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Fireman / Fireman

In François Truffaut’s film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, books have been banned and are burned upon discovery by a team of people called Firemen—the title of the story refers to the temperature at which paper books burn. Early in the film, a character asks the main protagonist “is it true that a long time ago firemen used to put out fires and not burn books?” He answers by explaining how ridiculous that idea is—of course that never happened.

This idea of role changing from one who helps to one who hurts is something to take seriously, especially as design educators. A fireman used to be a giver—of life, safety and protection; but in this story he is now someone who takes away—knowledge, creativity, and even something that keeps us human: the ability to imagine. Are teachers of design slowly becoming Teachers in a Bradbury sense of the word? Design teachers should be there to give, both of themselves and of that they have learned and studied to their students. Encouraging knowledge and promoting excitement and creativity is the design teacher’s bread and butter. What happens when teachers stop doing that?

There is a fine line between teaching and directing. A subtle but significant difference exists between encouraging creative discovery and directing paths of creation. I have heard design teachers refer to their roles in the classroom as “art directing.” I find that not only inaccurate, but almost vulgar—art directing students is a great way to teach them how to be employees, not designers. I am confident that most design teachers teach for the right reasons and often in the right ways, but enough of them act like Bradbury’s Firemen to make me concerned—policing students in what to do and how to do it, instead of allowing them to read whatever books they like to discover their own paths and curiosities.

© Mitch Goldstein /