Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

Is Teaching An Art or a Science

September 6, 2009

I am pleased to have on my a number of teachers.
has asked a very interesting question: Is teaching an art or a science.

Microblogs such as Plurk and Twitter do not allow sufficient space to do such a question justice.

I imagine that a 21st century scholar would describe SCIENCE as that which may be reproduced reliably by following a certain procedure, and precisely measured and quantified digitally with numbers.

Off the top of my head, let me pick an example of something which is an “art”. I spent some years around dialysis centers watching phlebotomist nurses insert or cannulate needles. There were a few people who were absolute artists and could quickly and painlessly insert a needle in even the most problematic of small veined patients. Others were only average in their skill. And some were absolutely dreadful. But such a skill, such a gift, is almost mysterious and inborn in a particular individual. We may certainly video tape a skilled phebotomist and place that video on youtube. But there is no way to construct a step by step procedure or algorithm or formula such as the quadratic formula which allows anyone to solve 2nd degree equations.

I shall attempt to quickly respond to this question as I imagine a member of the faculty of St. John’s Annapolis might answer, since I was greatly influenced by my four years of study in their Great Books liberal arts program.

Of course, they call themselves Tutors rather than Professors because they attempt to teach using Socratic methods. Socrates was often saying “I know only that I know nothing.” A professor “professes” to have knowledge and then didactly proceeds to lecture and outline that knowledge for others to memorize or absorb in some fashion and then prove that they have done their work by repeating the answers they have learned in exams and essays.

We must first ask what is the definition of “science” and what is the definition of “an art” (and I add the indefinite article so as not to confuse the issue with that which is Art in the artistic sense).

I wonder whether Plato’s dialogues even speak in any term that we could consider SCIENCE. Socrates often speaks of various arts in the sense of skills or crafts that one may learn through apprenticeship.

Personally, when I hear the word “science” I think of Galileo’s “Two New Sciences”. Many timelines date the beginning of the Renaissance with the birth of Galileo.

I would say that teaching is an ART, which involve some science.

First of all, a good teacher must have a passion, and compassion to empower the students, and not merely empower, but kindle within them a love and passion for learning.

I feel that there is much more I could say but I will save this post and then post the link at Plurk and also on Facebook.

I do hope to return to this and add the comments of others. I would also like to string-search through Plato’s Republic and post some of the things which are mentioned as “arts” or in Greek “techne”.

But, remember, we derive the word technique from techne as well as technology, whereas the word “science” has its roots in a word which means “to know or understand”.

Science attempts to dignify itself with mathematics esp. statistics, but science requires something APPLIED in material world of Matter and Energy and some “sciences” based on statistics are considered pseudo-sciences, but on average, not all uses of statistics are bad

If by teaching on line you mean a person with a mic/webcam blog, message board, then its a teacher that you cant hit with a spitball

If by teaching on line you mean something automated, programmatic, that students intereact with, well, there may be learning, but no teacher

Craftsment used to fashion muskets and devices with NO INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS, each fitted unique, Indust.revolution replaced artisans with assembly line and interchangeable parts.

Stop and think, there is no SINGLE person who has all the skills and knowledge to create a supercomputer with operating system. It is only
CORPORATE understanding, which propagates itself from generation to generation much like a meme or pattern…

One must speak very precisely. One must define what is meant by “science” and what is meant by “art” as well as how those terms evolved in meaning.

Our media driven culture tends to throw around buzz-words loosely and not think deeply about meanings.

Art in the sense of the Pietà by Michelangelo strives for a “one of a kind”. Science strives for that which can be duplicated.

Craftsmanship is something transmitted from master to apprentice in a long process which cannot be quantified or documented.

The one living person I know of who could give the proper answer to this in essay or lecture form is Eva Brann of St. John’s Annapolis

Here is a perfect example of Socrates notion of “the art” of some particular human endeavor.

Is not the art of painting a whole?

Ion. Yes.

Socrates And there are and have been many painters good and bad?

Ion. Yes.

Socrates And did you ever know any one who was skilful in pointing out the excellences and defects of Polygnotus the son of Aglaophon, but incapable of criticizing other painters; and when the work of any other painter was produced, went to sleep and was at a loss, and had no ideas; but when he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or whoever the painter might be, and about him only, woke up and was attentive and had plenty to say?

Ion. No indeed, I have never known such a person.

Socrates Or did you ever know of any one in sculpture, who was skilful in expounding the merits of Daedalus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the son of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of any individual sculptor; but when the works of sculptors in general were produced, was at a loss and went to sleep and had nothing to say?

Ion. No indeed; no more than the other.

Socrates And if I am not mistaken, you never met with any one among flute-players or harp- players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who was able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyras or Orpheus (mythical inventor of music), or Phemius the rhapsode of Ithaca, but was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion of Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or defects?

Ion. I cannot deny what you say, Socrates. Nevertheless I am conscious in my own self, and the world agrees with me in thinking that I do speak better and have more to say about Homer than any other man. But I do not speak equally well about others- tell me the reason of this.

Socrates I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to explain to you what I imagine to be the reason of this.

The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, Like that contained in the stone which Euripides calls a magnet, but which is commonly known as the stone of Heraclea.

This stone not only attracts iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting other rings;and sometimes you may see a number of pieces of iron and rings suspended from one another so as to form quite a long chain: and all of them derive their power of suspension from the original stone.

The Corybantes were priests of Cybele or Rhea, mother of Zeus and other Olympian gods, and she was worshipped with wild music and frenzied dancing which, like the bacchic revels or orgies of women in honor of Dionysus, carried away the participants despite and beyond themselves. Cf. Eurip. Bacchae.

In like manner the Muse first of all inspires men herself;

and from these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, who take the inspiration. For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed. And as the Corybantian revellers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains:
but when falling under the power of music and metre they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus but not when they are in their right mind.

And the soul of the lyric poet does the same, as they themselves say; for they tell us that they bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they, like the bees,
winging their way from flower to flower. And this is true. For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles Many are the noble words in which poets speak concerning the actions of men; but like yourself when speaking about Homer, they do not speak of them by any rules of art:
they are simply inspired to utter that to which the Muse impels them, and that only; and when inspired, one of them will make dithyrambs, another hymns of praise (often to Apollo), another choral strains, another epic or iambic verses- and he who is good at one is not good any other kind of verse: for not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine. Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore god takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers,
as he also uses diviners and holy prophetess,
in order that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that god himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. And Tynnichus the Chalcidian affords a striking instance of what I am saying: he wrote nothing that any one would care to remember but the famous paean which; in every one’s mouth, one of the finest poems ever written, simply an invention of the Muses, as he himself says.


Homework Pros and Cons

August 31, 2009

This is a PLURK.COM thread posted to by various high school teachers

Pros and Cons: Should Homework be Abolished? Alfie Kohn’s RETHINKING HOMEWORK.

Comments by various posters:

Homework should be logical not worksheets! Creating and developing multimedia projects not memorizing facts.

I believe some homework is important to practice skills, sharing learning with family, and develop responsibility. Guidelines of 10 min per
grade level is good. Being read to or reading independently should be in additioin to this. When homework becomes a battle between child & parent, something is wrong with the system and should be explored and rectified.

Also, homework should be checked but not used as a grade since it is impossible to tell if the student did it.

We don’t include homework in our gradebook, but are told by the high schools that we don’t give enough. They say we’re not preparing our students well enough for high school by not giving them plenty of homework now. They average 3 hours a night at HS

*sigh* we assign roughly 1 – 1.5 hours of homework per night. Now this is flexible, since we assign it over the entire quarter, but it works

out to about that per night. And that’s focused work. I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m tired of this debate. Ours is not trad work.

Wow! 3 hrs/night? How about extra curricular activities? Aren’t we looking for well rounded citizens?

If my kid got 3hrs/night I’d be talking to teachers about why and what is the value of giving such work!

I can’t wait to see the responses. For the record, I am all for getting rid of homework. As a matter of fact,

I very rarely give any homework to my students. If they don’t finish classwork they may have to finish at home, but I don’t give homework.

I had TONS of homework from 7th grade through 12th grade in a public school sys in CT I am age 60 and I still have occasional nightmares of school anxiety during sleep As a Junior in Highschool, I would arrive home at 3:30pm exhausted, eat dinner, go to bed, get up midnight, and study til time to leaveInAM

I think homework should only be assigned when necessary to provide practice for skill acquisition – not necessary in all content areas

This is an interesting topic. I posted the plurk page link on Facebook, but I think because it is a PRIVATE plurk, others cannot read

I agree we need to rethink homework but not whether we should or shouldn’t but more at what we do with it. To often homework is used to fill

class time or repeats learning that has already been accomplish or to introduce a lesson only to create fear for the student.

abolished? no. carefully constructed, necessary, and meaningful? YES.

For me the new illiteracy issue is computer internet illiteracy. Free Wi-Fi and lowcost computers should be available to all.

In 1960 my Mom had to buy a $2000 World Book Encyclopedia, because we lived far from the small seedy public library with limited hrs.

I carried SO MANY books to school each day that my arm and posture were affected.

Now, with Internet, search engines, CD’s and Memory sticks, expensive bulky textbooks are unnecessary!

The problem with homework is that if the child knows how to do the work, it’s unnecessary torment, and if they don’t know how to do it, they don’t have a readily available teacher to assist. As a parent, I don’t like having that responsibility passed to me for two reasons. One, I’m a lousy teacher. There’s a reason I didn’t join the profession. Two, I don’t know every subject. Never took Spanish, for example. I think the school day should be extended until 5:00, with the last couple of hours being ‘independent work’ but with teachers available for extra assistance.

I’m not a fan of homework as busywork or as mere extension of the homework. Homework should enrich and expand exisitng knowledge, and then it should stop.