Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage New York Columnist
A poll was conducted recently by the British performing arts newspaper The Stage (www.thestage.co.uk) to determine the opinion that a majority of people had on a topic that is close to the hearts of many people in the theatre community: arts education in school. More specifically, these people were asked whether or not they believed that the teaching of arts subjects should be compulsory.
The results: Approximately 77% said “yes”, while approximately 23% said “no”.
Granted, these results aren’t necessarily a good reflection of what the general public – in the United Kingdom or in any other country – thinks on this subject, as it was merely a voluntary poll that was conducted online. Nonetheless, it does spark a discussion that is worth having: Should students be required to learn about the arts, just as they are required to learn math, science and history, among other subjects? I think it is safe to say that most of us here – the majority of those who follow this blog – who love theatre would say “yes”. However, there is a clear, sizable number of people out there who would disagree.
Perhaps the most insulting and tiresome excuse I’ve heard from people who claim that arts education should not be compulsory is that the arts are not as important to a child’s education as other subjects are. This could not be further from the truth. There is plenty of evidence out there that suggests that kids who engage in creative or artistic activities as a child – whether it be acting in a play or playing an instrument or painting a picture – benefit significantly as they grow up, as a result of it. Plus, kids these days are already exposed to many forms of art on a regular basis, whether they know it or not. It may be in the form of the music they listen to, the books they read, the movies they watch, the video games they play, and if they have good parents, the shows that they attend. If they are going to be engaged with the arts this much in their lives, would it not be better to gain a better understanding of it by learning about these vital subjects early on in the classroom?
I’ve also heard people point to issues such as funding for education as a reason for prioritizing certain subjects over others. In recent months, this became the subject of heated debate here on this blog, as some pondered whether school budgets should prioritize subjects such as math and science, while others were disgusted at such an idea even being proposed on a theatre blog. If you ask me, that whole debate only bolsters the case for NOT cutting education funding, but increasing it. Nobody is saying that math and science should not be compulsory, but that does not mean that the arts should have to suffer for it, when there is prove out there that shows that learning more about theatre, music, visual art, and even film, can be highly beneficial to the development of a child at a young age. Even if they don’t end up staying with it for the rest of their lives, it can help them learn other valuable skills as they grow, which leads me to my next point…
Other people I’ve heard discuss this – including those who are supposedly supporters of the arts – point out that not everyone is as talented as others are, when it comes to theatre, music or visual art. Essentially, what they are arguing that they should not be forced to do something that they are not very good at doing. Yet part of going to school, especially when you are young, is to take classes for the sake of LEARNING and not the sake of doing things which you already are good at. Personally, I was never very good in math class when I was growing up. By their logic, should math have not been compulsory for kids like me, simply because I was never good at it? I don’t think so, because I believe that part of being in school is learning about all the basic subjects so that you are well-educated, and the arts are very much a part of that.
So to those of you out there who may not think arts education is important, I urge you to please take all of this into consideration. Even if you aren’t someone who is directly engaged with the arts on a daily basis, as an adult, you should still be able to recognize the value of students learning about these vital subjects in the schools. Meanwhile, for those of us who are involved in theatre and in other art forms – whom I imagine represent the majority of people who follow this blog – this should be even more important. The future of art – and that includes the future of theatre – could be on the line, when it comes to this discussion. The kids who learn about these subjects in school could potentially shape the future of the arts, and if they aren’t learning about it in the classroom, many of them might never get involved with artistic activities in their lifetime.
And that should be a very frightening prospect for every theatre person out there.
Photo: Hair the musical at Santa Barbara High School Theatre