Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mastering the Craft

There is a sense in the popular imagination that if it is a science, then anyone can do it.  If it is an art or a craft, then it is something only for those so gifted.  This is not entirely a bad way to look at things.  Broadly understood, science is about breaking things down and understanding how their components work, and this understanding applies fairly well from everything like baking a cake to repairing a car engine to launching a rocket into space.  If you lay out the steps along with a parts or ingredients list, I should be able to do the thing.

Of course we know that even in a scientific endeavor, some are simply better at it than others.  When it comes to the truly creative side of the equation, the side that details with intuitive leaps and connections, few of us are Einsteins.  Even Einstein acknowledged that there is a beauty to certain equations, so there is unquestionably an artistic aspect to science.  Similarly, the science of breaking something down so others can do it can be applied in the graphic arts.  Do you remember the paint-by-numbers books as a child?

When it comes to education, the current trend has unquestionably been to see it as a science.  We measure and track growth and use data to make many, if not most, of our decisions.  Workshops present tips and tricks of the trade so that teachers may replicate in their classrooms what others have accomplished.  There is some need of this.  There is a greater need for teachers than can be supplied by the Michelangelos of pedagogy.  We simply must have some people who are trained to draw Tippy the Turtle.

That, however, is not what Samuel Rocha's book A Primer for Philosophy & Education is about.  As he clearly states on page 3,  "[T]he craft of philosophy and education is what we are after."  In other words, he is after the art, not the science.  Because that is what he seeks, he continues, "If the labor and artistry of these intertwined crafts does not interest you, then you should certainly not begin.  Disinterest breeds a lack of seriousness.  Quit for now and go discover something about which you can be serious.  Go paint a house or run a marathon.  Learn and master a different, but equally worthwhile craft."  (p. 4)

This is not harsh, but helpful.  Education is not for those who are uninspired to master the hard work of their craft.  Yes, even masters must train, as Michelangelo did under Ghirlandaio.  There are many reasons to enter the field of education, but not all of them are worthwhile.  Some simply enjoy a subject matter and can think of nothing else to do with a major in it.  Some like to be around children.  There are those who teach until something better comes along.  The increasingly popular balanced calendar has likely weeded out those who wanted a job with three months off in the summer.  Whatever a person's reason for pursuing the craft of education, if it is insufficient to motivate and inspire the necessary work, then it is a poor reason.

Now, this is not so arrogant and high-minded as it may sound.  It is not saying, "If you are found unworthy of us elites, then go forth and do something lesser with your inferior life."  There are many worthwhile crafts.  Be a doctor, a pastor, an attorney.  Pursue business or politics or sports.

This is also not saying that you must be a Michelangelo.  The Tippy-the-Turtle-drawers can be just as committed to mastering their craft.  They may not have the flight of fancy or the stroke of genius that befalls the born artist, but they can be just as diligent in doing the work to develop what talents they do have.  What matters is being inspired and interested enough to do so.

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