Title: Comment, A combined approach to design education in schools
A combined approach to design education in schools
It has always been an ambition of design enthusiasts to establish universally high standards of discrimination and choice, in the products of everyday life, through primary and secondary education. If you can teach children to appreciate design, the argument runs, what a sweeping influence this could have on the quality of our whole environment.
This is an admirable objective. Unfortunately, it seems to be very low on the list of priorities for our national educational programme. The Society of Industrial Artists and Designers' fourth annual conference at Chipping Campden set itself the task of finding out what could be done about it. The subject had emerged from the previous year's conference as perhaps the key factor affecting progress in design (see DESIGN 200/17). But it took this year's more detailed discussions to expose the obstacles that must be overcome.
Kurt Rowland, the author of a series of teaching guides under the title Looking and Seeing*, had set the ball rolling in his opening paper by calling for the teaching of what he described as 'the grammar of vision'. Literacy presupposes a knowledge of the grammatical use of words, and in the same way the visual faculty also needs educating.
The difficulty, according to Rowland, is that our educational structure is dominated by those brought up in a non-visual tradition. However, Fred Jarvis, of the National Union of Teachers, showed this to be a superficial assessment. The powerful and legitimate pressures on school curricula for more time to be spent on science, mathematics, modern history, English and all the other things that children are urged to study - make the plea for visual education sound altogether too vague and intangible even to be a starter. This was a cool and refreshing wind of common sense in a conference that was prone to narrow and inward-looking attitudes, particularly during the discussion periods.
What is surprising in the circumstances is that some progress has already been made. The teacher training course at Hornsey College of Art, and the new course at Malvern College, both described at the conference, plus the ColD's own work in this field and a new teachers' course at Cardiff, are useful beginnings, and are bound to have some influence.
The big question, however, is how far these isolated forays are likely to succeed on a significant scale. There is clearly a need for a much stronger voice on the Schools Council for Curricula and Examinations, the national body which weighs up all the conflicting claims on the school syllabus. Such a voice must be clear about its objectives and free from the obscure jargon into which discussion about almost any aspect of design seems inevitably to sink. But even a clear voice is of little use without the authority to speak. The need is to gather together all those organisations whose aims are broadly in common to present a concerted case.
The SIA has launched a small boat that is already rocking perceptibly. It would be a pity to see it swamped by the first sizeable wave that comes along. But if it joined forces with the RIBA, the DIA, the ICA, the Civic Trust, the Town Planning Institute, the craft societies, the schools of art, design and architecture, the Arts Council, the Col D and several others, to produce a joint programme, then there would surely be a vessel strong enough to ride out any storm. This is taking conference theorising into the world of practical politics. But it is the only way to get something done. J.E.B.
*Ginn & co Ltd, 14s 4d each by post from colD.