Science Teachers Love Art
Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy,
San Diego State
Posted: March 21, 2011 02:14 PM
There is a growing debate in America about art and science.
Explaining the Universe: Why Arts Education and Science Education Need Each Other author, scientist, and educator, Alan Friedman, says, “I am a science educator who finds this story (of the Universe) deeply fascinating and profound.” But most children do not know this story. ‘The solution is not just finding more good science teachers and developing good science curricula, but also encouraging more and better arts education.”
Recently, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), issued a paper called “Reaching Students Through STEM and the Arts.”
The paper states, “Teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are discovering that by adding an “A” — the arts — to STEM, learning will pick up STEAM.”
They are of course talking about former president George W. Bush’s initiative called the America Competes Act, also known as the STEM initiative for Science Technology Engineering and Math.
That bill authorized $151 million to help students earn a bachelor’s degree, math and science teachers to get teaching credentials, and provide additional money to help align kindergarten through grade 12 math and science curricula to better prepare students for college.
Now, three years later, more and more people are asking why just math and science? Why not the arts, too?
For too long, we have been living with a false divide in our understanding of the brain, a misunderstanding of human nature and of the curriculum. The belief that art and science were two separate disciplines demanded different teaching methodology.
Fifty years ago, physicist-turned-novelist C.P. Snow talked about the “two cultures” of physicists and writers and the “hostility and dislike” that divided the world’s scientists from its literary intellectuals and artists. “That divide,” Natalie Angier of The New York Times wrote last summer, “continues to this day.”
Scientists and artists can change that false perception and perhaps are starting to do just that.
Many artists and scientists know that the divide is a myth. In fact, Leonard Shlain, author of Art and Physics: Parallel Dimensions in Time and Space, once observed that great art reflects what is happening in our physical world and often predicts our scientific future. For example, he relates writes that while Picasso probably didn’t know Einstein, his Cubism was developed about the same time that Einstein first published his theory of relativity.
Robert Root Bernstein, a MacArthur Prize Fellow studying at UCSD 20 years ago, took it upon himself to look at the biographies of the top 100 scientists who lived over the last 200 years. What he found was startling because he found that every great scientist was not only accomplished in his field but in fine arts as well. Not surprisingly, Bernstein says, “(there) shouldn’t be two cultures as currently exists, one favoring artists and the other scientists.”
In a corporate ad campaign of Exxon Mobil Stephen Greenlee, President of Upstream Research, says, “We actually have a lot of scientists who play music. The Creativity, the Innovation — there’s definitely a tie there.”
What is a surprise, really, is that there is any debate at all.