Tuesday, March 29, 2011

a culture of inquiry

I want to focus this morning on an important part of the scaffold, the leg that I've called "Culture of inquiry" in the illustration below. Inquiry is what drives both artists and scientists forward in their work. To be part of a culture of inquiry further enables the individual inquiry of lifelong learners. A chemist in his work may seek an understanding of chemical reactions in the laboratory. A botanist may attempt to locate and identify rare and endangered plants. An artist may be examining the juxtaposition of colors and forms. The process is the same testing of hypothesis in each and every case, and to see arts and science as estranged in American education is absurd.

In naming that particular leg of the scaffold, I was deliberate in not naming it culture of "learning," because learning covers less precise territory. You can learn and remember facts as they are presented, and memorize them without question, accepting dogma, the death of real learning, the expulsion of science and stagnation in the arts. The culture of inquiry is more direct, lasers into specific points, and extends more widely and well beyond the school walls.

This morning, a group of educators from the University of Arkansas will visit Clear Spring School. They are a group whose mission is to explore the value of arts integration, and they want to see visit schools demonstrating successful arts integration. I've told them that our mission is not integration of the arts, but rather, integration of the hands. If you know about the hands, you'll know that the hands question everything. The hands are not only seeking the truth, but when engaged have the capacity of finding it.

This small group of educators will seek the truth of Clear Spring School, and by being here with us, will find an important ingredient for restoring and renewing American education. Fingers are crossed.

It seems an important message has been received and understood at the top of the US government as described in an article President Obama stresses on education beyond tests "An excessive focus on tests within schools could actually make students lose interest in education and teach them less about the things that are important," says President Barack Obama. Now let's hope he does something about what he has observed.
"All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that's not going to make education interesting," said the president, adding that it was unlikely that young people would do well in something that they find boring.
Haven't we been saying that? Obama also advocates more technology. But if there's technology needed, you can find little of greater educational value than the standard tools you'll find in wood shop. Woodworking builds both character and intellect, and the widely acknowledged American educational decline roughly correlates with the decline of wood shop and the arts in American schools. In the meantime, Obama and his department of education may be working at cross purposes, with him asking for less testing and the department asking for more and more. To lead, you do have to get out front with your objectives.

My readers in New York should plan to pick up a paper on Thursday and should look in the Homes Section for an article on woodworking for kids.

Update. We had a great visit with folks from the U of A. The first, second and third grade class was set up as a dinosaur museum and the students were docents explaining their work and their discoveries. Who could not be impressed by such educational enthusiasm? We in turn were equally impressed with our guests. Education in America is a thing we care deeply about, and to spend time with friends who share a commitment to the arts in education is always a powerful event. I extend my most sincere gratitude for the opportunity to share the wonders of Clear Spring School and hands-on learning.

Make, fix and create.

1 comment:

  1. I was moved to tears today when I heard about a national school in Japan with 70% of its pupils lost in the tsunami - how can the surviving children ever be motivated to learn by tests again? Surely the only hope for them is to find a "culture of inquiry" - how can we live with natural disasters? - how can we avoid nuclear disasters?
    Test dominated, purely academic education makes us believe that this is the only way to live successfully - just like governments try to make us believe that our future economy cannot exist without nuclear power.