Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder


This learning element has evolved over a few years.    Initially, I set the topic as an in class essay question.  I used it as a diagnostic tool, a way of seeing what my students were capable of.   No discussion, no research, no scaffolding.   Just write about the statement ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.   The essays came back.  Some students sort of ‘got it’.   Others just wrote about how nice people don’t have to be beautiful.   It was clear that I wasn’t seeing the thinking that they were capable of.   It was like asking painter to paint a landscape without allowing them to use paint.  Of course some individuals might be ingenious and devise a way to make paint from dirt, but the majority would be unable to fulfil the request.   The topic beauty was a powerful way to get kids thinking, yet I had wasted a teaching opportunity.

So when Prue (with her youthful enthusiasm) started to develop resources to help kids think more deeply about the topic, it began to evolve into a learning element.   Initially we didn’t plan it using the knowledge processes, but our familiarity with using the Learning by Design framework helped us to make the unit more robust by scaffolding student thinking, providing visual and written resources and making the students question their own perceptions.  So a learning element was born.   In 2009  it was finally fully documented, taught and then rewritten using the CG learner website.  Each rewrite enabled me to ‘tune’ the learning element, and by adding and modifying activities I was able to provoke deeper thoughts and more searching analysis.   This year, when I collected the essays they had written, I got a far more vivid sense of what my students were capable of.   They were starting to really think about social and cultural influences on an individual’s notion of beauty.   They were thinking about beauty from different perspectives and moving beyond their own frames of reference.

neck rings

Of course an essay is not a definitive assessment tool.    While we were exploring, discussing and thinking about cultural perceptions and influences on the notion of beauty, my students were engaging in substantive communication.  This took the form of lively group discussions about the reading materials and an enquiring approach to researching perceptions and practices to do with beauty.  They experimented with using metalanguage through a discussion in our fledgling wiki and many of them delighted in what one student described as “sounding smart” when they responded to each other’s comments.   For policy reasons I am unable to provide public access to our wiki so to convey a sense of the discussions which were taking place I have included a selection of wiki posts.    They were written by my Year 10 class (15-16 years old).  It was interesting to see that some of the most quiet students in the class were most vocal in the wiki discussion forums.


Dako. 4. Beauty (first student comment ! Hell yeah !!!!) Mar 5 2009, 9:23 PM EST | Post edited: Mar 5 2009, 9:23 PM EST

Beauty has no absolute definition, no meaning, it is indefinable. It is percepted by individuals, social communities and cultures differently. So if it is indefinable, is that the definition after all ?

PomTom09 5. RE: What is Beauty? Mar 5 2009, 9:25 PM EST | Post edited: Mar 5 2009, 9:25 PM EST

I agree that in this modern world beauty is viewed or associated with youth and that older people are trying to appear as youthful as possible but do they really have to go and alter there face why can’t they just except who they are.

MadeleineN 6. RE: What is Beauty? Mar 5 2009, 10:03 PM EST | Post edited: Mar 5 2009, 10:03 PM EST

I agree with what Dako said, that beauty is indefinable. You could never condense the true meaning of beauty into a defintion.The way I see it, beauty is something that you take a second glance at. You don’t know why or how, but beauty draws you in.
You see something beautiful, and you can’t take your eyes off it. It’s mesmerising.

AznKid_7. Since we could not really define beauty…its easier to quote it. Mar 6 2009, 4:32 AM EST | Post edited: Mar 6 2009, 4:46 AM EST

It is a human requirement in our lives. Like the air we breathe, the food we eat, the sounds we hear, beauty gives us the pleasure of life.
Without beauty, we would live horribly boring lives……
or go mad from all the ugly sights.
Whichever comes first.

AznKid_8. RE: Dakos opinion of Beauty (first student comment ! Hell yeah !!!!) Mar 6 2009, 4:43 AM EST | Post edited: Mar 6 2009, 4:43 AM EST

Well actually, according to this giant 2 tonne dictionary, “Beauty is that qualities or characteristic which excites an admiring pleasure, or delights the eye or the aesthetic sense”
after reading this, i thought to myself. thats pretty much what beauty is isnt it…??

As the discussion grew, the students experimented with more language and sought quotes to help explain their responses.

There were some amusing juxtopostions of formal and colloquial language.   For example:

kukjae_kid 20. RE: Dakos opinion of Beauty (first student comment ! Hell yeah !!!!) Mar 10 2009, 7:26 PM EDT | Post edited: Mar 10 2009, 7:26 PM EDT

Beauty isn’t something to just brush off one’s shoulder…asthetics are important in day to day life because we made it that way.
The only way to recognise true beauty is internally, focussing on the good inside people… not how white their teeth are or how big there boobs are… =/

The wiki showed me that many of the students were beginning to grapple with far more abstract, philosophical questions:

KTRN09 34. RE: Mar 11 2009, 5:49 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 5:49 AM EDT

Every beauty and greatness in this world is created by a single thought”  -Kahlil Gibran

I think that beauty is not necessarily all around us but instead the potential for beauty is. I have a statement in my head that will only be understandable through a question:
Is beauty a constant quality or is it only there when someone perceives it?  I personally think it is only there when somebody perceives it. Some people define beauty as something that catches your attention and others say it is everywhere but you just haven’t noticed it yet, but if beauty is all around you, and it just hasn’t captured your attention yet, how is it beautiful?On the other hand this is not how everyone defines beauty, everyone thinks of beauty in different ways, so we are always going to come back to the essay topic: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  (I’m just putting it out there)

danielle.1512_x 35. RE: A quote Mar 11 2009, 6:02 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 6:02 AM EDT

I like this quote too – is beauty an emotional rather than visual quality? This question could relate to Penny’s confucious quote “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” are there people who are unable to experience beauty? “i dont believe beauty is just a visual quality in something. if you ask someone who is blind or visually impaired what they think beauty is, what would they say if they havent ever seen beauty? Beauty is undefinable, but i think it has many different meanings depending on what the individual person thinks/believes.

Vongmala 36. RE: Mar 11 2009, 7:12 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 7:27 AM EDT

I agree with katrina. i think beauty is only there when someone perceives it.
Think about this: Does beauty exist if there is no one there to interpret it as beautiful? Without a mind to perceive it, there is no beauty, just as there is no color without eyes and brains to perceive it.I’ve also found out something interesting about the whole ‘does animals have aesthetic capabilities’ or is it just humans? in fact some animals do, a book by James and Carol Gould called Animal Architects states that some birds (for instance bowerbirds) have something like an aesthetic sense. It requires the mind to perceive beauty, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a human mind.

MadeleineN 40. Quote Mar 11 2009, 9:21 PM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 9:21 PM EDT

“Beauty is a form of genius as it needs no explanation” – Oscar Wilde.To me, this quote makes me think that beauty is not necessarily a concept, but it is more something that is created in the mind by a person. It cannot have a defintion because you’re the one who decides whether beauty is present in an object or a person.Just like Katrina said, “beauty is not necessarily all around us but the potential for beauty is”.  Something isn’t beautiful until someone believes it is.

The entire discussion is far too long to reproduce here.  In the end it included five different threads and well over 90 separate posts.   This was real evidence that my students were engaging with the topic and thinking about complicated abstract ideas.   By using the knowledge processes to conciously plan a learning element I was able prompt higher order thinking and I could really see what my students are capable of.    I also found that by using a wiki, I had provided the less gregarious students with a voice.  They could carefully consider what they wanted to say and communicate to the class without the pressures of thinking on the spot or speaking before a larger group.   I am really pleased with the way that this learning element has evolved, it provoked the students into thinking critically about what influences their own perceptions and made them aware of the fact that other people percieve the world through different lenses.