Jan. 20, 2015

“The arts remain an important means to express ideas and concepts for all cultures, and no management speak or vocational skill that business likes will overcome this,” said Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist at the Department for International Development in London, in a Huffington Post article today, entitled “ The Global Search for Education: Education and Economy.” That quote was posted under a photo of what appeared to be high school students in a play. I looked at that photo, considered the quote, and quickly agreed. The arts provide students with the opportunity to create, express, gain confidence, and explore—all good skills for success in college and the workplace.

From a personal view, I think about my own kids. Two of them actively participated in musicals and plays through their middle and high school years. Those two are articulate, and comfortable and confident speaking to a group. One in particular is creative and expressive in everything from the way he dresses to his approach to solving problems. My third, who was not drawn to art, can be articulate, but it is harder for him. He can be confident in speaking, but he has to work at it. His approach to solving problems is more technical than creative. I don’t rate any of these differences as good or bad, but I want to lend credence to the idea that the arts are important to a well-rounded education.

With all the push toward STEM subjects or toward vocational training, the arts get shuffled to the background, dropped when schools are short of money, and considered unimportant electives by short-sighted high achievers (often parents). Surveys show that employers often can find people with the technical skills required, but they have a hard time finding employees who also are innovative, creative, and self-motivated. Classes in music, drama, art, and creative writing all require creativity, self-motivation, original thinking. It builds confidence to “present” your art to an audience, and it takes courage to chance that your art or performance will be deemed unsatisfactory. Constructive feedback from a teacher will help the student readjust, consider practicing more to improve, try a different approach. All important lessons to learn. All can lead toward success.

What do you think? How important are the arts to overall education? Have you steered your kids toward art, away from it, or were indifferent? Why?