As I watched a young woman the other day learning to ride her bike, zigzagging down the street, desperately trying to keep her balance, I thought of the Wright brothers. They owned a bicycle shop where they made and taught people to ride the then relatively new form of transportation. They, like their students, had to learn to balance these new contraptions, just as most of our children do today. They took that core skill to their work on flight. For they were not the first to try to solve the problem of mechanical flight, but they were the first to be successful at it.
That success was built on many things, on a sense of design, on an understanding of both the physics and the engineering of lift, torque, control, and material science, on observation of birds, and even on the design and manufacture of the then very new gasoline engine. But if we had to ask, “What singular idea enabled them to be the first flyers?” The answer would have to be balance. They would have taken that from their bicycle business for it is also the secret to riding a bike. The small wing sticking out in front of the main wings had a reverse curvature to balance the lift of the big wings. The wing warping mechanisms enabled them to balance the chaos of wind and air currents and use a tail as a rudder to turn. They balanced weight, size, and structure to make it possible to carry a pilot and a passenger. And they even had to balance success and failure, secrecy and publicity, business and invention.
Education today is off balance, and like the Wrights we too have to make balance not just a priority but our central driving force. The balance between the arts and the sciences, so long a key aspect of our educational system is now gone. The practical arts are no longer part of our school day. The fine arts are for all intents and purposes missing in action. And the design arts, so critical to business today are not found in our schools. The sciences which includes math, for math is the “science of patterns,” have taken over our curriculum. English Language Arts, is not artistic but scientific with word counts, difficulty formulas, and non-fiction governing that subject.
We try. We add an A to STEM and make it STEAM, but we don’t seem to have a clue about how to integrate those subjects. We talk about the importance of the need to bring the arts back, but we are so nervous about those tests that we cannot find the time in the school day to do that. And while private schools flaunt their wonderful studios, their darkrooms, their theaters, and so many of the people demanding charter schools seek to emulate the privates, the measure of a good high school remains its SAT and AP scores.
As we invent an education system for the future and not the past, we, like the Wright brothers must make balance our central design principle. Just as balance enabled the Wrights to create a new form of transportation, so too must balance, by infusing our classrooms with the creativity of the arts, enable our students to fly.