Teaching: Art or science?

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<ul><li><p>letters Teaching: Art or Science? </p><p>To the Editor: </p><p>The recent article by Pestel [J. Chem. Educ. 1990, 67, 4901 echos those that I've seen in this and otherjournals by chemical educators who have stated the position that teaching is a science and not an art. The implied reason for this position seems to be that if teaching is an art, it is not worthy of study. The lack of an objective, systematic proce- dure for teaching is disturbing to manv educational re- searchers whose professional &amp;re hinges on finding just such an obiective answer. It is possible that others are frus- trated that teaching does not-follow the same logical pat- tern and sequence as science. I contend that at least good teaching is an art and that those dispassionate observers who wish to place it in the realm of science are missing the crucial subjective (and in some cases, subconscious) as- pects of teaching that are the difference between a techni- eally competenhd an excellent teacher. </p><p>The implication of many who object to teaching as an art is that an art does not need to be taught. Anyone who has a familiaritv with the "arts". such as music. drama. or sculpture can attest to the lon; hoursof learnkg technique and oractice that eo into the masterv of the basics of each field: Despite this;all the practice and technical expertise in the world cannot make a eood musician. a good artist. or a good actor. The true metce of the artist can only be de- rived from both practice in the field and an undefmahle something inside'the person, an artistic gift if you will. The technical side of the art is important. but not sufficient to make the good artist. </p><p>If, in fact, teaching were a science, then any person with the mental capacity to learn the subject could become an excellent teacher. kssuming that our chemical education departments are not accepting mental deficients into their programs, then all students who successfully complete a program of chemical education should be superior teach- ers.-~aken further, we could even say that any prospective teacher who has undertaken to learn and apply the cur- rent research on science teaching should become an excel- lent teacher. A short look around any common school fac- ultv will show that this oosition is com~letelv erroneous. h i t h e r ramification of ieaching as science :s that there would be one or at most a small class of methods that would work best at conveying the information. If there is an obiective explanation to the problem of information transfer that can be universally gpplied to all students, then whv do so manv different strateeies seem to work equally well? I t is a pretty good guess &amp;at if we polled the 100 or so winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching for this year, we would find about 100 different strategies for teaching. Yes, there would be some similarities, but it would be the differences that made each of them the wonderful teacher they are. Additionally, we could find teachers who were not effective using these same techniques. Once again, the teaching as science practitioners would eliminate all but a few of these excellent teaching strategies once they determined which were (from their data) "the best". </p><p>In short, while a science education department can teach cognitive science or discipline strategies just as well as the chemistry department can teach the gas laws, they cannot teach us to be good teachers. Whether a person can effec- </p><p>tivelv communicate with a proup of adolescents is not sim- ply imatterof plugL"n(: in ;o thecorrect model ofcognitive psvcholo~~, it also rrauires the "triR" ofcommunication and empa thG~ut it is j&amp;t as equa?ly fallacious to denigrate teaching because it is an art. The role of the education de- partments should be the same as that of the fine arts de- partments: to teach basic techniques that will allow the student to reach whatever inborn potential that they have, and to show potential teachers mistakes that have been made in the past so that they might avoid them. The edu- cation departments must be just as willing to admit, how- ever, that they will be teaching some who do not have the artistic giR and will be lousy teachers. In the final analy- sis, we can teach techniques, we can sometimes show things that don't work, we can teach those things which might allow a potentially good teacher to turn into a good teacher, but we cannot teach people to develop the em- pathic and communicative skills that make the superior teacher. </p><p>Keith Svmcox </p><p>To the Editor: Mv response to the letter bv Svmcox gets right to the </p><p>hear% of many of our problems in science &amp;cat&amp;: funda- mental differences in the definition and understandine of - the terms "teaching" and "science". </p><p>Svmcox uses the terminolom "convevinz the informa- tion", "information transfer", axd "effectively communicat- in? when discussing teaching. These phrases do not ade- qLately describe teaching. ~ e a c h i n ~ is much more than this; it is whatever occurs in the classroom that generates learning, which means students interacting withinforma- tion and developing the ability to extend and apply that .. . information to newand usefulareas. </p><p>Educational researchers are not looking for some "sys- tematic procedure" for transferring information, but for some applicable principles that will-serve as guides in im- ~rovinn the aualitv and auantitv of learnine that occurs in the cla~srm&amp; he possibility of good teachkg is enhanced when the teacher has some sense of the nature of the men- tal interaction required for learning to occur. Here is where the science comes in, we are still learning about the pro- cess of learning-cognitive science. It is this growing branch of knowledge that allows us to experiment with teaching strategies that are a logical extension of this in- formation. </p><p>Symcox states that viewing teaching as a science would mean that "any person with the mental capacity to learn the subject could become an excellent teacher." Based on this statement and others, Symcox appears to think of sci- ence as some cold, dispassionate, inflexible set ofrules that generates a single, inalterable procedure for a particular task. This is precisely the view of science that, as educa- tors, we need to dispel. Science is a way of knowing, a dy- namic system for gaining knowledge, a strategy for evalu- ating and improving knowledge or practices of any type. Teaching is, or should be, a science in the respect that it deserves to be practiced by those who have some knowl- </p><p>Volume 69 Number 2 February 1992 169 </p></li></ul>