Metaphor of School - Part IV -
In this series on the metaphor of school, we are wrestling with the issue of how does school fit into society and how it contributes to the society itself. We’ve examined the idea or metaphor of school as “factory,” “prison,” and “academy,” and while there are some useful connections, each of these metaphors must be rejected in some degree. They just don’t sum up what school can and should be in the 20’th century.
There’s an appealing concept of school as “studio” or “bottega,” derived in part from the history and development of artist’s studios.
There’s something a tad bit fascinating about two connected ideas – that school is a place to try things out and fail – as all artists make mistakes, and the idea that a student is working with a “Master,” – and the instruction is passed down from generation to generation. Historically, this is derived from the guild approach of the Middle Ages where youngsters were trained as journeymen and then became masters when they had met the requirements set forth by the guild. It is perhaps ironic then that my electrician posts his invoices to me as a “Master Electrician,” signifying that he participated for an extended time as a journeyman before becoming the “Master Electrician.” We have lost the concept of apprenticeship as a value proposition – and this is true in teacher training as well.
While the word “bottega” has come to mean a fancy shop, or restaurant, it still retains the notion of a place where things are made – though today the things made often include fancy meals, fancy clothes, or fancy handbags. In the Renaissance, its meaning referred to an artistic production house, a place where students could learn the craft of the Master artist before opening a studio of his own. The bottega was perhaps more closely associated with a production house whereas a studio was a more individual establishment.
What fascinates me is that the idea and metaphor of “studio” and “bottega” imply that a student is learning some life skill, that he or she is under the watchful and guiding eye of a Master of the craft, and that some topics are reinforced and stressed. In some ways this approach seeks to “reinforce the strengths, and remediate the weaknesses.” Educationally, we have this debate without realizing it as we often seek to bring all students to the same level of proficiency on a set of standards. The studio/bottega approach to education would involve an assessment of student strengths, and then a plan to ensure that those strengths were amplified, while the student also worked on addressing the weaknesses.
For more information on the studio/bottega concept, see this website – [ http://www.artspace.com/magazine/art_101/art_market/the-evolution-of-the-artists-studio-52374 ]Evolution of the Artist’s Studio.
Would this systems work in contemporary American schools? In some ways it does already, and in some ways it can never work successfully. In school systems that have what we call “career and technical education,” the system is in fact in place; however much we don’t talk about it or place what used to be called “vocational” education within the historical metaphor of a studio or bottega.
And there are often times when a junior or senior in high school will participate in a “mentorship” program which sees her placed in some professional office or occupation for an extended period of time. Yet, not all students engage in this – most students simply participate in the standard classroom based instruction.
And, perhaps a mentorship or apprenticeship experience is not appropriate for all students. The more highly academic student might find another class more appropriate than a mentorship – though I think the skills in a mentorship often outweigh class room learning alone.
School as studio is a good metaphor. It’s worth consideration and reflection.