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Sharing Wisdom

April 30, 2012

Teacher ArtExchange 11 jan

If you belong to list-servs or participate in chat rooms or any other online communications you are aware of the benefits. I am on an list-serv from the Getty Foundation called Teacher ArtExchange. In the many years I have belonged I have only posted a couple of times but I am always reading what others post and learn a great deal.

Over a year ago a conversation was started on a situation that many arts teachers are familiar with involving choices that high school students often have to make around course selections and decisions on their future. The wisdom provided by a veteran teacher stuck with me. Marvin Bartel responded from his wisdom of many years of teaching experiences. He had what I call the helicopter view. Sometimes when I am stumped I go up into my helicopter and take the big or long view to help me solve the problem before me.

Thank you to Marvin for sharing his wisdom and giving me permission to include his message in this blog post. Marvin is a writer, artist, and retired art teacher. You can learn more about Marvin at www.bartelart.com or www.goshen.edu/art/ed/art-ed-links.html (Art and Learning to Think and Feel).

The original email from an art teacher to provide the context:

This student is an easy shoo-in for any art school with regard to her seamless technical abilities.  It is her creativity that I want to spark.  She has been ‘won-over’ by the science department, but clearly would be wasting a God-given gift. While I know there are integrated art/science opportunities, I steadily and perhaps not-so-subtly, I hope to offer her some ‘wow’ art challenges and experiences.

Marvin’s response:

As an art teacher, it is certainly appropriate to be an advocate for our own discipline and choice in life. Few others can argue the case for art in the world better than we can.

It feels disappointing, but I try to ask them questions to find out their motivations. If they feel they have ability, they may need to see if they find a passion in science. I affirm their art ability, but encourage them to try the other field. When we are young we owe it to ourselves to explore enough to find our strongest passions and purposes. While I want to help them understand the pros and cons of being an artist, I am also believe it is crucial to have real passion for what they decide to do.

Creative art experimentation and discovery learning in art does offer a lot of mind building advantages needed in science. While you can be a good lab assistant in science by being a smart and careful technician, real scientists have to have strong divergent thinking abilities. Without creativity and innovation, they are doomed to be technicians who wash the test tubes and clean up behind the actual scientists. In many labs, the actual scientists are doing the thinking while the assistants are doing all the work.

A scientist at MIT tells me that his grad students are very smart and technically capable, but when they get an unexpected result, they are slow in their ability of figure out what they have discovered. He says their greatest need is to become more creative. A scientist at Rice U. tells me that when her grad students get unexpected results they mistakenly assume that they have made a mistake, so they repeat the lab work only to get the same unexpected result (wasting years of work). She says their science classes in high school and college have not given them practice in making discoveries. They have learned to be careful to avoid mistakes, but not how to learn from mistakes. They lack the imagination and creativity to see their own discoveries when they happen. She says they waste time and energy because they have not learned to actually experiment. Their science classes assigned them lab work where they already knew the answers before they did the lab work.

It is easy to be critical of science education, but did these science students have enough art teachers that challenged them to be creative, or did their art teachers also show them the examples before they did the project? Did their art teachers require them to learn to observe and express their own experiences, observations, and imaginations; or did their art teachers allow them to copy?

And thank you to San D Hasselman, Retired art teacher, Artist, and Puppeteer with links at www.rtlvr.wordpress.com and http://www.flickr.com/photos/31239756@N04/. San’s response to Marvin’s point:

A good percentage of my puppetry students, and my gifted and talented students (when I taught that many moons ago) were planning on going into the sciences. My classes were the first class they had that didn’t have definitive “look ’em up” answers, but required that they be creative in their problem solving. Not only did they succeed in the classes, but there was a certain amount of joy in the “tackling” of the work we did. I would tell them constantly that the one thing that scientists and artists have in common is the search for the “truth”. I would also let them know that my husband who was a research scientist and I would draw circles, he using a compass, and I, using just my hand. We would cut them out and lay one atop the other. They would be the same. The circles were the “truth”. (of course then they would make me prove I could draw a circle freehand, which then became like a parlor trick).

This conversation points to the importance of having the conversation with colleagues about what each content provides all students. Not just individually but collectively, integratively, and thoughtfully!

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