Home Education “Those Who Can’t Do, Teach.” A Commentary on Lighting Design Education

“Those Who Can’t Do, Teach.” A Commentary on Lighting Design Education


I’ve been having a discussion with some friends of mine about the future of lighting education in the world, but preferably in the United States.  One of those friends asked what education programs for lighting design in the world are doing to improve the industry, and then said “well hey – you know what they say, ‘those who can’t do, teach!’

I just kinda sat there, still dazed from such a comment from such an intelligent individual.  I’m still kinda in that realm of belief that this kind of thought is still pervading the thought processes of people who are out there working in the world.  Something I have been holding onto for quite some time now is the fact that I have recently taken a lead faculty job in the Midwest at a private college, leading the Lighting Design program and developing curriculum that will give back to our beloved industries.  I’m not going to say which school quite yet, but that’ll come soon.

I’m a working individual – I have a company that is known for design work, I have a company that is known for light art, and Light Associated Media, LLC – which includes JimOnLight.com and bulbr.com.  I feel that it is my responsibility as a person who wants to educate the world on lighting to be as connected to that industry as humanly possible, and then some.  This is not a view expressed by the majority of people in the world of education across the thousands of degree programs that exist today.  I feel that this is a shame, mostly because it is our responsibility as lighting designers, production specialists, electricians, and general light lovers to make sure that the next generation of lighting professionals holds the industry up in as high of a standard as I do.  I mean, what other alternatives are there?  If you’re going to do something, do it to the full range of your abilities.  Otherwise, pick something else, because the industries of light are not for people who don’t want to do the work.

Another comment was made during this conversation that I feel needs addressing:
“The world of academia and education, even in the college level, is different from the ‘real world’ in most instances.”

I have to call BS on this comment.  It’s true about the world being different in academia, but it’s mostly because of the way that professors and other faculty-level positions are governed.  It’s true that a large percentage of tenured faculty take advantage of their status as a tenured professor in many fields of study, and I feel it’s fair to say that once a person reaches a tenure-level position, they have reached a pinnacle of their career.  I feel that the opposite is true; I want to become tenured at some point in my career because the bennies of such a title are nice, including a small bump up in salary.  But if you’ve ever been a teacher, you know that you don’t do it for the cash.  A tenured faculty member has a responsibility to continue to provide the highest level of education that is possible by a human being because you’ve reached that special rank.  The lighting industries are changing, and drastically.  It takes a lot of work to be a professor in this field, because you not only have to push your students hard to learn new, updated materials, but you as an educator have to push yourself hard to know the new material and to keep yourself abreast of the sweeping changes that the lighting industry is constantly undergoing.  LEDs are changing.  Light sources are changing.  Optics are changing – I mean, look at the trend right now with the big moving heads out there, and the 8″ aperture.  Things change.  Educators in lighting have no choice but to keep up, it is your educational responsibility.

What is different, however, about academia is on the professor side, with having several different people to which you must report.  In the real world, if you’re slacking off or you just suck, you get fired.  We should implement this on the educator side of the world.  Academia can be no different than the real world for students, with the slight variance that, if you’re screwing off or not getting the material, you get counseled on what you’re doing wrong, and what you need to do to fix it.  The same rules should apply to students in the University setting as do in the professional world – things like “on time is late, early is on time.”  We must educate our lighting students to be the professionals of tomorrow that the industry depends on having in order to make that industry better.  Having a half-assed lighting program with a professor who hasn’t done anything since the days of Century base-ups is over.  Times are changing.  Professors must change with the times.  This goes pretty much for all aspects of the entertainment business side of education, from Costume Design to Sound Design, Scenic Design to Technical Direction.

What professors in the lighting world need to realize is that if you’re not up-to-date on the industry, you’re doing your students a disservice because they will be at a disadvantage when they go out and try to get a job in the world.  That reflects poorly upon you, the student, and your institution.

It is true that there are a lot of programs out there today handing out degrees, even some graduate degrees, that are far below sub-par.  As a student, it is partially your responsibility to make sure that you’re choosing a program with some reputability, and looking for your professor/mentor to be active in the lighting industries.  One thing must be said though regarding the student side of lighting education:

We cannot do it for you.  You have to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life.