Resolving Two Tensions, Pt. 1: Pragmatism/Idealism

Carl Anderson, a week after the Michelle-Rhee-hates-creativity thread shut down:

I do believe that all of these subjects are tightly linked and interdependent but our school system has erected concrete boundaries around these subjects through devices such as scheduling and teacher licensing. To a certain degree you have to work with the environment and conditions you are presented with. If this is the game we are playing I will continue to fight for the arts. [emphasis mine]

I felt frustrated throughout that thread, trying to explain that, yeah, I understand that art is everywhere, etc., but that in our schools, in my practice, art has been carefully parceled into its own forty-five minute block, and I don’t have the luxury to pretend or pundit like it isn’t.

To infer a lesson for writing about education from Carl: agitate and fight for your ideals but please feel free to toss a pragmatic bone at those of us who have to do what you only talk about. If you don’t ā€“ if, for example, you ignore the fact that I have 25 standards and sub-standards to cover in 180 hours, that my school has 15 mobile laptops to share across the school, that I have to respect issues of scale, that there are separate credentials for teaching art and math, etc. ā€“ I’m sure you will find an audience of like-minded idealists, but you risk rendering yourself irrelevant to the only people who can animate your idealism.

If I ever leave the classroom, someone please remind me I wrote this.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Dan, the beauty of this medium is that conversations can be picked up, revisited, and evolve over time. This conversation, between the posts here and those over at Dean’s blog had moved on from the “Michelle Rhee hates creativity” issue to that of the value of arts in education and to the effect high stakes testing and standards with a focus only on math and reading has done to the other disciplines. From the tone in this post it appears my argument that this environment is choking all things not math or reading nearly out of existence should be interpreted as having thou bone thrown. Also, I know more than just math people read your blog. The audience my ideas seek is here as well.

    Finally, I have to take issue with the phrase, “…who have to do what you only talk about. ” I am a teacher. I practice what I teach. I taught art in a traditional sense for 6 years, taught art in an alternative school for 2, and now teach art and technology for an online school as well as contracting my services to a traditional public school as a tech integration specialist. Additionally, I taught math for 1 year.

    So, here is my more obvious bone:

    I read this blog because I think it exemplifies how teachers should blog. I use your blog as an example when I demonstrate to other teachers the power of the PLN model for professional development. I also read your blog because I really like how you talk about engaging your students. It is clear you are very good at what you do. However, I don’t see that many teachers who are as good at engaging students and working under this paradigm as you.

  2. I suppose my more specific concern with education is that the amount of knowledge needed to effectively teach each area of the arts is so great that it’s unlikely that many people can teach all of the arts. It wasn’t a matter of credentialling that meant my English teachers couldn’t teach “visual communication” like my Graphic Design teacher could, (the government had in its wisdom decided that English was about communication, and this covered written, verbal and visual communication) it was that they didn’t know what my Graphic Design teacher knew about “visual communication”.

    A couple of years ago I started taking classes from a dance teacher who seriously thinks about composition of dances, and she in turn thinks about her art in a way that is distinctly different from how my Graphic Design teacher thought about images on a piece of paper and my English teachers thought about literature. And none of those people ever mentioned the beauty of mathematics. I don’t think different forms of art are tightly linked and interdependent. Perhaps they should be, but how many people live long enough to properly master all of these art forms?