AVAM, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, is a celebration of creativity. Rebecca Hoffberger, its founder and director, joyously embraces creativity and all those who open themselves to its possibilities. My husband David and I are AVAM members and we share Rebecca’s spirit.
Mind, Brain and Education
Today I attended one of many events at the museum, a seminar entitled “Arts, Creativity & Other Outrageous Education Ideas!” This was in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University School of Education Neuro-Education Initiative and Council on K-12 Education’s “Learning, Arts and the Brain Summit.”
Although I’m retired from teaching and this program was presented to a room full of teachers, I continue to hold an interest in learning and creativity. So I attended and I’m glad I did.
As I listened to speakers Jerome Kagan from Harvard University, Alice Wilder who is producer of Blues Clues, Keri Smith who has written several outrageous creativity-oriented books and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek from Temple University, I felt good about the way I integrated the arts into my language arts curriculum and the reasons for doing this.
Intrusion of Testing and Content Alone
I can’t say that I did much of this during the last two years of my teaching career, however, because teaching by that time was confined tightly to teaching the language of the standardized tests, practicing for the real test over and over again, assessing the practice tests and then taking the tests. There just wasn’t time to do much of anything else. (You can read unorganized thoughts and rants I wrote while teaching.)
Jerome Kagan passionately made a case for teaching the arts. He spoke about cutbacks in recent years and how this has affected us as a society. He said that without the arts, “subjective feelings become subordinate to logic” and there is a “growing reluctance to anger any group.” You see, arts has to do with pushing boundaries, angering people and making us thing. Without the arts, our school children and their teachers live in a small corral with tight boundaries. This is not conducive to learning. It is not conducive to risk-taking, exploring and making new discoveries. “we’ve upset the balance between correct and intuitive.”
Kagan reminded us of the need for a vacation from the correctness and rank that has been imposed on us.
Keys Changing Hands
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple, talked about how the “arts and playful activities create opportunities that are pregnant with learning.” She quoted from Daniel Pink in talking about the future of education, “The keys to the kingdom are changing hands toward empathizers and creators.” Things are changing. Needs are changing.
Hirsh-Pasek listed the skills that will be needed for the future—skills and opportunities that we should be providing for students:
- critical thinking
- creative innovation
- confidence (to take risks)
Alice Wilder, producer of Nick Jr.’s Blues Clues talked about the importance of engaging children with learning and showed examples through Blues Clues, Super Why, and Think It, Ink It, an innovative approach to help children imagine and write books.
I was intrigued by Keri Smith’s talk. She spoke of her disenchantment with school, while at the same time finding creativity when she stayed home. She told of the rewards of risk taking. She shared with us excerpts from her books, Wreck This Journal and How to be an Explorer of the World—truly wild and innovative approaches to creativity. Check out her website to explore some of her ideas.
If you haven’t seen the latest exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum, it’s well worth spending several hours exploring The Marriage of Art, Science & Philosophy. As Rebecca says, “It is a dance between imagination and reality.” She also reminds us to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. You’ll find it at AVAM.