1/31/20 - Our Enlightened Eyes

Written by Chelle Wabrek, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs
In my last month of college, my advisor brought me a book written by Eliot Eisner, an education and art professor at Stanford, called The Enlightened Eye. 

If you can get beyond that jazzy cover, he notes, “The disposition to continue to learn throughout life is perhaps one of the most important contributions that schools can make to an individual’s disposition.” This was the launch for me, of a long connection with Eisner’s work.  As he developed as a researcher, he focused on the importance of the arts in the lives of young people. Among my favorites of his quotes….
  • The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer. 
  • The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world. 
Experiences in the arts are alive and well at Lovett and as I walked in and out of classrooms, the gifts they provide were so clear.

MS theater students engaged in activities to help them better understand how the sense inform their emotions.  On stage, young actors must learn to experience the moment rather than anticipate the actions and behaviors they must demonstrate.  When an actor anticipates the emotion, the performance is negatively impacted.  

To that end, students worked to develop a keen sense of sight.  Detailed images were projected on the big screen and students studied it for one minute.  Teams created questions for one another about the specifics in these images. Students reflected on how they use their sense of sight to inform the way their bodies process information in an effort to improve their acting.  Eisner would say, “The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.”

In dance class students rehearsed complex choreography and spent time performing for one another to provide valuable feedback to enhance performance. 

One student performed with extreme precision, carefully following the dance moves but it was clear she was deliberately making herself smaller. The ensuing conversation was one I hope many of our students will hear at some time in their lives.  “What would happen if you made yourself bigger, your movements more expansive?” “When you commit to a movement the audience gets excited.” “You are dancing at a four, what if you danced at an eleven?” The substance of the feedback, “You are awesome, turn it up!” sits at the heart of so much of the work we want our students to do as they learn to better understand who they are. Eisner would say, “Art is the literacy of the heart,” giving us lessons in identity crucial to our development.

In ceramics class, Seniors could be found creating paper models of the 3D sculptural boxes they were designing. 

The thinking here required spatial visualization and geometric reasoning. As students built the models, they had to use spatial competencies and critical thinking to determine each component piece of clay they would have to scupt.  With each fold of the paper, students discovered they would need to cut the clay in unique ways. Eisner would say, “The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving, purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity.”

It brought me great joy to come upon a 2D art class enveloped in total silence. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory in action. 

In the middle of a busy day, students were completely zoned in on print making or painting, the flow state obvious from the moment I entered the room. Students were refilling their reservoirs of calm and focus. Eisner would say, “The arts help children say what cannot be said.”

This same concentration was exhibited in arts classrooms across our campus. From lower schoolers working with oil pastels as they drew underwater scenes…….

….to middle schoolers working on perspective drawings, determining vanishing points.

Eisner would say, “The arts inform as well as stimulate; they challenge as well as satisfy. Their location is not limited to galleries, concert halls and theaters.  Their home can be found wherever humans choose to have attentive and vital intercourse with life itself.”

The connections created by the experiences our students have in the arts contribute to their success when conceptualizing math problems:

…..or declining the ablative case in Latin….

...building robots with upper school buddies…..

…..communicating information about volcanoes and the forces that produce them….

…...or understanding the deep interworking of economic forces of supply and demand in the historical analysis of the war on drugs….

Eisner, in fact, describes ten gifts the arts give our students, as they develop mastery of content, their own identities and various productive manners of expression. 

Most importantly, Eisner notes something I see Lovett teachers espouse every day:  “The ultimate aim of education is to enable individuals to become architects of their own education and through that process to continually reinvent themselves.” As our students try on the accessories of selfhood…….

...I am happy to be in the trenches, doing the work that Eisner so beautifully describes, with each of you! 

Enjoy a well-deserved weekend!


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