[iDC] education should be inefficient

Sean Justice sean at seanjustice.com
Thu Jun 24 19:56:40 UTC 2010

Hi Astra, Simon, all....

This thread resonates for me as well, deeply. And for many reasons.

Yet, as satisfying and as illustrative as anecdotal accounts can be, I'd
like to draw back to consider the system itself. Astra touches on this (as
have many others recently) when she notes the problematics of efficiency,
credentialing and the industrialization of education. For me, time and
again, this becomes the core that must be resisted in the institutions of
education we find today -- at all levels, university, community college,
trade school, high school, elementary school, even (crazy!) pre-school.

Unschooling is in the air, but even Illich brought back some kind of
institution after dismantling it. While I don't think it's a de facto
conclusion that we de-institutionalize education, I do think we have to
somehow de-industrialize our methodologies. I often feel very isolated in
this task, though, as if I'm personally fighting the massive weight of the
system all alone. Indeed, as it turns out, this might be the job of each
individual teacher, but it's incredibly tough to do, in most environments.
Sometimes we're lucky to be supported by deans and dept chairs (as Simon
has, and as I have been from time to time as well), but often that's not the
way it works. 

And here's where the discussion tangents specifically toward art education.
Yes, to both Simon and Astra, art education might not be necessary to
creativity, or to good teaching, and it might not be pragmatic when weighed
against earning potential (yikes -- the specter of industrial efficiency
just popped back in)...but here I have to put the brakes on.

Isn't it just too easy to say art can't be taught? I think the issue is more
complex. As some sort of proof of that there's been a lot of work around the
topic in recent years (Elkins, Singerman, and others....), and my colleagues
at TC (Baldacchino, Graham, and many others..) and I continue to dig beneath
the clichés that accompany the discussion at every turn.

In fact, at this point in my own work I am arguing strongly that
'creativity' (...sidestepping for a moment the knarly issue of what that
word even means, precisely) can be learned, and that it might indeed be
teachable (there's a difference, as we know), and -- here's the kicker --
that there might even be a purpose for credentialing it.

I'm still shocked to have come around to that conclusion, but here's the
logic: at every level of education there's more flexibility in the art
classroom to resist and to radicalize, precisely because art instruction
integrates ideas and body in a praxis that is very different from most other
curriculum activities. As such, it can fly under the radar of systematic
industrialization. Sometimes.

Actually, I see art credentialing as a stop-gap measure (though more and
more MFAs are minted each year, and the studio PhD is creeping in -- so not
everyone sees it as such) on the way towards a radical de-efficientalizing
(I realize that's not a word, but maybe it will become one) of education at
large. That is, can credentialing help to position imaginative people on the
inside of this often dehumanizing system, where perhaps they can gain the
power and influence necessary to begin dismantling it?

I realize that's a lot to ask. It might even be radically naïve. But
basically, the point of my response, is that art education is a complex
area, full of subtleties, and full of good people who are investigating deep
questions about the structure of learning from many different view points.
While agree thoroughly with Astra and Simon on so much, I also want to
advocate for careful thinking on where and how art education fits into this
discussion about re-imagining education at large.

As well, I dream about a world where Astra can whole-heartedly encourage her
sister to, yes, go to art school.

Thanks for the amazing discussion.

Sean Justice

Sean Justice

EdDCT candidate
Teachers College Columbia University

Digital Art Adjunct: NYU, Parsons New School, ICP, SUNY, CUNY, etc.

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