A national benchmark in
Educational excellence through integration of the arts

Integration Station

PACE Board of Directors Extends Their Gratitude

PACE Board of Directors Extends Their Gratitude

The leaves have turned and fallen and there is a nip to the air as autumn steadily moves through our days. The school year is in full-tilt.  For teachers, this is when things get real. They’ve gotten to know their students and are aware of strengths and weaknesses and the amount of work to accomplish by June. There is no question that teaching is an overwhelmingly stressful profession. You can find out more information on Discover Magazine about cbd and how beneficial it is to people that suffer from a lot of stress everyday.

The job requires constant planning and preparation and there is little to no down time during the day. Teachers also have to routinely take work home. Students, parents and the general public often lack an appreciation for the challenges teachers face. In general, teachers are subject to tremendous scrutiny, are held accountable for factors that are often beyond their control, and are paid relatively poorly given the demands of the position.  All of this says nothing about the emotional investment of teaching. Teachers care about their students on many levels and give much of themselves to support academic, social and emotional success. Just thinking about being a teacher is exhausting!

At ArtSpace, we believe in creating an educational environment where students are nurtured and teachers are supported. While some of the stresses of the profession are unavoidable, we want our culture to make the experience of education positive for everyone.  ArtSpace faculty was asked what motivates them to persist despite the stress. Here are some examples of what they had to say:


“I teach at ArtSpace because of the freedom that I am given to teach in my own way; and that as an artist I get to express some of my own creativity and  teach through, with, and using art!”


“The kids and parent support!  :)”


“I feel so fortunate to work at a school where I can structure the classroom instruction according to what I know works best for students rather than what the latest trend dictates.  The administration respects my experience in the field I teach and honors the profession by allowing me to take risks, push the envelope, and, raise a very high bar for student achievement.”


My colleagues have evident JOY in their teaching and in their students.”


“ArtSpace truly is a family-centered community. Welcoming parent involvement and allowing staff to support the needs of our own families sets this school apart. We love and nurture each other in a way that I have not experienced at any other school.”


I stay because I believe in the way we educate these children. I stay because I  feel valued and appreciated. I stay because these people are my family!!”


“Community atmosphere, talented and helpful teachers and administration, parent involvement, amazing AIT team 🙂 And so much more…”


Vision, leadership and staff keep me here.”


At Artspace not only do  I get to teach I get to create something in a collaborative process that is almost magical at times. Artspace is community that says “I’m never going to give you up, I’m never going to let you down,” and they don’t! I am often amazed by the synergy that continues to lift Artspace to the next level just when it is needed. Honestly, I am grateful to work here at a place that allows me to challenge myself as an educator and an artist while challenging my students at the same time. So basically I love it here :)”


“I’m not in teaching for the money, but ArtSpace does honor my Master’s degrees and pays on scale accordingly, which is something a traditional school would not do. There are other financial benefits I did give up by leaving traditional schools, but that is far outweighed by what I can do at ArtSpace.  At ArtSpace, I am in a community that values creativity and experimentation, not following a script, and being able to take chances, and fail sometimes.  It’s being in an environment that values collaboration, and strives for an inclusive environment that allows all students a chance for success.  We value the arts, and give time for artistic expression.  I sometimes feel our students don’t  ‘get it’ until they are somewhere else that these values are not a part of their everyday experience, and then they miss what they had, and regret a lot of the missed opportunities.”


“For me, it is being able to teach in a way and approach with support that I do not feel I would get anywhere else.  ArtSpace believed in me (or at least tolerated me) when I was not at my best, and gave me the time and support to become who I am today.  I am humbled every day I come to work with the realization that I am getting to teach technology in a way that no one else does.  Integrated projects that reflect skills and content of the classroom….I’ve been in  the traditional world, and my wife is still there, and I don’t  want to go back there and plan to teach at ArtSpace as long as they’ll have me.”


“I work here because it is a good place to work. The administration is great and that allows the teachers to do their best job. I love the culture of this school that encourages and supports the individual. I am tickled to hear and see ALLLL the ways people express themselves. I love all the reading buddy relationships and tribes that adopt a younger class. I work here because I am contributing to a worthwhile cause!”


“I’m here for the experience and really appreciate the creative freedom, which helps me to fail and succeed without the added pressure of NEVER failing. I am learning effective ways of teaching with the safety net of supportive administrators and colleagues.”


“A wonderful staff who has made me feel part of the ArtSpace family since day 1, incredible administration support no matter what the reason or need, and a positive motivation to help students to achieve their highest potential that is truly unmatched….”


“I love the sense of community and support here at ACS. I enjoy my job – especially those “Ah ha!” moments that my kids experience. Sweet. I also love that I am largely free to entangle myself in such a variety of extracurricular activities. Opportunities for more interaction and teaching moments. And fun”.


These responses are a testament to the strength of our school community. We are touched and inspired by the dedication and commitment of ArtSpace faculty and staff. There are so many hard working individuals who support ArtSpace’s success. During this season of Thanksgiving, we want to express our gratitude to the entire faculty and staff at ArtSpace. We offer a heartfelt THANK YOU to administrators, teachers, support specialists, front office staff, business, marketing and financial managers, building maintenance and custodial staff. We feel it is important that they all understand how much their hard work and investment in our community is appreciated.

Gratefully,

PACE Board

Gratitude- November’s Supply for the Art of life

Gratitude- November’s Supply for the Art of life

By Erin Carr – Communications coordinator and former classroom teacher at ArtSpace Charter School, educating over 400 3rd and 4th graders in her 12 years in the classroom.

Each month at ArtSpace a character trait or “supply for the art of life” is highlighted. Any member of the community can be nominated or nominate someone for demonstrating this trait.  These nominees are announced during our morning announcements.  In the month of November, the focus is on “Gratitude.”

Interactive bulletin board for gratitude

Interactive bulletin board for gratitude

Gratitude defined by Google’s dictionary is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Hopefully most of us were taught as children to say “please” and “thank you”, I know I was.  I know as a third and fourth grade teacher it was something I constantly reminded my students to do.  Reminding them specifically it was the polite thing to do but also that acknowledging service is important.  However, I believe there is a  “higher’ level to gratitude than the platitudes of “please” and “thank you”. As a teacher I wanted my students to understand that a deep sense of gratitude can make many things in life easier. It took reaching early adulthood for me to realize it could save me from the “glass half empty syndrome” that I was prone to. To stop and be gracious for even a tiny thing in life can quickly pull you away from feelings of anger, frustration and negativity.  It is an act of intentionality that leaves little room for those feelings.

Ms. Adina ArtSpace’s guidance counselor has put a cornucopia on the “life supply” bulletin board this month.  It is an interactive board that invites individuals to write on a piece of fruit what they are thankful for.  As the month progresses the bulletin board will fill to the brim with the fruit “spilling” out of the cornucopia.  Clearly the ArtSpace community has a lot to be thankful for.  The hope is as November passes the community holds on to this supply and leans on it when they need to.

The gratitude of ArtSpace community members

The gratitude of ArtSpace community members

CAN’D AID Foundation and Steep Canyon Rangers at ArtSpace!

CAN’D AID Foundation and Steep Canyon Rangers at ArtSpace!

On November 18th, ArtSpace will benefit from a gift from Oskar Blues Brewery’s CAN’d AID Foundation.  The foundation will be presenting ArtSpace with a class set of guitars and hosting a 90 minute workshop with members

Steep Canyon Ranger multi-instrumentalist, Mike Ashworth.

Steep Canyon Ranger multi-instrumentalist, Mike Ashworth.

of the Grammy Award winning bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers.  A select group of music students at ArtSpace will take part in a 90 minute music workshop with three members of the band — Nicky Sanders (fiddle), Graham Sharp (banjo), and Mike Ashworth (percussion and guitar).  The workshops are an opportunity for

Banjo player, Graham Sharp.

Banjo player, Graham Sharp.

these students to get a glimpse of what it takes to become a nationally recognized professional musician.  Students were selected for their interest in the instruments featured in the workshop and for their exhibition of 21st century college and career readiness skills in music and band classes.

Many families at ArtSpace struggle to provide instruments for their students.  Meg Boerner, ArtSpace music teacher said, “We have a great desire within our student body to sing, play and perform and frequently they express wanting to learn guitar.  This is an excellent addition to the school’s instrument library and will allow for many more students to study an instrument and get all of the benefits that the serious study of music

Fiddle player, Nicky Sanders.

Fiddle player, Nicky Sanders.

provides.”

A class set of guitars will bring access to instruments for hundreds of students and shape the school’s music program for years to come.  A large body of research has shown that increased exposure and participation in the arts increases student achievement resulting in higher graduation rates and test scores.    

Learn more about the CAN’d AID foundation here and more about the partnership between CAN’D AID and Steep Canyon Rangers by visiting here.

Collaboration: The Art Of Working Together

Collaboration:  The Art Of Working Together

This is the third part in a series on the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication – by long-time arts integration specialist, “Capt.” Josh Batenhorst – Enterprise and Development Director at ArtSpace Charter School, a K-8 public charter school of 400 students in Swannanoa, NC.

Of the 4C’s, “Collaboration” is probably the most important skill for students to develop in order to find success in their professional life.  This summer, The American Journal of Public Health published a study that found that “pro-social” skills – the ability to share, cooperate, and resolve conflicts with peers, – were a predictor of success for students 15-20 years into the future!  In short, it is absolutely imperative students learn to work on a team.  Let’s consider how the arts help develop collaboration skills in students.

The performing arts require obvious collaboration.

The performing arts require obvious collaboration.

First of all, the arts teach collaboration by giving students the opportunity to be a part of a team.  A band is not a band if it is just one instrument (One-man bands excluded!).  Theatre, music and dance are almost always done in tandem with a group of other performers (See a great ArtSpace example here).  Even one person shows and solo artists must be a part of a large support crew that takes care of direction and production elements.  Inclusion in performing arts groups teaches children how to value others’ efforts and how to develop and maintain relationships while accomplishing a common goal.

Ms. Annabell leads her class in a collaborative analysis  of a visual art piece by Henri Rousseau.

Ms. Annabell leads her class in a collaborative analysis of a visual art piece by Henri Rousseau.

But what about visual art? Art projects tend to strike me as individual accomplishments, not “team sports.”  I tend to think of Picasso, not Picasso & Company.  

Since I am not a visual artist myself, I took this question to a number of members of the ArtSpace staff who have significant experience in the visual arts:  2nd grade teacher, Ms. Annabell Lisa, 7/8th grade science teacher, Mr. Nick Rogowski, and 5th grade Science/Math teacher, Marni Flanigan.

Annabell (2nd Grade): “Collaborating on a piece can be very hard in visual art. Nevertheless, we do it in the classroom all of the time.  For example, today we are each making colored paper that we will use for an all-class project that coincides with our study of Matisse.  The key is giving the students some time to do individual work, and then time to also work collaboratively.”

A group art piece created by 2nd graders during their study of Matisse - "Painting With Scissors."

A group art piece created by 2nd graders during their study of Matisse – “Painting With Scissors.”

When asked about how she collaborates to create her own art she said, “Sometimes it can be as simple as finding the time resources and support to do it.  As a mother of a pre-school age child, I may not collaborate with another artist, but I definitely use support to help balance everything.  However, I collaborate on art work with my students a lot.  They often build off of my ideas and I build off of theirs.”  

Nick (7/8th grade):  “Actually, I have collaborated with my wife (artist and ArtSpace parent Mae Creadick) on several pieces.  Sometimes she will draw a piece for a specific print, since that is her specialty.  

Mr. Nick prepares 7th grade science students for their next visual art project.

Mr. Nick prepares 7th grade science students for their next visual art project.

Then, I may carve a lino-cut, since that is my area of skill, in order to make the print.  In fact, while we’re talking about prints, the printer often gets left out as being valuable in the art making process, but a bad print can be really bad, while a great print is a work of art in itself.”

Ms. Marni (5th grade):  “Recently we completed a visual art/science project that was very collaborative (You can see more  about that project here).  Students studied different body systems and then created life size replications of those systems.  They also created songs and dances that reinforced the learning.”

Completed 5th grade body systems "life size" art work.

Completed 5th grade body systems “life size” art work.

ArtSpace is fortunate to have a number of visual artists on staff to help students learn to build collaboration skills in all of the art forms – even the ones that don’t seem like an obvious fit.  Students who learn to collaborate are set up for success, and they are learning to do it through all of the arts at ArtSpace!

Welcome To My Office – by Ms. Adina

Welcome To My Office – by Ms. Adina

Adina Arden-Cooper is a National Board Certified Teacher and Licensed Professional Counselor who leads our school’s character education and counseling programs.  From time to time, Ms. Adina will be offering insights about the role emotional well-being and character education play in students’ lives and the ArtSpace Community.  Her first “guest post” is below.

Welcome! I’d like to take a minute to introduce myself. My name is Ms. Adina and I am the School Counselor at ArtSpace. My job is to tend to the social and emotional education and well-being of all ArtSpace students. This happens in a variety of ways, from coordinating school-wide programs such as bully prevention (PULSE) to individual counseling, with a range responsibilities in between.

My office door is plastered with notes, cards and drawings made for me by students. They say things like, “thank you for helping me,” “you make life better,” “you’re awesome” and “I love you.” These words of kindness and gratitude are the first thing I see every morning and serve as an amazing reminder of how blessed I am to do this work. No matter how hard things get sometimes (and boy do they get hard!) it is all worth it to know that I’m making a difference in the lives of students.

As a counselor, I am entrusted with the responsibility of helping students and families cope with some very personal challenges. I feel honored to bear witness to areas of weakness and vulnerability as well as those of strength and success. I’ve been doing this work for about fifteen years now and I continue to be moved and amazed by people’s stories. It is a humbling experience.

Ms. Adina discusses an issue with a student.

Ms. Adina discusses an issue with a student.

I realize that counseling can be intimidating. It’s hard to open up about emotional challenges. There’s also a lot of stigma associated with counseling. Some feel ashamed to admit they are struggling or need support. Some people think it means they’re “crazy” or have “issues;” that there is something wrong with them. But the fact of the matter is that EVERYONE can benefit from some extra support once in a while. Being proactive about addressing social or emotional hurdles is tremendously helpful for personal growth and development. If kids can learn effective strategies for coping with stress, managing their emotions and developing strong relationships, they will achieve better academic success. Ultimately, they will grow into healthier, happier adults.

It’s important to realize though that counselors cannot fix things or make problems disappear. We serve as supportive guides, but in order for the process to be effective, individuals have to participate and work toward their own well-being. This means students and families must confront their obstacles and actively navigate around them. Know that I’m here to be a resource, to educate and to help to the best of my ability, without judgment or blame.

My hope is that when people step into my office, they feel a sense of calm and comfort. I strive to create a safe and welcoming space for all, regardless of whatever has brought them in. Thank you for visiting today. I look forward to sharing more about my role and the amazing programs we have to support and nurture children here at ArtSpace!

 

 

Claymation Rocks in 4th Grade (Literally)!

Claymation Rocks in 4th Grade (Literally)!

The study of rocks and minerals is a large part of the NC Essential Standards in Science for 4th graders.  Of course, a

An example of a student storyboard to use while shooting images

An example of a student storyboard to use while shooting images

study of rocks can’t be complete without exploring the three main categories of rock; sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic.  Ms. Victoria Baxter’s 4th graders at ArtSpace researched these three categories and applied their knowledge to create claymation films about the formation of an individual rock.

Students create clay pieces to be manipulated when they start shooting their images.

Students create clay pieces to be manipulated when they start shooting their images.

The creation process required the students to work in groups assigned to a specific formation category.  They were instructed by 4th grade science and math teacher Victoria Baxter to treat the rock like a real character. Each team had to create a storyboard that included all of the character elements needed to tell the rock’s story before they could begin manipulating the clay.

When storyboards were complete students created their “characters” out of the clay and created an appropriate background for shooting their films.  Students learned quickly that 10 seconds of claymation video takes a significant amount of time to shoot.  It can’t quite be compared to the time it takes for a real rock to form but the experience of creating these videos allowed them to demonstrate a scientific process in earth science while learning a process in the technology arts.  

ArtSpace Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school serving approximately 400 elementary and middle school students in the Asheville and Buncombe County areas of North Carolina.  The ArtSpace vision is to be “a national benchmark in educational excellence through integration of the arts.”

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You!

SWANNANOA, NC – The ArtSpace Stage has some exciting theatre and multi-media productions coming in October that promise to engage, educate, and entertain.  Coming next week, on October 8, the 7/8th grade Theatre Arts elective will present S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.  This play is a one hour version of the classic young adult novel

Make plans now to see The Outsiders!

Make plans now to see The Outsiders!

chronicling the tale of Ponyboy Curtis, his brothers, and the rivalry between street gangs the Greasers and the Socs.  Addressing the important social issues of gangs, violence, and class struggle, the play is an opportunity for students to think deeply about the lasting consequences of momentary decisions.  “The play shows that no matter how much money you have,” says 8th grader Daniel Stearns, “you still have to deal with stress and tragedy.”  The play will be presented at 10:00 AM for school audiences and 6:00 PM for the community.  Please note that some of the play’s themes may not be suitable for younger audiences.

Next up, on Wednesday, October 14, the sixth grade will present their annual exploration of the Greeks and Homer’s Odyssey with their production Greek Lightning!  This show uses parodies of music from the musicals Grease and A Chorus Line to explore the tale of Odysseus and his treacherous journey home from the Trojan War as he tries to be reunited with his wife Penelope.  “This is the third time we have presented this version of The Odyssey,” said sixth grade language arts/social studies teacher John Hall, “It was something (former theatre teacher) Mr. Josh and I wrote several years ago and I think the students really enjoy it.”   

“It is really fun!  My favorite part are the songs because they are fun and help you remember the story,” said Chloe Raines, sixth grader.  

ArtSpace student, Kai’ana Ghassabian, added, “We’ve been studying it in pretty much every class – music, drama, theatre and social studies.  We sing the songs in (science/math teacher) Ms. Lyn’s class too.  They get stuck in your head.”

“What was really fun was getting to choreograph the dance for the song One.” said Emile Rizzo-Banks.  “It was more fun to do that than to just do what the teacher asked us to do.  (Dance teacher) Ms. Mary asked us what our ideas were, we would show her, and she would help us put it together to tell the story.”

The school show of Greek Lightning is at 2:00 PM, Wednesday October 14, and the community show is at 6:00 that same night.

5th grade students collaborate on their art/science projects.

5th grade students collaborate on their art/science projects.

Finally, on Wednesday, October 21, students from the fifth grade will present a multi-media show about the human body systems.  Students have been studying the different systems of human anatomy.  As collaborative teams they create life-size drawings of the various systems during their science class, write songs in music about the systems that include vocabulary from the science curriculum, and choreograph dances that illustrate how each system supports the body.  “We study about the systems and then work together in all of the classes to put together songs and dances and art.  Not every group has the same system, but we learn about the other systems from each other,” said fifth grader Autumn Young.  

A finished work.  That project takes guts!

A finished work. That project takes guts!

The fifth grade body system performances are at 2 PM and 6 PM on Wednesday, October 21.

 

Seventh Graders Experience the Age of Discovery with a Mock Trial

Seventh Graders Experience the Age of Discovery with a Mock Trial

SWANNANOA, NC – Seventh graders at ArtSpace closed out their unit on the Age of Discovery with a mock trial experience.  Students read about the life and times of Christopher Columbus and created an illustrated timeline of his life and adventures in the Americas.  Students then explored various characters in order to represent them in the mock trial.  The characters included in the trial were Columbus, his crew, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and a group of indigenous peoples from the Americas (The Tainos).  

A lawyer questioning the King and Queen of Spain about their choices.

A lawyer questioning the King and Queen of Spain about their choices.

Each of the characters involved were given a chance to defend their actions during the Age of Discovery.  Some students played the roles of the characters mentioned above, while others took on the role of lawyers asking difficult questions to the participants.  Whether prosecutor, defender, or witness, all parties needed to be well-prepared in order to play out the trial.

After the trial was complete students wrote a 5 paragraph essay in response to the question “who should be blamed for the death of 2-3 million Tainos?”  This project was designed so students could experience history in a variety of ways, accessing individual learning styles. Mr. Ian used the trial to assess students’ knowledge of the time by noting the detail of the lawyers’ questions and the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the responses of the witnesses.

Mr. Ian guided students through this difficult time of history.  Columbus’ discoveries

Columbus' men being questioned on the witness stand.

Columbus’ men being questioned on the witness stand.

opened a New World to Europeans, but caused great suffering for native peoples.  By requiring his students to “live in the shoes” of the characters involved in this controversial time, students were forced to see the experience from both sides.  In the end, the students were left with a greater understanding of the time period, as well as increased awareness about the interplay of multiple perspectives in history.

Charlotte’s Web: 2nd Grade Arts Integration

Charlotte’s Web: 2nd Grade Arts Integration

As part of their 2nd grade arts integrated programming, Ms. Ali and Ms. Annabell’s second grade classes study the E.B. White classic, Charlotte’s Web.  While the students experience the book during “read-aloud” time, their study of the concepts of the book goes well beyond hearing about the book.  Charlotte’s Web serves as a springboard for learning in science, social studies, drama, and visual art.  

IMG_1627

Charlotte’s Web ties in directly to our standards & themes,” says Ms. Ali. “First, there are seasonal changes: Wilbur is born in Spring, as are the other barnyard babies. They go through the lazy days of summer and into Autumn, which is both County fair time and the time for Charlotte to prepare her egg sac (and then to die). There’s another direct science connection: life-cycles.  Come Spring again, Charlotte’s babies hatch. BTW, we’re always at the Fair part of the book right around when the Mountain State Fair is happening, which leads to another intrinsic tie-in: Community. The book allows us to teach about the communities of Fern’s family, the farm community, the barnyard community, while we are building our classroom community and teaching the kids about the school community (and the Four Pillars), and our broader Buncombe County community.”

Ms. Ali's class shows their finished products.

Ms. Ali’s class shows their finished products.

Parent volunteers helped the students to create their sculptures.  Once the sculptures were dry, the students in Ms. Ali’s class used tempera paint to give their creations color, while Ms. Annabell’s students used colored tissue paper.  To finish the products, students used Modge Podge to help harden and shine the exterior.
This arts integrated project is an example of the kinds of hands-on learning occurring every day at ArtSpace.  It capitalized on the students’ enthusiasm for their book, taught them new art techniques, and allowed them to express ideas about the characters in the book and their learning by adding expression, color and shape to their sculptures.

Charlotte, Wilbur, and Templeton (from left to right).

Charlotte, Wilbur, and Templeton (from left to right).

The Art of Critical Thinking: Beyond Solving Problems

The Art of Critical Thinking: Beyond Solving Problems

This is the second in a four part series on “The Four C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Communication” by long-time arts integration practitioner, Josh Batenhorst – Enterprise and Development Manager for ArtSpace Charter School, and Teaching Fellow for the A+ Schools Program of the North Carolina Arts Council.

In my last post “Creativity: The MacGyver of 21st Century Skills” I discussed the Bloom’s Taxonomy and its revision which placed “Creativity” above “Evaluation” in the pecking order of higher order thinking skills.  I also discussed the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (www.p21.org) and its role in shaping a framework for thinking about learning in the modern world – particularly in the modern economy – and the skill required to succeed.  Today, while recognizing the vitality of these efforts in shaping current trends in education, I am going to challenge those notions a bit as we take a deeper dive into thinking about “critical thinking” and how involvement in the arts helps to shape a student’s capacity to think critically.  

First of all, let’s try to define “critical thinking” by looking at some sources.  First, our good friend Google tells us that critical thinking “is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”  Interesting.  Google seems to think that critical thinking has those four components: objectivity, analysis, evaluation, and judgment.  

Our friends at p21.org go a little further and break the “critical thinking skills” into component parts which include 1.) reasoning effectively (using various types of reasoning as appropriate to the situation); 2.) Using systems thinking (analyzing how parts interact in complex systems); 3.) Making judgments and decisions based on rational analysis and reflection; and 4.) Solving problems and asking questions that lead to solutions.  You can see more here.

As education has evolved alongside industry in the 21st century, we have heard more and more about the huge need for workers skilled in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  Through non-profit partners such as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, industry leaders have made it abundantly clear they need workers skilled in those technical capacities.  However, they also said they are looking for workers who can not only plug in and manage STEM applications, but also apply them to broad problems through the application of the 4 C’s – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Creativity.  Where and how are students to gain those skills?

In the 21st century, students need to be able to not only solve a problem through creative MacGyvering (and yes, “MacGyver” has now made it into the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb), but they must also be able to evaluate the solution, the processes that created the solution, and its impact on larger systems.  Critical Thinking, then, not only provides solutions but holds those solutions to account.  Creativity can build a robot with artificial intelligence, but critical thinking asks whether that robot will proliferate and ensure the annihilation of the human species.  In other words, critical thinking is asking, “Is this a good idea?”

ArtSpace students create robots. Will they take over the world???

ArtSpace students create robots. Will they take over the world?

 

The arts serve as a rich foundation for building critical thinking skills.  Artists must employ their own capacity for and at the same time react to critical response.  In the performing arts, the outside critical eye (pre-performance) comes in the guise of a director, conductor or choreographer.  In the visual arts, this important role is often filled by an important teacher, master artist or mentor.  Through the practice and engagement in their art form, artists learn to make their own choices, but also respond to the feedback provided by their critical co-creators – directors, conductors or choreographers, who are themselves, practicing artists.  This conversation, at its best, results in fulfilling performances and works of art that challenge both artist and audience.

However, the arts not only provide space for the “critical feedback loop” described above, but are themselves the most powerful tool that humans have developed for critical expression.  Through the lens of the arts, artists are able to capture and express judgment on what Shakespeare called the “age and body of the time.”  Movies, novels, documentaries, plays, statues, even buildings and cathedrals – these are the tools through which artists critically comment on the world around them.

The Jefferson Monument.

The Jefferson Monument.

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Tidal Basin in Washington DC, with its incredible monuments to three giants of “critical thinking” – Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Each of these men used art – particularly the art of elocution through the written and spoken word – to world-changing effect.  The monuments to each of these men, as well, spoke, each in its own way, to the incredible impact of these men and their words.  The Jefferson Memorial, with its grand Ionic columns and portico and giant inscription of the Declaration of Independence speaks volumes about the man it tributes.  FDR’s monument is an interplay of water, bronze and granite that greets

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

the visitor in multiple parts referencing the many phases of his three-term presidency – the depression, the civil works authorized in response, and the second world war.  It also includes an impressive tribute to Eleanor, the constant companion and standard-bearer of the Roosevelt legacy after the president’s death.  

The most impressive of the three to me, though, was the monument to Dr. King.  Out of a towering wall of granite in the background, King’s figure emerges as if driven through the precipice with John Henry’s hammer – the insignia “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope” emblazoned on the statue’s side.   Surrounding the enormous figure of King are multiple quotes from his speeches.  While each of these monuments features inscriptions of the words of their subject, the Inscription Wall of

A Stone of Hope.

A Stone of Hope.

the MLK monument challenges the visitor.  As he or she reads each quote, the great figure of the man seems to grow in the viewer’s mind.  You can read the quotes for yourself here.

It is important to note, that art also instructs us and gives us more to appreciate when it is given more context. Critical thinking, in this way, is inspired by and made more pleasurable by a great work of art. I am blessed to have been given a rich education that included robust instruction in history and a sensitive treatment of the civil rights movement, giving me context to appreciate this monument.  The monument enriched that understanding and the understanding enriched the experience of the monument.  In this way, art gilds the lily of critical thinking with appreciation and understanding.

In creating art, students are challenged to imagine their audiences and how they might be moved by the creative work.  They interact with critical feedback to their work through teachers, directors, choreographers, etc.  They respond and re-create their work so that it can achieve its greatest effect.   Then, on the other side of art, as audience members who experience and respond to art work, students are challenged and transported by the work to imagine the world and its many systems in different ways.  Their curiosity is sparked so that they can learn more about where the art comes from, what it means, and how it compares to other works – thereby gaining a greater understanding of their world and a critical context for its appreciation and understanding.

I worry that, in an educational landscape that is focusing more and more on delivering skilled STEM workers to an economy thirsty for labor, we are side-stepping the lessons in ‘the humanities’ – history, language and rhetoric – that provide the context needed to truly employ the Critical Thinking part of the “4 C’s” and full appreciation of the arts. The arts, when pursued with critical response in mind, are a rich and engaging way to teach critical thinking skills.  However, without the broad context that the humanities provide, these skills are diminished in their capacity.  

In a world hyper-focused on acquiring STEM skills, it is easy to ignore the big picture and avoid asking the big questions. In this context, critical thinking skills tends to simply be employed in order to solve the immediate problem at hand.  The arts, though, taught in critical context of history can inspire and encourage us to approach those problems once more.  To this extent, the arts are a great tool for the acquisition of critical thinking skills – but without an appreciation of the humanities they are diminished.
No doubt Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are important tools and give us incredible skills for solving big problems.  If employers and educators really want true critical thinking — big picture critical thinking — they will look to the arts alongside and in context with the study of the humanities.  In fact, I think you can go so far as to say there can be no true critical thinking without them.