More matter, with less art

“More matter, with less art!” – Hamlet

Alongside age-old questions about chickens, eggs, and roads, there is another conundrum that grinds on down the decades: is teaching an art or a science? It is possible to argue for art, since teachers have to exercise creativity and skills in engaging students’ interests, present information in new ways, and communicate the passion that they bring to the classroom – which in turn inspires and motivates children to learn the subject for themselves. On the other hand, there seems to be a scientific element to teaching, not only in the large body of scientific research that exists, but also in the careful, logical planning and analysis of lesson sequences and student work.

Much of modern education is firmly on the side of art. A large part of the teaching profession has very strong views about the importance of self-expression, autonomy, authority and power. A high value is placed on ‘student voice’, creating the democratic conditions in which people will feel valued because their views are heard, and limiting the teaching of moral codes to the requirements for learning to take place in institutional settings. Encouraging freedom of expression for students comes from the same underlying beliefs as the demand that teachers have autonomy and freedom of expression. Authenticity is all. If it feels right, do it. If the kids are happy, everyone will be happy. [These are not made up statements. They are things I have heard teachers say].


Raphael’s The School of Athens 

It is arguable that there are advantages to such an approach, for example, that it creates a safe emotional environment; that it builds confidence and self-esteem; and that it develops the learner as whole person, so that he or she is fit to help bring about a more just, open and happy society. These noble goals are pursued through minimising hierarchy, creating ‘shared’ power structures and emphasising personal choice over conformity to group rules. In this scenario, the teacher is an artist-activist, freeing others through their passion, creativity and care for people.

However, the art proposition can also be self-defeating: while children from supportive, educated and prosperous homes may succeed in such an environment, those children for whom life circumstances are more difficult, and who are therefore more reliant on their schooling for educational and economic wellbeing, cannot achieve security, confidence and good grades without skilled teaching. In other words, advocates of education as a force for social justice will fail the students they claim to serve without a repertoire of teaching skills to achieve their ends.

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1 Response to More matter, with less art

  1. Great article…I am just putting the finishing touches to my second book and doing background research for the third. The first book,”Reading through tears” sets out the science behind learning to read. The second book, working title “Dogma or data”, is a novel exposes the battle between philosophy and science in teacher training and admin’. The third, working title “Rhetoric or reason”, looks as though it will be crystal balling, foretelling the society that may be created if the philosophers who have replaced teachers in teacher training continue in their goal of creating citizens who have limited capacity to reason and yet have an emotion-led obligation to change society to achieve the socialist agenda of their masters. That third book may never be finished because, after all, people can read George Orwell’s book “1984”; he said it all.
    Our work is in reading research; we are one of the few truly independent research groups in the world. I won’t bore you with the research…you can study the evidence at but in brief…
    1. We have identified the link between VAS (visual memory storage) and whole word guessing capacity. We expose the flaw in Whole Language.
    2. about 50% of beginner readers have insufficient VAS development for whole word processing. We can identify these kids in a couple of minutes.
    3.We will be releasing our diagnostic and literacy management systems in the next few months.. that will empower any teachers or parent to diagnose the children at risk.
    5. The new evidence destroys the basis of Whole Language as applied to infants.
    6. A phonics first and word recognition later makes phonics and whole word processing ‘cooperative’ strategies but th reverse (Whole Word first and incidental phonics later) converts the strategies to competitive not cooperative strategies.

    This is the science talking…we hope that the new evidence will overturn the flawed whole word-guesssing philosophy once the system is put directly into the hands of teachers and parents because otherwise that only leaves us legal action and that opens Pandora’s Box.
    Byron Harrison
    VAS Research

    Keep up the good work

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