Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Some Basic Beliefs in Contemporary Art Education - Foundations of Contemporary Art Education - A History of Educational Thought - History of Change in Art Education - Development of Psychological thought - The Values of Society - Recent Art History

Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.

of Psychological Thought

Although the educational theories and practices just described have had their effects on art teaching, an even stronger influence is to be found in the development of psychological thought . . . . It is not necessary for educators to take sides about learning theory, but it is a good idea for all educators to be aware of the major positions and their implications for teaching practice. Knowledge of major orientations will assist the individual in sorting out and evaluating the profusion of ideas, assertions, and programs.

A Few of the Most Important Influences
on Teaching Methods in Art:

Faculty Psychologists. Believe that the mind was composed of a series of separate compartments, each of which housed a faculty such as memory, will, or reason. In order to train the mind, a person must perform a series of intellectual exercises. The exercise of faculties.

Herbart. Known as the father of scientific pedagogy based on psychology . . . . thought that the mind acted as a unit, and that it had the power of what he called apperception--the capacity to assimilate new ideas through ideas already acquired . . . . developed teaching methods that he believed assisted the mind in making use of the power of apperception. His methods "elevated the importance of the teacher and made the pupil a listener, whose mind was to be molded according to a preconceived plan of studies and by formal steps of method." (James Mulhern, A History of Education(New York: Ronald, 1946), p. 389.) By the middle of the 19th century, the Herbartian steps of teaching had become common practice--indeed, slogans--in almost every North American normal school. The methods used in drawing lessons were determined by these steps.

Functional School of psychology. Development of a psychological concept related to Darwinian biology. According to this concept, the mind was thought to be the chief factor in adapting to the environment. Hence the mind was said to consist of functions rather than of the static structures (or faculties?) suggested by earlier psychologies . . . .

John Dewey (1859-1952) one of the founders of the Functional School of psychology . . . . later ranged far in his ideas . . . . greatly concerned with the relationship of learners to their environment and to the society in which they live. He regarded education as the "continuing re-creation of experience." According to Dewey, experience and education are not synonymous: education involves the direction and control of experience, and a meaningful experience implies some measure of control for future experience. Knowledge is not static, Dewey said, nor is it gained in a static environment to be used in a static society. Learning must lead to more learning--the process is never ending. Dewey's ideas readily lend themselves to the teaching of art. He was a philosopher of aesthetics as well as of education . . . . Art as Experience.["Learn by doing and mental recapitulation . . . . "]

G. Stanley Hall. Dewey's ideas were supplemented by the work of Hall and the Child Study Movement during the early part of this century. Both Dewey and Hall saw school-centered situations giving way to the child-centered curriculum. Hall thought that the selection of all learning activity should proceed from the study of child development and that a teacher's primary obligation was to study the child rather than the subject. As early as 1901 Hall states, "The guardians of the young should strive first of all to keep out of nature's way and to prevent harm, and should merit the proud title of defenders of the happiness and rights of children." (G. Stanley Hall, The Forum,32 (1901-02). pp. 24-25.) . . . . provided the groundwork for the laissez-faire methods of at instruction of the Progressive era. Attention was focused on the learner more tan on subject content or on society's goals. Teacher's were encouraged to say, "I don't teach at (or math or science), I teach children."

E. L. Thorndike (1874-1949). Staff of Teachers College, Columbia University 1901-1940). Development of a systematic animal psychology, the production of the first standardized tests in education, and the investigation of many learning problems . . . . based his educational theories on what is called stimulus-response or S-R theory . . . . According to this theory learning consists in the establishment of a series of connections, or pathways, in the brain, resulting from a specific response to a stimulus. Between each nerve ending is a gap, or synapse, which tends to resist the impulse of the stimulus but which can be bridged by repeated stimuli. These physiological data led Thorndike to believe that learning was a matter of repetitive drill. The most efficient teaching would result from breaking a school subject into minute parts. Drill based on these minute details would then allow the learner to develop "a wonderfully elaborate and intricate system of connections." [In 1913 and 1914 Thorndike published his three-volume Educational Psychology, comprising Vol. I, The Original Nature of Man;Vol II, The Psychology of Learning;VOl. III, Work, Fatigue, and Individual Differences.]

Gestalt Psychology. The Growth of the Mind (Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield, Adams, 1959), Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) produced evidence to show that, in learning, an organism acts as a total entity and does not exercise only certain parts. During World War I , Wolfgang KŻhler, a German psychologist, performed experiments with primates that supported the Gestaltist theories . . . . primates showed "insight" in solving problems. On the basis of such evidence, the Gestaltists maintained that wholes are primary; parts derive their properties and their behavior from them. The learner, in other words, acquires knowledge not by building bit by bit a system of neurological connections, but by achieving "insight," that is, understanding the relationships among the various aspects of the learning situation . . . . Rudolf Arnheim & his book Art and Visual Perception , has provided at teachers with the clearest and most completely stated view of Gestalt psychology . . . . the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

B. F. Skinner & Behaviorism. Skinner considers the learner to be a passive organism governed by stimuli supplied by the external environment. Through proper control of environmental stimuli the learner's behavior can be controlled. According to this view, human behavior is governed by the same universal laws that govern all natural phenomena and the scientific method is appropriate for the study of the human organism. Influential & controversial. Operant conditioning. Positive and negative reinforcement. Skinner box. The essential and controversial aspect of the behaviorist view has to do with control of behavior: "Science is steadily increasing our power to influence, change, mold--in a word, control--human behavior. It has extended our understanding . . . . so that we deal more successfully with people in nonscientific ways, but it has also identified conditions or variables which can be used to predict and control behavior in a new, and increasingly rigorous, technology. (Frank Milhollan and Bill Forisha, From Skinner to Rogers:Contrasting Approaches to Education (Lincoln, Neb.: Professional Educators, 1972), p. 46.). The influence of behavioral psychology on education is immense. In addition to programmed instruction, teaching machines, and computer-assisted instruction, educators have gone through phases of emphasis on the writing of behavioral objectives for all aspects of the curriculum. Educational evaluation, measurement, and testing have gained emphasis under this orientation. The so-called accountability movement in education has relied largely on the assessment of observable behaviors. [See B. F. Skinner, The Technology of Teaching(New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968); Benjamin Bloom, ed., Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Cognitive Domain(New York: David McKay, 1956), and Affective Domain(1964); and Robert Mager, Preparing Instructional Objectives(Palo Alto: Fearon, 1962).

Humanistic Psychology. Rollo May, Abraham Maslow, and esp. Carl R. Rogers (1902- ). Humanists consider the learner, not the environment, to be the source of all acts. The learner is free to make choices, and behavior is only the observable expression of an essentially private, inner world of being. The individual exists uniquely within a subjective world of feelings, emotions, and perceptions, many of which are not acted out in behavior. Rogers . . . . believes that only a tremendous change in the basic direction of education can meet the needs of contemporary culture. Education must respond to the dynamic, changing nature of society. An educational climate must be developed "in which innovation is not at all frightening, in which creative capacities of all concerned are nourished and expressed rather than stifled." The goal of education according to Rogers must be the facilitation of learning, for only the person who has learned how to learn, to adapt, and to change is an educated person. The humanistic view of education coincides with the beliefs of many art educators who would emphasize the creative and expressive facets of the human personality.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and Developmental Psychology. His work had an extensive impact on education . . . . represents one of the most systematic and comprehensive theories of cognitive development. Often in collaboration with Babel Inhelder, Piaget examined such topics as the evolution of language and thought in children; the child's conceptions of the world, of number, time, and space; and other aspects of a child's intellectual development . . . . An essential notion of Piaget, and of developmental psychology in general , is that intellectually a child is qualitatively different from an adult, and this difference varies according to age and to progress within the three stages. For educators, this implies that knowledge of the learner's characteristics is essential to curricular and instructional decision-making.

Split-Brain Research. The implication for education is that both sides of the brain should be recognized and developed in a balanced educational program. Most schools are likely to attend to the verbal, symbolic, logical, and analytical aspects of brain function, but critics say the intuitive, holistic, and analogic aspects are usually ignored. Schools, it would seem, are effective in educating only half of the human brain . . . . Results of split-brain studies have supported the notion that the right and left brain hemispheres are somewhat specialized in their functions. In a summary of these findings, Howard Gardner explains that "the left hemisphere has manifested a clear advantage in dealing with language, particularly with consonant sounds and rules of grammar. Processing of vowel sounds and access to the meaning of words seem to reside in both hemispheres. The left hemisphere also assumes a more dominant role than the right in classifying objects into standard, linguistically defined categories; it can ferret out from a set of objects all the large red cones or all the pieces of furniture. The right hemisphere has no cognitive preferences equivalent in strength to the left hemisphere's for languages. Nonetheless, the right hemisphere does seem relatively more important in spatial tasks. We may tend to rely on it in finding our way around an unfamiliar site or in mentally manipulating the image of a two- or three-dimensional form. The right hemisphere also seems crucial in making fine sensory discriminations; these range from the recognition of faces to the detection of unfamiliar tactile patterns." Less cautious researchers label the left hemisphere as verbal and analytic in function and the right brain nonverbal and global. Taken further in theory, the left brain becomes analytic, rational, logical, and linear, and the right brain is viewed as nonrational, analogic, intuitive, and holistic. [Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain]


[Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.]



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