Creating Aesthetic Contexts for Learning

If we wish to develop in our students an appreciation of beauty, we must transform our schools into places of aesthetic delight.

North American December 9, 2020

Sandra, principal of a large elementary school, had become increasingly concerned about graffiti that started appearing along the corridors. In a staff meeting, Sandra asked the teachers to brainstorm what they might do. An idea that emerged was to create murals on the hallways throughout the school. Sandra thought it would be a good idea for students to participate in the project. 

First, each homeroom teacher and his or her students chose themes that they would like to see depicted, such as friendship, ecosystems, and the idea that “everyone is special.” Sandra then contacted a community artist to create outlines on the walls portraying the various themes. Groups of students, with everyone having a part, applied the base colors to the murals, with the artist adding finishing touches. More than a year after the murals were created, Sandra notes that graffiti is no longer a problem.

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Historically, the place of learning was set amid natural beauty. The word academy refers to the grove of trees planted in ancient Athens in honor of Academus. Here Plato and Socrates met with other inquisitive minds in the shade of an olive tree. Today, we refer to the academic grounds as a campus, which in Latin signifies an open landscape, perhaps with scattered trees. 

Similarly, when God created humanity’s first school, He placed Adam and Eve in a garden—a beautiful setting with “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9-15). These first students were not only to enjoy their aesthetic surroundings. They were commissioned to make Eden even more beautiful.

Sadly, many of our learning environments today are devoid of aesthetic beauty. Drab buildings, dingy offices, dull utilitarian classrooms, and concrete play areas coalesce to produce a dreary learning experience.

If we wish to develop in our students an appreciation of beauty, we must transform our schools into places of aesthetic delight. We can start by making our campuses havens of beauty and tranquility. This, of course, cannot happen without planning and an investment of time, effort, and resources. The master plan for the school must consciously incorporate aesthetic elements—perhaps a distinctive architectural theme or color scheme for the buildings, horticultural and artistic landscape elements, courtyards and open expanses of green, to mention a few possibilities.

In the case of existing facilities, the school family might embark together on a program of beautification. This is particularly important for students, for not only will they engage in active learning, but they will also seek to preserve what they have worked to beautify. 

One such project, which has become a central focus of a number of schools, is to create a prayer garden—a place of meditation that blends the color and fragrance of flowering plants, the songs of birds, and the sound of running water. Similar aesthetic projects could be undertaken for classrooms, hallways, and offices, as well as for the cafeteria, library, and student center. 

In all, each represents a concerted effort to make the school an oasis of beauty.

Author

John Wesley Taylor V, PhD, is Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served as teacher and educational administrator in North America, Latin America, and Asia, and in elementary, secondary, and higher education settings. He is a friend of young people and a colleague of teachers.

    1 comments

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    | December 31, 2020 at 10:53 pm

    I like the positive way Sandra redirected the students creativity.

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