Challenges and Rewards of a Museum Educator

For my internship at the Bates College Museum of Art I was involved with educational programming, working under the Education Fellow Abigail Abbott who upheld the position. Museum studies, a field I had recently been introduced to through Bronwyn Sale’s class Teaching Through the Arts, was a fascinating concept. The idea that museums could be used as mechanisms of education certainly seems rather obvious, but this has yet to be effectively acknowledged in contemporary pedagogy. As the field continues to grow, so does the reach of what becomes possible with the integration of museum based education.

A rewarding experience I had under the museum was most certainly giving tours to local elementary school children, as it was both extremely educational as well as the unanticipated exposure to caveats in modern education. The exhibit I gave tours through was the Anthropocenic show, an interesting concept to attempt to explain to the children with no Geography background. Essentially, much of the difficulty lied in attempting to explain artistic methods and conceptions to these elementary school kids in language that they could fully grasp, made more complicated by my lack of understanding in how these kids placed in terms of aesthetic development. The only way I was to establish a sort of middle ground was through simple trial and error. For my first tour, I was rather laid back on my explanations and asked the kids to do it for me, observing what they noticed, how they presented that to me, and how long was efficient to spend observing a piece of art. Some of the students impressed me, mostly by understanding that a theme weaves itself through most of these pieces and being able to identify it regardless of the medium of the piece. One girl was even able to take aesthetic features, such as coloration and shading, and extrapolate its presence to the overarching theme of the exhibit. All while other children struggled to even stay involved in the tour, another issue that had to be worked around in order to give a mutually successful tour.

These tours gave me the understanding of just how wide the scope of aesthetic ability really is. Abigail Housen presented an interesting theory, termed the, “Theory of Aesthetic Development,” which proposes that we develop our aesthetic ability through five various stages. The girl who exemplified some comparatively advanced understanding of aesthetic found herself in the Constructive phase, making comments that even warrant the Interpretive phase, skipping the Classifying phase all together. It is impossible for me to identify if this young girl had any background in art history, a major component of the Classifying phase, which effectively makes it harder to place her in a static spot on the timeline. However, among the five phases, to make comments that align with that of the fourth phase at a young age is impressive. I wanted to pick her brain a little more, but unfortunately a museum tour setting was not very conducive to that type of conversation.

This internship at the Bates College Museum of Art gave me vital experience that I will certainly appreciate in later years in the museum field. Giving tours throughout the museum presented one of the main challenges of education, that being the need for a “blanket” pedagogy in attempt to satisfy the needs of all learners at once. This concept is extremely contemporary in educational debate, so it was valuable experience to see just how difficult teaching can be.


Michael Walsh
Educational Programs Intern