A Fairytale for the Arts – Happily Ever After?

When a school showcases the diversity of their school’s offerings in various publications and presentations, it is usually dominated by photographs from dance, drama, music, physical education, camps, concert, practical science and showcases… very few photographs show students sitting down at desks reading, writing and arithmetic-ing (I enjoyed writing that non-word).

Ironically, this projection is not necessarily reflected by the curriculum policies and procedures that underpin our school structures; here the focus is sometimes weighted heavily on academic performance in mainstream subjects and their ensuing ‘scored & ranked’ results.

There is a new tide of evidence mounting of the value of ‘the arts’ as a critical aspect of our curriculum rather than just a marginalised ‘extra’. This is a report that should be considered with some weight, especially in light of these emerging pedagogical insights.

I thought it would be worth reproducing the “Fairytale” from the opening pages of this report (The Arts and Australian Education: Realising Potential). You will note, it ends abruptly and has no resolution.

Do you think “The Arts” has a happy ending?

Once upon a time, all over the world, no children went to school, because schools hadn’t been invented. But children and young people still learned all they needed to become useful grown-ups in their community. They did this by listening to their elders, who told them wise stories and sang songs with them; together with the adults they danced and made music and performed the deep ceremonies and necessary lore and laws of the people; with the adults and each other they drew patterns and painted pictures and fashioned sculptures to create and communicate images and meanings; they invented stories that, although make-believe, were models of both the real world and other possible worlds – and they brought the models to life by acting them out. They learned by making artful and art-full play, and from all these experiences, where the body and senses, the brain and the emotions were all working together in constructive harmony, they made order and meaning for themselves in their personal, relational and objective worlds.

Then as life for humans got more complicated, some very odd people invented a special place to learn, and called it ‘school’. And the idea caught on, at least among grown-ups, who decided that in school, knowledge and compliance were the same thing. So they invented the Protestant Work Ethic, which divided work and play, and led to places for work called ‘classrooms’, where you learned sitting down – a good class was a quiet class, and play was left firmly outside in a special place called the playground where nothing important happened. The body and senses were ignored, and the emotions banished, and the brain was the only thing that counted. And they turned learning from a verb into a noun and called it ‘The Curriculum’ – a document in which what young people needed to know was all written down and could be carefully controlled, and what they did not need to know could be excluded.

The excluded bit included the Arts. This was because the odd grown-ups thought that music was noisy, the visual arts were messy, and that dance and drama were both noisy AND messy. If they happened at all, they were allowed to happen outside school time or on wet Friday afternoons. Their exclusion was also partly because another strange thing had happened in the world beyond schools.

Proper Art had become something only for grown-ups, and could only be created by special people who had a gift from the muses and had to have special training, which of course was available outside the schools.

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3 comments on “A Fairytale for the Arts – Happily Ever After?

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