Teaching Is…. an Art

In 1950 Gilbert Highet wrote a book called The Art of Teaching. Highet was a well-regarded teacher of classics at Columbia University (a colleague with Jacques Barzun) and he knew very well that the teaching profession was rapidly be transformed into a science by his fellows at the nearby Columbia Teacher’s College. Highet was not at all convinced that teaching was or could be a science. He writes:

It seems to me various dangerous to apply the aims and methods of science to human beings as individuals, although a statistical principle can often be used to explain their behavior in large groups and a scientific diagnosis of their physical structure is always valuable. But a “scientific” relationship between human beings is bound to be inadequate and perhaps distorted. Of course it is necessary for any teacher to be orderly in planning his work and precise in his dealing with facts. But that does not make his teaching “scientific.” Teaching involves emotions, which cannot be systematically appraises and employed, and human values, which cannot be systematically appraised and employed, and human values, which are outside the grasp of science.

In this seminar, we will consider Highet’s contention that teaching is an art and contrast it to the scientific, technical approach of so much modern education. We will consider several reasons why teaching is indeed an art, and explore those ways that science can inform teaching, without swallowing it whole.