In Defense of the Arts

Last weekend, I traveled out of state for a wedding.  As frequently happens at these events, I sat at a table full of people I've never met.  I typically enjoy these situations, as it's a great way to meet some interesting new people.

One of the gentlemen at my table recently graduated with his master's of fine art degree and had just started a job teaching ceramics at a very large high school in Florida.  He told me he had over 300 students in his program!  I thought it was pretty cool that this school offers such a specific art medium for students to study, and of course by the massive number of students who choose to take advantage of it!

With this many students, he pointed out that a large number of his students have no plans to continue their art studies past this class.  While I think many teachers may view this as a hindrance (teaching something you're passionate about to someone who isn't passionate about it), he viewed this as a tremendous opportunity, and I couldn't agree more.

What he teaches his students is the creative thought process.  How to create something, why they made the decisions they did with their creations, and critiquing their own work as well as the work of their peers.  This creative process requires a high level of thinking from students that they are all too often denied in their other courses.  How many high schoolers do you think get the opportunity to challenge their peer's work, and stand in front of their peers and defend their work?  Can you even imagine how important this is to building strong, confident, students who make informed decisions?

In the past few years, we've heard decision makers expound upon the importance of S.T.E.M. classes (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and for good reason.  These are high paying jobs that will drive the future of our economy.  But all too often, this focus means crippling art programs.

This is the completely wrong approach.  Study of the arts strengthens one's ability to study S.T.E.M. subjects.  For the student's in that ceramics class, that's the first (and possibly only) time they've been asked to ponder problems that don't have a right or wrong solution.  The first time they've been given complete creative control over a project.  The first time someone has challenged them to explain why they made the choices they did in a project.

Unfortunately, the status quo in many math and science classes is the "recipe" approach.  Look at the problem, open the textbook, find the right "recipe," and solve the problem step-by-step.  Learning the fundamentals necessary to solve problems is important in any field of study, but by neglecting to engage our students creatively, we risk losing their interest, or teaching them an inside-the-box, look-up-the-answer mindset.  They haven't developed an ability to make confident, independent decisions.  Yet we wonder why so many bright students struggle in college...

That's not to say that there aren't math teachers out there who teach this type of thinking.  Certainly there are.  But the arts provide such a wonderful opportunity to practice this.  And just like anything in life, creative thinking requires practice.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.

The Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world didn't get to where they did with recipe-brains.  They faced problems that had no solution yet.  Or better yet, they created solutions to problems that didn't exist yet!  The solutions to our biggest problems won't come from following a recipe; they'll come from those who challenge the way things have always been done.

At The George Center, we believe ALL students deserve an opportunity to experience the arts. Sign up for a free consultation today to learn more about music therapy!