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The 4 C’s of Education Plus a Few More: Change, Community, and the Corcoran

art community learning tour education

The world is a different place than it was thirty years ago.  Thanks to mobile technology and the Internet, we live in near constant contact with our friends and family, and we can also connect with strangers on different continents.  Whole industries have been created to fill our new demand for instant information, instant contact and instant access.

Even today’s children grow up multitasking and collaborating, listening to music and texting on smartphones,  in a connection- and information-saturated world.  As these changes in demand, industry, and the context of childhood occur, education must change in parallel so our future workforce will be prepared to power these industries and fill those demands. In preparation for the future, a transition in education has been initiated, from a system of rote, routine, and the three R’s of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic to the inclusion of the complimentary four C’s: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.  Below is a video from A Year at Mission Hill, a YouTube documentary series that chronicled a single year at public school that has implemented these ideas.

But this transition is not limited to the classroom.  Learning happens everywhere, a fact which has only been made more true by the instant availability of information on the Internet, and extracurricular learning spaces, especially libraries and museums, have intrinsic advantages for the implementation of the four C’s but will also face unique challenges.


Since its doors opened in 1874, the Corcoran has pursued its mission of “encouraging American genius,” and the gallery’s Department of Public Education contributes toward that same mission by providing the public with educational experiences that make art accessible and create shared-authority.  In order to achieve these lofty goals, the Public Education department uses the most magical property of art, its ability to create a multitude of connections, between places, times, disciplines, and even people.  ArtReach, the Corcoran’s art outreach program, hosts exhibitions of student work within the Corcoran’s galleries in order to create a sense of ownership for the students who get to see their work among that of famous artists (See our post on this year’s exhibition: Expressions 2013).  The students’ sense of ownership Expressions2013-groupthen extends beyond their own work to that other the artists that share the same walls and thus they gain authority over their experience and engagement with the collection.  Thoughts about the artists featured on the walls become more accessible to these students because their own work is up on the same walls.  During tours, Corcoran docents work to co-create conversations with visitors where art acts as the hub of a conversation wheel and the spokes evolve in the space between the piece and the visitors on the tour.


Through the incorporation of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, extracurricular learning spaces like the Corcoran shake off the dust and burden of being inaccessible monoliths of authority.   Instead they become places for community where conversation evolves through co-creation, where artists get to be listeners, docents get to be students, children get to be teachers, and adults get to see things as new.

Frederic Edwin Church Niagara student painting gallery art learning

Contemplating Niagara.