Sunday, August 8, 2010

Arts and Humanities; Things That Make You Go Hmmm.

This week's #gtchat on Arts and Humanities left me thinking. In Irish schools today, we have such a tightly packed curriculum and such focus on grades that there is little room for exploration of any subject beyond the facts that must be memorized in order to score points in an exam. So, even though we do have subjects which would come under the arts/humanities umbrella, it is perfectly possible to work your way through the junior or leaving certificate courses and fail to reap the potential benefits.

The humanities are in many ways, a study of how mankind and society have evolved. To use Michael Oakeshott's metaphor, they are the conversation between the generations of mankind. They are subjects where there is often no right or wrong or definitive answer, with enormous scope for thinking, exercising the brain, learning how to evaluate information, how to express oneself, how to argue a point while respecting another’s point of view, empathy, tolerance, emotional intelligence, the list goes on. Think of the potential benefits to an individual’s discovery of self, understanding of others and sense of civic responsibility. Think of the possibility of future politicians with high moral standards and a sense of social justice, not to mention an idea of how to run a country and string a few words together!

While we live in hope of across-the-board change, would it be too much to ask for a couple of classes a week where students get to explore the arts and humanities without pressure to memorise facts and sit exams? To discover the joy of learning and that not every question has one correct answer. This is something from which I believe all students would benefit, but for the gifted student it is an area where they might well excel and, in the absence of any special provision for gifted students in our system, it might be the few minutes a week that would keep the spark of motivation alive for some. I also suspect that lights might shine from unexpected quarters; that student who has always kept quiet at the back of the classroom or the one who has caused continual disruption because they just aren't engaged or challenged.  Give them something to get their teeth into and you might be surprised!

As @ljconrad put it so eloquently, “We’ve got to dump the testing or creativity in all areas will die!”

To check out the resources shared at the chat, here is the transcript. (chat starts at 5pm)

For further information on #gtchat, check here.


  1. Very well said/put, and I would agree that a class even once or twice a week like this, the one you describe would be extraordinarily beneficial.. On the IB Courses, which are taught in some schools in the USA, Uk and other countries (only one school in Ireland) they have what they call a 'Theory of Knowledge' Class. If this, at least, could be integrated as part of the general curriculum, it could make huge differences. Here is a link..

    Well done with your blog, It is certain to be widely read and an inspiration to those that do.


  2. Nicely said! I think there's definitely a need for students to know that there are many fields where there are no clear-cut 'right answers'. I'm not sure if critical thinking necessarily leads to a sense of social responsibility though - sometimes the paths of thought people go down end up being quite amoral (but still well-thought-out and analysed)!

  3. Just another stupid American idea gone awry! To think that by elevating one's position on the global scale of 'whose the smartest' by raising test scores somehow proves that Americans can be considered #1 in education belies the fallacy of No Child Left Behind. My apologies to the rest the world as an American.