Education: A Science or an Art?
As a pre-service teacher, I was often asked to classify education as a science or an art. I distinctively remember questioning the reason for only two categorical choices. At the time, I was satisfied with the response, which made reference to The Great Education Debate of 1977. Being an art history major, I naturally considered the prospect of education as an art form.
However, as a novice-teacher, it did not take long to recognize how quantitatively the public viewed education, relying on the notions of training and testing, to name only two stand-out terms. Consequently, I re-molded my romanticized image of education around the likenesses of science and art. I came to argue that there are specialized artistic techniques of pen and ink work and bronze-casting, which when considered scientifically, are proven to yield repetitive results and desired illusions. I concluded that how the participant, whether it is artist or teacher, chooses to utilize these techniques would shift the argument from a scientific to an artistic one. I came to regard education as a blending of varying scientific and artistic hues.
Nearly thirty years of learning, teaching, and leading later, my thinking is affirmed. The consideration of education as an art form, alone, is flawed. Education is not a subtractive process of chiseling away at stone to create a desired object, nor is it the additive process of combining measured ingredients to produce the same product over and over again. When rules and techniques are uniformly adopted, the science of schooling comes to overpower and limit the possibilities of education. Before thoughtlessly reproducing that which has come to be a school’s guarantees, the truly artistic educators must critique those propositions and educational ideas. Oftentimes, though, it is not until there is a rupture in our routines that we find ourselves pushed to question and problematize.
The Covid-19 public health-related school closure and health-related imposed guidelines, most certainly, ruptured our daily routines. Without warning, educators were positioned to think, create, and problem-solve artistically, while holding onto the shores of the scientific data points that anchor our frameworks – our guarantees. And, without warning, the inner-argument of the great educational debate was thrust back into the forefront of my mind.
Teachers and school leaders are continuing to rethink the norms of school life and to enact our human-to-human work through the ever-growing divide of space and screens. Lessons are restructured so that children are able to access learning, either in real-time or when their home-schedules allow. Teachers continue to analyze the curricula and consider the essential standards of learning, in order to distill the delivery of the most powerful instruction. Teachers are striving to communicate about learning in a manner that is steeped with collaboration, appreciation for the other’s perspective, and shared goals – all with a palpable aura for the science and artistry of our work.
Educators’ artistic spirits are craved, as we continue to search for meaningful ways to deliver instruction, maintain and strengthen relationships, and keep alive a love of learning for schoolchildren. Although challenging, the events of the past few school years have re-illuminated the science and art of education as two bright forces that – when not thought about in opposition – form the makings of a masterpiece, filled with possibilities, for our students.