Why Arts Education is Important

I feel really disheartened when I hear the words ‘I don’t think I’ll take music next year, X says it’s not as important as other subjects.’ I fully see where they’re coming from- everyone from high up Government Officials to their parents are saying that the Arts are a waste of time, and a lot of courses have been scrapped or made incredibly awkward to pursue. It makes my blood boil, because a lot of the curriculum is outdated; our current education system doesn’t take into account the fact that almost every child carries around a world of knowledge in their back pocket, in the format of their SmartPhone. Rather than learning how to calculate obtuse angles, we should be teaching them how they can find out answers for themselves. They can Google the word ‘tributary’ and watch a YouTube video about it quicker than they can commit information to memory in a Geography lesson. Do we actually need to know everything off by heart anymore? *NB I don’t think pupils should stop learning Geography or Maths, they’re important subjects.*

Anyway, I digress.With so much information at our fingertips, I know I very rarely use most of my Secondary School curriculum knowledge in everyday life. Even Maths, in the form of budgeting, which I used to do frequently, I can now tell my phone to do it and it works it all out for me. And then sends me push notification updates if I forget to check it. Same concept, different skill. But I do encounter the Arts everyday for a significant portion of my day. Aside from the obvious benefits, the Arts teaches you so much more than face value.

It teaches you to be creative. I know the current government thinks that creativity is an unnecessary use of time. But all of the technologies or advances in medicine we have now came about in the first place because a scientist thought outside the box and was creative. They saw a problem which needed solving and thought creatively to come up with a solution. Yes, there is creativity and innovation in science, but scientific minds also tend to be very good at music as well- that can’t be coincidence.

You learn how to work in a team. You can learn this in other subjects, like PE, but in music, drama and dance particularly, you regularly have to communicate your idea to a group of people, negotiate with others and persuade them to go with it, make adjustments to your work and evaluate your progress made. I became a pupil for a lesson once, you can read about it here, and it’s actually quite challenging to be creative in a team with a time-limit.

Your emotional intelligence grows as you develop artistically. You learn how to express your feelings and responses in an appropriate manner. Performing or creating a piece of art should expose part of the communicator’s soul. Others should be moved to feel something because of it. It teaches you empathy.

You learn how to take constructive criticism and persevere. X-Factor made my job more difficult because suddenly lots of students were saying ‘my mum says I should go on X-Factor.’ I never lied to pupils about their work, it doesn’t actually help in the long run. If it could be improved on, I would tell them how. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, it’s how you learn.

It teaches you acceptance, that it’s ok to be different. There’s a piece of music, a play, a style of dance, a film genre, a painting etc out there for everyone. It teaches you tolerance of other people’s views and helps you reason as to why you have your own.

It’s an outlet. For some pupils, it’s the only reason they come to school.‘If I didn’t have music lessons at school, I might just kill myself’ is a phrase I’ve heard many times. Sometimes it was over-exaggerated teenage angst, but a few times it wasn’t. A lot of my job as a music teacher wasn’t teaching them how to play set pieces, it was teaching them how to talk about music and what it meant to them, and helping them find a way of communicating their issues and problems. In drama, we’d talk about drawing on personal experiences to show emotion in our work, which also helped them to process their feelings. If a serious safeguarding concern came up and music/drama wasn’t a pupil’s ‘thing’, I’d abandon my lesson for a bit and we’d do colouring or writing poetry- whatever they needed to help. I’m not saying this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other subjects, but fewer disclosures happened in my French lessons than they did in my Performing Arts lessons.

It gives some pupils the chance to be ‘good’ at something. Some pupils aren’t academic. But they’re bloody good musicians. Some pupils have terrible behaviour and hate school, but they find their niche onstage where they get the spotlight attention for good performance that they crave. Other pupils have been rapping and doing street dance with their ‘crews’ (their word, not mine) for years and have never seen it as an art-form until they’re allowed to showcase it at school.

It’s a type of communication. Freedom of speech is key in a democracy yet the government are trying to silence some of our children’s primary methods by making the Arts a ‘bad choice’. Professor Umbridge’s classes in Harry Potter spring to mind.

It’s integral to our culture. Do you watch TV? Go to the cinema? Listen to music? Read graphic novels? Dance at parties? Do you have photographs in your house? Take photos on your iPhone?  Do you wear designer clothes? That’s all art. It’s not just about performing or going to view it. It is everywhere. And if you cut off formal education of the Arts, we’ll soon find ourselves without actors and designers and musicians etc and we’ll be culturally stifled. It doesn’t matter if you’re not actively ‘doing the arts’ you are engaging with the arts every day, and a lot of the time, without even realising it.

Many courses are being scrapped nationally after this coming exam season. Some courses still exist, but a lot are weighted now to be more theory based. Learning about the theory of something is good in some ways and is a useful foundation, but it doesn’t mean that you will suddenly be a talented artist. It needs to have practical elements. Nobody should be forced to learn the Arts at GCSE level or above. But the option needs to be offered. Science, Maths and Engineering are clearly important for the innovative, technology-driven society we live in now, no question of that. But we, as human beings, are just vessels of factual knowledge without the arts to teach us how to communicate it.

Photo: Stock Google Image

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