In her book about Muppet creator Jim Henson’s career, Elizabeth Hyde Stevens questions the myth that the businessman and the artist are inherently at odds:
“For the most part, money is the enemy of art. … Put simply, great art wants quality, whereas good business wants profit. Quality requires many man-hours to produce, which any accountant will tell you cuts significantly into your profit. Great artists fight for such expenditures, whereas successful businessmen fight against them.”

This immediately made me think of the ongoing struggle for many teachers to enlighten and inspire our students AND produce high scores on standardized tests. Under the pressure of publicized test data that directly affect job security, many teachers feel they must sacrifice the cultivation of wisdom for rote memorization. The Common Core Standards are an attempt to measure students’ actual understanding of the facts they’re learning—I would say a step in the right direction. From here my mind jumped to the image of a CEO who would help his/her employees understand the necessity of the product they make, as well as why the product is sold for the given price. I would love to listen to the head of Coca Cola give that pitch to the workers on the assembly line.

It’s a bit easier for us educators. We would not give our lives to teaching a subject unless we truly believed that it is essential to our students’ understanding of the world. And to delve deeply into a subject, students need to memorize certain facts. For example, I never tried to grasp the mind-boggling conflicts in the Middle East until I learned to place the various countries on a map. The process began using simple mnemonic tricks, “I cover Pakistan with an Afghan (istan) to keep it warm” — teachers are great at coming up with those to help kids memorize what will be asked on a test. But it wasn’t until I placed tiny Palestine inside tiny Israel that my mind kicked into gear and I instinctively started seeking solutions. Suddenly the importance of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the United States made sense to me and I wanted to find out more.

Memorization does not equate to mastery of a concept, however, it’s often the first step. My guess is the essential facts (the ones you don’t want to look up over and over) can be memorized by, let’s say, 5th grade, and then the rest of a student’s time in school could be spent using those facts to formulate creative solutions to real-world problems. I can’t imagine a business succeeding without being able to demonstrate a steady increase in profit, and I can’t imagine working for a business that produces a product that I didn’t believe in. In my mind, great teachers approach education as both an art and a business by inspiring their students and teaching them how to document their own progress. It’s the best of both worlds.