Poems Vs Pythagoras: Why the arts are essential for kids
Recently, I wrote a post about why it is absolutely essential to find what you’re good at (bit.ly/13BofUx). I still think this is absolutely true. And here’s a living example for why I believe this stands, and additionally why I believe the arts, especially for young people, are so important.
This week, I have been teaching at a performing arts summer school for kids aged from 4-14. Teaching drama to kids is something that lots of actors do, and that something that I am well versed and well practised in. I have a huge list of the games that gain the most enthusiastic response and a folder bursting full of possible performance projects. Lots of people shun local performing arts as (that wonderfully derogatory term) ‘am-dram’ or think they are simply unnecessary. However. I experienced something this week which made me really appreciate just how important the arts, and more specifically, the arts in everyday practice, are. Not just because it gives kids something to do that isn’t hanging around the doors of Asda but because it really illustrated something that I believe in with bells and cherries on top. (like seriously, if I could post this blog with a photo of me with cherries on my head whilst ringing a bell I WOULD.)
There was a tiny little girl in summer school this week. She is shy. She doesn’t engage. She sits on her own, she wears big glasses and never speaks. On Thursday during a drama session, she suddenly spoke two words by herself. Then she did it again. And again. And again, but this time in front of a whole group of her peers, plus a group of older kids and a line of teachers. I felt really proud. She then did it again today in the end of week performance in front of a whole hall full of adults. My boss later found out that said little girl is a selective mute. She doesn’t speak at school, not even to answer the register, so her speaking on her own, out loud, in that drama session was actually a huge deal. I nearly BURST with pride.
The point is, that for some reasons I can’t explain, that kid responded to the work and felt safe and comfortable enough to speak up and communicate. Something that she wouldn’t do before at school. This has less to do with me as a teacher (though to be fair, I do marshall a cracking game of ‘Zip, Zap Boing’) but more to do with drama as a format. It’s one outlet where kids who aren’t perhaps deemed as being academically ‘the norm’ have the opportunity to express themselves. I’m not saying that this kid is going to be the next Meryl Streep. She might be, she probably won’t be. It doesn’t matter. When we discuss the arts, we are not talking about the transparency of celebrity and fame and glamour, but instead we mean expression, communication, engagement, community and freedom. Through drama, this tiny person found a tiny little voice and a way of communicating that she hadn’t been able to locate before through anything else.
The older I get, the increasingly wearisome I get of arts subjects not being as valued as other subjects. When I was in secondary school, I was actively discouraged from taking multiple arts subjects. This is something I still cannot fathom. Why on earth would I have chosen Biology (which at most I would have got a D in), when I could do Drama (which I did take and got an A in)? I was told not to do Drama, Dance, English Literature and Music; all the subjects I was actually good at, and passionate about. I was told the subject combination was too soft, too specific and it wouldn’t lead anywhere. Yet, the kids who chose Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics were not berated for having a wholly specific subject combination and having no arts subjects in their mix. I hated the snide comments I received about doing ‘soft’ subjects. Try it and see how well that goes down with a frazzled 17 year old revising so hard she doesn’t sleep at night, waking up with a start with notes on Hamlet stuck to her face.
Human beings have been expressing themselves through the arts equally as long as we’ve been trying to make sense of our existence via maths and science. Arguably even longer, (depending on which strain of history you believe) what with cave paintings and such. The current government cuts are hacking away at the arts, leaving them sparser than ever, and I for one am so sad and angry about it. I speak from my position as a proud artist. I am proud of what I do and the slog I go through to achieve it, and I know I am someone who believes that art, not just drama but also painting and music and dance, film, books, sculpture, singing and poetry are absolutely essential to human existence. That little kid who spoke today found her voice through the arts. Who is society therefore to say that it’s not as valuable as science undoubtedly is?
Part of me thinks society only believes this because it is a practiced cultural norm. Arts subjects are not as valued in schools and in life because there’s not enough jobs to support them. Yet can you imagine what would happen if we actually educated kids to grow up believing that arts are equal in importance to science or sport? That literature was as valued as the periodic table? That it matters not whether you’re drawn more to poems or Pythagoras because they’re both as important as each other? If a whole generation was educated believing that, then perhaps jobs incorporating the arts may become fruitful and plentiful as these kids grew up and spread their belief that arts are essential. For right now, the people currently in charge seem to think they are disposable. Apparently, the arts are a luxury rather than a necessity.
I just wanted to share these thoughts, because when you believe in something strongly, I think it’s important to shout loud. Keep fighting everybody, let’s save the arts yet, for the sake of tiny little pigtailed mute kids everywhere.