“Beauty had charms to tame the savage beast,” so Disney and fairy tales tell us.
If this is so, then why do we spend so much time in ugly places. We work in cubicles and we send our children to rooms built for utility and not for beauty?
We love beauty so much that billions are made promising beauty. Nobody would choose to sit in an ugly room if they had a choice. We may be sending beautiful students and teachers to ugly students and making beasts. Here then is a modest educational proposal:
Let’s put all our students, kindergarten through college, in spaces as beautiful as we can make them.
Let’s make three rules about this general plan:
First, the classroom and school should be a natural part of the community and the people being educated.
Urban schools should fit an urban setting. In God’s good plan we first see beauty in the eyes of our mother as she cradles us and then in our father’s eyes. We grow up in a home and learn a language of beauty that fits our family language and culture. A school should be a higher version of that interpretation of beauty. A student should find the school familiar, but better. We come to school to find civilization. Of course, a good education will introduce other modes of beauty, other expressions, but first we should begin with the look of our community.
Second, the classroom and the school should be part of the natural surroundings.
I live in Houston where August, when school starts, is hot and humid. Yet at The Saint Constantine School we have embraced our climate and are able to be outside year round. We plant trees (including a copse we call Bragdon Wood!) and move more slowly in the heat of the year. Gentle weather comes in time and then we can live a different outdoors life. Houston is a wet climate, it rains here and we accept that as well.
Instead of building against nature, we should teach and live as much as possible in nature: sunlight, rain, natural vegetation, gardening. It can be done!
Third, the classroom and the school should be decorated by student and faculty art as much as possible.
Why buy a reproduction when our art students can begin to decorate our walls? The very best of student and faculty art can illuminate our lives. Students can build furniture that lasts as they learn to use tools. The more the school or college produces what it uses, the more authentic that school will be.
Better an authentic production of our school than a reproduction. Of course, we will also use the models and images of great art to inspire. The reproduction is a window to beauty, but is not a call to stop and merely look, but to act and create.
Beauty is not an extra for the rich, but a necessity for being human. To lock any of God’s children in a building designed around mere utility with no thought toward aesthetics is to multiply ugliness. If you are not sure if this would matter, ask if you work better in beautiful surroundings or in ugliness? What if you had to hear ugly music while you worked? What if harsh bells sounded (prison like) to mark the change in your day?
Let’s create beauty for our students and teachers and so not only tame our bestial natures, but encourage a creative society.