We shouldn't value arts education on the basis that it has social or economic benefits, but because it expands the mind and soul.
By WENDY EARLE
CONVENOR, ARTS & SOCIETY FORUM
The importance of teaching the arts | Arts & Culture | Education | spiked: Arts education has always been a contested area. Many arts educators have defended the arts in the school curriculum by emphasising their role in students’ moral and individual development. For example, EB Feldman, defending arts education in the US during the 1980s, argued that it should not be about creating artists but about something broader. He suggests arts education can imbue in young people a sense of the satisfaction that comes from working to create something, the ability to use and understand language effectively, and a profound sense of ‘the values that permit civilised life to go on’.
Like Elliot Eisner and other proponents of arts education on both sides of the Atlantic writing in the 1980s and 1990s, Feldman argues cogently, showing a deep knowledge of art and history and an even deeper commitment to humanist principles. Now, more often than not, arts education is framed instrumentally. It is defended as a means of supporting the rest of the school curriculum (to make it more interesting), a means to enhance students’ employability, and a means of developing a good environmentally aware, health-conscious citizen.
The arts have a complex relationship with society, but arts lovers need to make a case for arts education that doesn’t harness it to contemporary moral, civic, social or economic priorities. And we shouldn’t resort to implying that without it people are likely to be stupid or more inclined to crime and immoral behaviour, or even that it makes people more employable. The Gradgrind mentality of relying on ‘facts’ - that is, ‘evidence’ that arts do good - allows little space for an intellectual consideration of the complexities of arts-based experiences.
Furthermore, arguments for arts or cultural education, made by vociferous advocates in the UK cultural sector, too often rely on dubious ‘brain science’ as supposed evidence that the arts are good for us. Research claiming to show evidence of the benefits of the arts does not stand up to scrutiny, as recognised by a recent OECD report, Art for Art’s Sake?. Even El Sistema, the Venezuelan music-education programme, which takes impoverished young people and gives them a chance to perform music in public, shows the importance of clear focus, high motivation, collaborative effort and a lot of hard work, rather than music itself. Indeed, young people could achieve something similar by playing for a football team. The fact that people are so in awe of El Sistema says more about the low expectations of young people’s abilities than about the importance of the arts to society."
Continue reading: The importance of teaching the arts | Arts & Culture | Education | spiked
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Art is essential in expanding the horizons of children beyond everyday life. Children that are exposed to art early, are known to do better and go further in life as art creates an inner connection within the child to its outer environment.