Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Beneath the Surface

Ken Robinson points out that if you ask a classroom full of 5 year olds who can draw, they all put their hands up. If you ask a group of 15 year olds who can draw, perhaps one or two will. At some point we learn what we are good at and we create an identity around that. We direct our activities towards the things where we are technically competent in a way that can be objectively assessed - i.e. we work for marks. School and then university become a filtering process where your identity is sifted out. I worked for 18 months at a school in Chichester which really encouraged music. In fact I ended up taking up piano while I was there and learning my middle c alongside 6 year olds. It really was a wonderful place which actively found a place for the creative side of learning. The music teacher from that school, Alex, shared this article which looks at the role of arts in education - Dance, Art, Music, Writing, Drama. More particularly, it also looks at how the arts can be left aside in education when money is tight and we start to prioritise.

Art from one of my favourite 5 year olds, Justin

Excluding the arts is as dangerous as excluding business skill for those who pursue the arts. The idea that we need to define ourselves and super specialise is a problem. The word 'balance' is often used, but I am trying to think of another one. I don't like balance because it doesn't seem to quite capture that we can be more effective by not neglecting the balancing items. The goal should be to educate you in all the skills that are needed in life. Some of these are tangible, but some come as a side product.

I did a semester of Computer Science at university. I really enjoyed it but it was just a filler course and I can't remember any of the programming that I learnt. What I do remember is that it taught a way of thinking. In writing code, it showed the value of structuring thoughts in a way that is easy to follow in order to find mistakes. It helped take ideas and distill them down to very clear, unambiguous instructions. I can't remember how to code, but that lesson stuck with me. The arts is similar but more pervasive than that. 

As I am relearning the piano, I am being forced to slow right down. I have to build the muscles in my fingers. I have to learn to connect them to what I see on the page. The left and right hand won't coordinate at first and are playing different parts. I have to slowly get to the point where they can do their own thing but fit together. As it comes together, the rhythm starts to appear after hiding as my fingers stumbled. This process seems to train patience and problem solving better than any of the courses I did in Business Science.

It is one thing to learn to identify problems. It is another to learn the process of solving them and that is where the arts come  into their own. The very goal of the arts is to look beneath the surface at the stuff that isn't obvious. It isn't good enough to be technically competent. You can't just learn the words in drama. You have to fight with them, chew them, and feel them until they come to life.

Education should be careful not to filter out the flavour.

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