The importance of the Arts in Education

Posted June 13th, 2010 by layla

I was reading some dance forums today, and I happened upon a thread about the (un)importance of the arts. I couldn’t disagree more with those posters commenting that math and science and practical learning are more important than cultivation of the arts and creativity, and luckily I’m not the only one (towards the latter half of the thread, most every post was synonymously advocating the innumerable benefits of the arts!).

One of the posters mentioned how the arts foster the kind of creative thinking that is responsible for most of the breakthroughs in all areas of human achievement (even math and science), and I couldn’t agree more – knowing calculus is a great skill, but if you have lost all touch with creativity, then you won’t be very good at solving problems you haven’t been trained to solve.

Another poster added a link to a video of a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson (see below) about the issue of how our modern education hierarchy is engineered to create more of the same type of linear thinkers, at the expense of the creativity and diversity of the human imagination. One of his best examples was of a now world renowned ballet choreographer named Gillian Lynne (Cats, Phantom of the Opera) who as a child was singled out by her teachers as possibly having a learning disability, because she didn’t seem able to sit still all day during her school classes. Sir Ken made the point that if the time had been 2010 instead of 1930, she would likely have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication – rather than being advised, by a very perceptive counselor, to enroll in dance school.

It’s scary to think about such a brilliant individual being prescribed medication to suppress her natural tendencies for creativity and movement, so that she could be made to sit still during classes meant to prepare her for a career in an office somewhere. Very unfortunately, this is likely happening to some brilliant artistic children at this very moment. :(

I certainly don’t take the view that artists shouldn’t be exposed to math and science – I think it’s a good idea for everyone to be exposed to all sorts of education – but I think that if a person has a natural aptitude towards a certain type of learning, then that aptitude should be celebrated, not suppressed in favor of what is deemed to be most practical or desirable.

I hope that you find this talk as interesting as I did – and make it past the humor – the talk gets better as it goes on! Also, if you wish to comment, I’d be curious to hear what you think about the relative importance of the arts vis a vis math and science? Do you think that dance should have a place in our modern education system, or that the system would actually be better off if we could replace a few art teachers with more math teachers?

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