This post today is dedicated to Gloria Steinem who challenged us in her talk last Friday evening to do one outrageous thing on Monday. She promised to do one, too, “and the world will change.” Here’s to changing the world one outrageous act and everyday rebellion at a time.
If I had a magic wand and could change one thing about education in the U.S., it would be to make the fine arts a required part of the curriculum, right up there with Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Or, if you prefer, Readin’, ‘Ritin’, ‘Rithmetic, and ‘Rt. Yeah, you heard me right. A required part of the curriculum, not an elective. No more teaching the fine arts after school or only if the school gets federal grant money. Can you imagine if we taught math in the manner that we teach (or don’t teach) the arts? We’d be lucky to have people who could count to ten without taking off their shoes.
The arts aren’t the dessert you get to have if you eat all of your bad-tasting vegetables–the arts are the main course itself. Let’s stop and ask ourselves what the arts really teach us. Music, for example, teaches us to listen to each other and to work together as a group. You can’t be hanging in the back of the auditorium, texting your friends, in music class or you’ll miss your cue. Drawing and painting teach spatial skills, proportions, and color theory. Theater teaches public speaking and emotional awareness.
All of these disciplines teach the one most important skill we can impart to our students: creativity. We’ve all heard the statistic about how most people will change careers 7-10 times in their lifetime. What isn’t mentioned is that most of these careers will be in fields that we can’t possibly anticipate. When I was kid, no one thought about becoming a computer game designer. That option just simply wasn’t on the table. Today computer gaming is a billion dollar industry.
So how can we prepare our students not only for the careers of the future, but the challenges of being a citizen in an ever-changing world? We can encourage their creativity which I define as finding unexpected connections between two very dissimilar things or ideas.
I would go still further and state that the arts should not simply be one of the four Rs, it should be the primary R, the first among equals around which all the others revolve. The reason? Math, by and of itself, teaches you one subject–math. The arts, however, teach all the Rs together–reading, writing, mathematics–by teaching you one subject.
On another, deeper level, the arts encourage a holistic approach to education. School stops being the place you go to kill time and rack up points towards being an adult and becomes the place that it should be–a place where your mind is opened, challenged, and broadened.