Friday, July 22, 2011

Hedonic Adaptation and the State of the Arts

In his recent book Dan Ariely discussed Hedonic Adaptation, the ability of our mind to adjust to new baseline conditions. An example of short term adaptation is a smell that initially overwhelms us but after some time becomes tolerable and eventually recedes into the background. ariely claims that the Hedonic adaptation to larger changes is about 6 months (e.g. for a new car to not feel to us new anymore). I would like to stretch the concept to the idea of societal hedonic adaptation- when our expectations as a society and culture shift and a new baseline is created. A good example that jumps into my mind is the phenomena that has always fascinated me, the semblance of "normal" life in the height of the ghetto period during the holocaust. The idea that even under horrific conditions Jewish society maintained a new normal with social events, music, art, organization and celebration of life cycle events. Against all claims that our evil nature emerges when the thin veneer of civilazation is scraped by circumstance. That ability of society to adapt through the individual ability of hedonic adaptationcan be a blessing and a curse.
When I think about education I fear the same Heonic adaptation. We get used to excessive pointlessy invalid unreliable testing (see Berliner's post on that recently). So what oes that have to do with a blog about arts integration? As I was reading Ariely's book it occured to me that we have generation growing up with very little to no art in school, heck in the elementary years there is in some places just math and literacy. The same is true for large, complex, and integrated unit of studies. If this becomes he new standard, as past students become parents that will not demand arts education and arts integration for their kids because it has never existed for them then we will be in perpetual trouble. Kaiser pointed that out in his national tour two years ago as well.
Since I do not want to be glum I would like to point to an alternative. It may be that we need the arts in a way that resists hedonic adaptation. Ariely points out that we cannot adapt in this way to eveything. It cold be that he arts are so foundamental to us as humans that we will know them even in their absence and ask for them, just like the fact that music and art lived on in the bleak ghettos. Kurt Knecht suggested in a recent blog that we finally move away from the notion hat to create art one has to suffer, I suggest that we go one step further and claim that art does need us, instead we need art. It may very well be hat it is such a deep need that it defies conditions and we cannot exist for long without it.
This may also explain how after decades of neglect teachers are still seeking opportunities to integrate the arts into their classrooms embracing the complexity of self expression.
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