The independent London newspaper

A Case for the Arts in Education

10 January, 2019

All too often, when educational budgets are tightened by the authorities in charge of the purse strings, forcing head teachers to cut some of their programs, it is almost always the arts that lose out. Superficially, this makes sense: the sciences bring us things like banking and economic understanding, material wealth from mining and chemical processes and, of course, physical health with medicines and surgeries to cure all our ill. Singing, painting, dancing and even creative writing seem, by contrast, to be frivolous and unimportant. They are, critics sneer, merely fun rather than useful.

And yet, we have long known that the arts are so much more valuable than we allow ourselves to say. After all, what do any of us do when we are at leisure, or ill, or in need of entertainment, amusement or distraction? We open a book, visit an art gallery (in person or online) or watch a film or the television… While science might have taught us how to build a television and stream content to it, it is the arts-created content that makes it worth watching.

A Little Bit of What You Fancy

But the arts bring us so much more than simple distraction or entertainment. The medical field is just now beginning to realise that we humans have an inbuilt need for sociable activities and for creative output. In short, we need the arts in much the same way as we need the sciences – life, we are endlessly rediscovering, requires balance rather than a narrow focus on a small area.

Many people find that their low-level depression can be vanquished when they join a choir or repertory group, expressing themselves through drama or song. Similar effects can be felt by taking up painting, writing creatively (even if it is never sent out for publication) or by learning to dance – anything from ballet to modern interpretive dance. These activities work on a number of levels:

First of all, they are fun! When we are having fun we forget about our problems and live in the moment. Secondly, they boost the levels of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine in our systems – these are the feel-good hormones that fill us with happiness and a sense of wellbeing. Finally, almost all of them involve physical movement and all require complete concentration.

So if you have been putting off joining an arts-based club or society on the grounds that it might be an expense that does not have any tangible benefit to you or your family, feel free to reconsider. After all, what does you physical and mental good, will also benefit your family: even more if they decide to join you!

Singing and Dancing Good for Thinking?

Art-based activities can help in the classroom too. Children are sometimes prevented from thinking a problem all the way through, by teachers who do not have the time to allow each of their many charges the time they need to think or talk through a problem to attain a good solution, but also because parents tend to over-protect their children. This is entirely understandable given the plethora of unpleasant news that is available all the time, and also because there is a notion that allowing children to struggle is a bad thing. Obviously, if they are struggling to the point of tears and frustration, that is not ideal, but taking a step back and allowing them to come to their own conclusions and then work out why they are correct or incorrect is much more valuable as a learning tool than simply being given the answers. The arts allow children to work things out, without stress or frustration.

Older people can be very isolated if their families live far away and they have fallen out of touch with their friends. Joining a singing club or helping out at an arts event can literally give them a new lease of life. Some residential and nursing homes are realising this and are beginning to introduce art classes, singing events and even putting on plays or simply playing charades. Of course, it is important to bear in mind the needs and preferences of the individual, catering to their needs as much as possible while doing good for the establishment as a whole.

Therefore, it is easy to see that instead of cutting back on these apparently frivolous activities, govts should be investing in them if they want to save money without hurting people. Current austerity measures have been blamed for literally killing people by making their lives overly difficult and removing any chance and funding for any kind of leisure and relaxation. It is easy to scoff at the idea of those in poverty needed entertainment, but everyone needs to be able to enjoy themselves occasionally. It can be something to live for, literally.


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