[iDC] education should be inefficient

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Fri Jun 25 09:20:44 UTC 2010

I wasn't trying to suggest that art education is privileged or special in
some manner relative to other disciplines, although it is distinct and
requires certain methods and modes of engagement to be successful. But,
generally, what applies to art education applies to other disciplines. The
main caveat I would apply here is that certain professions do require a
defined level of assured expertise before we can let people loose to
practice them. I would include aspects of medicine, civil engineering and
architecture amongst these subjects. I think we would all agree we would be
nervous about having an amateur undertake surgery or design and build a
bridge. However, in many other subjects amateurism can function well and
people can gain full professional status through an autodidactic route (my
own experience). I would propose that art is amongst these subjects. I do
not see this as about the relative status or value of the subjects - it is a
pragmatic concern for efficacy and safety that distinguishes these knowledge
and practice domains from one another.

As for the institutional frameworks that currently underpin education...

The current situation is not good and it is getting worse. The main reason
for this has a double aspect. Firstly, the demand for an ever increasing
percentage of the population to be educated to degree level. Secondly, a
constantly dwindling unit of resource to ensure this can happen. This is
unsustainable and to ignore the situation, as the previous UK government
did, means a race to the bottom, with further instrumentalisation and
standardisation of educational provision. To counter this either our social
commitment to invest in education has to rise or the number of students
fall. The new UK government has made it clear it is choosing the latter of
these options. Unlike our previous government, which tried to have its cake
and eat it, we at least have a decisive policy for going forward, although
we could argue they made the wrong choice.

Whilst the government can set the larger picture and budget envelope it is
also the case that institutions will find ways to fudge the situation, so
whilst the headline figure of a 25% cut in UK higher education funding (on
top of the 8% cut we have already had in the past year) seems shocking we
will have to see what that actually happens. Nevertheless, we now appear to
be committed to this trajectory for the next few years. The result will be
reduced access to education and thus a return to a more elitist
understanding of what education is for. This will be complemented by a
de-skilled work force and higher unemployment. Sounds like the early 1980's
all over again.

Is there a way out of this? I think the P2P model might have legs but it
will require an enormous amount of effort to ensure it will work. Good
intentions are a good place to start but on their own they do not make
things happen or fix problems. Expertise, skill, human resource and money
are required. These elements usually become available only through large
scale social contracts, such as government agreeing to fund a framework to
make something happen. That is, effectively, institution building. It looks
like a catch 22.

There is also another problem. Higher education is concerned with pedagogy
to a constrained degree. Other functions are required to be filled by HE
institutions, such as research, knowledge transfer and policy oriented work.
However, perhaps there is something here? In many cases the P2P model
already dominates in these areas of activity, especially in research. It is
no surprise that the early internet was developed and established by
academic researchers. The ethics that underpin research came to shape the
internet, with free access, openness and shared resource embedded in its
foundation. In this respect it is perhaps in those institutions where
research and pedagogy are most closely linked, with teaching underpinned and
contextualised by research and research at least partly justified through
teaching, that we might find some of the models we might need to go forward.
However, it has been the case that such institutions are amongst the elite.
Does this mean we are back to the resource question?

I am not an educationalist or an economist so am not in a position to
suggest how this situation can be reconciled (although these are both
activities that probably do not require assured skilling). But I'd like to
think a solution is possible. I just doubt it will be a simple one.



Simon Biggs
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk  simon at littlepig.org.uk
Skype: simonbiggsuk

Research Professor  edinburgh college of art
Creative Interdisciplinary Research into CoLlaborative Environments
Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice
Centre for Film, Performance and Media Arts

> From: Sean Justice <sean at seanjustice.com>
> Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2010 15:56:40 -0400
> To: Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>, Astra Taylor <examinedlifedoc at gmail.com>,
> <idc at mailman.thing.net>, <scholzt at newschool.edu>
> Subject: Re: [iDC] education should be inefficient
> 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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