Beauty matters in educational practice!
This long weekend, I feel blessed to be surrounded by nature and good weather. Nature inspires me. Its beauty draws me in. Our lived experiences are resplendent with beauty if only we pause long enough to be wide-awake in the moment!
The smallest flower with its vibrant petals growing from a rock reminds me that beauty surprises.
The falling leaf which dances in the autumn air reminds me that beauty can be playful.
The cycle of seasons with all its dramatic changes reminds me that beauty passionately captivates.
The sunset skies, the majestic mountains and the billowing ocean waves remind me that beauty transcends.
The unconditional love and support of our families and friends invites me to beauty that refreshes and inspires.
The young child curiously gazing at a butterfly reminds me that beauty evokes a sense of wonder.
The creativity and actualized potential of every person remind me that beauty has the capacity to lift us from the mundane to reach new heights and to inspire us towards great things in service of the world and others.
Yet, standing up against injustice and fighting for what’s right remind me that beauty can be messy and dangerous.
Beauty, or the aesthetic, is an embodied experience that invites engagement of our senses, emotions and cognitive abilities. If we believe that our work in education is to reflect back to our students their lived experiences and the world around them, aesthetics should be an essential part of our educational efforts. Yet, a careful survey of the way we organize ourselves in education reveals that beauty or the aesthetic is often considered redundant. From the design of the space, the curricula and allocation of the school budget for its programming, the schedule and time allotted for particular subjects to the materials students are given access to, our educational systems in the West reveals an emphasis on the rational and favours particular types of knowledge and certain skill sets over others. I think here of the juxtaposition of literacy and numeracy with the arts.
Webster’s dictionary defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” The challenge in the discourse on beauty and aesthetics is that it is subjective and relative. What one person considers or experiences as beautiful is not for another. As the old saying goes “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” I believe beauty is intertwined with our personal and cultural values, our processes for meaning-making, our ethics and beliefs and our personal taste and preferences. The beauty I refer to here has nothing to do with what the entertainment industry and media promotes as desirable or beautiful. It is my opinion that beauty that becomes subjected to commercialization has as its end purpose uniformity, conformity and objectification and ultimately leads to devaluing our human existence to materialism, greed, envy, competitiveness etc. The beauty I am reflecting on in this blog relates to all lived experiences (interactions with people or things) that are by nature creative, that evoke a sense of wonder and transcendence. Experiences that make “special,” engage the imagination, stimulate our mind and senses, and does not necessarily require an end purpose or a “raison d’etre.” Within this conceptualization, every encounter and every activity has the potential of being beautiful.
When as educators we invite beauty into our spaces and our learning experiences, we facilitate opportunities for our students to see (and become more perceptive), to feel, to become more present and sensitive to others and the world around them. Moreover, we help increase our students’ awareness of aesthetics as we promote an appreciation for life in all its facets, as well as to value the beauty expressed in diverse ways in others' lives, cultural norms and expressions. Materials in our classrooms are carefully chosen for their aesthetic and representational qualities, not merely for their functional purposes. Passionate and committed educators who bring learning to life and inspire students to deeper engagements become the norm. They facilitate students in experiencing that beauty can be found in mathematical processes as well as in nature education, in literacy as in research, in stewardship as in the arts. The ordinary and mundane are elevated and transformed by virtue of an integrated worldview that brings together the senses, the cognitive, the physical and the emotions in all educational engagements. The sterile and institutional classroom environment with its emphasis on order, conformity and uniformity is transformed to provide spaces for authentic engagements, community, play, art-making, meaning-making across subject areas, risk-taking, as well as opportunities to experiment, to make mistakes and get messy. Our educational spaces become creative, imaginative and inviting and our students will experience beauty as a natural part of their lived experiences.
Beauty matters! It provides an invitation to full engagement. Isn’t that what we aspire for in our educational practices?