Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, is one of the internationally recognized leaders in the development of education creativity and innovation. Here he explains what an arts curriculum should look.
Sir Ken does it again. How can the elephant in the room still be ignored when Sir Ken Robinson so elegantly and consistently and CLEARLY points it out to us?
Among other gems in this interview Robinson clarifies his support for assessment, while clarifying the fact that some material is more difficult to assess than others.
Is there truth in the distinction when he says,...
"We have a tendency to make the measurable important versus the important measurable. The arts are about textures of meaning and understanding, and qualities of perception and expression. This does not mean that they cannot be assessed, but it is difficult to reduce them to simple paper and pencil tests."
Of course! Have we adequately addressed this truth in our existing assessment structures?
Another clarification is in his defense of preferring the term "discipline" over "subjects" suggesting the "subjects" narrows the view to an area's content while "discipline" suggests the importance not only of the various elemnts impacting the content but also the ability to practice or utilize that content knowledge.
"The other thing I like about "disciplines" is that it opens up the idea of inter-disciplinary. There is a lot in common between the arts and the sciences. In my conception of a great school, there would be all these disciplines represented and there would be a lot of traffic between them."
This is almost too obvious. Yet, almost too overlooked in current assessment structures.
Though we teach and test as though "subject" knowledge (silo education) represents the real world or that kids will make all the necessary connections as they walk from the math building to the history building, he points out quite clearly the shortcomings of this assumption with an example from the Natural HIstory Museum ...
"If you visit the insect rooms, you'll find wonderful displays of butterflies, all arranged in glass cases on the walls. They're dead, but beautifully arranged by classification, i.e. size, color, etc. In the room next to them you'll find the beetles. In another room you'll find the spiders. But, if you go out into the world, that is not how you see them. You do not see the butterflies keeping to themselves over in one corner or the spiders lined up in columns keeping their distance. In nature, they are interacting with each other."
So? Why is this important? Again the answer just makes so much sense...
"It's the same in human cultures. They evolve by ideas from different disciplines affecting each other. They flow into each other and inspire people to think differently in their own fields. Schools can stifle this creative interaction by classifying subjects too tightly and keeping them too firmly in separate boxes."
As I continue to dedicate my "retirement" from the classroom to the Google Lit Trips project, I've become more and more convinced that the teaching of reading is really the teaching of many elements of the disciplines associated with reading. There is much overlap, but there are also very important distinctions between those elements. And, these elements ought to affect not only how we teach students reading, but also how and what we attempt to assess.
Assessing whether they CAN read is not the same as whether they DO read. Assessing whether the DO read is not the same as whether they read for information AND/OR for wisdom.
The reading of The Grapes of Wrath makes for an interesting example. Some history teachers scorn the book as Steinbeck took great liberties with "factual information."
But, the work IS FICTION and the real question is whether or not Steinbeck's use of poetic license gave him the ability to tell the greater truths that bring together the universal relationships between:
HISTORY (Pretty Boy Floyd, Hoovervilles, the "Red" scare, union busting etc.)
ECONOMICS (how many hours to six men have to work in order to purchase enough food for a single meal?, what are the economic forces pressuring both farmers, workers, and bankers that affect wages?)
MUSIC (what do the songs the migrants sing in the Hoovervilles tell us about society's social issues?)
SCIENCE (how does weather represented by the DUST storms impact Human Migration as well as Family Life and Personal Value Systems?) and ...oh yeah,...
GEOGRAPHY! Not only the "where", but the WHAT and HOW of the impact of terrain on people's lives. When we "see" the desolate terrain of the southwest "through the windshield" of that old jalopy with Route 66 stretching out toward the horizon, we can almost feel the predicament the Joads are "facing" not knowing what lies ahead or whether they will even make it across that desolate terrain or not and see not desolation ahead, but perhaps hope in the lush green farmlands of California.
The Grapes of Wrath, as is true with all great literature, just makes much more sense when taught and learned within it's broader context; a context that looks a lot more like the world in which students will also face similar universal forces.