Category Archives: Education

Communicating faster than creativity

I ponder in my isolation as only the digital era could provide the question of creativity in our time. We have it and use and present all over, yet I wonder whether we realize the shallowness it exudes in the newness of complexity that all these intersecting signals have created. We raced to get here as fast as we can asking not what it means but rather what it can do, or do better, or faster, or longer, or smaller. We threw our net wide and incorporated the world from streaming internationally to communicating globally. The Earth isn’t as large or mysterious as it once was, the universe too now shrinks more and more. We hunger for information, raw and unchecked, that we aggregate it all to measure its success. Yet through this conglomerate of what we can present we have lost something meaningful, something only human. In our hunger to know we’ve forgotten context and depth. What matters now is a false sense of objective knowledge crowd sourced to the masses. In that importance we deemed the editor unnecessary, the journalist a waste, and the critic ourselves. With the communication of the digital age we all became the critics and informants of our own world, assuming that because we can now get around the critical eye, the critical eye is no longer necessary. Why learn from a historian what you can google on wikipedia? Why read from a journalist what you can learn first hand from twitter? why pay to experience the new when you can create (or decide) it for yourself?

The internet and the digital age has such an ability to create depth and yet all it has been used for is breath. We are losing touch with creativity because we no longer know what it means to be creative. We trust that which we don’t understand and fear that which is unfamiliar. We are as lost as ever despite everything that is helping us get found.

In all these vague generalizations what I really mean to say is something rather simple: We have lost our desire to be challenged intellectually. The 20th century saw the childhood of this concept in art, modernism though born in the 19th century truly came into its self in the 20th. But in so doing it created a world of art that needed to be engaged, thought through, and then understood. Modernism isn’t easy art, you can’t look at it once and understand it, it takes time and thought and engagement and discussion and research and understanding, and an open mind above all. But with all the tools of communication at our fingertips we have no interest in spending time figuring something out, rather we’ll just google it. And in so doing, we fail to fully understand it.

I challenge us and myself to stop googling. I challenge us to return to our tried and true techniques of learning the hard way. Use what has come before us, trust the disciplined approach it takes to be called a historian or journalist. And if through the internet we have come to believe that these academic processes for creating measures of distinction in our society are truly damaged or corrupt then lets fix them.

-Huysmans

The Art of Teaching Part 3: Observation

Continuing the posts on teaching and art or the art in teaching or what have you I want to now focus on the second general topic I outlined back in the first post, Observation. Arguably this is the easiest for me to describe and transform into a curriculum based on its importance in the already established science curriculum.

The bigger problem is not with how it is taught but rather with what it has to compete with in the classroom. The problem with the current science curriculum is in the artificial selection of content material deemed important to master at arbitrary grade levels. My students get way too caught up with memorizing the properties and names of rock types to be able to focus in on the simple task of observing them.

My opinion on science is not a new one but it has become more empowered after being a science teacher. In my opinion the most important element of “science” is how to ask and begin to answer questions. The actual facts and figures are irrelevant unless you are studying the relevance specifically. By that I mean geology and the properties of rocks are extremely important when taking geology. But in middle school science (which right now prides itself on being a hybrid of all sciences) the most important aspects are those that help develop your ability to approach the more difficult concepts later on. Ultimately what I am trying to say is that middle school should be devoted to teaching you how to be a scientists. The facts about rocks and elements you will forget by high school, which ironically is completely okay because it is retaught in the curriculum anyway.

So therefore if the content is arbitrary let’s just get rid of it and continue to teach it in high school. This would free up middle school to focus on what are called the process skills necessary for approaching that higher level content. I would be really nice to teach the cell for the first time in high school with all it’s parts rather than introduce it in 6th grade but with the disclaimer that there are only 5 organelles you need to be responsible for knowing. I never really understood what kind of message that sends to our students.

So this brings me to what this course on observation would be. Observation would be the overall theme for the three years, but it wouldn’t be the only element. Making inferences, hypotheses, conclusions, and so on would also take a significant role in this class. In a way you could call it a class on the Scientific Method, but fundamentally it will be a class on observation. Keep in mind the original idea of my first post, much of what we teach specifically is arbitrarily taught at that time except for the skills needed to learn (arithmetic, learning to read and write, how to make observations, and similar elements of elementary school are not arbitrary in their timing). But at the end of the day the most important part of what makes our specifies capable of developing science is our ability to observe, and with that our ability to record and make inferences from those observations.

A class focused around observation would teach that process in all its glory and have at the periphery the content elements through which this process can be practiced and mastered. But unlike our state curriculum which holds as its measure of mastery an 8th grade CONTENT test, I would make the focus of science to be about the process and therefore you will master my middle school science class when you can demonstrate your ability to make observations, and through those observations record and analyze your data to ultimately make conclusions.

thoughts?

-huysmans

The Art of Teaching Part 2: Creativity

Creativity as a subject is as I mentioned last time not new, but perhaps has not been fulling understood or executed. The idea behind it is to create an art like class that does more than just basic visual arts, it allows for students to discover what exactly they are creative in. But the problem is it rarely focuses on creativity as much as it focuses on talent. In the examples I have observed students do better by finding the medium they excel in, not creatively, but rather as a measure of talent.

Rather what a class based in creativity should be is a measure of how to think on your own. Creativity is not limited to art alone, it is something that we uniquely bring to everything we do. There is creativity in even the most basic human actions of eating and moving. When we teach it, and we should teach it, we need to focus not on exercises of talent in any specific field or medium but rather on how to do something your own way. In a sense such a class would fly in the face of your traditional subject classes which take so much time teaching a very specific, formulaic approach. So yes this would be rather difficult to incorporate into any traditional system already in place.

But It is necessary all the same. Success in life doesn’t come from following the rules but from breaking or augmenting them. I’m not suggesting that this be a class to teach revolution or decent but rather that it focus on the simple idea of thinking for yourself and in your own way. Those two ideas, simple in presentation yet complex in execution, would form the foundation of a creativity class essential for cultivating independent thinkers.

Lastly such class would need be early in the educational plan, save time for teaching specific ideas for later. Once a student has mastered the concepts of creativity they are ready to engage in history and science on a whole new level.

Thoughts?

-huysmans

The Art of Teaching, Part 1

For the next couple of weeks and perhaps a lot longer I will engage this blog in a series of discussions on the topic of teaching. More specifically on the relationship between art and teaching. This relationship, though unyieldingly general, is extremely important when its specifics are identified. I am/was (depending on the NYC budget and its cuts) a middle school science teacher at an inner city school. In addition to my science classes I also taught an art history/ appreciation class. Therefore when I talk about art and teaching I mean much more than teaching art or using art to teach content. Ultimately there is no end to where and how art relates to teaching and perhaps that is why an art critic like myself ended up as a teacher… of science.

Therefore in the next few weeks expect these posts to take no general form and to be full of errors and contradictions. I DO NOT WANT TO EDIT THESE. I want the ideas to flow, the mistakes to be apparent, and the evolution of thought as I and whomever else wants to participate engage in understanding what exactly the role of art is in education.

Let me start with this:
Were I to rethink and redesign education from the bare bones I would do away with the assumed four core classes of ELA (English Language Arts), Math, Social Studies, and Science and introduce an alternative four core classes as follows:

Creativity

Observation

Analytical Thought

Communication

When one makes it all the way to high school these would clearly not be the subjects, and in fact by high school a subject by any of these names should not exist as an option. What I mean by introducing these four subjects (most of which are not unfamiliar to education) are to suggest that these four ideas should be the focus of lower school education. These are four ideas, four concepts, four activities of our brain that are at the route of everything we do and everything that makes us uniquely human.

Thoughts?

-huysmans