The governments plans to not include the arts in the new Ebacc is making me and my peers very angry. You can read posts and opinions all over twitter and forums like TES but we as a group of like minded people need to get better at explaining why the arts is vital to society, the community (local, national and global) and the individual children we work with every day. As an ex drama teacher and creative practitioner the arts is central to what I do but I still feel that the arts are very misunderstood (by some!!!) in terms of what they offer children and young people. Drama, for example, is not about putting on a show!
Creativity is at the heart of music, dance, drama, art and design and creativity is at the heart of what it means to be a human being. How else have we evolved? Look around and see what we have created, developed, designed and yes, destroyed.
Ask any drama teacher in a secondary school what irritates them and you can bet that there will be some comment about the use and profile of drama within the school. Often ignored the drama department is suddenly very popular when it comes to an open evening or event or where the school wishes to demonstrate what an exciting learning environment it can be. The art department is also included when suddenly what they create is in demand as Ofsted are sure to look at the walls! But we are more than the school production and more than a wall display.
We are at the heart of human nature because what the arts offer is a chance to express ideas, opinions, personality. A space to try out our ethics and morals. See how an idea fits. Take it on if we like it, discard it if not. An opportunity to explore our developing values, our identity and a unique place where we can ask questions, challenge and be challenged in a safe space. It gives space for young people to find out who they are and explore who they want to become. Getting rid of the arts gets rid of the individual voice within an institution but maybe that’s the plan?
My GCSE art exam is a good example of this. A rather pretentious idea (what I thought at the time was totally original of course) consisted of a painting of an ants nest where, as the ants got closer to the top of the nest, they turned in to men in bowler hats reaching for money. To me this was a political statement. I didn’t really know what I was saying or what statement I was making but it was mine, personal to me and were early explorations into the theme of capitalism. At that age my political ideology was forming and the art class room gave me the chance to explore what I wanted to say even if it was a cliche!
The misconception about arts practice is that it is about form, product or an outcome. What we create in the dance studio or drama room is not what the arts offers children, it is just the final bit. It’s about the process we go through with our young people as we explore, investigate, inquire, ask open ended questions, ask questions that have been answered, ask questions that have no answer. It’s philosophy, psychology, citizenship. It’s about developing fully rounded young people that are able to understand and empathize with others. Isn’t this what we want? Isn’t this what we need? Young people growing up understanding, accepting and empathizing with others? A focus just on regurgitating knowledge will make them great at pub quizzes but what about inventing, creating, developing and making something new? Moving us on in science, in design, in technology? The creative nature of the arts is fundamental to our evolution.
The drama room offers young people the chance to explore issues, yes (often rather base explorations into themes like ‘drugs’ or ‘knife crime’.) But this isn’t all it can do and be. We are made up of stories and every key event is woven into the fabric of our own personal narrative. Stories are inherent to us. They are how we communicate, how we bond, how we keep in touch, how we find common ground with people. Using drama goes right to the core of what it means to be a human being, a sentient rather than a passive receiver of knowledge. A machine. (Knowledge that has been selected and written into a text book to be ploughed through weekly I suspect may be the order of the day!)
The drama room is a place of unknowing. Where we are comfortable with the unknown and seek to go there like adventurers with our tools and equipment to keep us safe and maybe even a map or two but still heading towards something that is unknown and created, owned by those on the journey with us. Next week, next time it will be different because in the drama room we work in the here and now of life and we can’t predict what will happen. This is what we thrive on. This is what most teachers enjoy. The arts is spontaneous. We lay out the foundations, the scaffold and then respond to what the young people offer, need and ask for. Where is the space for this without the arts?
I’ve just become a mum and chatting with my partner we discussed what we wanted our child to appreciate. It really came down to two things. Nature (where we felt a respect for nature would mean a respect for all living things and a wonderment in it) and music. For us music opens up the world and builds tolerance and acceptance of others. We want her to dance next to, with and beside anyone and everyone!
To get rid of the arts is to deny young people the respect of giving them time to find out about themselves. The arts is about human experience, understanding our voice, our place within it. To remove it is to remove choice, freedom of expression and questions, questions, questions. But as I said before…perhaps thats the point.