By Nina Benson
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe has been accredited with the idiom, “Less is more”, but it first was coined by Robert Browning in his poem entitled “The Faultless Painter” in reference to Andrea del Sarto. I reference the phrase today because as educators it appears on occasion that we are, driven by some inner task-master to do more, produce more, achieve more. Perhaps educators by and large are over-achievers and expect the same from all of our charges. I wonder if any one has done a study?
However, my thoughts today aren’t so much directed in the production of “more” as it is the product that comes from “less”.
In these days of budgetary cutbacks, my colleagues, (which includes those from CPS, and other districts, and other educators in other states), are expected to do more with less. The consideration seems inconceivable that less would be the product of less. For example one could reason logically, if you are given half the ingredients for a dozen cookies, then you would make six cookies, not eighteen! However, the latter is indeed the expectation in some cases.
Although, let us look at “less” through Van der Rohes’ eyepiece. Sometimes what is presented simply can have exponential outcomes. As educators, students don’t necessarily need more “stuff” to choose from to create a product. In many cases, giving students too many choices slows the process of creation to a grinding stop, (after all, they are children we are adults; we can make decision making simple).
What I’m saying is, we are given less to work with; yet the outcome can be and dare I say, should still be more, because the ingenuity of the student hasn’t changed. It’s our perception of what we think or are accustomed to what is easily available for use, that has made our tasks perhaps easier. The outcome can still be the same if not better, with less.
The days of plenty are indeed gone. We have no choice but to make due with even less, (which I understand is most challenging especially when you had little to start with).
It is what it is, so what do we do with our lemons? This is rhetorical, as it is different for every educator. I choose to “find” and recycle needed supplies. I encourage my students to think about what they really need for a task and encourage them to reflect about the true expression - “Is this “thing” really what I want to say about myself?”
But what do you do with your lemons?
Still, a different consideration of this “less is more” business, isn’t just about the “stuff” we had to operate within our classrooms. We have less time to produce the same results and produce the “more”. Many educators already take work home. Many family meals, evenings, and weekends, not to mention nearly every tabletop and counter surface in the house, and let’s not forget the teacher’s child who needed help with their homework all because of paper work that took precedence - needed to be completed. The grading of the assignments, is a given, but the “more” that comes into to play now, is the additional paperwork needed to add the validity to the teacher’s assessment/evaluation.
Whatever happened to the simple end product of a successful student? Aren’t their assessment scores enough? Aren’t the happy parents enough? Perhaps not – when we are being compared to other countries who have had a far different educational pedagogy than the U.S. for decades – we can not compare. It will take time. There has been nearly 60 years of a different mindset towards education. And the truth of the matter is, what has been standard and acceptable operating procedures did not work and the country is scrambling to reset – struggling to catch-up with the other countries who have worked with “less” and produced “more”.
SO, what do you do with your lemons?
I think revisiting what was done some 50-60 years ago, when there was success and gains with “less”, (by today’s standards), might be a good start. But squeezing “more” paperwork out of educators who have the same 24 hours that everyone else has is,… is… for what gain? Is anybody really asking this question? Especially, in light of the “holy grail – the assessments” – the scores of the students and please let’s not forget DAILY PERFORMANCE. This should count for something. Assessments are snapshots not the everyday.
“Less is more”.
Simply put, we could just spend more time with our students on our curriculum rather teaching to the test, (did I just say that?). However, the pressure is on – our students must succeed – they must do their best because their success and/or the lack thereof reflects back. I know the assessment should be reflective of the curriculum, but for some educators there isn’t enough time in the day to adequately teach to the level of what is expected for success…
It isn’t so simple, is it?
Yes, we can do with less stuff, but in some scenarios can we produce “more”. I think this thought works in art, but not so much in other areas. I think Van der Rohe meant that the less stuff the better and that one could see that less was indeed, enough – that is, was “more”. In education, can we really create more from less? But maybe we could start with the basics and keep it simple.
This is all just my conjecture, but isn’t it all? Everyone has opinion… I wonder what was Mies’ thoughts on education – I wonder what his opinion would be on education now.
Of course, some are wondering, why are we looking to art for thoughts on education? Believe me, there are some art educators wondering, what took you so long? ;-)