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Guest Editorial: Is Education an Art or a Science?

Stacy Sharp-Adamson and
Shon Adamson

Currently programs that allow for teacher decision making are being replaced by those that promote district decision making.

Throughout the history of education in America, experts have been trying to find the elusive secret formula for success for every child in every classroom. This often puts teachers, education experts and administrators at odds. The increased pressure to create the perfect student has left administrators in a state of perpetual change as they spend money to adopt one-size-fits-all programs and teachers secretive and defensive as they try to preserve the art of teaching. Is there a secret formula that we have yet to uncover or are we looking for something mythic? Are our administrators in search of a Yeti or Bigfoot? Should teachers be allowed to control their own classrooms within limits?

We do believe there are good and bad teaching practices and that our school districts have an important role in keeping us well-informed. All certified teachers today are familiar with the theories of Madeline Hunter and William Glasser. Their practices have stood the test of time because they allow teachers to make decisions that are in the best interest of children at a moment’s notice while allowing administrators to implement a systematic approach to teaching and discipline that they are comfortable with. Currently programs that allow for teacher decision making are being replaced by those that promote district decision making. These programs are more research-based and scientific in nature. The danger of relying too much on the science of education through the heavy use of programs and educational movements is that we lose the magic of the teachable moment. If we — as educators — are forced into a box of the right way to teach, we lose the excitement created by children (and teachers) who think differently.

A rigid set of guidelines inspired by researchers and adopted by administrators removed from the classroom is at odds with the idea of teaching as an art. There is no art in standing in front of a class and spouting information from a curriculum and pacing guide. Think of it like this: How would you enjoy a Broadway production or an art gallery where people are telling you what to think and how fast to do it? For many of us, this would not be a rewarding experience, yet that is what we are often subjecting our children to in the current of climate of “Read this book now.” … “React to the text now.” … “Not like that, like this.” … “Now take a test” … “Finished? Here’s another test.”

We do believe that teaching is an art form. Just like artists learn from one another and borrow techniques from other masters, teachers learn and borrow ideas from their colleagues. Many of our best teaching ideas come from others. However, just as Picasso wouldn’t be Picasso if he borrowed everything from Da Vinci, we wouldn’t be great teachers if we exactly implemented someone else’s ideas. Instead, we take those ideas and make them our own, an act that is discouraged in our current climate of sameness. Just as artists make many decisions in creating masterpieces, teachers have to make thousands of decisions when educating children. We — as teachers — need to be given power to do what is best for our students. If we are forced into implementing programs at all costs, we will not be able to meet the needs of the children entrusted to us.

No Child Left Behind and other educational initiatives have infused science into teaching at an alarming rate. The belief of researchers who sell their programs to school districts is that scientific method will save the day. To get the perfect child, you just have to use method a on student b and you get result c. As any sixth grader can tell you, this is faulty science. If science has taught us anything, it is that in an experiment you can only have one variable at a time. Teachers deal with countless variables everyday. We work with students who didn’t get enough sleep, didn’t eat enough, don’t like reading or had a fight with a friend. When you are looking at that many variables within in a class of 20-35 children, there is no way a + b= c can work. It is a waste of our time and tax money to pretend it will.

Look at your local library or do a search on the internet for education theory books. You will find countless volumes all claiming that they have a program or strategy that is guaranteed to improve the test scores of our children. In our jobs, there are days when it feels like we have had to try each and every of those theories. Through the years, we have been introduced to some wonderful ideas and incorporated them into our teaching style; however, most of the programs have been forgotten.

As teachers, we are always, always, always learning. Children, schools and society are changing constantly. We are not the same teachers we were five years ago and will not be the same five years from now. Although, the science of teaching will continue to be a part of our daily lives as teachers, we pledge to not let it overcome us. The art of teaching is crucial. It allows us to personalize school for each and every child entering our classrooms. It makes school fun and interesting. It allows teachers and children to function as individuals. Children deserve a caring, thinking team at their school who will work for them and with them as an individuals and who will think of them as a people, not test scores.

About the Authors: Shon and Stacy have a combined 30 years of teaching experience. They have experience teaching in rural and suburban school districts in both elementary and middle schools and are interested in issues that affect teachers and children.


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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.


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