I have been reading John Taylor Gatto’s book, Dumbing Us Down. One of the things I love about this book is a metaphor he introduces for education. He remembers early on in his teaching, he viewed his role as an educator like that of a painter, where paint is added to a blank canvas to create a piece of art. Education in this metaphor is where the teacher’s job is to add facts and information to the blank student’s brain. Before the facts are added, nothing is there. As information is added, the painting begins to emerge.
After 30 years in education, he now believes the work of teachers is more akin to the work a sculptor might do in creating a sculpture out of piece of marble. The sculptor chooses her piece of rock. The rock contains certain properties. It has all of the quartz veins, or not, that it will ever have, or not have. Gatto views a teacher’s role is to subtract material similarly to how a sculptor works with a marble block. Just as the sculptor hews forms out of rock: arms, legs, a face; the teacher’s job is to help students uncover who they are. Students also contain certain fixed properties. A teacher is a vital aid in chiseling out parts that can help the student with life, create meaning, and aid in finding gainful income.
I really enjoy this metaphor, especially for middle school students and above. For rapidly individuating minds, it feels true, non-stressful, and organic. However, even for elementary education, children are not projects that need to have a ton of disembodied facts dumped in their brain that they have little to no context for. Information presented through story and integrated learning will naturally form who they are, and information that is not absorbed will drop off. See my fundamental article on integrated learning. This process of non-integrated information dropping off is useful however, so the final sculpture, and the true person can emerge. Remember, Michaelangelo had to let pieces of marble go to end up with David.