2 September 2014 - It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that there has been some significant construction work going on in the Junior School, but what may not be clear to everyone is just what is being built. So I thought I’d leave my positive psychology theme for a short while, and write briefly about both the new building which is rapidly taking shape, and our reason for undertaking this project.
So, firstly, for those who are unaware, what are we building?
Well, this new Junior School building will contain a number of elements, including a new administrative and staff centre. However, its primary purpose is to house new, dedicated science, art, and technology rooms. This will hugely increase our capacity to offer our junior students the very best opportunities in these key areas.
Specialisation of this kind is not something every Junior School favours, but we are convinced that if we are to give our students the very best of starts in the Emmanuel Experience, we need to give them the best facilities we can.
We are not just building facilities. We are also continuing our process of appointing specialist staff to cover these areas. Emmanuel already has exceptional specialist Tech and Science staff in the Junior School, but one element which has been missing has been specialist Visual and Media Arts teaching. Not that our classroom teachers haven’t been doing an amazing job, but if we are to encourage the very best in the visual and media arts, we need a program which develops throughout the school, and we need staff whose whole focus is on these areas. Therefore, we are not just building a junior studio but also seeking to appoint a specialist arts teacher.
Of course, some might (and do) argue that art, and especially visual art, is a luxury. After all, they argue, how many people actually make a living as an artist? However, those individuals are missing a number of points.
Firstly, and least importantly, although it is true that not many make their living as Rembrandts or Van Goughs (and in fact, Van Gough never made a living as a painter), plenty of people make exceptionally good livings as graphic artists, designers, architects and so on – and those careers require a core level of skill that art teaches.
Secondly, and more importantly, art also teaches skills such as fine motor-skill, care, precision, skills that are highly transferable.
However, the most important point is that art is amongst the very best of vehicles through which observational and imaginative skills can be learnt. These are skills we under-value at our peril. Albert Einstein’s brilliance was clearly based on detailed, mathematical, precise observation – observation of both the thoughts of those who had gone before, and of the universe. However, in an interview with the poet Viereck, he also said: “I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
If (as I hope) our students are to become the innovators and problem-solvers of the future, they need to be able to both observe, analyse, and understand the world which is creating the problem and then bend their imaginations to “encircle” that world, and dream up new ways of resolving the problems they face. As John Maeda says in his Scientific American blog:
“With all that we have to address in the world – warming continents, fluctuating economies, monstrous cities – pursuing scientific questions in tandem with artists and designers may not seem like conventional wisdom. But given the unconventional nature and scale of the problems we face today, there is real value to be gained from collaborations that bridge the best talents of both art and science, and help bring humanity front and center, make us care, and create answers that resonate with our values.”
Art is not the only way to teach these skills, but as scientists from da Vinci to Einstein have demonstrated, the arts are a peculiarly effective medium. And that is why we are busy building our new art, tech and science block.