Intellectual History

Opinion: Why Schools Should Put More Emphasis on Art and Music


A week ago one of our authors, Rae Hadley, published a piece on protecting The Arts in the UK. You can read it here. Now, Phil Western looks at whether our reputation as a nation renowned for their production and conservation is being reflected in our education system. Specifically, the subjects of Art and Music.

Historically, we have placed a great deal of emphasis on Science, English and Maths in school curricula. This comes at the expense of what my friends used to call the “dosser subjects”. Children often reflect this view. In most cases, they choose to value what they are told is valuable. Maybe we should be shifting our priorities.

Why Are These Subjects So Undervalued?

Ken Robinson argued in one famous TED talk that we are educating based on a Victorian paradigm (find the RSA animate link here.) This boils down to a focus on subjects which prepare students for work in traditional industries. Subjects like Art and Music were certainly luxuries in the gritty industrial context of the Victorian era, but does this attitude still hold true today?

Reasons to Put More Emphasis on Art and Music

Firstly, music is a full-brain activity. Many of you will have seen the images of musicians’ brains while playing, which show both hemispheres lighting up in unison. This increased mental activity has a massive benefit on health and wellbeing. In addition, the ability of music to connect people on an emotional level contributes to greater happiness and social cohesion (this is probably why we evolved to like music).

Similarly, visual literacy is hugely undervalued, despite it being massively in demand in the modern workplace. Some of the most in-vogue and interesting careers of the moment, like UX design, Graphic Design, Content Production and Art Direction all require fantastic visual literacy. We are no longer operating in a Victorian industrial paradigm. If you look at it dispassionately, why is Maths more important than Art? Surely an appreciation for how to manipulate objects and the environment to maximise beauty is at least comparable to higher level Maths. When was the last time you used a quadratic equation, after all?

Don’t We Teach These Things Well Already?

It is true that a lot is invested in Art and musical education in some schools. But that doesn’t equate to taking the subjects seriously. A shift in culture and a move away from the hegemony of classical education is still necessary. Plonking kids in front of 30 brand new keyboards as 1 teacher loosely monitors doesn’t really constitute a good musical education (I’m sure many of you can relate to this scenario, and did you come out of school playing the piano well?).

Similarly, Art is confined to pottery and drawing pictures, without reference to the many disciplines that fall into visual literacy and indeed, what the subject can truly be.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, what is the main objective of education and what we are educating for? Is it to create leagues of mathematicians and scientists? Or is it to create happy, well adjusted citizens with a wide variety of skills and abilities?

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Hi, my name's Phil. I am a Content Writer and Producer. My background is a mixture of education, social media and management. I've spent a lot of my career working in Latin America and Spain, and I have a love for languages and education. I also have my own blogsite: http://www.philwestern.blog/

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