The Science of Teaching? Part 1-Painting Parties
Easels are ready to go, equipped with awaiting canvases. Corks pop and wine flows. The smiles are genuine but the nervous anticipation as to what will be created is also part of the fun. Dollops of paint are squeezed out upon palettes, brushes in hand, and the instruction begins. Painting and wine parties are currently all the craze. Gather your friends together for fun or for a bachelorette party, show up at a studio and paint a predetermined picture with an instructor close at hand. It is sort of like paint by numbers without the little outlines and the numbers. In the end you will have a nice piece made with your own hand that is suitable, hopefully, for framing. It is fun. But is it really art? Could the product of anything so methodically “created” ever be considered art? Is there any real learning going on by the artists? And is the instructor really teaching anything or merely structuring a class so that all students have the same experience at the same time in order to have the same product in the end?
Historically it has always been understood by most that teaching is an art. Within that art, as with all artistic endeavors, the skills of teaching can be honed, modified and channeled, but it is and will always be an art. Art is untamed. It is original and it is not quantifiable. Granted the paintings of these amateur sommeliers are the beginnings of art. They are art-like. To be cliché one might say, “the greatest form of flattery…” but the simple reality is that by imitation one can eventually become that which is imitated. It has always been true though apprenticeships, mentoring and the like. Teaching should be no different. If one merely imitates a teacher and never crosses over the gap by implementing her own ideas, incorporating her life experiences, adding and morphing the things learned into the wisdom of teaching, she will only be average.
According to the popular book, Classroom Instruction that Works however, “…the ‘art’ of teaching is rapidly becoming the ‘science’ of teaching…” How did teaching in the classroom all of a sudden become a “science” rather than an “art”? And why would that even be desired? Science is all about studying a thing in order to produce a repeated event or result over and over again. So, in the late 1970’s, “experts” began studying teaching scientifically. This, of course, in order to find out its secrets and then to exploit those secrets to the world so that anyone who wanted to could teach. If they just had those scientifically delineated methods, techniques, and modes, they could create an instruction manual that, if imitated, could technically make anyone a teacher.
This type of thinking only perpetuates the old evil adage “Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach”. Just follow a list of instructions. As if, with the right instruction manual, anyone could be Michelangelo. Am I saying that being a teacher is the same as being an artist like Michelangelo? Damn right! Any real teacher is an artist! It takes skill and practice to teach other humans, especially developing ones. And teachers are not trying to simply make a work of art that will statically hang out in a museum. They are trying to inspire other humans to be creative minded, inquisitive learners, and much more. A teacher is not hitting a clump of stone with a chisel or brushing paint on a blank canvas. There are no children that are blank canvases! Besides a teacher’s medium does not sit still for her to work. Teachers are doing a much harder thing. They are like artists that create artists. Teachers are trying to leave a loving mark on a young person’s mind. If I may modify the way Ray Bradbury puts it, I am trying to leave the ridges of my thumbprint in the convolutions of their brains. There is no true or best method to do this. There are various methods, there are various practices that work and skills one could hone, but there is no one best practice.