfying; what is valued is the paycheck. The analogue in school is the grade. Hannah Arendt regarded such activity as being a form of labor as contrasted with a form of work. From her perspective--and from mine--we have much too much labor in our schools and not enough work."
This isn't necessarily a matter of making school fun (which it can be), but of making school satisfying (when sufficient rigor is added), and I believe the life of an artist or craftsman presents an example of how that can be accomplished. We don't do stuff and lose all sense of time through our engagement in it because it is easy, but because it is difficult and challenging. Rigor has its own rewards. Also, unless we allow our teachers to practice teaching itself as as an art form, our children will be suppressed in potential and quality of life.

One thing I hear often in the woodshop is the observation, "this is harder than I thought." "Do you want me to make things easier for you?" I ask. "No Way!" the kids reply.

Our mission statement at Clear Spring School:
Together, all at Clear Spring School promote a lifelong love of learning through a hands-on and hearts-engaged educational environment.
And this is accomplished by allowing teaching to arise as art.


Anonymous said...

The kinds of qualities that make a teacher great can be as simple as the 10th grade biology teacher who put me in charge of the class hamster.


Doug Stowe said...

Offering trust... Like allowing kids to use knives.

I was thinking this afternoon about the game Guitar Hero. What is there about the game that is heroic? Is that what hero means now? Being able to strum along with what you see on the monitor?

We need to trust our children with a higher level of heroics. And it can start we being the one to care for the hamster.