This post looks at why the arts are integral in children’s education.
The debate over why creativity is important in children’s learning is long and enduring. John Dewey argued for the integration of the arts in children’s everyday experiences. Elliot Eisner pushed for children’s aesthetic education in public school curriculum. Maxine Greene wrote about the significance of the arts in allowing children to reimagine the world from multiple perspectives. Ken Robinson has discussed how an emphasis on numeracy and literacy in standardised school curriculum has come at the expense of children’s creative education.
All of these exceptional philosophers and many more not mentioned above have built their arguments on the same issue – that there is a hierarchical status of subjects in school curriculum that privileges numeracy, literacy and science over the creative arts.
This hierarchy of knowledge can be traced to Plato’s theory of ideas that situated intellectual and cognitive ‘worlds’ over physical and imaginative ones. Knowledge forms that were physical and of the body, as one might experience through dancing, moving, singing and making, were understood as being separate and inferior to the knowledge of the mind.
Article 31 of the UNESCO Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right ‘to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.’ Art education does not start when someone goes to art school, it begins the moment a child is born. With this in mind, the marginalisation of the arts in school curriculum still endures.
The latest exclusion of the arts in public schools has been the introduction of the English Baccalaureate programme. This curriculum lists maths, English literature, science, geography/history and language as compulsory core subjects. The creative arts have been made an elective option, meaning they have both been sidelined from the syllabus and made more difficult for students to take them at a GCSE level. As a result, England is currently experiencing the lowest levels of students studying the arts in a decade.
This argument is not to say that numeracy and literacy are not necessary, they are! The question is over the integration of the creative arts into these disciplines and how these different forms of knowledge can complement one another. For example, how maths and visual art can be taught through one another.
Creativity, a process that Ken Robinson defines as ‘the process of having original ideas that have value,’ can encourage children to experience and imagine the world differently. Creativity can allow children to empathise and connect with other people and being’s realities, to find solutions to unexpected problems and to produce new relationships between people and the world. The interconnection between imagination, creativity and innovation opens up new ways of being in the world, or as Mr Robinson defines it in his book Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up:
“Imagination is the root of creativity. It is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to our senses. Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is applied imagination. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice.”
The creative arts allow children to think and learn through images, paint, sound, resin, plastic and their bodies. Encounters between children and different art forms can open up divergent learning processes. All of these creative forms of knowledge matter.
To marginalise the arts from school curriculum is to sideline children’s possibilities to construct a new and expansive future.
P.S I was motivated to write this post after reading this opinion piece in Frieze Magazine that features eight leading artists’ opinion on the exclusion of the arts from England’s secondary school curriculum. Check it out if you have not read it already.