Robert Fisk recently wrote a piece called, "Why Does
John Malkeovich Want to Kill Me?" about the kinds of
hostile name-calling and mudslinging he's encountered
since reporting on his eyewitness accounts in
Palestine and Afghanistan. The trend is not peculiar
to Americans (JM is British) but seems to be a trend
more vociferous in the U.S. that when someone
disagrees with a thought, or yet doesn't understand it
and by virtue of not understanding it need to dismiss
it, or sling dismissive, judgmental words as if it is
I had logged into TAPPED IN and had a serendipitous
conversation with some of the memebers about WebQuests
being constructivist activities. Never mind that some
of us were doing "WebQuests" before someone came up
with the name and then published articles on the
subject. Does it diminish the value of the term or the
activity because we don't like the label? It seems
we've had this kind of discussion before.
I then went searching for some insight as to how my
colleagues are thinking about constructivism. I found
that it was Eisner who in 1998 asked why do we as arts
educators come up with arguments to use the arts to
support other subjects but don't use the reverse
logic. Excellent question. Did the field every address
it? Changes the perspective on how we think about
ourselves and what we are doing to reverse the logic.
I then found more research on how it is impossible for
us as educators to separate what we do in the
classroom from our theories. Something akin to the
saying "the fish is in the water and the water is in
I noticed in the '70's that there was an increasing
disdain in America for academic knowledge in the
culture and that trend seems to have persisted. Should
it matter that today's graduating high school students
have about 1/2 of the vocabulary that my peers had
when we graduated? Without the language, can you
construct the thought? Are we left in a vacuum where
the thought is not understood and dismissed because
the tools are not there to comprehend it?
Yes, I am interested in Tochon's use of "Didaction"
and I thought I would see what the rest of you think
about it. Can be found in Arts and Learning Research
Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1999-2000 when he introduces
the concept in his "Action Poetry as an Empowering
Art." I was interested in his concept of breaking
barriers to socially prescribed norms in the context
of using and reading poetry and how he brought this
back to the classroom. Dawn also brings in an
interesting background to the concept, which is
Montessorian. Didactic materials are constructivist in
that the child self-selects what to use and what they
get out of using it. Constructivism takes it one step
further and guides the interaction in a certain
continuum, whereas Montessori is self-directed.
Tochon's use of the term to evolve it from tradition
"didactic" and "didactics" fits in with what I've been
thinking about and have mentioned here on the list
before. That is that I believe that the practice of
arts education today is limited by the structure of
DBAE and the way we think about teaching. Goes back to
theory, from theory, we developed practice. Both feed
each other in a self-contained feedback loop.
Constructivism as a concept I like but I really
dislike reading academic treatises about it. But
again, I feel its practice is limited by the
pre-determined outcomes of the practitioners. It's
like the example of the dandelion lesson mentioned
earlier today on the list. Good lesson for the teacher
and she was happy with the results. What could it have
looked like as a "didaction" lesson or a
"constructivist" lesson by a different approach -
where all the tools and materials were there and the
teacher let the children decide what to do with them.
Would it look like a dandelion with bugs on the paper?
What that be the only thing children did with the
examples? Would someone try to build a car out of
dandelion parts? In this framework, the outcomes are
not predetermined and the children construct their own
meanings out of the experience, not the ones we want
them to have.
Don't we need to ask here who is a lesson for? And
what kind of outcomes do we ultimately want our
students to have? When is it appropriate to have a
dandelion resting on a bug kind of lesson and when is
it appropriate to let the students decide what to
enact? These issues can't be answered by pat comments.
They are like a painting. You start with a kernel of
an idea, you wrestle with it, you work it, over time
something emerges. This should be the nature of our
dialogue. It's this kind of questioning that we are
wrestling with in education as a whole and in arts
education in particular.
Am I cynical about labels? Yes, sometimes. I had to
write Larry privately and ask him what IMHO means.
There seem to be a rash of these acronyms everyone and
no one seems to be bothered by them as a kind of "ism"
or "cliche's." IMHO, I think that we need to be pushed
out of our prescribed little boxes of thinking and do
some more thinking.
Thanks for everyone who is contributing to that
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