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How Museum Education Cultivates Critical Thinking - Part II
Anu Bhatia, Education Psychologist
April 13, 2020


Encourage Multiple Perspectives

In his investment theory of creativity, Sternberg (2006) identifies three intellectual skills that constitute the intellectual abilities crucial for creativity: the ability to see problems in a new way; to recognize which ideas are worth pursuing; and the practical-contextual ability to persuade others to value one’s ideas. Sternberg (2006) further claims that in order to be creative, one must first decide to generate, analyze, and also sell new ideas.  To generate, analyze, and sell ideas requires one to intellectually explore options to identify the novel idea; to reason, negotiate and defend ideas using evidence, and also modify ideas based on feedback, or reflection. Modification of ideas based on feedback and/or reflection involves flexibility to change the course of action to better serve one’s purpose and the consideration of multiple perspectives.

More than any other academic domain, art learning allows the space for children to engage in a dialogue (like critique) and balance opposing points of view. When children listen to confounding interpretations, their perception broadens as they come to understand and be open to opposing viewpoints. In the following paragraph, I will illustrate how analyzing art exposes children to the idea of multiple perspectives.

Making sense of Kandinsky’s Improvisation

To unplug the underlying narrative, the kids looked closely and carefully at Kandinsky’s Improvisation, letting their eyes travel throughout the canvas to glean through every detail as they ponder the question about the mood of the painting. “Happy?” “Or sad?” “I think the mood is happy because the color orange is bright and lively,” chimed a boy who appeared to be shy but had mustered courage to share as he witnessed the open-ended nature of discussions. “But I think it’s sad- the shapes are pretty chaotic and the disarray of lines and shapes makes me think it’s a sad atmosphere,” argued another kid. Flummoxed by the arguments and puzzling over her own evolving inference, a student inferred the irregular shapes and lines could be indicative of something ‘in a state of evolving but not yet there.’ “Or, may be the artist is suggesting the absence of gravity in his depiction of these floating images.” Validating opposing viewpoints and reiterating the understanding of multiple perspectives, the docent explained, “well, both,” the docent explained, “while Kandinsky was concerned about a war in the spiritual atmosphere as people were turning more and more materialistic, he was confident that art would serve to bring them back to sanity.”

What is worth bearing in mind is that each kid added a rich description and interpretation off the cuff for an artwork that intimidates even adults (most adults spend an average of less than 17 seconds at each artwork in USA). It is noteworthy that kids here construct knowledge by using the tool of careful looking to glean information and simultaneously infer meaning on their own through the scaffolding provided in the form of questions designed by gallery experts. When children learn that opposing view-points can enrich rather than threaten, they begin to engage in dialogue as an exploration of new ideas and standpoints. The ability to see problems from different perspectives is a feature of creativity (Sternberg & Lubart, 1995).  

Conclusion:

Igniting imagination and nurturing creativity, museum education instils a culture of thinking by forging opportunities to think critically and creatively to support individuals get in step with modern challenges. In doing so, museum learning serves as a model that, if applied, can transform the fusty old style of education (in formal settings like classrooms) to a more participatory way of learning. If educators can provide ‘space’ where kids fearlessly share viewpoints, be curious without having the fear of ‘getting it wrong,’ where their efficacy gets enhanced through a collective effort, we can expect a society that values reason, respects perspectives, and is open-minded to undergo a conceptual change when warranted.

 

References

Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., Sheridan, K. M., & Perkins, D. N. (2007). Studio thinking. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Perkins, D. N., & Blythe, T. (1994). Putting understanding upfront. Educational Leadership, 51, (5), 4-7.

Sternberg, R. J. & Lubart, T. I. (1991). Creating creative minds. Phi Delta Kappan, 8, 608-614.

Sternberg, R. J. (2006). Creating a vision of creativity: The first 25 years. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, S, (1), 2-12.

Sternberg, R. J. (2006). The nature of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 18, 1, 87-98.