As an educator, I have been challenged to “prove” the importance of The Arts in our educational system. To add insult to injury, the sentiment that The Arts (Visual, Dramatic, Musical), are irrelevant in this day and age, often comes off stronger during economic downturns, when some want to “get back to basics” (whatever that means).
As if The Arts for arts sake don’t matter! Arts shouldn’t have to be justified as an aside to anything else.
When it comes to education and The Arts, parents and educators need to support the notion that Arts education matters, not only in relation to other subject areas, but because it is the foundation for expression and creativity, ingenuity and innovation, flexible and divergent thought. We must create opportunities for all children to be engaged in fully and regularly in The Arts.
The Arts are also our strongest tool in education for change.
I hope you’ll permit me to borrow from a book titled, Releasing the Imagination by Maxine Greene. It is her belief that “holistic experiences in the arts release the imagination and nurture the whole self”. I strongly feel that when children are given experiences in the Arts they are able to create, nurture, and develop artistic gifts, which help to nurture the whole self. A well-rounded education in The Arts encourages children to play, move, question, laugh, share, explore and learn. Experiences in The Arts allow children to honour and respect individuals and to show empathy for others. Through a variety of experiences in the arts, children develop the ability to get into the minds of others, and truly see things from another person’s point of view. Though we can do this in all disciplines, it is most easily accessible in the Arts.
“We must make the arts central in school curricula because encounters with the arts have a unique power to release the imagination. Stories, poems, dance performances, concerts, paintings, films, plays – all have the potential to provide remarkable pleasure for those willing to move out toward them and engage with them.”
If we value divergent thinking which I presume YOU do, then it follows that releasing the imagination is central to that, no? Given that most educators recognize the importance of multiple intelligences and believe that individuals think in different ways and use different strengths, then it follows that we should have just as strong a focus on the Arts (at a minimum), as we do other subject areas. If we want for students to be able to create their identities, then “waking up what inside of themselves” becomes very accessible when we rely on the Arts, – (and here I have to say especially Dramatic Arts, because of the learning and changes that can come out of stepping into other shoes, becoming someone else, going back to yourself and redefining who you are and what you think as a result of the dramatic process.)
“One of the reasons I have come to concentrate on imagination as a means through which we can assemble a coherent world is that imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible.”
When children are given the opportunity to explore how people are treated differently due to class, race, or culture through experiences in The Arts, they begin to understand the importance of democracy. The Arts bring colour, joy, compassion, and understanding, helping children to reach out to one another, and honour individuals, as well as the collective whole. When children are continually exposed to The Arts, they learn to work with one another, and develop a genuine understanding and respect of differences. This understanding enables them to work towards social change. Experiences in The Arts allow children to recognize that others may not be as fortunate as they are, for example, and provides children with the tools for social change. So essentially, The Arts are a means to promote a democratic society and exist as a vehicle for social change.
There’s a popular video of a lecture by Ken Robinson that states that “creativity is as important as literacy”. Given the requirements that 21st century learners need to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, I couldn’t agree more. Students need to have huge amounts of opportunities to flex their minds and grow their imaginations to be able to adapt to a variety of contexts. In light of the global cross-cultural context which each day becomes more and more intertwined, we cannot teach with disregard to economic and political spheres. The Arts most definitely allows for us to do this and seek alternative viewpoints. Greene states:
“Envisaging what might be, educators cannot but work for a certain mastery of skills and involvement with a range of literacies for young people who will grow up to participate in a democratic community”
But there is a divide: We have an evolving curriculum, one too heavy in content (quantitatively), but which is definitely being revised to reflect the needs of the 21st learner. Policy is starting to reflect this too (finally the pendulum has swung!). The problem? Many teachers still buy into old notions of education and antiquated methodologies. Even newer grads do…it’s firmly entrenched in our “culture of education”. How can teachers do better? Well, we are very much a product of our own education. How do we get beyond this as a profession? Surely it will take time, certainly generations, but how do we get the ball rolling? It is through questioning our own professional lives and seeing alternative viewpoints that we form a more informed, enriched view of our professional practice. Higher-level and critical thinking must win over rote nonsense and non-innovative instruction.
The Arts matter. Period. The Arts matter very much, I would argue, given the state of our world, more than any other subject area. Care to differ?
I will leave you with some final thoughts borrowed from Greene here:
“We who are teachers would have to accommodate ourselves to lives as clerks or functionaries if we did not have in mind a quest for a better state of things for those we teach and for the world we share.”
“In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search, each from her or his lived situation”