The Importance of Aesthetic Education in a Covid/Post-Covid World
Teaching, generally speaking, is an optimistic vocation, especially when our students face adversity and continue showing up every day. We teach because we believe that with committed and compassionate nurturing and guidance, the next generation will be equipped to build successful lives in a complex and sometimes hostile world. The more adversity our students face, the more it behooves us to look past a skills-based curriculum to include ideas and materials that help them to see themselves as thinkers and creators. Fully engaged teaching is a relationship that calls for empathy and an interest in one’s students’ voices and identities. There has been a substantial body of research documenting the essential role of caring in K-12 education. Noddings (2005) describes teaching as a “moral enterprise” (p. 12) that is concerned with students’ “full human growth.” This need to account for students’ humanity does not end with high school graduation. In her book Connected Teaching (2019), Harriet Schwartz advocates for a pedagogy in which college teachers engage students in ways that “express care and convey enthusiasm” (p. 33).
Maxine Greene (2001) spoke of the power of art to heal, and the important role the arts must play in education at all levels if we truly value “wide awakeness” in our citizenry. She wrote of the social imagination, the “capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society, on the streets where we live, in our schools” (1995, p. 5). That capacity moves people “to hold someone’s hand and act” (1998). To trudge forward with old lesson plans and assessment tools suddenly makes no sense here in this space of "wide awakeness." The only thing that really does make sense in this context is to bring into the center of our teaching specific works of art that act as an invitation or a provocation to help students access their voices in this time of isolation and uncertainty.
Maxine Greene often spoke and wrote of “lending a work of art one’s life” (2001, p. 128). This involves a reciprocal relationship, where one is not simply studying and cataloging the product of another person’s imagination, but engaging it in dialogue by “deeply noticing,” (Holzer, 2007) questioning, and artmaking. For Greene, to “engage imaginatively” with a work of art allows one to “discover possibilities in your own body, your own being” (2001, p. 80).
In the end, the aesthetic teaching of art opens hearts and minds through images and words designed to evoke a response. It is connection. It allows for voice when silence is everywhere. It creates community in a time of isolation as it provides the bridges to and from the self. This work supports students to develop deep connections to theme, content, and even skill building,but more importantly it can create opportunities for compassion, connection, and empathy.
Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a blue guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute lectures on
aesthetic education. New York, NY Teachers College Press.
Greene, M. (1998). Maxine Greene addresses the topic of imagination: From the museum of
education’s readers’ guide to education exhibition. Retrieved February 5, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9pwAi8-bZE&t=2s
Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change.
San Francisco, CA. Jossey Bass.
Holzer, M. (2007). Aesthetic education, inquiry, and the imagination. New York, NY, Lincoln
Center Institute for the Arts in Education.
Noddings, N. (2005). The challenge to care in schools. (2nd ed.) New York, NY. Teachers College
Schwartz, H. (2019). Connected teaching: Relationship, power, and mattering in higher
education. Sterling, VA. Stylus.