The American educator and philosopher of education Elliot W. Eisner is an ideal theorist to examine when determining the best ways, means, and measures to set standards for an elementary math school curriculum. Eisner was unapologetic in his demand for what he called the exercise of standards-based artistry and the development of connoisseurship in education, and for what some of his critics have called elitism in approaching the educational process.
However, Eisner”s called for standards, although Eisner is particularly known for his work in arts education, makes his hands-on theories of education both useful and inspiring to elementary school math teachers. Eisner”s examination of process and the artistry of education in The Enlightened Eye proved that he was attempting extension of his thinking to qualitative research into education and to the sciences as well as humanities.
To conceive of students as artists who do their art in science, in the arts, or the humanities, is, after all, both a daunting and a profound aspiration,” he wrote later on, but education is not an assembly line, rather “the field of education has much to learn from the arts about the practice of education. It is time to embrace a new model for improving our schools,” where the school functions as a laboratory of innovation and experimentation.
For Eisner, “knowledge is an intensely variable and personal “event”, something acquired via a combination of one’s senses – visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory – assembled according to a personal schema, and then made public – expressed, typically, by the same sensory modalities utilized in the initial acquisition. “(Lloyd-Zannini, 1998, cited by Smith, 2005) Again, this is an inspiration in particular for an elementary math school class for it stresses that learning must be experiential, exciting, yet still convey something beyond pure fun or feeling.
Cooking to teach fractions followed by a test asking students to shrink or expand the recipe, to show that knowledge had been conveyed would be keeping with this approach. For Eisner, our ability to know is based in our ability to construct valuable and real-life meaning from experiences in a coherent fashion. Despite his advancement of the importance of connoisseurship and criticism, Eisner began his own education as a teacher in an egalitarian setting. While in college Elliot Eisner worked with African American boys in the American Boys Commonwealth in the neighborhood where he grew up.
He said later that this confirmed his view that there must be a solid aesthetic behind art education and a better exploration of art”s historical context. Approaches which simply gave children arts materials in the hope that their creativity might flow resulted in programs “with little or no structure, limited artistic content and few meaningful aims” and were ultimately patronizing in their approach to students ability to gain useful knowledge that would gain them advancement in life. (Smith, 2005)
From his bureaucratic experiences, Eisner also began to frown upon the stress on teacher”s “team meetings,” which he said discouraged effective praxis and only encouraged talk amongst educators. He said such communal sharing of knowledge is useless if the theories that are generated cannot be used to help students. For example, hearing about a colleagues” problems teaching decimals may be instructive, and help all teacher draw on a range of techniques, but a good educator is one who can combine the different techniques and improvise regarding the particular situation and set of student”s needs.
Eisner believed that teachers needed to work together, but they also needed to accept criticism from principles and administrators in the classroom, in terms of the results generated by their efforts-just like students should not be so protected from criticism in assessments of their qualitative and quantitative work, either! Eisner stressed that educators must strive discover the truth in real-life situations, experiences and phenomenon. As Eisner himself stated, ‘effective criticism functions as the midwife to perception.
It helps it come into being, then later refines it and helps it to become more acute. ” (1998, p. 6) Connoisseurship of appreciation of a work of art or a skill, and of our own ability to master a skill may allow us to appreciate a theory, but criticism is also necessary to bring education to the next level. In other words, in the arts, one must make, and learn about previous art, but also accept evaluations of one”s knowledge. In math, students must learn, but also show they can perform and utilize the skills they are taught beyond mere regurgitation.
Likewise, teacher education itself must not be purely theoretically based. Good teachers know, says Eisner, that “even to talk about effectiveness as though it were independent of the kind of intellectual values that schools ought to support, seems ill conceived. Thoughtful educators are not simply interested in achieving known effects; they are interested as much in surprise, in discovery, in the imaginative side of life and its development as in hitting predefined targets achieved through routine procedures.
In some sense our aim ought to be to convert the school from an academic institution into an intellectual one. That shift in the culture of schooling would represent a profound shift in emphasis and in direction. ” In other words, the elementary school curriculum should invest the same trust in students, and make the same demands of them as higher levels of education, rather than stress rote learning.
However, combined with this disdain for rote, Eisner is equally vehement that this experiential learning must always have the fundamentals at its focus. Strain the limits of schooling, test students beyond standardized multiple-choice exams, but do not use these techniques as an excuse for instilling real knowledge in young minds. Idealistic, and perhaps impractical-but an inspiring goal for any teacher, regardless of grade area or subject matter, to reach for.
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