one woman's view into a world of creativity

The Arts and Education

Palmer, Parker J.  The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998.

“For objectivism, the subject self is the enemy most to be feared…in objectivism, subjectivity is feared not only because it contaminates things but because it creates relationships between those things and us — and relationships are contaminating as well…So objectivism, driven by fear, keeps us from forging relationships with things of the world.  Its modus operandi is simple: when we distance ourselves from something, it becomes an object; when it becomes an object, it no longer has life; when it is lifeless, it cannot touch or transform us, so our knowledge of the thing remains pure.”

“For objectivism, any way of knowing that requires subjective involvement between the knower and the known is regarded as primitive, unreliable, and even dangerous.  The intuitive is derided as irrational, true feeling is dismissed as sentimental, the imagination is seen as chaotic and unruly, and storytelling is labeled as personal and pointless.”

That is why music, art, and dance are at the bottom of the academic pecking order and the “hard” sciences are at the top. ” (Palmer 51-51)

I was reading The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer for an education class, and I think these selections spanning two to three pages struck me the most of everything I read.  As touched upon in Down with History, art is less valued than other subjects, and I think Palmer hit the bullseye of why.  Art is regarded in school curriculums as an elective: an optional subject to be cut from schools when budgets get tight.  According to Palmer, it is because art is subjective, to be experienced firsthand.  It does not translate well into shared experiences because it is so subjective and personal.  The fine arts often work around solitary artists, or perhaps small cooperatives like musicians.

The important thing to focus on is that art is subjective and very much an internal experience that cannot be explained easily to others.  I came across this idea in a RSA lecture illustration about the education reform movement. Sir Ken Robinson, in his lecture “Changing Paradigms,” describes the arts as reliant upon “aesthetic experience, in which your senses are operating at their peak… present in the current moment… resonating with your excitement of the experience… when you are fully alive.”  This aesthetic experience of Sir Robinson is the subjective experience Palmer is speaking of.  The arts are subjective, sensory, aesthetic experiences which are difficult to measure and transfer in the manner of more scientific, objective subjects.  The incompatibility of the arts with the recent rage of standardized tests makes them unpopular and undervalued.  In a scientific society that emerged from the Enlightenment movement, creativity is discounted because it cannot be quantified.  The arts cannot remain objective.  They are very much subjective, and cannot be standardized.  Before we jump to eliminating the arts from school curriculums around the nation, we must first better understand why we value the fine arts less than other subjects.

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