Art cannot change the world…

“The arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world.” – Maxine Greene

This week we began to look at reconceptualists in curriculum theory. During which I was introduced to Maxine Greene.

Greene is a respected educator and philosopher. She has a doctorate in education, has served as the philosopher-in-residence for the Lincoln Centre Institute for the Arts in Education, is a recipient of honorary degrees from multiple institutions including McGill University, and founded the Maxine Greene Foundation for Social Imagination, the Arts, and Education at Teachers College in 2003. (maxinegreene.org)

The quote I selected above could quite possibly summarize my feelings about the value of the Arts in Education. In fact it summarizes so well I’ve added it to my website’s tagline. Maxine Greene is an outspoken proponent of the value of aesthetic education. There is a value and a connection in what both Maxine Greene and John Dewey have referred to as a “transactional process” (maxinegreene.org). This process and the philosophies of transaction are of particular value in aesthetic education but can also be valuable in all areas of Education. For me the philosophy at the heart of the quote is just as, or perhaps more, important than its application in aesthetic education. I believe the value of the Arts in Education cannot be understated. The use of art to induce change in an individual is powerful in ways that few other experiences can replicate. In a similar way the impact that the Arts can have on learning is also hard to match or replicate. Speaking in simply anecdotal terms art can increase retention, engage parts of the brain that otherwise aren’t used in some areas of learning and serve as starting point for critical thinking. From my own experience as a student many of the long term beliefs and values in education that I have retained are linked to the arts.

Using art to engage students has been a method used by teachers in many classrooms and in many ways for many years. The link to this connection cannot simply be coincidental. Linking art and critical or creative thinking has been studied by many scholars and aesthetic education and aesthetic experience has been widely addressed by philosophers for decades including Kant, Schiller and others. So why then are the arts often the first to go when it comes time to make cuts in funding or tighten budgets? The answer lies in the traditionalist views of curriculum. Art is not seen as fundamental in creating students who contribute to the efficiency models of education and society.

As I think about using art to enhance education I find it difficult to think of what it makes impossible in the classroom. What using Art in the classroom makes possible on the other hand is a space that allows for the empowerment of identity, the expression of feelings and emotions, the elevation of curiosity, a space for different ways of knowing and expressing, a deeper connection to content, the fostering of creativity, and the development of students who are creative and critical thinkers.

For me this quote speaks to the power of the learner to be an individual. It embodies the idea that change is not garnered from something that is created but through the act of creation. A book, a song, an image will not change the world but it empowers learners to change and thereby impact the world themselves. As a teacher this quote serves to remind you that it is not the content that is important but the students in your classroom. As I think of my values as a teacher this quote will  remind me to foster students creativity and to bring in a variety of materials and options for learning because it may be one simple experience aesthetic or otherwise that could spark a change in the life of my students. Who knows that simple moment may be the reason that one of my students goes on to fundamentally change the world as we know it.

Lofty goals I know but why not aim high…

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