Reflections on Design & Secondary Education

Reflections on Design & Secondary Education

Jim Pettit, AIA Emeritus
Educator, Gilman School, Design & Architectural Drawing

A few of my Gilman students have expressed interest in moving on to further study of design and architecture at the college level but most are just interested in knowing more about the subject than they already know. Like some of the attendees of the AIAMD Annual Educators Meeting (see the October 2015 meeting minutes), I do believe that much can be done at the secondary level to instill interest in design and the values associated with design. However, a semester or two at the high school level in a course like mine reaches a very small proportion of students in that age group. I would argue that as good as that experience may be for some, that a broader audience is needed if we are to affect a culture that is largely design ignorant.

How do we do this? What areas of study currently exist that could be modified to incorporate elements of design thinking? As Dan Bailey mentions, critical thinking is at the core of the thing we do every day. Is that where we start? And, if so, how is the built environment brought into that picture?

During the early days of the environmental movement “teach-ins” generated good crowds and exposed more than just the choir to the role of everyday Joes in being environmentally responsible. In some places I saw esthetics and good design brought into the conversation largely because of the fact that they are (or can be) so closely related to broader environmental issues.

While there is still much talk of the built environment in green discourse, a focus on what we in the profession of architecture call design is largely ignored — or, at least, that is what I have observed. How do we engage young people en masse to think of the importance and benefits of good design in their lives? Is this to be done separately from environmental awareness discussions or can it become a part of that conversation?

I do not have clear and certain answers to the questions I pose. More thoughtful individuals than I will need to address them. But I do believe that they must be addressed and that educators need to play a major role in shaping the discussion.