Saturday, February 08, 2014

How to Cook a Chicken

Most semesters I begin my first Welding class (yes, Welding), by asking my students the following question: How long does it take to cook a chicken?

Usually I get quite a few blank stares. Then someone blurts out - an hour? - or some other time. And then a student who actually cooks will say, "Well, it depends."

Exactly. It depends.

When I teach Welding, ostensibly I am the expert in the room. But the answer to the question "What's the best way to: weld A to B, cut a 1" square bar, etc.?" will always depend upon variables outside of my realm of knowledge. For instance, a student will ask what is the best way to cut an organic shape out of a sheet of 14 gauge steel. Well, it depends. It depends upon what the piece will be ultimately used for. It will depend upon if the piece needs to be welded at the edge to another piece of steel. It will depend upon which tools the student is most comfortable with (bandsaw, plasma-cutter, oxy/fuel torch, angle grinder, etc.). It will depend upon the physical abilities of the student. As a faculty (and also an artist) I cannot answer these questions for the student. And so my first response might be, "I have no idea!" This really gets their attention. What I am trying to do is disrupt the notion of the expert, and also validate and encourage individual agency in the student. My real role is to help guide them once they have made a decision, and allow the decision to be a failure if that's the way it works out. They will still pass the class.

On Feb 5 there was a NY Times article by Laura Pappano, which begins at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University, and gives an overview of newly minted academic programs in creativity. I applaud this recognition that creativity and problem-solving are being recognized as academic subjects on their own, but for those Colleges and Universities looking to follow the trend, look no further than your art departments. And employers looking for really creative and innovative employees? - hire some artists. You will not be disappointed.

And for the record, I generally buy only whole chickens, cut out the back with my poultry shears, spatchcock the bird, and cook it in a hot oven until it is done. Usually around 45 minutes.